Ready made 'vintage' guitars have an obvious appeal - but can sometimes disappoint. They may look nice and played-in, but don't always deliver tonally. Getting it right is even harder with semi-acoustics than it is with solid bodies, so how has Washburn fared with its vintage reworking of the HB35? Tom Quayle puts on his pre-faded jeans and tries not to gettoo distressed.
The HB36 Vintage is Washburn's deluxe version of its HB35 guitar and is an aged/distressed semi-hollow design aimed at Jazz, Blues or Rock players. There's no denying this guitar is a real winner in the looks department and catches the eye with its light ageing and impressive finish. Aimed at the mid to low-mid price market it has a great deal of competition but aims to give a high level of quality to cost ratio.
The HB36 Vintage is constructed using lovely flame maple back and sides with a spruce top, featuring a dark sunburst finish that is aged beautifully, giving a lived-in feel that is very appealing to the eye and ear. The maple 22 fret neck is finished in similar fashion and topped with an ebony fretboard adorned with split block inlays, all topped off with multi-laminate binding around the body and neck. Adding to the aged appearance Washburn has chosen very attractive distressed gold hardware in the form of a tune-o-matic bridge with stop bar tailpiece, Grover Rotomatic 18:1 ratio tuners and in-house Washburn 621 and 623 neck and bridge pickups. To complete the look, an ebony pickguard and knobs are provided, giving a very impressive looking overall package. As is to be expected with this kind of guitar, a solid maple block runs down the centre of the body, giving added sustain and feedback suppression at higher volumes.
The construction is, on the whole, very good for a guitar in this price range, judging from our sample. The HB36 is heavy but not overly so, giving a reassuring feel to the build quality and a good level of sustain when being played. The flame maple back and sides are beautiful, with impressive workmanship on the binding and aged spruce top. The ageing is more subtle than aggressive, adding an air of class rather than abuse to the top and hardware. The glued-in neck joint is good with no sign of cracking or weakness although the finish on our sample could have been better around the neck joint and cutaways, where it was rougher than on the body and neck.
Internally the body was very neat and didn't look as though corners had been cut. Neck finish and fretwork were also of high quality giving a very comfortable feel with a slightly higher action than I'd have liked, but this is easily solved with a little truss rod or bridge adjustment. The Grover tuners are also high spec and give good tuning stability and accuracy when combined with the tune-o-matic bridge.
Washburn's HB36 is a very playable guitar with a comfortable neck and flatter radius that is equally suitable for chordal and lead work. Jazz guys will find even the most complex chords a breeze to perform on the HB36 and it's a fast guitar for Rock and Jazz leads, especially if strung with slightly lighter gauge strings and a lower action than the factory set-up.
This is a loud guitar when played unplugged thanks to its semi-hollow design and f-holes. Tonally things are a little more metallic than some other Jazz-type guitars I've played but it is in no way unpleasant - just don't expect a fat, woody, hollow body tone. The tone is definitely more electric than acoustic in nature but knowing that you're immune to feedback at higher volumes means a trade-off in achieving a woody tone. Selecting the neck pickup on a clean tone though our studio clean amp, the HB36 immediately achieves a full and warm Jazz tone with plenty of definition for chords and a full, roundness for single note playing. These humbuckers are better than the average 'stock' pickups found in some other manufacturers' guitars of this type and are dynamic and responsive without ever barking at you or making you work too hard. The bridge humbucker is less useful for clean tones but really works well for mid to high gain lead and rhythm tones, again offering definition and bite but with a level of girth thanks to the semi-hollow design.
I can see a lot of Jazz students and players purchasing this guitar thanks to its good looks and authentic tonal capabilities, combined with good playability and price. It should also appeal to other players looking for an aesthetically pleasing and affordable semi-hollow guitar with good hardware out of the case. Speaking of cases, our US readers should know that the HB36 Vintage comes with a hardcase in the States - for everyone else, Washburn don't include one for some reason. This obviously makes the HB36 much better value in the US than elsewhere. Even so, this is a very capable and well-made guitar, case or no case, and represents good value for money.