What is it?
The Eastman SB55/v is not hiding anything away. One look at it and you know just where it is coming from, which legendary electric guitar (opens in new tab) inspired its design, and exactly what sort of sound it's going to deal in.
You can debate until the cows come home how much mojo or je ne sais quoi a guitar has when it cribs its identity wholesale from another – even one as well-made as this one. But the SB55/v isn't the first and it won't be the last, and maybe just maybe there's something different going on with it.
Yes, the setup is very Junior-esque. We've got a single-cut solid-body with a single p-90 single-coil – a 50s spec DogEar Lollar for good measure. There are vintage Kluson-style button tuners from Faber, in aged-nickel as opposed to off-white plastic, affixed individually as opposed to the three-on-a-plate Gibson configuration. The bridge is a wraparound Faber tailpiece.
But there are some differences in the dimensions. The body is a couple of millimetres shallower than our reference Junior. A slight but noticeable difference.
The cutaway is quite different, too. No way are you going to mistake the Eastman for a Junior. The Eastman's is a little fatter, an orca flipper. No, what we've got is enough familiarity to plant the suggestion.
Besides, the main ingredients are different. Where the Gibson is a slab of mahogany, Eastman has plumped for a one-piece slab of okoume. It's lighter in weight, albeit the billed tonal characteristics are definitely mahogany-esque. The fingerboard is ebony.
The oukoume is reprised on the neck, a thick one-piece club that feels reassuringly vintage, while Sunburst Antique Varnish completes the look.
Performance and verdict
The SB55/v is right on the money in terms of feel, weight and balance. The neck fills the palm. The finishing on the frets and fingerboard is perfect. Here, Eastman has gone for hard-wearing stainless steel Jescar fret wire in medium/jumbo gauge.
With only one pickup, master volume and tone, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the SB55/v would lack range. Where is that neck pickup when you need it, right? But what is a neck pickup to you if you never need it? That's the question here.
Rolling back the tone, rolling back the volume, and playing with your amplifier's volume; right there is the nexus of a surprisingly wide variety of tones. Dime it all and the SB55/v wails. That Lollar pickup has got sharp elbows; it'll find the way through the mix.
But there's something tactile and very organic about learning or rediscovering the musical potential from your volume, tone and amp. Dial a clean tone in on your amp, take some of the tone off and there's a tone for sweet-tooth blues smiths.
• Eastman SB55DC/v (opens in new tab)
The Lollar is so articulate. It's a low output pickup but it performs as though it has no filter, swinging for the fences when your amp is dimed and you are chasing those Leslie West tones.
• Gibson Les Paul Junior Satin (opens in new tab)
A sub-£600 USA-made Gibson electric will be a big draw for many and this Junior doesn't disappoint. A great way to experience the raw power of the real thing.
Like the guitar that inspired it, the SB55/v's cup overflows with get up and go. There's a throw-and-go immediacy to its charms and it is one of those guitars that are easy to pick up, great fun to play, and impossible to put down.
The craft is exquisite. Eastman comes from an orchestral music tradition and here it applies its Antique Varnish finish for quite sumptuous results. There are some factory dings to give it a 50s look. But if this was a guitar from the period it would have had one careful owner, played open G chords at the weekend before setting it back in the case.
So, yes, the question to ask yourself with the SB55/v is how much stow do you put on the name on the headstock? At what point do you decommission the jeweller's loupe and cease chronicling the anachronisms and evaluate the guitar on what you hear coming out the amp and what you feel in your hands? Because that guitar right there is pretty darn good.
MusicRadar verdict: Inspired by the Junior but inspiring in its own way, the Eastman SB55/v is a meticulously crafted slice of old-school wood that wears its minimalist appointments with confidence. It's a keeper.
The web says...
"Remove that direct vintage comparison and you have a hugely vintage-informed piece that really gets to the heart of the Junior’s simplistic design. It’s a very well-informed tribute to a bona fide classic."
Guitarist (opens in new tab)
- ORIGIN: China
- TYPE: Single-cutaway, single pickup solidbody
- BODY: 1-piece okoume
- NECK: 1-piece okoume, glued-in
- SCALE LENGTH: 629mm (24.75”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43.5mm
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony, pearl dot inlays, 305mm (12”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium/jumbo (22 Jescar FW47104-P)
- HARDWARE: Faber TPWC compensated Wrap Tailpiece w/ steel posts; Faber FKT33SBR-NA Klusonstyle tuners – aged nickel
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51mm
- ELECTRICS: Lollar 50s-spec Dog Ear single coil volume and No-Load tone control
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3/6.6
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: The double-cut SB55DC/v (opens in new tab)is inspired by the late-’58 Les Paul Junior and comes in a red/brown Antique Varnish finish at the same price
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISH: Sunburst Antique Varnish (as reviewed)
- CONTACT: Eastman Guitars (opens in new tab)