Hanging around on the Washburn forum has exposed me to their range and I've become interested in the Idols. These are a quite nice variant on the 'inspired by Gibson' theme most makers have somewhere in their range. It's just a shame that Washburn have now relaunched the Idol with some much more conventional Les Paul copies in it.
The original Idol comes in a genuine variety of models with the same basic silhouette, from cheapo bolt-ons with a Fender-esque hardtail, through various stop-tail models to a spiky reverse headstock Floyd Rose equipped HM model. There's even a gold-top with P90s and some semi-hollows. In principle something for everybody but I'm not sure the Idol ever really made much of an impression in the market.
This is the WI64, which is the all mahogany thin body, set neck SG-alike of the range. Most you see are the thicker body, carved top more Les Paul-esque models. I deliberately picked this one as it's a slight contrast to the large number of Les Paul copies I have. That it was cheap and came with a nice Hiscox hard case helped too.
It's astonishingly like an SG without being a straight copy. Washburn did a really good job in making their own design while keeping it familiar. This is unlike the ESP Vipers, another not-quite-SG, which I always think looks odd. The WI64 is pretty low down the range but it's a very nicely turned out example of a mass produced Korean guitar. Later production shifted to Indonesia and those guitars have a slightly worse reputation, but I doubt there's much in it.
The serial number suggests it's maybe one of the first Idols and ten years old. It's certainly been played plenty with lots of honest wear and ageing to components without it looking tired.
The hardware is decent enough, the 18:1 grovers are great and it's got the Buzz Feiten tuning system again. This will at some point force me to buy a BFTS compatible tuner as I like setting my own stuff up. The pickups are Washburn WB630s and seem adequate.
The new feature here for me is Washburn's Voice Contour Control (VCC) system in lieu of tone controls. This is a progressive coil tap arrangement but it works much better than the ones I've experienced before. From what I can gather this is because instead of simply progressively shorting out one coil it keeps both live and fades them from series to parallel using a special stacked blend pot.
This works really rather well and you don't lose as much output as you do with a standard coil tap. Although I still suspect I'll occasionally miss the tone control as even I sometimes wind the tone down a bit and VCC only makes things brighter.
It's certainly not to every players taste as there are often threads on the Washburn forum about removing VCC but some must like it as almost as many ask about fitting it to other things. I definitely don't like the way the controls have VCC stamped on them in tacky gold print though. It looks like some kind of showroom sticker that should peel off, but it's not. I guess it'd be easy enough to find some matching plain knobs.