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Washburn RSG200SWVSK Revival Solo DeLuxe Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar Review

Listen to the Washburn RSG200SWVSK Revival Solo DeLuxe Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar

 

Phew. That was a mouthful. You’d think a company that’s been around as long as Washburn would come up with something a bit more user friendly for simply naming a guitar.

Reality check!

Washburn, it’s fair to say, has been hit and miss over the years. It’s used various manufacturers to produce instruments sold under the one branding. But we’re turning a corner in terms of the quality of instruments coming out of China these days, and the Washburn RSG200SWVSK guitar really exemplifies that.

Re-branding guitars made by someone else is how many well-known guitar brands do business. Fender for instance, has had their guitars made in China, Japan, Mexico, and the US. The Squier marque has been made in those countries, plus Korea, India and Indonesia. 

Global provenance

Much like cars, a brand on the headstock or ‘Fender’ as it were, tells the consumer very little indeed about the provenance of an instrument. That’s not to say however, that all guitar companies operate under a cloak of secrecy, only divulging such information to a select few distributors. It’s all pretty transparent these days.

Northfield, the mandolin company, will even tell you where all the components in the instrument come from, right on the makers label in the soundhole. And as various timbers become more scarce and subject to stricter trade restrictions, and global labour practices are under further scrutiny, it’s definitely a good thing that builders are being upfront about provenance.

Without a doubt, the Washburn RSG200SWVSK Revival Solo DeLuxe Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar needs a shorter name. However, that would probably be my only gripe. Just about everything else far and away exceeds my expectations. It’s around the $1500AUD mark, which is not cheap. But by jingo, does it compete with some much more expensive guitars. There are plenty of other makers competing at this price point. Names such as Blueridge and Sigma come to mind. But Washburn gets a lot of things right here that make it a very competitive option.

A modern instrument with vintage tendencies

It’s an up-to-date instrument in a sort of roundabout way. It’s part of the so-called ‘Revival’ line of instruments, and harkens back to the days before cutaways and on-board pickups. Many builders are well aware of this trend, fueled by the renaissance of acoustic music currently occurring. So already we have some indication of its intended audience purely from the lack of a pickup. You really want to play this thing through a mic if possible, as a great deal of attention has been paid to optimizing its acoustic ‘voice’. 

Tonally, this instrument has a warm, even response across the lows, mids and highs. Each region is balanced beautifully against one another. It’s powerfully bassy, with heaps of bottom end and sustain that make big open chords lush and enveloping.

It’s not ‘scooped’ in the midrange either. The result is an acoustic presence that can be lacking in a guitar optimized for a ‘plugged in’ sound. The highs are appropriately controlled, not sticking out too much but adding a good amount of sparkle and shine to the upper harmonics.

Warm, mellow tone

Washburn RSG200SWVSK guitar side view
Torrefied top results in fuller, richer tone

A torrefied piece of Sitka spruce serves as the soundboard and gives the instrument an aged sound. The torrefaction process is an article in its own right, but it seems to mellow and balance the instrument’s tone like it’s been played in over many years.

I’m a fan of what Washburn has achieved here in the RSG200SWVSK, taking advantage of a cutting-edge trend in luthiery to the consumers benefit. Overall, a very pleasant voice that would be at home in a variety of musical contexts. 

The body shape too is reminiscent of an early Gibson L-O, with a rounded lower bout that hasn’t been squared off quite as much as a Martin OM for instance. The shape is unique and aesthetically pleasing, as is the competently executed sunburst finish.

You’ll find many ‘pre-war’ details on this model. For example, the crown headstock, 1¾” nut width and faux tortoiseshell pickguard to name a few.

The tuners are open back, which was common before they became routinely enclosed later on. But here, they feature a pretty interesting innovation; variable ratio gears.

Washburn RSG200SWVSK Guitar Machine Head
Open back tuners with variable ratio gears

 

Enduring features

Just another gimmick? I have a feeling this seemingly minor detail will stick around. Tuning an acoustic guitar is everything. Getting the intonation correct, and having tuners that obey the wishes of the player is an engineering challenge that requires a fair degree of precision.

These tuners give you a huge amount of accuracy on the thicker strings, but use a lower ratio for the treble strings. This is a time saver essentially. It allows you to get closer to a desired tuning, quicker. Great between songs down at the pub. It’s also a pleasant tactile experience. And the smooth action of the tuners will please someone who is fussy about tuning.

 

All solid timbers

Many things go into making an enjoyable instrument. The Washburn has successfully taken care of the details here to produce something that both a novice and an advanced player will enjoy. Like a bottle of wine with cellaring potential, the all solid timbers of this guitar ensures it will only get better the more it’s played in. Give one a whirl when you can. 

The Washburn RSG200SWVSK Revival Solo DeLuxe Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar. Not bad Washburn, not bad at all!

 


By Tom Kendall for the Guitar Gallery

 

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What’s in the glass case this week?

Well, mandolins mostly, as you can see. That’s what’s in the glass case this week. And some fine ones at that! We’re currently stocking mandolins from Eastman, Northfield, Kentucky, Trinity College and a newcomer to the scene: Rover mandolins.

