A historic reissue comes under the scrutiny of the suitably vintage David Mead.
Turn back the pages in the guitar history books to around 1912 and you’ll discover the original Washburn Lakeside which was built with volume and projection in mind for, in a world without the benefits of amplification, guitarists were still struggling to compete with a full band. So manufacturers met that need by building bigger bodies – this particular model’s body shape pre-echoed the dreadnought that was to follow a few years later…
Over the years, the Washburn guitar company has changed ownership a few times, but the heritage that began way back at the beginning of the last century still has a strong presence on today’s guitar market. So it’s no surprise that Washburn has resolved to examine that glorious past with a few contemporary reissues, including this jumbo
First impressions? Well, it’s a big’un, that’s for sure. Just to give you some sort of perspective, we’re talking 450mm at the lower bout, 380mm at the upper with a depth of 133mm at the bottom end. The overall shape shrieks “dreadnought” rather than “jumbo”, too.
For its size, it’s not a heavy guitar – and it looks suitably historic, too; and so all’s well on the cosmetic front, but let’s take a step at a time through the construction details of the Lakeside Jumbo.
The top is solid Sitka spruce, the grain pattern all but obscured by the semi-opaque brownburst finish. Under strong light it’s possible to make out a good straight grain with feathering in abundance. I noticed that there’s a place on the inner rim of the soundhole where the finish has received some sort of trauma, making it possible to see a 19mm sliver of bare wood. Possibly it received a knock during the stringing process at the factory, I don’t know – but I’m sure it would send shivers down the spine of quality control if they saw it.
The Lakeside’s back and sides are laminated rosewood and here the opacity of the finish really does defeat the probing eye as only the most close-up and careful scrutiny reveals any detailing of the wood. The body is bound with white plastic and is very much decoratively in keeping with the period in which the guitar was originally launched.
On to the neck and here we find mahogany which has been profiled in a sort of generous D – I suspect an original would have been thicker and possibly even boat shaped, as was the fashion back then; but Washburn has sensibly made the neck profiling more desirable to today’s player.
The headstock boasts six open-back Wilkinson tuners with buttons that have a vintage vibe to them. The front carries the distinctive Washburn logo with a flourish of mother of pearl as an underscore.
Fretboard duties are given over to rosewood, with plain pearl dots as position markers. Both nut and saddle are bone, the latter sitting in a standard rosewood bridge.
You’d expect a pretty meaty sound from a body this size and you’d be right! You might also wonder if the lower mids would sound a bit on the boomy side – but, thankfully, they’re not. Strumming open G and C chords reveals an evenly balanced soundscape with plenty of bass and some nice sparkly trebles – enough, in fact, to keep any singer-songwriter happy for hours.
Switching over to fingerstyle revealed a nice surprise, too. Sometimes dreadnoughts and jumbos are just too much overkill for delicate instrumental pieces, but the Lakeside coped really rather well. I would say that ragtime or even jazz players would find a lot here to like – in fact, stick on a half decent soundhole pickup and I think you’d be pretty much good to go under most circumstances.
Despite its size, the Lakeside is a comfortable guitar to play. I’ve found in the past that many dreadnoughts suffer from the “don’t sit – stand!” syndrome where they are uncomfortable to sit with, but not here. The actual playing experience is a good one, too; the neck is comfortable, the action has been set on the low side of medium and so there’s nothing here that would inhibit or interfere with a performance.
So, to sum up, what we have here with the Lakeside is a guitar with its roots well and truly embedded in history and which feels good to play and sounds really rather good – especially for this price. I’ve said so many times that it’s unreasonable to expect a sub-£500 acoustic to sound like a prestige, boutique hand-built instrument and, of course, that would be true in this case too. But anyone who is in the market for a good beginner’s instrument or a guitar to take along to an open mic night would be well advised to seek the Lakeside out and give it a blast, as I think you’ll be surprised.
It really does make me think that, with the guitars coming from the Far East now, maybe it’s time to readdress the age old question, “How much do I have to pay to get a good-sounding guitar?” because what I’ve seen and heard with this guitar is quite remarkable for £369, including a case.
Model: Lakeside Jumbo 743 STSK
Retail Price: £369
Body Size: Jumbo
Made In: China
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Rosewood
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP-16
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard case
ACOUSTIC TEST RESULTS
Pros: A low-end acoustic with quite a few surprises in store!
Cons: Apart from the quality control blip, nothing much to complain about…
Overall: A value for money jumbo/dreadnought with a thoroughly decent sound and a good all round playing experience.