Though the brand’s elegantly distressed Antique Varnish instruments tend to dominate the conversation, at the Eastman facility in Beijing you’ll also find guitars dressed in pristine nitrocellulose being made by hand on the same old-school production line. One such instrument is the T486, available in Goldburst for summer 2021 and priced competitively when you consider its lacquer finish, figured maple, name-brand pickups and hardshell case.
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Some imprecision is an inevitable consequence of building guitars by hand, to a price. But although there are one or two areas that could be neater, this is one of the most cleanly executed builds we’ve seen from Eastman to date. A glance through the bass-side f-hole reveals that only the outward-facing layers of the maple laminate are figured but the centre-joined top and back are impressively flamed nonetheless, with both the figuring and sunburst themes continuing around the sides.
Ivoroid binding and multi-ply purfling on the body, neck and headstock combine with pearl split-parallelogram inlays to underscore the sense of luxury. The three-piece maple neck’s slim-but-not-skinny profile is a comfortable soft-shouldered carve typical of the brand, while domed, nib-free fret-ends and a polished ebony ’board ensure fluidity, and the generous 44.3mm nut width guarantees that there’s plenty of room to execute those expensive jazz chords.
Peeping through the treble-side f-hole reveals a centre-block made from a sandwich of mahogany and maple, with a ‘window’ beneath the bridge pickup that will greatly ease wiring maintenance or pickup swaps. It’s highly unlikely that’ll be required in the short term as the T486 comes loaded with Seymour Duncan’s perennial combination of ’59 (bridge) and Jazz (neck) humbuckers.
The bridge may be screwed into bushings rather than directly into the body but there’s a snap and vibrancy to the T486’s unplugged voice that gives the impression that it’s straining at the leash and desperate to be amplified. Compared to our reference ES-335, the Eastman has more zing and jangle – perhaps to be expected from a maple neck with an ebony ’board – while the Gibson is a little woodier and mellower, with more of the slightly banjo-like plunkiness so often exhibited by instruments such as this.
Strapped on and plugged in, in terms of tone and tuning, the Eastman has a confidence-inspiring stability and the vintage-style Ping tuners are smooth and precise. Were there any gigs, we’d yank this thing straight out of its box and head for the nearest music venue without making any adjustments. And before you whip out your soldering iron and install the PAF replicas du jour, it’s worth remembering that brands such as Seymour Duncan know a thing or two about making great pickups.
Although it wears its inspiration on its beautifully figured sleeve, thanks to the presence of the ’59 and Jazz ’buckers, the T486 has a flavour all of its own. Notes ring crystal clear and bell-like, but with an even decay and an almost produced quality that makes this a fabulous tool for exploring chord melodies or taking a more considered approach.
The taper of the volume controls is relatively steep but the smoother tone control roll-off gives you plenty of scope for expression. It has power and bite, and it can certainly do the gonzoid edge-of-feedback stuff too, but that almost seems like a guilty pleasure considering the sophistication on offer. 335-style guitars have featured in just about every musical context imaginable but Eastman’s T486 seems to learn further towards Molly Miller’s end of the spectrum than Marcus King’s.
- PRICE £1,279 (inc. hard case)
- DESCRIPTION Semi-hollow 6-string electric guitar, made in China
- BUILD Maple laminate top, back and sides with mahogany/maple centre-block and ivoroid binding. 3-piece maple neck with additional ‘wings’, bound ebony headstock veneer and ebony fingerboard with 12” radius, pearl inlays, 22 Jescar 47104 frets, bone nut, single-action truss rod
- HARDWARE Tune-o-matic bridge, Gotoh stop tailpiece, Ping vintage-style tuners
- ELECTRONICS Seymour Duncan Jazz (neck) and ’59 (bridge) humbucking pickups, 2x volume, 2x tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 24.75”/629mm
- NECK WIDTH 44.3mm at nut, 53.1mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 21.4mm at first fret, 22.5mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 37.3mm at nut, 51.6mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 7.98lb/3.61kg
- FINISH Goldburst gloss nitrocellulose (as reviewed), Classic, Red
- OPTIONS The T486B (£1,369) comes with a Bigsby B7 and Seymour Duncan Phat Cat single-coils. The dot-neck, plain-top T386 is £1,049
- CONTACT eastmanguitars.com