Those of you that know me, know that when it comes to guitars I have to see them in person, play them and bond with them before I buy them. I have bought a few guitars online but the process just leaves me un-inspired. There is just something about walking into a store, playing a few guitars and bonding with one. It’s like you found “THE ONE”!
Of late I have been playing almost exclusively my Grestch G6609TFM Players Edition Broadkaster. It just covers so much ground for me, that I kind of got spoiled just taking one guitar on Sundays. Recently though I have been jonesing hard for a P90 equipped guitar and specifically a Jazzmaster offset style. I wasn’t specifically looking for the shrill super bright sound of the Jazz Master but loved the body and figured I could swap pickups and/or throw in some 500 mag pots and get the sound I was looking for.
I found out that my favorite local guitar shop, Woodsy’s Music had a J. Mascis Jazzmaster in stock and had heard great things about it, so I drove up to try it out. It was fantastic but something else immediately caught my eye.
I want to pause here and re-wind to my first impressions of Eastman. Woodsy’s Music has been a dealer of Eastman for quite sometime now and they started getting their solid body and semi-hollow body guitars in about 3-4 years ago which was when I first gave them a try. I was blow away by the build quality. If you start really inspecting neck joints, nut slots, finish, trim and more, you will find on even some of the house name brands that these things have been skimped on to cut costs and drive up margins. Not with Eastman. That being said, the name didn’t have much recognition at the time and to be honest the pickups they were using off the bat were a bit to modern voiced for me.
Okay back to present time. I walking around the store and rounded the corner to see this gorgeous Gold Top Les Paul style guitar w/ P90’s. I have always loved a Gold Top w/ P90’s and this was no exception. I picked it up and looked it over and wow. Just wow. The finish is neither flat matte or gloss, but somewhere in between. The build quality and attention to detail were just what I had seen on other guitars from Eastman in the past but this specific finish just really highlighted it.
If anyone has played a Martin Guitar neck, with it’s very thin Nitrocellulose lacquer finish, this is very similar only on the entire guitar. The neck is a standard C shape that is very similar to my Gretsch neck making it feel like home. The headstock, tuning machines, Gotoh tone-pros style bridge and tailpiece were all aged in a tasteful manner giving it the look of something your grandfather kept in his closet for 50 years but really never played it.
The one area finish wise that would have been cool to have off the shelf is some checking. Easy enough to fix though. I will likely throw this guitar in my chest freezer at some point and pull it out to get some nice checking going on it.
The tone has always been the part about Eastman’s that left me wanting. This guitar however boasts Lollar P90’s w/ the Neck pickup being underwound for a warmer lower output tone. I have to clarify, acoustically even the electrics have always been boomers. They resonate and feel like world class high end instruments. This one was no different.
I picked it up and sat with it un-plugged on my lap. I strummed a few chords, played a few riffs and, just like that I was sold. This thing had so much resonance and character just in the acoustic sound and feel of it that I just had to have it. I went over to a Fender Bass Breaker 15 combo and plugged in. Sure enough the plugged in tone really captured me as well.
I mostly play the bridge pickup for the heavier overdriven tones and use my neck pickup for the ambient, clean, spontaneous moments on Sunday mornings. This guitar fit perfectly into that vein. The bridge pickup bites and digs in with tons of clarity. Not brittle clarity like a Tele or Jazzmaster but very balanced with a great mid-range. It sounds fantastic clean but really shines when your rocking with multiple gain stages.
The neck pickup is extremely warm but remains articulate, unlike humbuckers. It is like a hotter warmer tele pickup with a bit more clarity. I did notice that whatever 3 way toggle switch they are using has an annoying cut out when you switch between pickups. My Gretsch is smooth and almost inaudible when switching between pickups. This has a bit of a pause in between. I will be taking it apart and swapping it out at some point likely but by no means a deal breaker. It is something that most guitars have, I have just gotten used to and love the Gretsch.
Les Paul Comparisons
Okay, I have to tackle this because of all the media and bad PR surrounding Gibson and their lawsuits that are currently underway. Regardless of what side you stand on, these events are in motion and I have already gotten comments on social like, “Oh boy, I better get one before Gibson sues them.”
I do not know of any legal action being taken against Eastman and I hope that this article does not garner any legal action. That being said I want to highlight some of the differences and similarities.
Let’s start with the similarities. This is a single cutaway, chambered electric guitar similar to the current Les Paul’s being produced. The hardware, pickup configuration, paint scheme and even serial number stamping on the back of the headstock are all reminiscent of a Gibson Les Paul. The body thickness is also very similar in feel to a Les Paul.
That is where the similarities end though. The first difference is in the cutaway. You will notice the Eastman is softer and the horn is more rounded, like a Gretsch Duo Jet or Hagstrom Swede, where as the Gibson Les Paul comes to a sharper point. Secondly the edge on the back of the guitar is rounded slightly more on the Eastman SB56 giving it a more comfortable feel against your body, where as the Gibson is sharper and cuts in when you are resting it against your leg or in my case your gut.
The carve on the top of the Eastman is more pronounced and is somewhere in between a Les Paul being just slightly arched and a PRS being very pronounced. The cutaway and horn has a very pronounced arch to it as well where the Les Paul, you can’t really see the arch until you get to the lower bout of the guitar.
The neck profile and radius are more in the vein of a Fender or Gretsch in my opinion. I am sure Gibson has made necks that are similar but I have yet to play them. This is a perfect guitar for Tele and Gretsch players who are traditionally not Les Paul fans.
Last but certainly not least is the comparison of build quality and finish. Now I cannot speak to Gibson’s current production as I haven’t had the privilege of playing or seeing one in person. What I can say is that this Eastman is light years ahead of anything Gibson I have seen in the last two decades. The neck joint, hardware mounts, frets, fretboard and basically everything about the guitar is absolutely incredible.
The fretwork is absolutely perfect and the guitar plays incredible right out of the box with no buzzing or fretting out.
When you look at the MAP price of $1599 on this guitar and used models coming in around $1400, I think this is THE absolute best value you can find on a guitar in this vein. In fact I will go out on a limb and say that unless you are a collector, or have tones of disposable income, I would say this is better than anything you are going to find by Gibson. I would put this in similar territory with brands such as Collings and Veritas who stake their name on extremely high-end, high quality instruments. You cannot go wrong with this guitar.