Washburn HM Series WM526 Guitar
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The Washburn WM526 is one of nine guitars Washburn recently introduced as part of its HM Series, and represents the upper echelon of that line in terms of price and features. Hence the name, the HM line (Heavy Metal, get it?) is aimed at players of the heavy stuff (you know who you are). Beauty is more than skin deep where the WM526 is concerned — Washburn’s collaboration with Parker Guitars to create a super fast and comfortable neck utilizing carbon and fiberglass technology makes this a very special guitar.
The Beauty of the WM526 is that although it’s designed to “bring the metal” you don’t have to be a metal player to enjoy it. We will stop short at saying it’s a great Jazz or Country guitar, but if rock is your thing, this axe has the right stuff to fit the bill.
Visually, it’s a double cutaway Strat-style guitar, and if you’re getting a sense of “been there, done that,” don’t let the description fool you — our test guitar was visually stunning in its shiny black finish. The guitar is just the right weight, with strategically placed contours providing an enjoyable and comfortable playing experience.
The price point on this American-made guitar decidedly places it in the pro guitar category, but if your budget allows, it’s a luxury that should be experienced.
Essentially a double-cutaway “shred” guitar, as the name implies, this axe was made for metal, and it sports some familiar features. However, the ultra fast Parker Guitars-perfected Carbon and glass fingerboard and stainless steel frets give it a leg up on many guitars in the same price range. Add to that the incredible Buzz Feiten tuning system and a set of active EMG pickups, plus an original Floyd Rose tremolo, and you have everything you need to be the metal god that you are!
Our review guitar came in black and is one of two colors offered for this particular model, the other being a snazzy metallic red. The fretboard lacks inlays for a stylish look, but not to worry — fret markers exist on the top edge of the fretboard.
The active EMG 85/81 pickup set is an absolute classic combination. With that said, players seem to fall into two categories – love ‘em or hate ‘em. Those that fall into the former cite the ultra tight bass and clear cutting highs and the latter complain of a cold, sterile sound. Later, we will see what the review team heard through our amps.
Also falling into the love/hate category is the Original Floyd Rose system. “Love” because if set up properly it’s near impossible to knock out of tune, and “hate” because changing strings can be a bit burdensome. And finally, anyone who has experienced string breakage mid solo knows the angst of the entire guitar going out of tune!
When you’re not cranking out the 64th notes on your WM 526, you can rest assured that it will stay safe and sound in the included GC11 hard shell padded case.
The neck is one of the most comfortable we have ever played. Both Washburn and Parker Guitars are part of the U.S Music Corp. so this cross-pollination of sorts is no coincidence. To call this a “fast neck” is to engage in understatement. The “smooth as glass” feel just begs you to cram as many notes as humanly possible into a single bar. Furthermore, there is not a hint of fret buzz or choked notes to be found.
The Floyd Rose Trem is set up to float, meaning you can both dive bomb into the pits of hell or pull up on the bar to raise the pitch ala Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. True to form, even after some of the most extreme whammy bar antics this side of “Third Stone from the Sun” we could not knock the WM 526 out of its A440 tuning.
Electronically, things are kept intentionally simple with one Tone knob, one Volume pot, and a three-way toggle switch — no coil taps, push/pull pots, or rotary switches to be found. This seems appropriate given the fact that most metal-heads couldn’t care less about such things, but it may be a limitation for players looking for a single “Swiss Army Knife” guitar for gigging.
The pickup selector switch allowed for selection of the bridge and neck pickups independently, or both pickups together. The location of the switch was convenient and most players will find switching pickups mid solo an easy task.
The guitar is set up using the Buzz Feiten Tuning System, which provides outstanding tuning consistency across the entire fretboard. Most players have discovered that some notes across adjacent strings sound more or less out of tune with each other when playing high up on the neck, and the BFTS uses a compensated nut and bridge saddles to correct for the imperfect nature of a multi-stringed instrument. However, you must remember to tune the guitar according to BFTS methods, which is not a simple matter of hitting your open strings while looking at a tuner. Visit this link for a primer on how the system works, and also for instructions on how to properly tune your guitar.
The EMG 85/81 set remained articulate even under gobs of gain, and we particularly liked the “chirp” we heard when playing single note solos, not unlike the Seymour Duncan JB that shares this same characteristic. Whether it’s the pickups or the acoustical properties of the guitar, it’s there nonetheless and will make your solos jump out of the mix. Open treble strings rang out, and the overall sound remained bright and full of presence despite the high output ratings of the pickups.
Rolling off the volume did a beautiful job cleaning up our sound, even while playing through an extremely high-gain amp setting, but we found the Tone control much less useful. It seemed to go almost directly from bright to dull with almost no difference in between, more like an On/Off switch for tonal preference. But typically, we leave our Tone knobs on their maximum settings — especially on our hard rock/metal guitars, and this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the guitar’s overall sound.
Of course while the volume knob trick is fine for players of single-channel amps, we like to get our clean tones the other way — change our tone at the amp, or change amps! So to that end, we moved over to a Rivera Hundred Duo Twelve, also affectionately known as the “Twin Killer,” for its spanking clean sound. Here is where EMG’s legendary sterility comes into play. Think “One” or “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica (I know, enough with the Metallica already!). Not a bad sound by any means — just don’t expect vintage, bell-like, Strat quack or loads of harmonic “swirl” and overtone.
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