Eastman’s Antique Varnish models have garnered much praise on Guitar.com in recent years. For 2020, the ranks have swelled to include a pair of 50s Junior-style solidbodies – the single-cutaway SB55/v and this double-cut model.
African okoume is the choice for the one-piece body and while it may not be considered a genuine mahogany, it certainly looks and sounds the part here. The set neck is also a single piece of okoume and it’s reinforced by a single action truss-rod.
As one of the world’s largest violin makers, Eastman has sufficient buying power to access high-quality materials, so it’s no surprise that the SB55’s ebony fretboard is uniformly black with no visible grain. There’s also a matching ebony peghead veneer with a pearl inlayed logo, impressive fretboard inlay work and a very well-made Bakelite tortoiseshell pickguard.
The hardware is a mixture of Asian and European. The strap buttons are aged Gotoh units and, rather than the three-on-a-plate tuners with plastic buttons you’d find on an old Junior, here you’ll find individual Faber units with metal buttons, again factory aged. The locking Faber bridge is made from aluminium and offers the best of both worlds, with wrapover stringing and compensation for plain G string sets.
The SB55’s Antique Varnish finish has an attractive faded cherry hue with a lightly aged appearance. It’s French polished and therefore hand-rubbed rather than sprayed, so the look and feel is unlike nitrocellulose or polyurethane. As there’s no grain filling, it’s not completely smooth and feels slightly gritty in some areas.
The area around the heel appears a little scruffy on close examination, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker, and the neck profile is far less likely to polarise opinion than the finish. The carve feels like a perfect late 1950s Gibson example, combining depth with soft shoulders for supreme comfort – and the fretwork is just as good.
The SB55’s unplugged tone isn’t appreciably different to our 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special, which is also equipped with a Faber bridge. The Eastman is light and extremely resonant, and has all the sustain you could wish for. We can certainly hear why okoume has been used for PRS Private Stock and Fender Custom Shop models over the last few years.
With our playability and unplugged tone tests passed with flying colours, we plug into our trusty tweed Deluxe and let rip. Eastman has opted for a no-load tone potentiometer, which extends the frequency response a little higher than would otherwise be the case with a wax-potted P-90.
Although the Lollar Dog Ear doesn’t quite deliver all of the growl, dynamic response and detail of a vintage Gibson P-90, it’s still a very decent sounding pickup. With the tone control activated we get the full midrange, biting upper mids and snarling lows that you’d hope for from a single-pickup guitar of this type. No-load mode adds an extra layer of stinging treble and chime, pushing the SB55 towards a fat 1950s Broadcaster tone.
It’s very enjoyable indeed, with juicy Americana and raunchy rock tones in abundance, along with hollower, almost acoustic textures when you roll back the volume control. Minor finish imperfections aside, this is a superb guitar of its type that easily holds its own with substantially more expensive boutique competitors.
- PRICE £1,239 (inc hard case)
- DESCRIPTION Solidbody electric guitar, made in China
- BUILD One-piece okoume body, set okoume neck, ebony fretboard with 12” radius, 22 Jescar 47104-P frets, bone nut, custom Bakelite pickguard
- HARDWARE Faber compensated wrapover aluminium bridge, Faber vintage-style tuners, Gotoh strap buttons
- ELECTRONICS Lollar Dog Ear P-90, master volume, no-load tone control
- SCALE LENGTH 24.75”/629mm
- NECK WIDTH 43.4mm at nut, 53.2mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 22mm at first fret, 24.4mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.9mm at nut, 50.7mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 6.26lb/2.84kg
- FINISH Antique Varnish
- CONTACT eastmanguitars.com