Eastman has become a big player in the musical instrument world in recent years. In a relatively short time, this company has garnered a reputation for producing high quality instruments at reasonable prices, and in doing so has picked up a loyal following and a slew of industry awards. Does the T58/V-AMB live up to the hype? Let’s see!
Initially established in the 1990s to build orchestral string instruments, Eastman soon added flattop acoustics and archtop guitars and mandolins to their line, as these instruments readily allowed Eastman’s master luthiers to adapt the skills gained through violin construction. In the years since, they have added solid-body and semi-hollowbody guitars, and have also diversified into woodwind and brass instruments.
The company was established in the USA and their head office is still in Pomona, California, but the instruments are built in China. Unlike most brands whose instruments are made in the Far East, however, Eastman do not entrust the construction of their instruments to third party manufacturers. Instead, they have built their own factory in Beijing and employ their own team of master luthiers. The instruments are made by hand, using the same tools and techniques as the prized instruments of ages past.
Let’s not beat around the bush: with its TV Jones Classic Filtertron-style pickups, USA-made Bigsby vibrato, oversized f-holes and orangey finish, many guitarists will immediately pick the Gretsch influence on this instrument. This is no mere 6120 copy, though. Eastman has a talent for taking traditional, familiar design elements and adding their own subtle twists. The T58 is no exception. While superficially it nods its head to the classic rockabilly axe, a look under the hood displays a number of significant differences.
The 500 series sits around the middle of Eastman’s archtop line. Whereas the 300 and 400 series archtops are constructed of laminate timbers, and the 600 to 900 models are all solid woods, the 500 series instruments have a solid spruce top, with laminate maple back and sides. The T58 is unique in the Eastman line in being the only instrument with Filtertron-style pickups. It is also the only full-depth archtop to sport a Bigsby. Eastman’s other two Bigsby-wearing guitars are thin-line models in the ES-330/335 vein.
Calling the T58 a “full-depth archtop” is a little misleading though. Its 65mm rim depth is in keeping with the Gretsch influence and, while nowhere near narrow enough to be called a thinline, it’s about 20mm less than most Gibson-style archtops. Coupled with its 16” width, this makes for a very comfortable feeling archtop. It certainly doesn’t feel bulky under the arm like larger guitars often do.
The T58’s controls are a three-way pickup selector switch, and two chunky chrome knobs for volume and tone. This layout is much simpler than most two pickup archtops, which usually include at least four pots. Many Gretsch guitars were fitted with a confusingly complex and (let’s admit it) mostly useless collection of switches and knobs. To me, the simplicity of one switch and two knobs on this guitar is a very welcome choice.
Other specs include a 25” scale (the best scale length, in my opinion), and a three-piece maple neck with an ebony fingerboard and mother-of-pearl split-parallelogram inlays. The T58 comes in a sturdy and attractive hard-shell case with a plush blueish-grey interior.
Fit and finish
The big news in the Eastman camp over the past couple of years has been the development of their “antique varnish” finish. While most of Eastman’s guitars still sport the more common nitrocellulose finish, this instrument is one of the lucky ones to have the varnish finish, as indicated by the “V” in the model’s designation. The antique varnish finish is an outgrowth of Eastman’s experience building violins and, while it is a new approach to finishing guitars, it reflects a tradition of varnishing violins that goes back three and a half centuries. It’s soft and silky to the touch and feels very comfortable in the hand. While not a satin finish, it’s not high gloss either – instead, it strikes an attractive balance between the two. The “AMB” indicates the amber colour, which is a rich orangey-brown. The T58 also comes in Eastman’s “Classic” colour, which is a darker reddish-brown.
The finish is subtly aged all over. While I won’t weigh into the debate over “relic’ed” guitars, I will say that the aging on this instrument is expertly done and looks subtle and classy. The finish is gently worn away in the places you would expect on a well-played instrument – under the forearm, on the lower rim, and in the centre of its back. It doesn’t look abused or mistreated at all, more like a well-loved guitar that has been played a lot for many years, but always treated with care.
The hardware is also aged, or at least most of it is. The aforementioned USA-made Bigsby B6, and the aluminium tune-o-matic (mounted on a floating ebony bridge) look appropriately, but not excessively, grimy; whereas the vintage-looking Kluson-style tuners look positively septic. The brushed nickel Filtertrons don’t appear to be aged, but their dull sheen doesn’t look out of place alongside the relic’ed components. The same isn’t true of the pickup selector switch and its washer, and the strap buttons though – all of which are shiny chrome and look brand new. There’s a bit of a disconnect between those components which look positively filthy (the tuners), those that seem gently worn (the bridge and vibrato), and those that seem shiny and new (strap buttons and switch). It’s a minor point, which doesn’t really worry me much, but it might do your head in if you’re a more finicky person.
