The need for speed never goes away, and Washburn’s latest lengthily-named offering is a piece of rock apparatus tuned for high performance from the ground up. Review by Marcus Leadley
Description: Solidbody electric guitar. Made in Indonesia
Contact:Sound Technology 01462 480000 – www.soundtech.co.uk
While Washburn has produced a huge range of guitars over the years you’ll probably associate the brand with either acoustics, which have been in production since 1883, or the rock instruments that first came along at the end of the 1970s. Washburn was an early adopter of the Floyd Rose and a champion of so-called super-Strat designs with their H/S/S pickup layouts. However, the company’s commitment to the world of rock and metal has needed a refresh for a while now.
The new Parallaxe series might provide just that. There are three designs with different headstocks, configurations that offer Seymour Duncan or EMG pickups, Floyd Rose or hardtail bridges, and a range of body timbers. There are also seven-string and eight-string models.
True to Washburn form the models are designated by codes rather than names, so the model we have in on test is the PXM20FRFBCBM (we’ll just call it the PXM20 for short). Most of the letters mean it’s the Floyd Rose/Seymour Duncan version. It’s a top of the line model, and Washburn has designed it for the serious shredder.
It’s clear that the PXM20 isn’t trying to reinvent a basic style, but a lot of thought has gone into tweaking individual features and these all add up to a major performance upgrade. The double-cut design hasn’t changed much since the ’80s but if you look closely at the delicate contours of the mahogany body, especially the arch of the top over which a flame maple veneer is applied, it’s quite a work of art.
The 24-fret set neck blends seamlessly into the body in a design that’s referred to as a Stevens Extended Cutaway, and access all the way up to the second octave is great. All Parallaxe models feature an ebony fingerboard. Overall the neck feels great, and the matte finish is an improvement as it seems to give a better balance between traction and free motion. The string tension created by the 25.5″ scale makes for a very crisp, snappy performance, while the super-smooth jumbo-size frets give you plenty of metal to bend against, making soloing a joyous experience.
Washburn guitars are all produced using the Buzz Feiten tuning system with a compensated nut to ensure pitch accuracy. After playing a wide range of fretted and open-string combinations we can attest to the fact that the intonation is almost spookily perfect.
The acoustic tone is bright and clear with a real piano-like character; natural sustain is also very good. On this score Washburn has upgraded the basic Floyd Rose design to include a 36mm brass block as a replacement for the standard 30mm steel one; more mass generally equals better sustain.
The Floyd’s springs are fitted with rubber damping strips so you don’t get any creaks, rattles or reverberations as you whammy away or bang the guitar against your body as you leap about the stage. The Floyd is a masterpiece of design that works brilliantly, and for anyone who wants to do metal divebombing it really is the only practical option. People tend to forget, however, that it’s also perfect for precise and nuanced bends. The main limitation of the design is the fact that you can’t change tunings quickly.
While the PXM20’s electrics are straightforward, the coil tap option activated by the push/pull tone and volume adds the flexibility of single coil tones to your palette. The choice of the basic Seymour Duncan Distortion unit for the bridge pickup makes a lot of sense: this is a tried and tested monster of tone. Equally, the slightly warmer Jazz version for the neck reflects the need of the more mature player who wants to pull a range of sounds from their guitar. Three-way switching ensures the PXM20 is a familiar ride.
As the PXM20 is designed for metal we’ll work backward toward the clean tones. It soon becomes apparent that it’s a very flexible instrument. The world of high-gain sounds has a subtlety all its own and if you don’t start with a strong, well-articulated signal and a relatively uncoloured tonal spectrum, shaping sound becomes a problem. Midrange mush or overly shrill highs can so often be a telltale sign of poorly-voiced, overpowered pickups.
These Seymour Duncans may be hot, but not at the expense of tone. Amplifier characteristics are extremely important here. For example, by switching from a vintage Marshall 100W to a Peavey 5150 you can get very close to early and mid-period Van Halen; staying with the Marshall and working the tone controls gives you a good approximation of a large variety of classic ’70s Les Paul and SG rock sounds.
Pulling up on the pots for single coil operation makes thing much more Strat-like, although the sound of the guitar is quite different from a Fender so you won’t be pensioning yours off just yet, and of course it doesn’t have any in-between phase settings.
The PXM20 is very much at home driving digital gear, successfully bringing Kemper, Line 6 and Avid models to life. The pickups are super-clean, even in single coil mode, so the instrument is a brilliant tool for direct to computer recording. The sound also holds up extremely well with high-gain pedals, delivering solid, chunky chords with just the right amount of rip and zing and monster riffs that you can really hunker down into.
The clean capabilities of the PXM20 come as a pleasing and unexpected bonus. Even the bridge humbucker can deliver big, ringing chords and the neck pickup can even get funky. With the tone control fully wound off you can actually comp jazz chords and still hear the changes clearly. The guitar sustains forever; drench liberally with reverb and season with echo… lovely. Although you can feel the body resonate when you play, the tonal influence of the wood itself feels pretty minimal. The lock at the nut and the metallic mass of the Floyd Rose mean the tone has a very specific, bell-like character.
With the exception of hollowbody tones, this PXM20FRFBCBM can capably cover the entire spectrum of the electric guitar repertoire. As such, it would be an ideal instrument for an advanced player looking to invest in one instrument to perform across a wide rage of styles – someone perhaps going away to university who can’t be dragging a shedload of gear behind them. It’s incredibly easy to play and light as a feather. The styling is fairly conservative, so it would be at home in pretty much any context… and, yes, it totally excels when it comes to hard and heavy rock, and eats just about every sort of metal for breakfast.
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