Sunday, February 28, 2010

Washburn #3 - 'EC29 Challenger' red

EC29s simply don't come up very often so when this one appeared on eBay I thought hard about picking it up. Then I thought about it the second time. Then the third. Finally when I think it had been on four times I bought it.

The reason for my reticence was that somebody had taken a chisel to it. The pickup cavity has been enlarged and the bridge pickup moved forward. There are also a few random holes in the top. It's been suggested it once had a Roland Hex Midi pickup fitted.

When I got it I found the pickup was barely supported. There were a couple of pieces of hacked up pencil roughly glued into the corners of the hole and the surround was kind of flapping around.

So I carefully tidied up the hole, cut a block of wood to fit and glued it in place. This isn't the tidiest of jobs but at least it's now sound and allowed me to put the pickup back in the original position.

It came with a Gibson bridge humbucker and unidentified single coil, the original active electronics having been long lost. The whole thing was very buzzy and rubbish so I immediately tidied it up and used it for a bit.

I was most impressed with the Gibson pickup it had a great hot-classic tone. After playing it a while I was still annoyed by the slightly iffy selector switch and took it apart to fix this. Unfortunately in doing so I killed the pickup, the tape protecting it was broken and I guess I damaged the windings manhandling it.

A little messing around trying to resurrect the pickup went nowhere so I ripped it all out and started again. This time I stuck in the Seymour Duncan JBJ and single coil that came in my KC90. I also did a 'progressive coil tap' circuit and it's now a nice versatile guitar.

I recently got an original Floyd Rose quite cheaply, which is nicer than the Washburn 600S tremolo it came with so I've swapped it in. I need to go back and sort the cosmetics out, I'm thinking of making up a scratchplate to cover the damage.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Washburn #2 - 'KC90 V' natural

In modern times, Washburn have contracted out the bulk of their manufacture with only the 'custom shop' models being made in the USA. In the early 90s, the Chicago series were their standard superstrat offering and mostly made in Korea. Nowadays they're not in the slightest bit desirable so if you want a good quality cheap superstrat one of the KC models would be right at the top of my list. The electrics and pickups are even of a decent quality.

The two top models, the KC90 and KC100 were made in Japan. This was in the factory which made early 90s 'Professional' Jacksons, renowned for being made to giant-slaying levels of quality and playability. Unlike the Jacksons this isn't widely known so the KC90 can be had rather cheaply sometimes. I managed to pick this up for £90. The KC100 is similar but with a through rather than bolt-on neck and is quite uncommon.

So, the KC90 comes with good quality Japanese hardware, Washburn branded Gotoh machine heads, Washburn 600-S tremolo which is actually a Takeuchi TRS-101 and fantastic build quality. The neck on mine feels exactly like the one on my Jackson Rhoads EX Pro, which would have come from the same factory. It even has the same slightly too close together inlays at the 12th fret.

Last but not least you get genuine Seymour Duncan pickups. Mine came with a JBJ at the bridge and 'classic' single coil in the middle position. Originally the neck pickup would have been a Duncan too but somebody had replaced it with a cheapo Artec mini-humbucker at some point. The electrics were all scratchy too, but such is the peril of of 15+ year old guitars.

When I got this it had a badly chipped metallic blue finish on the body. So I stripped it back to the wood and did a Danish Oil finish. this was my first go at refinishing and it's not perfect but is adequate.

I also rewired it with a Kent Armstrong Motherbucker at the bridge and two Cool Rails in the other positions. I stole the Duncans from it for one of my EC29s.

If I see another one cheap I'll buy it. They're the perfect base for a 'superstrat project' as you're starting from something decent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Washburn #1 - 'EC29 Challenger' in teal with squiggles

Nurse, fetch the spandex.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s there was a 'guitar war' going on. Metal was big in the US, shredding was cool and the guitar manufacturers were falling over themselves to make more and more over the top models with super thin flat wide necks, active pickups, locking tremolos and crazy finishes.

It was this arms race that brought us the Ibanez Universe and this piece of shredder madness, the Washburn EC29 Challenger.

The luthier Stephen Davies had perfected making a guitar with no heel to the neck whatsoever by supporting the neck with the upper section of the body. Once you've done this, you can just keep sticking frets on until you run out of room. This he patented as the "Stephen's Extended Cutaway". He teamed up with Washburn who licensed his design and the EC29 and EC36 were born.

At its time the spec. was insane, 29 frets on a through neck, Reflex active pickups, redesigned Floyd Rose style locking tremolo with a quick release nut and a variety of very rock finishes. It was priced suitably highly and without a high profile endorsement they didn't sell.

When it came down to it, nobody really knew what to do with the extra frets, reviewers were nonplussed by them and any discussion of the guitar focused on them.

