We first encountered Eastman’s Antique Varnish single-cut at Winter NAMM 2017 and it went on to scoop a highly commended badge in our Gear Of The Year awards. Much as we admired the amber-hued finishes in which the SB59/v was initially offered, we always hoped Eastman would find a way to combine its proprietary ageing techniques with a more conventional sunburst. Well, the company has cracked it – and the results are pretty spectacular.
For 2018, the SB59 comes in this gorgeous and tastefully aged Antique Goldburst. At first glance, it really does look like a well-loved and slightly faded 60-year-old sunburst guitar, albeit without checking as only the colour coats are nitro – the top coats are still French polished. Also new is a pair of Lollar Imperial humbuckers, custom-wound and voiced to Eastman’s specifications.
Eastman’s huge violin business gives the company formidable buying power when it comes to materials, and this guitar is proof. The one-piece mahogany back is solid, but the guitar’s overall weight still falls into the optimum zone, while the two-piece maple top has an attractive deep dish carve and a mesmerising flame that ripples under lights.
The neck is a little slimmer than last year’s model but the shape of the carve steals the show. One of the reasons why 1950s Les Paul Standards feel so great is that their necks usually have very soft shoulders, often to the extent that the nominal C profile has a hint of soft V.
It’s a similar story here and one that makes for an exceptionally comfortable ride along this single piece of mahogany. It’s no slavish LP copy though – aside from the SB59’s altered body outline and lack of additional headstock ‘wings’, Eastman installs its medium-jumbo frets over the ivoroid fingerboard binding, while the ’board itself is an attractive slab of ebony inlayed neatly with iridescent pearl crowns.
Acoustically, the vital signs are very good: the SB59 is loud and alive with sustain and resonance but there’s bite and snap too. Plugged in and played clean you get sparkling harmonics, huge scope for expression and notes that won’t run out of gas before you want them to. Although the Lollar Imperials are wax potted, they’ve only been potted lightly so there’s still plenty of air.
Rev up the drive and the touch-sensitive and harmonically rich characteristics are still present, and this translates into lead sounds with just the right balance of smoothness and edge. It’s never cloying; the Eastman retains musicality even down between zero and five on the tone controls, where most of their action occurs.
You know that a maker has got a Les Paul-style guitar right when it’s endlessly entertaining before you’ve wound up the gain or stepped on a drive pedal. Out of the box, without adjusting the screw coils, low notes on the bridge pickup are possibly a little foggy but other than that, as long as you aren’t obsessed with the brand name on your guitar’s headstock, it’s difficult to find a downside here.
• PRICE £1,999 (inc hard case)
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody single-cutaway electric guitar. Made in China
• BUILD Solid 1-piece mahogany back with solid, 2-piece figured maple top. One-piece mahogany neck with 12” radius bound ebony fingerboard and ebony headstock fascia. Bone nut. 22 Jescar FW47104-P nickel silver frets. Pearl inlays, Single-action truss rod.
• HARDWARE Aged nickel Gotoh Relic Series tune-o-matic bridge, stop tailpiece, strap buttons and vintage-style tuners
• ELECTRICS 2x Custom Wound Lollar Imperial humbuckers with aged nickel covers. Switchcraft 3-way toggle pickup selector switch. CTS 500K Audio Taper pots (2x volume, 2x tone) with Sprague Orange Drop capacitors
• SCALE LENGTH 24.75”/629mm
• NECK WIDTH 43.5mm at nut, 52.8mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 20.8mm at first fret, 24.4mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 35.8mm at nut, 51.8mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 8.4lbs/3.8kg
• FINISH Antique Goldburst (nitrocellulose colour coat, Antique Varnish top coat)
• CONTACT Eastman Musical Instruments Europe www.eastmanguitars.eu