The oversized pickup mounting rings are sure to divide opinion. They’re made of clear plastic and have silver paint underneath them, in the manner of some Gretsch pickguards and rings. They are thick and heavy-looking, and their shape echoes the outline of a dog-ear P90 pickup. It’s certainly an odd choice and won’t appeal to everyone. On the plus side, if one was considering changing the Filtertrons to dog-ear P90s, they’d probably drop straight in. I don’t mind the pickup rings. They’re certainly unique – I’ve never seen rings like them on any other guitars.
The two-piece solid spruce top has a tight, straight grain, and the laminate maple back and sides have a beautiful, but not ostentatious, flame. I particularly like the flame maple and ebony binding which is everywhere on this guitar. The top has six-ply binding, the back binding is four-ply, and the neck, headstock and f-hole binding is three-ply. The ebony peg-head veneer matches the fingerboard and bridge. The split-parallelogram inlays are more of a Gibson influence, rather than Gretsch, as this type of inlay appears on a number of Gibson models.
The neck is a very comfortable C shape – much slimmer than the chunky necks on many of the historic models that the T58 references, but I wouldn’t call it skinny either. The bone nut is expertly cut and measures 43mm, which is the perfect size – neither too cramped, nor too wide. The neck is easy to get around, making this a highly enjoyable guitar to play. The guitar came well set-up with accurate intonation and perfectly set action and neck relief. It came with D’Addario NYXL 11-40 strings, which were fine. In my opinion, though, a guitar of this nature just screams out for flatwounds, so I soon changed the NYXLs for a set of Chromes and, just as I thought, the guitar really started to sing.
When play testing the T58, I A-B’ed it with a Gretsch 6120. The first thing I noticed is that the unplugged acoustic tone of the Eastman is much louder than the Gretsch, with more overtone complexity and a fuller frequency spectrum. By comparison, the unplugged Gretsch seemed a little …well… lifeless. I put this down to the solid spruce top on the Eastman, which vibrates much more freely than the Gretsch’s maple laminate top, and to the lighter bracing on the Eastman. The heavy trestle bracing on many Gretsches is actually designed to inhibit the top from vibrating, therefore reducing the tendency of the pickups to feed back. Having said that, the Eastman didn’t seem overly prone to feedback, even when playing through a loud amp with a large dose of gain. Unplugged, the T58 is certainly loud enough for bedroom practising.
Through a clean amp the TV Jones Classics are exactly what would you would expect – bright and spanky. The coils on Filtertron-style pickups are narrower than on Gibson-style humbuckers, resulting a brighter tone because the magnetic field “sees” a thinner slice of the vibrating string. Some say that Filtertrons are a good middle ground between the sparkle of a single coil pickup and the warmth of a PAF-style humbucker, and the T58 bears that out. The T58’s bridge pickup is perfect for rockabilly and country licks – bright, but not too spiky. In the middle position the T58 has a scooped, acoustic-like quality which is well-suited to rhythm guitar parts. It was the neck pickup which I really fell in love with. It has warmth, but also clarity. Never muddy or woolly, as neck humbuckers can sometimes be. With the volume and tone up full it gives a thick yet edgy tone which is great for melodic leads. Roll down the tone halfway and the volume to 8 (approximately – the knobs have no numbers) and you get a great jazz tone which would make Wes Montgomery proud.
Crank up the gain and the T58 really changes gear. The bridge pickup takes on something of a Telecaster-like quality which is great for some punky rhythm playing, in the spirit of Joe Strummer. The neck pickup emits a throaty roar that is just begging for some bluesy bends. Of course, you must be mindful of feedback when playing any hollowbody guitar through a loud overdriven amp but, as previously noted, the T58 is no more prone to feedback than any other guitar of its kind.
While the Gretsch influence on the T58 is obvious, this is so much more than a 6120 copy. I’ve always felt that a Gretsch archtop is something of a one-trick pony – although, to be fair, it’s a hell of a good trick. The T58 can do anything a 6120 can do, but it offers so much more.
I wouldn’t think twice about taking it to a jazz gig, something that I’d never do with a 6120, and it wouldn’t be out of place playing Texas blues. That middle pickup position is such a great open rhythm tone that I’d even consider taking it as my sole axe to accompany a singer in duo setting. Sure, it’s not going to suit every musical style, but as archtops go, this is one of the most versatile I’ve played. Gibson archtops are great for jazz, but rarely work in other settings. Gretsch archtops are great for rockabilly and country, but not much else. The T58 can cover all those styles and more. If you were going to own just one archtop guitar, you could do much worse than to choose the Eastman T58/V.
- Great playability
- Versatile tones
- Varnish finish feels amazing
- More affordable than a Gibson or Gretsch
- Who doesn’t love a Bigsby?
- Not everyone will love the oversized pickup rings and amber colour.
I have not been paid monetarily or in kind for writing this review. The thoughts and opinions expressed within are entirely my own.