EAST­MAN SB 59/V & GODIN SUM­MIT CLAS­SIC LTD £1,769 & £2,299

Guitarist - - Eastman -

Lit­tle did Gib­son know back in the early 50s that its first solid­body guitar would spawn a whole in­dus­try. For many of us, the Les Paul started in 1958 and was over by the time the restyled ‘SG’ re­placed it in 1961. These so-called ’Bursts have fu­elled dreams and ob­ses­sions, and a con­sid­er­able num­ber of copies, clones, forg­eries and fakes. But we still can’t get enough, can we?

The other side of the sin­gle-cut coin is the nu­mer­ous mak­ers who have taken Gib­son’s blue­print and added their own twists, quite of­ten sim­ply to side-step Gib­son’s le­gal depart­ment. None­the­less, from the early 50s the in­flu­ence of the Les Paul be­gan to leave its mark even if, as with Guild’s M-75, many bor­rowed the style but made it hol­low or semi-hol­low. In more con­tem­po­rary times, like the Stra­to­caster, the Les Paul has been the in­spi­ra­tion for many an elec­tric from PRS’s Sin­gle­cut, to Pa­trick James Eg­gle’s Ma­con Sin­gle Cut… and many more.

East­man SB59/v

East­man’s first solid­body falls into the for­mer ‘vin­tage’ cat­e­gory, but our sam­ple – a pre-pro­duc­tion pro­to­type of this new de­sign – looks al­to­gether more hand­fash­ioned than a late 50s ’Burst. In fact, if we didn’t know bet­ter, we might think that ‘East­man’ was a solo maker work­ing back in the 70s hand-mak­ing elec­tric gui­tars in a gar­den shed. As we no­ticed when we first looked at these Chi­nese-made ‘an­tique’ con­structs, when you open the case you do a dou­ble-take: is this re­ally a new guitar?

It’s ob­vi­ously a close cousin of the clas­sic Les Paul with vir­tu­ally zero nods to mod­ernism. Shape-wise, it’s slightly fuller in the lower bouts than a Les Paul, but it’s the rounded horn – rem­i­nis­cent of Gib­son’s Les Paul Per­sonal – that im­me­di­ately pro­vides visual dif­fer­ence. It’s cer­tainly made of the right stuff: the ma­hogany back is one piece, the top cen­tre-joined with a far-from-clas­sic tiger striped maple top but with a nicely deep, vi­o­lin-like dish­ing. The neck, with sin­gle-ac­tion truss rod, is one piece (there are no head­stock-widen­ing wings), while the clas­sic LP ‘crown’ in­lays are re­ferred to as ‘Ocean’ pearl and pro­vide the only bling with a sub­tle sparkle against the bound ebony ’board. The 15.5mm-thick head­stock has a match­ing ebony fac­ing (and truss rod cover) and pearl in­laid logo, and a very Gib­son-like top lip along with a steep back an­gle. The neck-to-body an­gle is steep, too, mean­ing that the tune-o-matic seem­ingly sits quite high off the body. In re­al­ity, it’s only a mil­lime­tre higher than the less-raked look­ing Godin. Un­like many mod­ern sin­gle-cuts, it’s not cham­bered, nor weight-re­lived, and achieves a pretty good if sub­stan­tial-feel­ing weight of 8.7lbs.

But it’s the fin­ish, an an­tiqued ‘French pol­ish’, that’ll be hugely po­lar­is­ing. It comes from East­man’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in orches­tral stringed in­stru­ments and is ap­plied by hand. French pol­ish is ac­tu­ally the process, not the ma­te­rial, though it’s typ­i­cally a shel­lac dis­solved in al­co­hol. It’s a fairly lengthy process and is nowhere near as hard as a ni­tro­cel­lu­lose or the more

com­monly used polyurethane, polyester or acrylic. It marks eas­ily, but is re­pairable and lets the wood breathe. Aside from its visual im­pact, the im­pres­sion of that old-school hand-build is en­hanced by quite a tex­tured feel to the neck back, for ex­am­ple.

Bind­ing is thin and slightly creamy coloured. It’s not the sharpest scrap­ing we’ve ever seen, but looks very vin­tage-y and hand-done com­pared with the bright white bind­ing of the Godin, which is thicker and deeper on the body, with in­ner pur­fling, though sim­i­larly sized on the neck, cre­at­ing a much more con­tem­po­rary ap­pear­ance. Hard­ware, too, is aged – the stud tail­piece sit­ting a lit­tle closer than most to the tu­neo-matic bridge.

