Eastman Guitars has pulled off a neat trick. In recent years it has gained such a reputation for putting its own spin on a range of classic designs, that it has become a formidable rival to the US electric guitar establishment.
The Romeo, however, is something different – an all-original semi-hollow design from archtop luthier supreme, Otto D’Ambrosio, with a getting-serious price tag and the expectations that come with it. It is testament to the Chinese company's growing ambitions.
D’Ambrosio heads Eastman's Californian design and custom shop and has been associated with the company for nearly 20 years. The idea behind the Romeo arose from a "what if?" that you could have heard on a gear forum, in a bar, or while chewing the fat at a gear show – a "What if we made an archtop Telecaster and what would it sound like?"
Leaning on Eastman's roots in carved body archtops, the Romeo is a looker, featuring a solid spruce stop with f-holes, with laminated mahogany on the back and sides. The neck is carved in a "traditional even C profile" from lightly figured maple. The first samples had maple backs and sides but were considered too bright.
Reassuringly lightweight and approachable, the Romeo measures somewhere between 14 and 15 inches across the lower bout – small, but not quite as compact as a solid-body. The silhouette is interesting, with a nod to the Tele on the upper bout and cutaway, and the lower bout more or less ball-park ES-style. It's different. It works.
There are a pair of Lollar humbuckers in the neck and bridge position – both specially wound by Jason Lollar for this guitar – and these have are individual volume and master tone controls (the wooden knobs are a nice touch). D’Ambrosio has described the pickups as "half-potted", offering a compromise between feedback resistance and tone.
Performance and verdict
The Romeo's neck joins the body at the 16th fret on the bass side, 18th fret on the treble, and yet, even with an off-set heel design upper-fret access can be a bit of a stretch.
That said, there is no money above the 7th fret anyway, and the finish and the build really is quite something, with the sumptuous carve of the spruce top and more subtle dishing of the laminated mahogany back deserving of respectful applause.
There is a subtle flame to the maple neck. The ebony fretboard is pitch black with pearl dot inlay. We loved the headstock's back-angle, which reduces string spread on 3/3 configurations and adds to the stability of this guitar. The tuners are quality – Gotoh 510s – but you won't be needing them too often.
It's not all perfect, necessarily. The aged nickel of the tuners doesn't match the brighter nickel of the tune-o-matic bridge. But altogether the Romeo is exceptional.
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh.... The offset neck heel enhances upper-fret access, but the strap button still makes a bit of a stretch. No big deal; the Romeo is nonetheless a superb instrument to play.
The Lollar Imperial humbuckers were specially designed by Jason Lollar for Eastman, and they are a match made in heaven.
The Gotoh 510s do their part in keeping the Romeo's tuning stable, but with their aged-nickel they are somewhat incongruous with the new nickel finish of the bridge.
The Romeo's angled headstock reduces the string spread and enhances stability.
The neck is described as having a "traditional even C profile" and it feel good and chunky in the palm. It's a classic rounded C, with a depth of 22mm at the 1st fret and 23.3mm at the 12th. Altogether the feel is exceptional.
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A single-action truss rod is an old-school appointment, and there are surely better alternatives, but there is no issue with the action; the Romeo feels super-slick, and it's perfectly balanced, too, whether you are playing seated or standing.
While the acoustic tones aren't the loudest, they do sound reasonably full and three-dimensional, but its when you plug the Romeo in that it starts giving you the come hithers, with the Lollar Imperials really complementing each other, with plenty of warmth in the neck and a creamy heat in the bridge.
The balance between treble and articulation and organic, woody bass tones is perfect. It is an inspiring tone that will play well for jazz and blues, right through to rock 'n' roll. Dialling in some overdrive for the latter brings out the Lollar's PAF character, and on the bridge position there is plenty of substance to its tone.
You might find that feedback is a little harder to tame than with heavily centre-blocked instruments but it's no deal-breaker. Indeed, for all Eastman's design victories in recent years, the Romeo takes things further, with a contemporary archtop design that is smart, original, and a veritable tone machine.
MusicRadar: Lightweight and beautifully constructed, the Romeo is a dreamboat archtop of incredible playability with a pickup pairing that's hard to beat at any price.
The web says
"All in all, the Romeo represents an impressively original design effort rendered with quality construction and excellent fit and finish, at a relatively reasonable price. It all adds up to a guitar with lots of personality and surprising versatility. As such, this new original Eastman model earns itself an Editors’ Pick Award."
"Eastman’s Romeo is full of surprises, and not just because it defies stereotypes regarding made-in-China guitars. It’s a unique design built from fine woods and premium third-party hardware. The voice is Gibson-esque, but with uncommon access to crispy/articulate colors"
"Creating a new body shape that feels simultaneously fresh and familiar is one of the most challenging tricks in all Guitardom, but we think Otto and his colleagues at Eastman have pulled it off."
- ORIGIN: China
- TYPE: Single-cutaway thinline semi-hollowbody
- BODY: Solid spruce carved top with f-holes, laminate mahogany back and sides
- NECK: Lightly figured Maple, ‘traditional even C’ profile
- SCALE LENGTH: 629mm (24.75”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43.92mm
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony, pearl dot inlays (with half circle pearl side markers), 305mm (12”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium/jumbo (Jescar FW47104)
- HARDWARE: Gotoh GE-104B tune-o-matic bridge and GE101A stud tailpiece (nickel), Gotoh 510 HAP tuners (aged nickel)
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
- ELECTRICS: 2x Lollar custom-wound Imperial humbuckers, 3-way toggle pickup selector, master volume and individual pickup tone controls
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 2.41/5.3
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: The Romeo-SC (£1,950) swaps the Lollar pickups for a Seymour Duncan Tele-style Vintage Stack at the neck and a full-size ’59 at the bridge
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISH: Golden ’Burst (as reviewed): all gloss nitro-cellulose
- CONTACT: Eastman Guitars