|Founder||George Washburn Lyon|
|Headquarters||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Products||Electric, acoustic & resonator guitars
Washburn Guitars is an American manufacturer and importer of guitars, mandolins, and other string instruments. The original company was established in 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. The modern Washburn is a division of US Music Corp., in turn now owned by JAM Industries USA.
Lyon & Healy began in 1864 as a partnership of businessmen George W. Lyon and Patrick J. Healy, acting as the Chicago outlet for Boston sheet music publisher Oliver Ditson and Company. By 1865, Lyon & Healy had expanded into reed organs and some small instruments. The company achieved independence by 1880, and around 1888 the company launched fully into fretted and plucked instruments (guitars, mandolins, banjos, and zithers) under the "Washburn" brand, which happened to be Lyon's middle name.
Tracing the history of any particular instrument of this period presents many obstacles. Not only did the Lyon & Healy company often change designs to follow the rapidly evolving consumer demand, but the company also repaired instruments, and offered engraving services, including decorating instruments that it retailed but did not actually manufacture. As well, they built instruments for other retailers and distributors under various house brands, and outsourced construction of some models.
In 1912, Washburn introduced the Lakeside Jumbo guitar, which some consider the first dreadnought-sized guitar. It bridged the gap between smaller-bodied "parlor" guitars of the late 19th and early 20th century and modern-day dreadnought and jumbo acoustic guitars.
George Lyon retired from the company in 1889 (died 1894). Patrick Healy then led the company into a period of major expansion, beginning with a larger new factory and improved mass-production techniques, and soon dominated the domestic market. Their 1892 catalog claimed to manufacture 100,000 instruments annually. Healy died 1905.
By the 1920s, Lyon & Healy faced growing competition from other instrument manufacturers as well as from the rise of other forms of entertainment, particularly film and the gramophone. Lyon & Healy gradually shifted manufacturing chores onto wholesaler Tonk Brothers, to whom they sold the guitar portion of the business in 1928, continuing to produce their own lines of harps, pianos, and organs.
Tonk Brothers turned to manufacturer J.R. Stewart Company to purchase and operate the massive factory, but this transition proved problematic and Stewart went bankrupt in 1930. Some of the Stewart assets were acquired by the Regal Musical Instrument Company, which had purchased the "Regal" brand name in 1908 from Lyon & Healy (who acquired it in 1905). Regal was chosen to reopen the Washburn factory (producing Regal instruments as well). Though the Washburn brand was preserved, it never regained its preeminence, and by the early 1940s had declined to nothing.
An unbroken lineage is often alluded to by Washburn International, in press releases and advertising materials, and on the company website:
Washburn has been building stringed instruments since 1883. ... 130 years of history is at the root of our strong foundation building high quality instruments.
There is no direct connection between the original Washburn brand and the modern Washburn International.
In the early 1960s, retail store The Chicago Guitar Gallery hired Rudolf "Rudy" Schlacher, a young German violin builder, as a repair technician. A few years later, Schlacher opened The Sound Post (in Evanston, Illinois) to focus on guitars. He soon realized the sales potential for lower-cost quality instruments.
Tom Beckmen and his wife Judy Fink Beckmen in 1972 left careers as music salesman and teacher (respectively) to launch a wholesale music business in Los Angeles, Beckmen Musical Instruments. It was Beckmen Music that resurrected the Washburn name, and beginning in 1974 applied it to a series of quality imported acoustic guitars, made in Japan by Terada, as well as a selection of mandolins and banjos.
Schlacher and Rick Johnstone, as Fretted Industries, Inc., acquired the Washburn name in 1977 (for $13,000) when the Beckmens took their business a different direction, and so the Washburn name was returned to Chicago. With assistance from Ikutaro Kakehashi (founder of Roland Corporation), Schlacher was able to find instrument factories in Japan that could meet the desired standards.
Schlacher bought out Johnstone in 1987, and changed the company name to Washburn International. A stateside manufacturing operation was opened in 1991 for higher-end, short-run, and one-off instruments, as well as development and prototyping. That year, a Chicago Tribune article confidently places Washburn "among the top three guitar manufacturers in the world," behind only Fender and Gibson.
On December 15, 2002, Washburn International announced that it had completed acquisition of U.S. Music Corporation, and would be rolling its assets into that company in a reverse merger. Schlacher remained as CFO, appointing Gary Gryczan to COO; Gryczan had been Washburn's CFO from 1995 through 1998. The new USM's headquarters were in Mundelein (440 E. Courtland Street), which also housed the stateside Washburn luthiery, often referred to as "the USA Custom Shop."
Schlacher announced completion of selling USM to JAM Industries on August 24, 2009, and that he would be stepping away from his company after fully four decades.
We are pleased to join forces with a strategic partner like Jam Industries, that has a long, successful history in the music industry and has been a long-term business partner with U.S. Music for more than 20 years. It has been a thrilling and rewarding 40-year ride that has allowed me to realize my dreams and goals.
The corporate offices of U.S. Music were relocated to Buffalo Grove in 2012.
Very few modern Washburn instruments have been built by the company itself. It has relied on outside factories and luthiers to fulfill their designs and meet public demand.
The first modern Washburn instruments were full-size acoustic guitars imported from Japan by Beckmen Music. The 1974 range included one folk-style guitar (W-200) and eight dreadnoughts of increasing quality and decoration: W-240-12, W-250, W-260, W-280, W-300, W-300-12, W-500, W-600. These were constructed by Yamaki.