There are no tricks in the choice of Sey­mour Dun­can An­tiq­uity hum­buck­ers in their aged nickel cov­ers and the clas­sic two-vol­ume/two-tone con­trol setup with a shoul­der-mounted three-way tog­gle, all placed in un­shielded cav­i­ties.

Godin Sum­mit Clas­sic Ltd

The Cana­dian maker’s sin­gle-cut vi­sion is al­to­gether more con­tem­po­rary. Firstly, the out­line of the two-piece cen­tre-jointed

top is more no­tice­ably re­drawn from the orig­i­nal: that slight cut-out on the bass-side shoul­der, a more open, out-curv­ing tip to the cut­away’s horn and a flat­ter curve to the base of the body. Its depth re­tains the bulk of the orig­i­nal: 47mm at the rim ris­ing to around 57mm in the cen­tre of the carved maple top. Un­like a Les Paul, there’s a slight rib-cage cham­fer on the back. The top ex­hibits quite a clas­sic ap­pear­ance, with its not over­done down-turned flame un­der the caramel brown-coloured light ’burst. The top’s carve is nicely dished, though less so than the East­man; both vol­ume and tone are in­set, PRS-style. It’s a very clean job.

Join­ing the neck at the 16th fret, like the orig­i­nal, nei­ther the neck pitch nor head­stock rake are quite as ex­treme as a vin­tage spec Les Paul, but it’s doubt­ful (or cer­tainly de­bat­able) that ei­ther are no­tice­ably detri­men­tal to the sound. The neck, with its mod­ern dual-ac­tion truss rod, has a spliced head­stock and a nicely old-school three-a-side, quite thin-widthed head with its sin­gle domed-top lip: it looks like some­thing we’ve seen be­fore, even if the cen­tral Sum­mit Clas­sic and Made In Canada leg­ends are far from vin­tage. The ‘Lim­ited’ truss rod cover dif­fer­en­ti­ates it from the non-cus­tom shop mod­els, too. Along with that bright white bind­ing we have what ap­pears to be mother-of-pearl dot in­lays – hardly cor­rect for the clas­sic Stan­dard or Cus­tom style, but a nice work­ing guitar touch.

There are more than a few twists, how­ever, that take this Sum­mit Clas­sic recipe away from its in­spi­ra­tion. Firstly, there’s the cen­tre-jointed two-piece ma­hogany cham­bered body, with “five hol­low cham­bers strate­gi­cally placed through­out the guitar’s body”, says Godin. “Each is tap-tuned to a dif­fer­ent pitch en­sur­ing rich, mu­si­cal tones and ex­tremely con­sis­tent note-to-note bal­ance.” Then there’s the use of Rich­lite for the fingerboard in­stead of rose­wood or ebony – a ma­te­rial that Godin em­ploys on other higher-end gui­tars.

More mod­ernism ap­pears in the elec­tron­ics spec where – de­spite the pretty old-school style of the Bare Knuckle Mules – we have the ac­tive High-Def­i­ni­tion Revoicer (HDR) that’s en­gaged via a small push-but­ton dis­creetly placed in front of the

lower tone con­trol and de­signed to “revoice and aug­ment the fre­quency range of each pickup and al­lows the player to go from pas­sive to ac­tive pick­ups with the sim­ple push of a but­ton”. While the drive re­mains sim­plis­tic with a shoul­der-placed three-way tog­gle, con­trols are con­densed with just mas­ter vol­ume and tone. The out­put jack is the re­cessed cir­cu­lar Tele-type and the bridge is Graph Tech Re­soMax de­sign; Graph Tech also sup­plies the Tusq nut.

The airy un­shielded con­trol cav­ity also houses the nine-volt block bat­tery for the ac­tive cir­cuit. The pots and HDR cir­cuit and its switch are all mounted to a cen­tral PCB, which could make mod­ding a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.

Sounds

The East­man’s neck is sim­i­lar in depth to the Godin in its lower po­si­tions, but fills out as you move higher end­ing up in a full, rounded hand­ful by the heel – not a neck for those who like ’em thin, front to back. Not sur­pris­ingly, the more mod­ern Godin’s neck is equally well shaped, with slightly more trimmed shoul­ders, but sim­ply doesn’t feel as big, though again it’s far from skinny front to back. The East­man’s frets are slightly chunkier and of a sim­i­lar height to the Godin. Strapped on, the East­man feels heav­ier and like home; the Godin is lighter with less of a body-cen­tred feel.

