By Dave Eichenberger
It is a rare find to have a guitar company that focuses on old world craftsmanship with a focus on tone, quality, and affordability. Even rarer is a company that focuses on acoustics, mandolins, archtops, and thinlines. Eastman Guitars builds some of the most difficult-to-build instruments, relying on hand-carving for the majority of their builds. At Eastman, master luthiers oversee the work of skilled instrument makers, assuring that every instrument is going to play well for years to come. My visit to the Eastman booth at the last few NAMM shows impressed me with their beautiful designs and their use of Seymour Duncan pickups in a few of their thinline guitars. This article will spotlight those models, the pickups they use, and feature an interview with the Guitar Product Specialist from Eastman Guitars.
A Little History
The story of Eastman Guitars starts in 1992, when Quin Ni arrived in the US to study music. Seeing a need for well-made, great sounding violins, he established a shop in China using master violin makers. Soon, he spread out to bows, and then guitars. The builders studied the best examples of the West’s vintage instruments, and sought to produce guitars that can take a student to the stage while sounding, playing, and looking great. Now players of all levels use Eastman instruments, and they have even hired some of Europe’s most forward-thinking designers for a few of their archtops.
The T184MX Thinline is a 25” scale mahogany-backed/maple topped guitar with a familiar silhouette. It features an ebony fingerboard with a mahogany neck, and is ready for jazz, blues, and rock with its pair of Seymour Duncan 59s. A Gotoh bridge and tuners keep the jazz-approved 11-gauge strings in tune up and down the fretboard, and it comes with a hardshell case. The body is a 14” across, helping to get those semi-hollow tones in a more comfortable package.
If you are after a slightly larger guitar, the T185MX Thinline is the big brother. Boasting a 15” body size and a nut width of 1.75”, this guitar will push more acoustic air through those F-holes, and feel more comfortable for those with bigger frames. It has a slightly wider string spread than the T184MX for fingerstyle players. It does feature the same ebony/maple/mahogany construction as its little brother. It has the same pickups too: Seymour Duncan 59s, which are great vintage output pickups used all over the world for jazz to blues to rock.
The Daddy of this bunch is the T186MX Thinline, with a full 16” body width. The construction is the same as the smaller Thinlines: 2 F holes, maple/mahogany body, and mahogany/ebony neck. The pickups in this model are the Seth Lovers, which are regarded as some of the finest pickup choices for thinlines and archtops. Seth Lover is the father of the humbucking pickup, and Seth and Seymour collaborated on the ultimate tribute to his original designs. Check out this interview that explains Seth’s contribution to the pickup world.
We recently spoke to Dan Skatvold, the Guitar Product Specialist for Eastman Guitars.
What is the philosophy behind Eastman guitars?
Our craftsmanship is what makes our instruments special. Eastman guitars and mandolins are still truly made by hand, and many of our luthiers have been with the company since its inception in the early 1990’s. This experience and dedication to the craft of building each individual instrument by hand differentiates Eastman from many modern day builders. The graduations and bracing are different for each instrument because our luthiers know that each piece of wood is unique and deserves to be treated as such. We believe that the result is a superior tone that can literally be heard and felt by the player.
You produce some wonderful, classic designs. Do you have specific tonal goals in mind when coming up with new models? Is there an identifiable Eastman sound?
Because we make a wide range of guitar models the tonal characteristics are different from model to model, but of course overall our goal as a hand-built guitar company is to have our materials sound as natural as can be. If the guitar is to be an electric, then we try to have the amplified sound be as close to the instrument as possible. This way we believe the Player, Guitar and the Sound are more interconnected and allowed to become more creative.
You chose Seymour Duncan pickups for some of your thinline semi-hollow guitars. Why?
We feel that SD pickups respond in a way that captures the inherent qualities of our Thinlines. We put a lot of research into the Laminates we use for our T386 and T486. These 5 thin veneers respond very differently compared to solid wood. Our laminate Semi-hollows have a darker smother midrange than solid topped guitars. SD 59s and SH-2 Jazz pickups bring out that creamy quality in the electrified sound of the Thinlines.
What artists are primarily using Eastman instruments?
John Pisano, Jon Herington, Nels Cline, Ray Benson, Jennie Vee, Jonathan Wilson, Tom V. Ray, Trey Hensley, Erika Wennerstrom & Kyleen, Neal Casal, Craig Bartok, Dirk Powel, and Brett Simons are just a few of in our growing artist roster. It has been really great having artists recognize the quality of our guitars.
Where can people go to read and hear more about your acoustics, mandolins, hollowbodies, and semi-hollowbodies?
Information on our entire production line can be found at www.eastmanguitars.com. To stay up to date on new artists, in-store events, and all other Eastman current events, people can head to any of our social media profiles as well.
Eastman Guitars has just released their new catalog featuring all of their acoustics, mandolins, and electrics. Check out their perfect balance of sound, playability, and price.
Which Eastman guitar would you rock? Who is your favorite guitarist who uses an archtop or semi-hollow guitar?