Jim Smith Sr. and His Mission to Preserve a Brand and Its Many Sounds
How many guitars is enough? The question
is, perhaps, unanswerable. Understandably,
guitar collections are dynamic things. They
constantly evolve and change depending on
cash flow, eBay and the gems found hanging
high at your local indie music store. In most
cases, it is the collection itself that is the Holy
Grail rather than any one of its pieces.
By Max MoBley
companies like Martin or Gibson make instru-
ments whose origin and date of birth can
usually be traced. Washburn instruments,
on the other hand, don’t necessarily leave
much of a trail—which shouldn’t cause their
instruments to be judged harshly. After all,
tone and feel deserve precedence over pedi-
gree. In researching Washburn’s history, most
end up at Jim Smith Sr., and his American
Multimedia Studios in Hayes, Va., so who
better to talk to about that legacy and his
outstanding collection of Washburn acoustic
guitars than the man himself.
is insured for $750,000. We have two sepa-
rate warehouses that are climate controlled.
We have one in Alabama, and we have
another one up here in Virginia.
Archivist and collector Jim Smith Sr. doesn’t
collect guitars just for their beauty, tone or
scarcity. He collects them in the name of
preservation. Jim has been a Washburn collector for a decade and a half. In that short
time, he has amassed the world’s largest
personal collection of Washburn acoustics,
and perhaps the largest personal collection of
acoustic guitars, period.
How many Washburn guitars do you have?
Right now, it’s a little over 500. I don’t keep
an exact count. When something becomes
available that we don’t have in the collection,
then we go after it.
What drew you to Washburn?
Well, I’d been playing music and playing
guitar for 35 years and I’d never owned a
really good guitar. I always played something
cheap. I’d wear it out, and then I’d buy something cheap again. And in 1995, I decided I
wanted to buy at least one really nice acoustic guitar to play. And my local Washburn
dealer drew my attention to a Washburn
Presentation that was introduced in 1995
and available in 1996. So that’s what got me
started with Washburn.
In spite of its broad success, Washburn
remains a small company. And as a small
company, Washburn has focused on the
business of building, importing and distributing their products; not on heritage. Historic
Any idea how much it’s all worth? And wow
do you maintain a collection that large?
You know, I thought you were going to ask
that, so we did some math and the collection
So the first guitar in your collection was a
Actually, my very first Washburn was an EA10
model, but it was a real cheap introduction model. [My dealer] had mentioned the
134 PREMIER GUITAR DECEMBER 2009