Of the myriad new offerings Washburn introduced at the Winter NAMM show, the P33S Royal Sapphire parlor-size guitar is a particularly eye-catching addition to the acoustic line. It played well right off the wall too, so we requested one for a full Frets review in a sonically more appropriate environment than the show floor.
I’m naturally drawn to the blue-green end of the color spectrum, as evidenced by the Gretsch Penguin Parlor, which also features sapphire in its color scheme. As mentioned, that Midnight Sapphire appears greener to my eyes, but this Royal Sapphire is truly a deep midnight blue. Another interesting difference with the Washburn is the back, sides and neck - plus the headstock’s back and edges - all of which feature a dazzling blue stain that really highlights the wood grain.
Glossy on the body and matte on the neck and headstock, the finish is well done, except on the inside areas of the slotted headstock, where it appears a bit messy. Some folks have commented that the blue stain cheapens the instrument’s otherwise elegant look, but I beg to differ, and I actually dig it for being distinctly different. I also appreciate other appointments that belie its price class, like the abalone script logo headstock inlay, the variety of abalone inlays encompassing the entire fretboard and the abalone-and-wood rosette.
The Royal Sapphire follows the old-school parlor guitar tradition of having 12 frets to the body, with a somewhat short scale length of 24 inches. It’s nice and compact, comfy sitting on a lap and easy to get one’s arms around. That naturally leads to the plucking hand laying a little more laterally and further over the soundhole, which facilitates fingerstyle playing. The tuners are nice and smooth, and they hold up well to string bending and open tunings. All of that adds up to a great country blues guitar that is wonderfully voiced for open-E tuning.
This little boom box even sounds appropriate with the tuning lowered down a step, to open D. That’s because the Royal Sapphire boasts a surprisingly deep, rich tone that’s nice and woody in the middle and crisp up top. I didn’t expect to hear all that, especially the sonorous low end, coming from a body measuring 19.5 inches long by 14 inches wide and just over four inches deep. According to Washburn, the key is hand-scalloped X-bracing under its solid spruce top. I notice that the depth remains almost consistent along the entire instrument, whereas most bodies taper more up near the neck. And at just under four pounds, the guitar is also very light. Contributing factors include open-gear turners on its slotted headstock and the absence of onboard electronics.
The Royal Sapphire’s action came set up in the medium range, so I was surprised to encounter a bit of fret buzz here and there. It wasn’t bothersome unless I pummeled the strings with significant force, and, overall, I found that plucking with the fleshy part of my fingertips yielded the best tones.
Bottom line: Players in search of a small acoustic with unique looks, nice playability and a sound that way belies its diminutive size should definitely take a look at Washburn’s P33S Royal Sapphire.
P33S Royal Sapphire
PRICE $399 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69", bone
FRETBOARD Laurel, 24" scale
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Sapele back and sides, solid spruce top
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze .012–.053
WEIGHT 3.8 lbs
KUDOS Love the rich sapphire color on the body and neck. Well appointed. Deep tone belies its size. Great price
CONCERNS Wood stain on inside of slotted headstock is a bit messy. Some fret buzzes