The Bluesbox Collection

Washburn 1890's Type 1 "New Model" Parlour Guitar

I bought this guitar at the Thin Man guitar shop in Alameda after noticing it on their web site. It was one of two that they had in the store - I thought this one was the better of the two because it appears to have had a professional neck reset, while the other looked like it needed one. This model was manufactured from 1885 until sometime in the early 1900's (around 1905). There is a serial number (44942), but no label inside the guitar, so it is not possible to know exactly when it was made. A Washburn expert recently told me that the date of manufacture was probably around 1892. There is a Washburn brand stamped on the inside under the soundhole and also the words "New Model".

This guitar is all solid wood, with a close-grained spruce top which is the thinnist I have ever seen. There was only one flaw on the face - what appeared to be a "finger gouge" right near the bridge. I covered it with the pick guard, which I modeled after one I saw on a turn of the century Martin. The back is book matched brazilian rosewood, as are the sides. It has a slotted head with rosewood veneer facing over mahogany and a 1/2" circular mother of pearl inlay at the top of the headstock which was probably added after it was first purchased, because it is not actually flush with the surface of the wood and is slightly off kilter. In fact, it looks to me like a button!

The fingerboard and bridge are ebony. The neck is mahogony, and has been professionally repaired where the head broke off sometime in the past. The neck joins the body at the 12th fret, which officially designates it as a "parlour" guitar. It is a tiny guitar (12 1/2" wide at the lower bout - the body is 18" long - the overall length is a hair over 36"). This configuration is said to be the optimum string to body length to produce a ringing tone and listening to this guitar would tend to verify that proposition in my mind. I have also read that this size and shape body produces the "perfect guitar sound" by no less an authority then Eric Schoenberg. The tone is rich and balanced with a lot of bass and mid-range, unsurpassed treble and is (amazingly!) the loudest acoustic guitar I own. This instrument is a finger-picker's dream.

By the way, this is not the same Washburn company that makes guitars today (despite the claims of their company literature). The original Washburn brand was a created by the Lyon & Healy Company, which was a large sheet music distributor founded in Chicago in 1864. The brand name was derived from the middle name of one of the partners in the firm, businessman, George Washburn Lyon. His partner, P.J. Healy, was a guitar maker, but Washburn guitars were made in a factory setting. L&H started making guitars in the 1880's and was one of the leading supplier of fretted instruments to mail order catalogs, like Sears and Montgomery Ward, until the late 1920's, when Harmony and Kay assumed control of that market with instruments of somewhat inferior quality. The brand was sold several times and eventually was discarded. It was revived by an importer of guitars made in the orient in the 1964. Lyon & Healy is still in business, and is the largest and most respected American maker of orchestral harps.

back to the The Bluesbox Collection