I’m sure we all have those guitars that we’d love to own, but unless we suddenly become ridiculously rich we sadly must resign ourselves to the bleak, grim fact that we’re probably never going to own all of them. So rather than mope about this inside my own head, I figured I might as well write about them here, and maybe hear from those of you who own these guitars, so I may live vicariously through you. So here’s the first, the Washburn N4 Nuno Bettencourt signature model. Nuno Bettencourt was one of my early guitar heroes – not as early as Mark Knopfler and George Harrison, and slightly after Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, but certainly before dudes like John Petrucci and Reeves Gabrels. I liked how Nuno’s style was (and is) simultaneously flashy and stripped back: he’s always been able to wring all sorts of nuances and details out of his guitars using pretty much just his bare hands. And that’s also what I like about Nuno’s signature Washburn line. These guitars are rather straightforward on the surface, with twin humbuckers, 22 frets, a floating Floyd Rose tremolo and an oiled finish which allows the wood to breathe – but the devil is in the details, and this guitar has a few particularly cool high-performance features in the Bill Lawrence L-500 bridge humbucker and the Stephens Extended Cutaway neck joint. The L-500 isn’t an easy pickup to get along with: it’s so packed full of detail and power that it can uncover deficiencies in your playing pretty damn quickly. So this is a guitar that makes you play better, and that’s always a good thing.
There are lots of different models in the Nuno Bettencourt series. The ones highest on my wish list are the N4 Vintage.
There’s also its 7-string equivalent the N7 Vintage. “I’ve always wanted to do a seven-string but it took me a while,” Nuno tells I Heart Guitar. “I’m actually still in the process of adjusting to it. I never thought I’d actually play one because I have enough trouble as it is with six strings, so when you start adding a low one it’s always a bit confusing to me!” When it’s suggested that audiences are already used to hearing him play guitar way down in the deeper register through an octave pedal, Nuno laughs. “I know, but that’s why I needed a seven-string! That was my frustration with the octave pedal. It was cheating!”
There’s also the N4EPNM with Padauk body, which I especially like because I really dig the era of Extreme that Nuno was using these for.
And if you’d like to play something that more closely measures Nuno’s own axe, there’s the N4 Authentic, which reflects changes made over the years to Nuno’s main N4. “Look, I’ve tried and tried and tried to put that guitar down,” Nuno says of his main baby. “I really have. I’ve been trying to leave it at home. But whenever I get an exact replica made for me it’s so hard to not miss it. It’s crazy.”
But for the shredder on a budget there are several affordable Nuno models as well, including the N2NMK, N2PSK, N2TATTOOK (with inlays matching Nuno’s Mourning Widows tattoos), and the 7-string N27, which is not currently on the Washburn website but can be found here. By the way, this year Washburn has supercharged the N4 with a new version that features a Carbon Fiber fretboard and stainless steel frets (below), which you can read more about here.
When it comes to gear, Nuno says he has his preferences, although he wouldn’t consider himself a gear head. “I love gear but I try not to get too carried away with relying on it. Through the years as much as I would love to have racks and stuff, I’ve always believed that if I can’t show up somewhere and plug into anything and still sound like me and still be happy with how I sound, I’m going to be in trouble. I didn’t want to have too many crutches. I wanted as much tone as possible through the years to come through my fingers and the basic tools I have. I’m pretty picky about it: tone wise I’m very particular and know when it’s wrong or right. It’s more about that aspect of it, about me beating myself up to get the right tones rather than relying on gear to do it.”