Under Rudy Schlacher, most Washburn models were ordered in runs of 200 units, rather than ongoing production; if sales went well, a further run might be ordered. This application of just-in-time manufacturing (or lean manufacturing) kept the company from needing to warehouse and liquidate overproduction, improving profitability. As a result, many Washburn instruments (acoustic or electric) are difficult to locate once out of production, and are scarcer than the "limited editions" of other manufacturers.
The first Washburn electric guitars were the Wing Series models, offered 1978-1984. These instruments featured innovative push-pull split humbuckers, brass hardware and inlays, and neck-through construction. Most of the Wing Series models were produced by Yamaki, a Japanese manufacturer of Washburn acoustic guitars as well as their own Daion brand (late 1970s to early 1980s).
By 1991, production of Washburn instruments had shifted almost entirely to Korea, built by Samick. When Samick opened their Cileungsi, Indonesia, facility in 1992, this factory also began to produce Washburn-branded instruments, generally identifiable by an "SI-" serial number prefix.
Washburn brought out a line of four USA-made dreadnoughts, available from 2002 to 2008. These were the D-78, D-80, D-82, and D-84. (All had the "-SW" suffix, for "solid wood," indicating that no laminate wood was employed.)
In 2012, when JAM Industries declined to renew the lease on the Mundelein facility, the Washburn luthiery closed. At the time, the Washburn facility was the ninth-largest employer in the village (the third-largest business), providing 180 jobs. The stated intent was to reopen at a smaller building in Buffalo Grove (1000 Corporate Grove Drive) but this did not materialize. A few Washburn models (particularly the N4) are produced in Cincinnati.
As of 2017, primary production has largely shifted from Korea to factories in Indonesia and China.
Most widely known for its guitars (both electric and acoustic), Washburn also makes electric basses, acoustic basses, banjos, mandolins, travel guitars, ukuleles, and amplifiers, as well as accessories including guitar cases, clothing, tuners, and straps.
In the 1980s, Washburn introduced the Festival Series of acoustic/electric guitars (the EA series, for "electrified acoustic"). They were thinner than standard acoustic guitars and less acoustically resonant by design, thereby reducing susceptibility to feedback, a significant problem using acoustic or electrified acoustic guitars in large-venue performances. The addition in later models of sound slots (rather than the traditional round soundhole), a patented innovation, further reduced the possibility of feedback, and the guitars quickly became the go-to stage acoustic for artists such as Jimmy Page, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan. In the early 1990s when MTV introduced their Unplugged series, hardly a show went by without seeing a Festival Series guitar. The design also lent itself well to acoustic basses, and Washburn's AB Series quickly became popular both for its look and its tone, whether amplified or unplugged.
In recent years, Washburn licensed several notable guitar construction features:
VCC is similar to coil splitting, in that it changes the tone of a humbucking pick-up to that of a single coil, but it does it by turning the tone knob ... without the hum normally associated with single coils.
Over the past 40 years, Washburn has accreted a system of identifying some of the most pertinent features in many of its acoustic instruments and some of the electric. Additional letters may be used to indicate the instrument's finish. While imperfectly applied, and sometimes awkwardly long, this can often be useful in identifying a given guitar.
This often combines with the prefix to tell a guitar's story. For example, the WLG110SWCEK indicates that it's part of the Woodline series (WL-), likely top of the line (110), Grand Auditorium (G) size, all solid wood, cutaway, piezo pickup, and originally included a case.
Any given series may have as few as only one model.
|HB||Hollow Body||semihollow archtop||1981-date|
|B||Bantam||headless bass||1984-1986||no connection to 1990s Bantams|
|GB||Bantam||headless bass/guitar||1984-1986||no connection to 1990s Bantams|
|G||Bantam||headless guitar||1984-1986||no connection to 1990s Bantams|
|Dime||Dimebag Darrell||1995-2004||signature line|
|NX||Nextar||2002-2003||Stephen's Extended Cutaway|
|HM||2008-2010||Series, not prefix|
|WM||HM||2008-2010||no connection to 1990s WM|
|JB||Jennifer Batten||2000-2004||signature line|
|LS||Laredo||Legacy; Silverado||S copy||1992-1994|
|LT||Laredo||Legacy; Silverado||T copy||1993-1994|
|BT||Maverick||BillyT; Bantam||1995-2002||all 24.75" scale|
|WM||Maverick||1997-2002||no connection to 2008 WM|
|DD||Maya||Dan Donegan||2005-2010||signature line|
|NC||Nick Catanese||2005-2009||signature line|
|N||Nuno Bettencourt||1990-date||Stephen's Extended Cutaway|
|PS||Paul Stanley||1998-date||signature line|
|SI||Scott Ian||2005-2010||signature line|
|EC||Extended Cutaway||1988-1991||Stephen's Extended Cutaway|
|AF||Tour||Ace Frehley||1987-1988||signature line|
|Bootsy Collins||Space Bass||2002-2006|
|RW||Roger Waters||2004||acoustic/electric||RW300 signature (USA)|
|WSJ||125th Anniversary||southern jumbo||2008-2009|
|DC||dreadnought||1987-1994||Stephen's Extended Cutaway|
Washburn uses the mechanism of endorsements, where:
Ola Englund recently posted an announcement that he wouldn't be renewing his contract with S7 Guitars and I also recently mentioned that S7G are no longer manufacturing the Strandberg Boden and Washburn have taken over those duties. Well it seems Washburn are making a big move back into the Metal guitar community as Ola Englund ... has just signed with Washburn to create a new Solar Series guitar, which will be part of the new Parallaxe series.
PS10BK / PS10WHK / PS12BK / PS12WHK / PS2012B / PS2012WH / PS2014TS
SHB30B / SHB30SVS / SHB40RS / SHB40TNG / SHB60NM / SHB60TSS / SHBH3N / SHBH3TNG