The Washburn EC29 model (also called the Spitfire II or Challenger II model depending on which catalog you look at) was introduced by WASHBURN in 1987. It was designed by Stephen Davies - with his extended cutaway and 29 frets. Above the 24th fret this model has compensated (thinner) fretwire to improve playability.
The standard finish had a crackle effect but custom order sunburst finish over figured maple top was also an option. It had a through body neck and was a high quality Japanese made superstrat. The EC29 was discontinued around 1989 - with less than 2000 instruments made in total.
In July 1988 Robbie Gladwell reviewed the Washburn EC29 in Guitarist magazine as follows:
THESE WERE DESIGNED IN conjunction with luthier Stephen Davies, who developed the patented Stephens extended cutaway. This new cutaway allows easy access to the last fret without altering your playing position. The model | have for review is the EC29 which features the new splash finish.
Coming to terms with 22 frets is daunting enough for most people but the acquisition of an extra seven is great for those who have the ability and imagination to use them. No doubt many players would say ‘Why bother?’, but | believe it’s a useful addition if you’re trying to emulate Gary Moore or the like.
The fingerboard is made of a very good quality, dark coloured rosewood and is fitted with 24, wide oval frets — the remaining five being a high profile narrow gauge wire. The top of the board is angled so as to allow the placement of the rhythm pickup.It’s possible to bend the string at the 29th fret and play the top B note without too much difficulty, even though the fingerboard is quite narrow at this point. The mother of pearl dot inlays run centrally up the fingerboard until they reach the 12th fret, from there to the 29th fret they run along the treble side in quite a unique fashion. The neck is a multi-laminate design which extends through the body, giving a rigid assembly and allowing maximum sustain even on the last fret. Black chrome Gotoh machine heads and a three bolt locking nut are fitted to the headstock.
The usual‘flash’ logo is replaced in this instance with the more subtle ‘George Washburn’ hand scripted logo. The access point for the adjustable truss rod is just above the lock-nut and is covered with a shark-fin shaped piece of black laminated plastic which echoes the shape of the pointed headstock.
The body shape resembles a stretched-out Strat, mainly due to the extended cutaway. The area behind where the neck meets the body has been carved away so as to be the same overall thickness as the neck. Visually this looks extremely strange but it does make for comfortable playing - even up to the very top. The neck is very even in proportion along its entire length. It feels virtually the same in depth at the top end as it does at the bottom - you’d have to try one out to appreciate what | mean by this.
The splash finish is aptly named;it looks as if someone has taken a brush, dipped it in a pot of paint and splashed the guitar with it, although the resulting effect is actually quite attractive. After the Washburn‘artists’ have done their thing the whole finish is sealed in multiple coats of polyester lacquer to provide a rock-hard finish. Two pickups are fitted; one humbucking pickup near the bridge and one single-coil pickup near the fingerboard. The humbucker is also coil-tapped and is switched into circuit by the use of a push/pull switch attached to the tone control. The pickups resemble those made by EMG in fact they look very much like their range of Select pickups but with the Washburn name on them instead.
A Strat-style three position switch is used, and the instrument fitted with one volume, one tone — a control that Washburn call the ‘buffered mid range ‘fat’ control’. As you can probably gather from this, the EC29 is active and has a specialised low impedance circuit. This control, coupled with the active circuit, gives a 10dB boost at 6.3K. In Washburn’s words,“It’s right where the crunch is” and | must admit this system works very well. Wound up through our large Marshall stack you get just the right sound without any microphonic feedback. The battery has its own compartment on the back which is easily accessible by removing two screws.
The instrument is equipped with a 600 T tremolo system, licensed under Floyd Rose patents,and is one of my personal favourites. It gives all the facilities of the standard Floyd Rose, without the hassle of having to cut off the ball ends of the strings - they feed through from behind, through the posts which control the fine tuning, then over the saddles and clamped in place with little blocks and Allen bolts. This locks the strings at the saddle and in conjunction with the locking top nut provides extremely stable tuning. It also facilitates rapid string changing should the need arise. The body is routed out underneath the tremolo system to allow maximum string bend both upwards and backwards. A foam rubber strip is included behind the tremolo system to prevent the usual clunk when you pull the tremolo in the backwards direction.
I had to do little work to the instrument when it arrived, as the frets were slightly uneven, plus there was a step between the 24th and 25th frets where the wire changes gauge. But a minor fret dress soon solved the problem. | was particularly impressed with the amount of sustain you can achieve with this ‘fat’ control. You can set the guitar and amplifier for a clean sound and then wind in the amount of boost you want and get really controllable, dirty sound.
The feel of the neck and the playability reminds me of an early 60’s Strat - a slightly clubby neck but very easy to play. The main difference of course is that this has 29 frets, so you have to be very careful that you don’t fly past the position you are aiming for: much to my embarrassment,this actually happened to me on a couple of gigs!
The nut width is approximately 1 11/16” and the scale length is 25.5”. 009 to .042 gauge strings come as standard, tension is fairly light and it’s easy to bend the strings. In fact the instrument is extremely playable with good sustain along the entire fingerboard - even up to the 29th fret.
With the current number of techno-flash guitarists appearing every day | am sure the EC29 will find a niche. It’s certainly not a cheap guitar, but | think it’s one of the most innovative around at the moment, considering it’s sound capabilities and general playability. It’s perfect for the metal player or the serious blues player who would like to take his BB King trills an octave higher! | would like to have seen a bit more attention to detail, especially at the top end of the fingerboard, which is a little untidy. Apart from a few minor criticisms I must say that the Washburn is very good value for money, although | feel that the paint finish might become a victim of fashion within the next year or so.
RRP; £802.00 (inc VAT)