When re-creating a classic, it’s all too easy to feel hidebound to the original – especially if it’s an icon. In launching its first single-pickup solidbody, Eastman felt few restrictions and its SB55 both pays tribute and builds on legend.
Dutch guitar designer Pepijn’t Hart went searching for a holy grail among collectors and vintage dealers. When he found his fave, he set about duplicating its finest points while also improving on the original.
The SB55 is the result. And if you get butterflies in your stomach at the thought of springing for a vintage example, the handmade-in-China Eastman is a glorious option.
Hart began by seeking a lightweight, resonant wood. The original’s mahogany body can vary in sound quality, so Eastman chose Okume, an African tonewood reminiscent of Korina. The body and neck are each one-piece, crowned by an ebony fretboard.
Intonation on originals was never ideal, so Hart sought to remedy that with a compensated aged aluminum bridge from German maker Faber. With locking studs, the bridge stands firm and provides improved sustain and tone. Faber also supplied the tuners. For the pickup, Hart worked with maestro Jason Lollar and spec’d an underwound/medium-output P-90. Gold speed knobs and a gorgeous Bakelite-like pickguard from British maker Rothko and Frost finish things right.
Finally, there’s the amazing finish. Eastman began as a violin maker, and applied a hand-rubbed clear antique violin finish atop the sunburst with slight relic’ing. Hart says the varnish lets the wood breathe. Plus, first time out, the guitar already looks and feels decades old.
But does it live up to the legend?
The SB55 is light and easy to play, with a supple, smooth 12″ fretboard radius. And it’s born to rock. Controls include a no-load Tone pot, giving it the sound of a three-way/two-pickup guitar with a twist of the knob. At 5, it rolls out a nice neck pickup sound; at 9, it’s a perfect middle-position sound. And when you want that last nudge over the cliff, you turn to 10, at which point the tone is disconnected and it’s straight volume to pickup. The sound is suitably devilish.
The SB55 offers a heck of a bang for the buck. The specs are killer, finish is fantastic, feel is ideal, the design is hard-working, and the tone is hard-rocking.
This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.