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By Jon Chappell
Harmony Central Senior Editor
Washburn is a major supplier to the heavy metal weapons arsenal with its line of HM guitars, all designed to deliver the tone, provide the playability, and project the attitude of this galvanized genre. At the top of this line is the American-made WM526, a guitar that bristles with the best of the best in components and exhibits a build quality that will pass muster with even the most demanding shredders. It’s available in three striking finishes: black, metallic red, or metallic green, and every element on the WM526, from the hardware components to the flawlessly finished stainless steel frets to the aesthetic touches, is top-flight stuff.
Upon opening the case of the WM526, the guitar’s gleaming metallic-red finish; aerodynamic curves; and sleek, long lines didn't say "Play me" as much as "Put the pedal to the metal and let’s ride!" This guitar—like the high-performance sports-car mojo it imparts—simply screams speed, precision handling, and power. Before we take it for a spin, let’s see what’s under the hood.
The 25-1/2", 24-fret mahogany neck is fast and facile, and the action is set up to accommodate virtuosic playing and advanced techniques such as sweep picking, compound slurs, tapping, rapid alternate picking, and intense whammy-bar abuse. The moderately low action is consistent from the third fret all the way to the 24th. What makes the set-in neck so fleet-feeling is not just its narrow profile or low action; it’s the licensed Parker Guitars technology that employs a carbon-glass-epoxy composite fingerboard over a mahogany neck. The fretboard material offers the hard, smooth surface essential to fretting notes in rapid succession, bending strings over intervals great and small, and gliding up and down the neck in quick position shifts.
The nut is both of the locking variety (to accommodate the Floyd Rose floating bridge) and compensated for the included Buzz Feiten Tuning System. The headstock is reversed with the inline tuning machines placed on an angle, causing the strings to fan out from the nut to the posts in a distinctive, metal-esque way. High-quality Grover tuners with an 18:1 ratio offer precise tuning.
The double-cutaway mahogany body sports a nicely contoured carved top with stylish deep scoops at each of the horns and a gentle slope from the center pickup area out to the sides. The back has two removable panels—one to access the electronics and the other to access the sustain block, springs, and the floating bridge's claw. An Original Floyd Rose floating bridge with compensated saddles for the Feiten system rounds out the body appointments.
The pickup configuration of an EMG-81 in the bridge and EMG-85 in the neck is metal-ready. These high-gain/low-noise humbuckers rule the hard-rock world. Controls are straightforward with just a master volume, master tone, and three-way pickup selector to create three possible combinations (neck, neck/bridge, bridge). The pickup covers and all supporting hardware are finished in matte black which matches the other body and headstock hardware.
After I got accustomed to the fast feel of the neck and got my chops nice and clean in the acoustic realm, it was time to plug in. This being a shredder guitar, I eagerly broke out my Marshall JCM900 4100 and got ready to rock the joint. First, to get a sonic handle on things, I practiced clean and crunchy power chords using the EMG-85 neck pickup, varying the volume and tone controls to manage the tone. Even on high-gain settings with a tube amp, the EMG-85 was dead silent. When you begin strumming, its full, clear, and bell-like sound rings out with punch and balance.
Mixing in the EMG-81 bridge pickup with the EMG-85 brought another dimension to the sound without sacrificing the clarity that the neck pickup exhibited when used alone. This was the perfect combination for crunchy chords, rhythm riffs that fused single lines with low-string power chords, and full six-string major and minor triads. The Marshall helped bring out just enough high harmonics from the EMG-81 to give the groove bite and edge.
In all-out mode, using the EMG-81 by itself in Channel B of the JCM900, the WM526 fairly screamed. This is not the guitar for the faint of heart or fumble-fingered. Once you’ve got your chops down, you can just point your fingers in the right direction and the guitar goes where you want it to, no questions asked. I really noticed the smooth fretboard playability above the 15th fret; you can bend, fret, and perform fast passages with total confidence and precision. Tapping licks and sweep-picking passages are effortless—you can keep them up for days. Legato slurs are so easy that it’s hard to hear where the flatpick leaves off and the hammers and pulls take over. Since the action is only moderately low (and not ridiculous), you can hit the strings with some force without them buzzing out on you. Bending notes above the 20th fret is easy thanks to the flat radius, narrow profile, and composite-based fretboard. Depth-crawling whammy bar dives spring back to perfect tuning.
I also tried the WM526 through my Fender Vibro-King, and got some great blues and chicken-pickin’ sounds, even though that’s not its advertised strength. The clear sound and tonal range of the pickups work in a variety of settings, including clean picking and blues-based boogie riffing, where I added just enough dirt to keep things from being too squeaky clean. You may not think of the WM526 as a blues guitar because of its look and feel, but this axe covers many tonal bases.
The WM526’s quality materials and superior workmanship make it well suited for shredding as well as other pyrotechnical displays of playing prowess. In particular, the neck configuration—with traditional mahogany for balance, tone, and familiar feel coupled with Parker Guitars’ space-age composite materials for a fast and friction-free fingerboard—is unique. But the WM526 really comes alive when you play it. The component quality, playability, and classic EMG-81/85 character all come together to produce a soaring onslaught of sound, proving the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The WM526 is not only a classic-sounding metal axe, but also a sweet-playing one, and a must-have for the serious shredder’s arsenal.