Washburn started making instruments back in 1883 and is certainly no stranger to the acoustic guitar market, having established a very strong customer base for quality guitars at sensible prices. Washburn's latest line of acoustic six string guitars has been winning accolades all round (including a rave review in our Quiet Room for a WD25, back in Issue Four) but what about Washburn's acoustic basses? They've been around for a while now too, and I was interested to find out, not having had the chance to try one before.
Washburn was early into the acoustic bass guitar market and has done really well with the AB series. I remember watching the original 'MTV Unplugged' series of television music shows in my teens - you could pretty much guarantee you were going to see a Washburn acoustic bass being wielded by the featured artists.
Which brings us to this newcomer, the AB5 - a more affordable model, designed to appeal to the mid-level of the market, or the player who wants an acoustic bass now and then but can't justify a luxury model. At the moment there are just a few models listed on the Washburn website, including a five string and a Stuart Hamm model in the premium range. All come with a colour choice and depending on the model you choose, varying degrees of 'tech' on board, such as mono-rail bridge pieces and pre-amplifier EQ options.
The AB5 keeps it clean, usable and simple. The body isn't a full dreadnought or a skinny 'thin-line' but more akin to the size of a standard acoustic in depth. It's very easy to lean over the instrument and nice to look down at the rich mahogany side walls. The back of the bass body and neck are also mahogany, giving it fantastic looks, contrasted against the light and glossy spruce top. Alternatively, if you are that way inclined, the AB5 is also available in a glossy black finish that I think looks classy too. It's a stripped-down, no frills, classic look that I think we can all agree is very tidy!
Before filming, I picked up the Washburn for a noodle and was quite surprised to find that it was incredibly light. That's not unusual in comparison to a solid body electric, obviously, but I am sure it's much lighter than the five string acoustic I have back at chez Dood. It's funny how you set yourself up with certain expectations and I have to admit that given my initial sensory input I was somewhat surprised to hear how loud the AB5 was acoustically, considering its weight.
Now sound-wise, when it comes to acoustic basses, they are on to a losing streak to start with. Bodies on acoustic basses are too small to be able to produce the kind of low-end and volume to keep up with other acoustic instruments in an ensemble. Although the AB5 speaks with authority in the mid-range it, like many other acoustic basses doesn't have a great low bass end. Why? Well, there's a reason why a double bass has such a large body, even a cello's body is larger than that of an acoustic bass. My point being, we are already battling with physics and well, not gaining too much ground! It's an age old problem - after all, it was why instruments were 'electrified' back in the day in the first place; bands were just getting bigger and louder and us bass players were getting lost in the mix because we couldn't deliver the volume acoustically.
Thankfully, Washburn has taken this into account by including one of its its premium Equis acoustic pre-amplifiers on board, powered by a 9V battery and fed with signal from a piezo pick-up in the rosewood bridge piece. In the video review I made a point of choosing to hear the bass acoustically as well as amplified. Despite my reservations about 'low end girth', the bass has a really nice tone and I found that through the preamp EQ, adding a bit of bass and pulling out the mids a little gave the instrument a big and rounded sound. I liked adding in a bit of treble for string 'ping' too, but be aware that doing this with a piezo pickup will pick up finger noise on the strings too.
Speaking of the pre-amplifier, the amount of gain available from each of the controls is substantial and boosting could greet you with some feedback or howl from your amplifier or stage foldback if you do over-cook it a bit! My recommendation where possible is to cut, not boost - so, for example if you need more bass in your sound, try scooping out the mid range first before you push the bass slider up - it will have a similar effect when you readjust your volume control.
The balance of the AB5 was absolutely fine, no neck dive and it perched quite comfortably on my leg. The neck, as I've mentioned also in the video, has a really nice slim feel - smaller than a P bass neck but maybe not as tiny as the likes of a Jazz - a respectable 40mm nut width, jumbo sized frets and a reasonable string action made for a fairly easy journey around the fret board. Now, I think, you can expect a higher action on an acoustic bass 'out of the box'. It's reasonable to assume that you'll want to dig in a little harder to be heard if you are going to use the instrument acoustically. However, I am sure that lowering the action in the normal way with an acoustic bridge would be possible on this instrument (seek a local guitar tech if this means nothing to you!)
So to sum up, I think that the AB5 is a really nicely made instrument and is worthy of its price tag. That said, there's an awful lot of competition in this market, so you might want to shop around. If you do, though, I'm pretty sure though this one will be close to the top of the list.