2/06/2014

c.1929 Washburn 5236 00-size Concert Guitar




Mmm-mm-mm! This is a tasty guitar and sounds especially good for fingerpicking or old-timey flatpicking. Its serial number dates it to 1929 -- just before Lyon & Healy let the brand go to J.R. Stewart. Its 5236 model number specifies a 00-size body and that's just what it is at 14 1/8" across the lower bout. The top is spruce and the back, sides, and neck are mahogany. It's got a rosewood board and (new) rosewood bridge.

Unlike the slightly later 5236 models, this one is still ladder braced but by this time L&H had figured out how to voice it just right -- this thing practically overflows with warmth and sustain. It's tonally like an odd hybrid between the tighter Larson sound and a more warm-bass 20s Martin sound. Most of the mid-20s and older Washburns I've played have felt a little more icy or "refined" in terms of dry clarity in their response pattern.


Work was a little heavier than normal on this guy: I reset the neck (and also installed a double-bolt system internally like a on a Gibson banjo or similar), pulled out the frets to level the board and remove warp, refretted it, installed a new bridge (modified to the same "smile" cut as the original bridge), drop-filled a few tiny hairline cracks on the back (and one on the front), and of course did the usual tuner lube and nut and saddle adjustments.



It's just a gorgeous old guitar. There's tons of use and playwear throughout and the finish is alligatored here and there and worn-in, scratched-up, or otherwise showing age all over. Still, the wood is all in remarkably good shape and the top only has one tiny 1" hairline (fixed) crack on the lower treble bout. The back has some tiny with-grain hairlines that're also filled up but that's to be expected with mahogany this old. This instrument is super-lightweight, too.


When I received the guitar it showed evidence of rough use as a Hawaiian instrument including the telltale mark of a raised extension nut and an added tailpiece for heavier stringing (the original bridge had a big old split in it and a straight saddle). It also had lots of wear and tear on the fretboard and the neck was warped a bit -- maybe 1/32" overall. I pulled the worn old frets and planed the warp out of the neck and now it plays like a dream with brand new frets. It's like playing a brand new old guitar...!


I love the look of the fancy Washburn headstocks from this time. The bone nut is original. This guitar has a 1 11/16" nut width which makes the spacing feel pretty modern. In addition the neck profile is sort of a soft V with a depth similar to a 20s Martin but with a bit more of a C feel to it.


The Brazilian rosewood board feels great. New "banjo size" frets emulate an older feel but with a more modern height. The pearl dots are all original save for the 12th fret dot which is a replacement for the original which got sanded-through during the board leveling.

The scale length runs to 24 3/4" which gives this a quick Gibson-y feel, though with the light build I wouldn't want to put anything heavier than 46w-10 at normal tension.


There's a little bit of top distortion right around the soundhole (as you get sometimes on ladder-braced instruments) but otherwise the condition of the top is great with a nice flat belly. I expect that I'll have to lightly adjust the setup again in a few days once it settles back into being an instrument rather than a hunk of wood, though!


This is a standard-style bridge from my parts bin but I installed a new bone saddle, rosewood pins and...


...cut it to fit the original profile. What's a late 20s/early 30s Washburn minus it's smile bridge?


...some nice looking 'hog, here, huh? There's a bit of curl here and there. The fiberloid or celluloid black binding recalls Martin style 18 aesthetics.



Who can argue with engraved plates and black buttons? These old guys work just fine now thanks to a spritz of WD-40.


Mahogany is a slightly rarer option on Washburns. Most tend to be rosewood.




How about that cute little label?


The heel cap was missing but I didn't have anything I liked well enough on hand to glue to it... so I touched it up with black ink and sealed it which actually looks pretty authentic.




There's one filled tiny screwhole above the original rosewood endpin. That was from the trapeze tailpiece that someone had added a long while back.



It's really hard to see but here you can see the big hex nut of the lower internally-installed bolts. The heel is glued as well as bolted. When I took the joint apart I found a pretty chewed-up dovetail that had been hackily reglued and I've always liked bolted-on necks (easier to do resets on later on) better anyhow.

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