When Ted McCarty fitted a 16-inch thinline semi-hollow with a centre-block back in 1958, he uncovered the magic formula for the ES-335, combining the warm tone of a hollowbody with the feedback-busting properties of a solidbody.
It remains one of the most popular outlines for innumerable manufacturers, and Eastman is among the most respected semi-hollow builders in the biz.
The T386 may tip the scales at close to a grand, but it’s the most affordable electric Eastman produces. That’s down to its meticulous approach to guitar building, so set aside your preconceptions about Chinese guitar builds and listen up. The factory employs a team of specialists, each of whom works on an individual aspect of the guitar, allowing them to build more instruments than one builder working alone while offering a custom shop feel at more affordable pricing.
Certainly, the T386 plays like a worn-in guitar - it doesn’t feel or look like a ‘new’ instrument, but rather a vintage model that happens to be in mint condition. It’s there to see in the way the wood grain peeks through the nitrocellulose finish, the binding’s subtle humbug-esque stripes and the expertly rolled fretboard edges. There are the tiniest of finish imperfections - that binding isn’t quite perfect - but that only reinforces the hand-crafted vibe.
If you’re interested in the T386, you’re bound to be checking out a few 335s, so here’s where this one differs. Aside from the more bulbous headstock and the side-rather than top-located output jack - a cleaner look in our book - the neck shape is wider and slightly thinner than some other 335-style guitars. Eastman calls it a traditional ‘Even C’ - whether that’s better than Gibson’s ‘rounded C’ is down to preference.
What is utterly inarguable is the quality of the Kent Armstrong humbuckers’ PAF-style tones; everything you could want from a thinline semi is here. Woody, earthy neck tones and flutey Clapton leads? Nailed it. Bridge-pickup chime and that glorious bloom when strummed lightly? You betcha.
This guitar loves some raw amp-style gain - open chords breathe with incredible clarity, and there’s that sweet singing sustain you get from a semi-hollow with grit. Sure, the middle-position sounds are nothing to write home about, and you won’t get trad-jazz out of a body depth like this, but that’s true to the instrument’s inspiration. The T386 makes you realise what a great thinline semi can be, encapsulating the design’s strengths to such a level that it’s near-impossible to fault.