THIS MONTH’S FLASHBACK COMES STRAIGHT out of the late-’90s “MTV Unplugged” era, when acoustic bass guitars were all the rage. While this style of bass has its roots back hundreds of years ago in Spain, later emerging as the Mexican guitarron and being reinvented in the Ernie Ball Earthwood bass, Washburn was the company that really put the ABG on the map in the 1980s. Since then there have been many variations on this theme, but the AB-45 was definitely state of the art for the time.
This beauty belongs to my friend Spady Brannan, who used it extensively on Julianna Hough’s latest CD. Compared to the Washburn AB-20 [Retro-Rama, October ’08], this is a much more upscale instrument. The arched top is the most obvious design change, and the bookmatched top, flamed sides and back are beautiful. The neck is a 7-piece laminate that looks great and feels very stable. Another nice touch is that the angled end of the fingerboard gives access to a high G on the top string. The gold hardware and cream binding are classy, and while the distinctive Washburn angled slots that replace the sound hole look cool and do help with preventing feedback when amplified, they do result in a reduction of acoustic volume. The reality is that unless you are playing alone, you need to amplify this bass.
This one was a prototype, and may have been too expensive to produce in its original form. Washburn reconfigured the bass in a more affordable version that is still available today. Spady modified his Washburn with a replacement pickup and preamp to mellow out the clackiness of the original piezo system, and replaced the original frets with mandolin frets, (a la Lee Sklar). Spady uses custom heavygauge black nylon strings and a foam mute. The .130-gauge B helps to make it tighter than you might expect for an early 5-string.
The bass sounds smooth and round with a mellow plunkiness on the top end. Its 2-band EQ, while not as flexible as the AB-20’s 3-band slider control, has bass and treble controls at very useable frequencies. Almost any setting sounds good, but with the low end nearly maxed out and the treble at about half, it has a more than reasonable simulated “upright” tone, which many ABGs claim but few achieve. After 20 years, this golden wonder still shines