The resurgent popularity of bluegrass music has seen many builders cater to traditional tastes in instrument aesthetics. These days, every maker is doing their take on the mother of all mandolins, the Lloyd Loar era Gibson F5.

Due to the complexity of building such an instrument, there is a great disparity in cost, chiefly dependent on where it’s made. The labour component of building an all solid, carved-top F5 mandolin is significant. If you’re not looking to drop $5k+ on a boutique handmade instrument, you’ll certainly want to check out some of the mandolins that Eastman, Saga and Northfield are doing right now.

 

Eastman Mandolins

Eastman MD515 Mandolin
Eastman scroll model MD515 mandolin

For someone new to bluegrass music or the mandolin, you can do a lot worse than an Eastman MD515. With an updated tailpiece that is less prone to unpleasant overtones, this mandolin has volume and projection in abundance. It has an absurdly good tone for the price. 

One thing that’s great about Eastmans in particular, is the quality of the setup straight out of the factory. The intonation is good from the get go. The nut height is spot on and the bridge is compensated accurately. It’s often the case that a competently made instrument is let down by a poor setup. Not the case with Eastman mandolins. Their pedigree in classical instruments really shines through here.

Eastman also makes higher end instruments that improve on tone, playability and aesthetic as you move up the line. They all have a characteristic Eastman sound, one which is discernible when you’ve played a few of them. The construction of these instruments closely matches golden era mandolins of the 1920’s. As such, they can be expected to age well and mature in tone. 

 

Saga Family Instruments

Saga is the parent company of Kentucky, Rover and Trinity College. The Trinity College marque caters to the Celtic side of mandolins and bouzoukis. Predictably, Kentucky and Rover are all about American style instruments.

What’s truly impressive about what Kentucky is currently doing, is their faithfulness of designs, paired with great quality tonewoods. The KM-1500 for instance, might be one of the better Chinese made F5’s. One that on tone alone, you can bring along to any bluegrass jam with absolute confidence. It will stand up to much more expensive instruments. And at the more affordable end of the spectrum, the Kentucky KM-250 is a seriously good option to begin the journey.

Trinity College Mandola TM-275
Trinity College TM-275 teardrop mandola

The Trinity College brand is concerned with Celtic style mandolins and bouzoukis. These differentiate themselves from the American styles in tone and aesthetic. They generally favour oval holes over f-holes, a design choice that is a significant factor in the tone and acoustic behaviour of the instrument. Trinity College mandolas, mandolins and bouzoukis are an excellent choice.

This Trinity College TM-275 mandola for instance, retains the fifths tuning of the mandolin, but down a fifth to C, CGDA. If you’ve never experienced this tuning before, it’s a whole world of fun. Mandolin players usually find they enjoy the experience of playing a new instrument when they are already familiar with the chord shapes in the left hand.

 

Rover mandolins

Rover is a new marque in the Saga family, chiefly catering towards bluegrass musicians. The slogan ‘it barks, it bites’ features prominently on the makers sticker inside the instrument. If you like classic early bluegrass from folks like Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield or Herschel Sizemore, a Rover might be an excellent first mandolin. Either for yourself or even as a gift for a relative to get them enthused about playing. It doesn’t take much to spark a flame sometimes, and if it gets the fire burning, it can only be a good thing.

Rover RM50 Mandolin
Rover RM50 teardrop mandolin

Take the Rover RM-50 Mandolin for instance: for $500 you get a nice sounding, perfectly serviceable A style instrument that doesn’t break the bank.

While these mandolins are entry level and priced accordingly, they’re a significant cut above some other budget offerings you’ll find in music stores around Melbourne. That’s why we stock them. So make sure you pick one up when you’re next in store!

 

Northfield Mandolins

Saving the best to last, Northfields are game changers insofar as serious mandolins go. Built and finished in Qingdao, they’re setup and shipped from Michigan, US. These guys are making professional level instruments at an extraordinarily low price point. You get a ‘hybrid’ spirit varnish, and the highest quality traditional tonewoods. At the same time, you get a professional standard tone, while saving a huge amount of money.

Taking advantage of the craftsmanship and talents of builders in two continents, Northfield is a truly modern company challenging ingrained attitudes towards instruments made in China. Their flagship model, the ‘Big Mon’ F5 is truly a sight to behold, and takes its rightful place amongst the Gibsons and Collings, Dudenbostels and what have you.

Northfield Calhoun Mandolin Angle
Northfield ‘Calhoun’ mandolin

Have a look at some of their videos demonstrating this instrument’s potential in a musical setting.

But if bluegrass isn’t really your thing,  Northfield has an interesting offering in the ‘Calhoun’ model, one of the few mandolins they make that’s entirely assembled in Michigan. The workmanship on this model is no less immaculate than on the Big Mon, and with its’s oval hole, has a versatile and round tone. It might be their affordable model, but all the components, namely the bridge, tailpiece and tuners, are top shelf.

 

The ‘G run’

If you’re looking to buy a new mandolin, the competitive market for manufacturing these instruments has really benefited the consumer in recent years. Do your research. But most of all, to see what’s in the glass, drop into the Guitar Gallery, play the instruments, and decide for yourself. Let your ear decide!


 

by Tom Kendall for the Guitar Gallery