When shredding fell out of favour the 7-string guitars found a market in nu-metal and death metal but nobody wanted the ECs. So Washburn stopped making them and they disappeared, with only the Nuno Bettencourt models using a bolt-on version of the Stephens Extended Cutaway.

Come 1992, I'd got a reasonable job and wanted a good guitar. I remembered the launch of the ECs and was thinking about buying either one of these or a Universe. This was mostly because both appeared in my local guitar shop, Monkey Business Music in Romford, for a reasonable price.

The idea of a 7-string intimidated me slightly so I bought the EC29. What all the discussion of these missed at the time was that the ECs are simply fantastic guitars and there's no obligation whatsoever to use those extra frets.

The build quality of these is about the best Japan has to offer. Which in reality is about as good as you'll get anywhere beyond something individually handmade for you. The Reflex pickups were astounding and the tremolo rock solid.

The SEC means that when playing the usual questions about upper fret access become moot. There is just simply neck and more neck until you're trying to play well above about the 24th, which frankly you won't bother with. It's almost disconcerting as you lose the heel as a 'landmark'. The neck isn't quite as flat and wide as you'd expect either and it's a much more versatile guitar than the looks would suggest.

I played this heavily for years until I took my long break. When I came back the active circuit seemed to have failed where the wires went into it and as it's all potted there was nothing I could do about this. So I rewired it using some Kent Armstrongs, a Cool Rail at the neck, which is more like the middle position and a Motherbucker at the bridge.

This has resurrected it but it's not as nice sounding as it was. I have a plan to put Seymour Duncan Blackouts in it soon. This should be a good contrast to the passive Duncans in my other EC29.

BC Rich #3 - 'NJ neck-thru Mockingbird'

This was the first of my makeover projects. I'd always liked the Mockingbird shape and fancied a neck-thru model so I bought this unseen on eBay. However when I got hold of it I found it was in worse condition than I'd expected.

The photos don't really show them very well, but it has a variety of finish chips, the electrics were a bit dodgy and the threads in the neck pickup were stripped. It was badly setup, filthy and played like total crap. I also decided it didn't look very nice with the black hardware.

So I waded in and made lots of changes to it. I've rewired it with a Kent Armstrong humbucker sized P90 at the neck and an Epiphone humbucker I had lurking at the bridge.

I also replaced all the black hardware with gold. As I wasn't sure what it would look like I bought very cheap tremolo and have never been very happy with it. It's one of those 'speedloader' ones currently widely sold where the string passes through a tube at the back and over the saddle. So it's not double locking. I had no idea it was one of these when I bought it and I really need to get a better one.

It doesn't matter how many times I've gone back and tweaked this guitar it never seems to sound great or play very nicely. It is just generally disappointing. Maybe one day I'll get it sorted out. The temptation to 'throw good money after bad' and buy a premium tremolo and bridge pickup is high.


Your mission, should you accept it...
Some progress with the Mockingbird

BC Rich #2 - 'NJ Speedloader Mockingbird'

While looking quite different and having a quilted top this is functionally identical to my Speedloader Warlock.


BC Rich #1 - 'NJ Speedloader Warlock'

Every time I get this guitar out of the (coffin shaped, natch) case I feel I should be sacrificing a small animal while screaming "Hail Satan!". Or something.

Ever since I saw tons of thrash bands (and Poison) playing Warlocks in the 80s and 90s I've wanted one. Given BC Rich have done a bewildering variety of affordable models over the years I'm kind of surprised I didn't pick one up. I guess I was just a little embarrassed by them.

This is a bit of an oddity as it is fitted with an Original Floyd Rose Speedloader tremolo. Having patented what is now the de-facto locking tremolo, Floyd Rose have had a bit of a problem coming up with any new products that move things forward.

This was their attempt to deal with the moans people have about a Floyd Rose being fiddly to restring and tune. Instead of conventional machine heads to bring the strings up to tune the Speedloader relies on very accurately made strings which are cut to length so that as soon as you fit them they'll close to tune. You simply then use the fine tuners to dial it in.

This works fine but the guitar looks a bit odd without machine heads and it ties you in to buying the special strings. The biggest problem is that it precludes alternative tunings completely, which I imagine is what stopped this taking off. BC Rich's main market is metal and metal has gone for drop or down tuning in a big way over the last couple of decades.

In play the Speedloader feels no different to a conventional Floyd Rose. I can imagine there would be a market for the Speedloader but not metal. You could certainly do a nice headless guitar with it and I believe they made a fixed bridge version which should be rock solid.

The Warlock is surprisingly practical to play, it's comfortable seated or on a strap and the spikes don't get in the way. It's far cuddlier than expected. Beyond this its a fairly run of the mill Korean made rock guitar. The pickups are very hot and a bit mushy sounding but that's only to be expected.