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.

1 comment:

Jonathon said...

You know what I think about these. I think I've already made my opinion quite clear after borrowing The Red One for a while...

Fabulous guitar, nowhere near as "radical" to play as you might think (no, honestly, it's just like a Strat only better...), and (with a good set of passive pickups in at least) about a thousand times more versatile than the looks and specification would suggest - you can even play "Sultans of Swing" on it and you don't get any more mainstream than that!

That we're left wading through a morass of Jem-a-likes while a genuinely clever and original designs like this falls by the wayside is I feel a sad indictment of The Power of Marketing, one decent "celebrity shredder" endorsement would probably have saved these guitars, as it is I find myself eying superficially (no to mention suspiciously) similar looking Caparison models and thinking what a missed opportunity the EC was...