REBUILDING THE STRAT-STYLED WASHBURN LYON
for Proworkshop.com by Mark King
I bought this Washburn Strat style guitar for $55 at a pawn shop in Jacksonville with my friend Paul back around Y2K. Here’s a pawnshop shopping tip, if you’re looking for a low priced guitar find one that does not work. The price of this Washburn instantly dropped in half when I showed the store it did not make any sound. I also got a non-working Squire Stratocaster for $50 which I fixed up and gave to my friend Captain Welsh, both of these guitars had very simple wiring problems.
The biggest problem with this Washburn was the sound, like most inexpensive Strat style guitars it was equipped with custom tone-less pickups, all mids, no real bass or treble tone.
|Before latest rebuild|
Back in about 2003 I put a full sized Seymour Duncan 59 in the bridge position and a compact Little ’59 in the neck position. Overall the guitars tone still sucked pretty bad so it was mainly used for photoshoots.
A few weeks ago I was rebuilding my Made In Mexico Fender Stratocaster and discovered the tremolo bridge was a real piece of junk. As I was disassembling this Washburn I noticed the tremolo block on it was almost identical to the one on the previous MIM Strat. At that point I ordered a new replacement Fender vintage style tremolo bridge and block for $26 off Amazon.
|Original Washburn Trem block|
|New full size Fender vintage trem block|
NOT REALLY A STRAT
While the Washburn Lyon is styled like a Fender Stratocaster there are some key differences. The pickguard on the Lyon is not at all shaped like a real Stratocaster so a Fender branded replacement won’t work. I took the stock pickguard off the Washburn and made a tracing of it on paper, then I sent that to WD Music in Fort Myers to make me an all black version (my signature look). In the meantime I would go ahead and finish the new wiring and pickup installation, then test it with the old pickguard. It will be a simple swap of the electronics when the new pickguard arrives.
I decided to replace the selector switch with a 3-position CRL, this means you only get one pickup at a time. This was my goal, I’m not a fan of two humbucking pickups ON at the same time so using a 3-position switch means only one pickup is selected at any position.
For the single volume pot I went with a Seymour Duncan Speed Pot with a 500K ohm value. Since this guitar is loaded with humbucking pickups I decided not to include a tone control.
The new vintage Fender tremolo bridge fit perfect, I was able to reuse the original Washburn springs and claw in the rear of the guitar.
HOW DOES IT SOUND?
Wow, the bridge made a huge difference in this guitars tone. Sustain and note definition improved dramatically. I left the tremolo springs with mild tension which let the tremolo plate come up off the body which decreases overall sustain but it gives the guitar a magical sort of acoustic character.
This guitar has a plywood body, if you examine the pickup routing carefully you can see the layers of wood. The body is extremely light in weight and there is a crack all the way through the body under the tremolo springs. I wondered if these features would doom this guitar to sounding bad. I’m very happy with the tone so far, it sounds a bit like a Fender and a bit like a Gibson. It’s much better than I thought it would be so that makes me very happy.
As you might expect with all humbucking pickups this is a very quiet guitar. I’m glad I put it together with this pickguard while I wait for the new custom made part. I’m very excited by the preview so far, the new pick guard will utilize a Little ’59 in the bridge position so the three pickups will look matched.
|3-position CRL selector switch up close|
As it is this guitar would be a great axe for playing open mic gigs and outdoor shows over by the beach where the humidity is outrageous.
The next step is to set up and adjust the bridge. I literally just screwed it on to the guitar, put on new strings and tuned it up, surprisingly it played acceptably with no other adjustments. There is a slight relief in the neck that I want to adjust out and I need to match the bridge to the fingerboard radius but even without advanced setup adjustments it’s still easy to play and sounds impressive.
I’ll follow up once the new pickguard arrives.
Good music to all!