If you’ve paid attention to these pages in recent years, you’re familiar with Mike Robinson’s Eastwood retro-styled electric guitars, which, along with the company’s proprietary instruments, have become ever-more popular with professional players (and collectors), not only because they’re cool and funky, but well-made and reasonably priced.
The Canadian shop’s most recent creation is the Joey Leone signature RBC. Leone is a longtime Eastwood endorser and the guiding force in the Joey Leone Chop Shop band. And at first glance, the guitar that bears his name may look like a typical semi-hollowbody with P-90s. But look closer…
The Eastwood JLs 335-inspired semi-hollow body has a laminated flame maple top, back, and sides with a mahogany center block, single-ply cream-colored binding on the top and back, and two bound f-holes. Hardware consists of a custom gold trapeze tailpiece with engraved hardwood insert (a Bigsby vibrato is available as an option), a gold tune-o-matic-style bridge, and gold Grover Imperial tuners. The JLs one-piece set mahogany neck has a bound 12″ radius rosewood fretboard with mother-of-pearl (MOP) parallelogram inlays, bone nut, black-painted headstock with large MOP “E” logo inlay, and medium-jumbo fret wire.
The JL’s 251/2″ scale length represents the first substantial break from the 335; other departures include its trio of custom Kent Armstrong P-90 pickups, each of which uses its own three-way toggle switch (on/off/coil-tapped) while the center pickup is reverse-wound and reverse-polarity.
The JL’s fit, finish, and overall quality are as you’d find on a much more expensive guitar; the frets are nicely detailed and polished, inlays are cleanly executed, and the high-gloss finish is flawless. Playability was also what we’ve come to expect from Eastwood – a slim, comfortable neck profile, low action with straight, level frets, and spot-on intonation. The added scale length adds tension to the string feel over the normally smooth slinky feel of a Gibson 335, but the large highly polished frets and flat 12″ radius fretboard made bending a breeze.
The tight cluster and straightforward layout of the pickup switches make it easy to navigate the JL’s 27 (!) pickup combinations; each switch corresponds to the appropriate pickup in line (i.e. neck, middle or bridge). In the middle position, the pickup is off, in the up position it’s full on, and in the down position it’s tapped to activate fewer coil windings, for a crisper, thinner sound.
Through the clean channel of a 50-watt Koch Twintone II combo (12AX7/EL34), the JL’s tapped pickup combinations produced convincing Strat/Tele tones with a fair amount of twang and quake. Not as snappy as a Fender, but punchy and bright nonetheless. With the pickup switches in the up/full on position, the Kent Armstrong P-90 exhibited a fatter, stronger midrange tone with slightly more output that you’d expect from P-90s, and pushed the guitar’s overall tone more into Jazzmaster/Epi Casino territory. What’s really fun, and allows tone changes at the guitar (without noodling with the amp’s tone controls) was mixing the tapped and full-on pickup combination to produce a sound with just the right amount of midrange punch and high-end snap from nearly every pickup combination.
While the 251/2″ scale adds to the JL’s Fender flavor, the fuller, rounded tone characteristics of the semi-hollow body kept it from being a one-trick pony. The difference in the JL’s sound when its pickups are switched from full-on to tapped was fairly subtle in the clean channel of the Koch, but with some overdrive from the Koch’s high-gain channel or cranked through a 15-watt Orange Tiny Terror head (12AX7/EL84) mated to our Hard Truckers Fatty 2×12″, the differences became more pronounced. In the tapped positions, the JL produced a crisp, crunchy overdrive with jangle, while the full-on positions not only added sustain and overdrive to the tone, but a smoother, thicker texture to the midrange.
Also noticeable in the overdrive channel of both amps were the nine humbucking pickup combinations. When the middle pickup is used in combination with any other pickup, whether full-on or tapped, the guitar was nearly silent. Yes, the guitar would squeal a bit if moved too close to the amps, but it was easily controlled and responded well by backing off the guitar’s Volume control.
The Eastwood Joey Leone is not only a well-crafted instrument that blends 335 aesthetics and vibe with a variety of sounds from two classic “camps,” but does it with a remarkably simple and easy-to-use configuration.
EASTWOOD JOEY LEONE SIGNATURE RDC
Price $1,199 (direct).
Contact Eastwood Guitars, 348 Guelph Street, Unit 4, Georgetown, ONT. Canada L7G-4B5; phone (905) 702-8291; eastwoodguitars.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s January 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
Eastwood JOEY LEONE Signature PROTOTYPE