By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
It’s a rare thing to pick up a guitar with a price tag as affordable as the Washburn WD20SCE guitar and start thinking in adjectives like “flawless” and “stunning,” yet that was exactly my impression when I viewed and played this steal of an instrument for the first time. An expertly manufactured modern dreadnought with the important bell and whistle of a Fishman 301T preamp and Isys+ electronics, this fine acoustic-electric guitar both confirms and denies the old saying “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” That’s because the Washburn WD20SCE is clearly designed and built with modern manufacturing techniques, including the imbedded saddle pickup and controls, yet exhibits the craftsmanship and attention to detail of handbuilt dreadnoughts.
The single-cutaway Washburn WD20SCE guitar features a solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides, a finished mahogany neck with double-action truss rod, and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge with bone nut and saddle. The smoothly operating tuners are die-cast chrome. Inlays include the Washburn logo and stylized W on the rosewood capped headstock, standard fret dots, and a simple geometric rosette (no pickguard). The dreadnought guitar has a 25-1/2" scale with a 1-11/16" nut width and 2-1/8" string spacing at the saddle.
The review instrument I received showed no signs of irregularity in the quartersawn Sitka spruce bracing, glue traces, or other flaws at the seams or in the binding. The glossy finish on the back and sides showed no blemishes, and the satin neck coat was applied and finished for maximum playability. The 1/4” jack and control panel were unobtrusively inserted and felt like organic components of the guitar. The WD20SCE guitar is backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
All the construction quality and good looks wouldn’t have mattered if the guitar were uninspiring to play or exhibited dull or weak sound, but the Washburn WD20SCE scored big as both an acoustic and electric instrument. The guitar was set up well; had no fret buzz with medium-low action; and had full, rich tones right out of the box. It sounded like an aged dreadnought in the low end, but crisp and bright on top with no overriding boxiness in the low-midrange. The Venetian cutaway allowed easy access to the 17th fret, and I was able to play high leads in various styles as easily as I could fingerpick soft passages at standard position.
Perhaps most surprising, when I plugged the Washburn WD20SCE into my mixer and recording system, the amplified sound was practically indistinguishable from the acoustic sound in the studio. The Fishman preamp includes a seven-segment LED tuner and phase selector (to improve bass response at low volume and suppress feedback at high volume) along with a low-battery indicator. The Isys+ system includes well-calibrated volume, bass, and treble controls, but I didn’t need to adjust the tone at all for recording because the default sound and output of the WD20SCE guitar was so satisfying.
The volume, bass, and treble controls did come in handy when I plugged the guitar into my Roland VGA-7, a full-range amp designed to handle a wide spectrum of unfiltered and highly processed guitar signals. The extended frequency-range handling is good to have when using an amp with an acoustic-electric on a gig as a single. With this setup, I reduced both the bass and treble along with the guitar’s output, and relied on the amp’s volume control for gain, which helped with feedback in close quarters. With these adjustments, the WD20SCE sounded as good as it had acoustically through a mixer.
I can’t say enough about how even-toned and playable the Washburn WD20SCE was as a simple acoustic performer. It held up admirably against my longtime favorite (and more expensive) dreadnought. As a recording guitarist, I know that the best-sounding acoustic is not always the easiest to capture in a studio. But the WD20SCE sounded great on recordings (with very little tweaking) and played like a dream—the ideal bridge guitar for players who spend most of their time on a standard acoustic or an electric. That’s how well it played and how good it felt.
Bottom line, top shelf
You can buy a more expensive acoustic-electric guitar, but you may not find one as versatile, playable, and sonically pleasing as Washburn’s WD20SCE. It’s an acoustic-electric that’s well made, good looking, and built to excel in almost any kind of musical situation that requires a traditional or modern-sounding acoustic guitar. This is no simple jack-of-all-trades, however. The WD20SCE guitar has a unique and consistent tone that, along with its beautiful design, will give its owner a lot of good music and pleasure for many years.
Features & specs:
- Dreadnought cutaway style
- Solid Alaskan Sitka spruce top
- Quarter sawn scalloped bracing
- Rosewood sides and back
- Satin-finished mahogany neck with 2-way truss rod
- Rosewood fingerboard and bridge with bone nut and saddle
- Rosewood-capped headstock with mother-of-pearl Washburn logo & stylized W inlay
- Die-cast chrome tuners
- Fishman Isys+ tuner/preamp system
- Equipped with D’Addario strings
- Limited lifetime warranty