The dif­fer­ences con­tinue as we plug in. As ever, we use var­i­ous ref­er­ences and the East­man is the most ‘po­lite’ we have to hand, lack­ing the clar­ity of more mod­ern­style builds, not least a 2017 Gib­son LP Stan­dard T, a PRS McCarty or Sin­gle­cut, and our Godin. It’s also the low­est in out­put and set­ting up a range of sounds from pretty clean, boosted clean, Mar­shall crunch and boosted, that theme is con­tin­ued. The An­tiq­ui­ties aren’t pot­ted ei­ther, which can be an is­sue for some play­ers at higher gains/ vol­umes, of course. Few sur­prises, but with a recipe this good that’s cer­tainly well repli­cated here, who cares?

Yet the Godin will sur­prise many play­ers with a voice that man­ages clar­ity, sweet­ness and power with that sim­ple two-con­trol drive. It has a lively res­o­nance, too, mar­ried with a lighter weight. The HDR moves it fur­ther from the East­man and not only adds clar­ity (in a mu­si­cal fash­ion), but just a very sub­tle level boost. It cleans up the pas­sive tre­ble roll-off ef­fect when the vol­ume is re­duced, and if you just need a lit­tle more zing, es­pe­cially with a more­com­plex ped­al­board setup, it’s here. It doesn’t quite man­age the lower-mid thunk of the East­man and there’s a very sub­tle com­pres­sion – which, depend­ing on your style, could be good or bad. There’s a lot of sin­gle-cut sound here with a very sim­ple drive, which could prove a win­ner if you have more sounds to cover.

Back on the East­man we have no such bells or whis­tles, but kick­ing in a clean booster/buf­fer from our ped­al­board does have a sim­i­lar ef­fect to the HDR, and with a slight level in­crease there’s lit­tle be­tween the two. Still, for many more sea­soned sin­gle-cut play­ers, the clas­sic four-con­trol setup is es­sen­tial to the drive.

We’re tempted to con­clude that the East­man is for the player more in touch with his or her vin­tage side, but we’re less sure that, in re­al­ity, that’s the case from what we’re hear­ing rather than what we’re see­ing or feel­ing. That said, it’s a guitar we seem to just want to plug di­rectly in and chan­nel our in­ner Kos­soff.

Ver­dict

These are two sin­gle-cuts that nicely il­lus­trate the op­tions we have in the cur­rent mar­ket. East­man’s vi­sion looks and feels like a cus­tom-made in­stru­ment; it closely fol­lows Gib­son’s blue­print with a slightly al­tered shape. It’s these com­bined fac­tors that makes it hugely valid and, as we’ve said, the same guitar is avail­able with a gloss ni­tro fin­ish, Dun­can ’59s and un­aged hard­ware if you’d pre­fer – at an even lower cost.

Godin, too, has cheaper al­ter­na­tives, but its sin­gle-cut vi­sion in this ‘Ltd’ in­car­na­tion is top drawer, bring­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent to the ta­ble with its cham­bered con­struc­tion, light weight, Rich­lite fingerboard, ac­tive HDR cir­cuit and stream­lined con­trols. It’s less vin­tagein­spired for sure, but be­ing pow­ered by the ex­cel­lent Bare Knuckle Mules, it has a broad sin­gle-cut voice.

As to value, that’s al­ways a dif­fi­cult one. We have to con­clude that the Godin does seem a lit­tle over-priced, es­pe­cially when com­pared with its stan­dard Sum­mit Clas­sic mod­els (or the price of Gib­son’s 2017 Les Paul Stan­dard T, street­ing around £1.9k). And the East­man in its an­tique fin­ish? Some have ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of a £1.7k Chi­nese-made guitar. But we’d sug­gest you let the guitar do the talk­ing. We’d give house room to ei­ther – try them both and buy the one that en­gages you. Se­ri­ously good sin­gle-cuts!

2. The SB59/v is cer­tainly made of the right stuff: the back and neck are both one-piece ma­hogany 2

3. Look­ing like an old piece of fur­ni­ture, the East­man’s fin­ish is a tra­di­tional French pol­ish ap­plied by hand in the com­pany’s Vi­o­lin Var­nish Work­shop. “It fea­tures six dis­tinct steps,” we’re told, “start­ing with base coat to fill the grain, colour ap­pli­ca­tion, and con­clud­ing with the French pol­ish. Ul­ti­mately, three or four coats of ma­te­rial are ap­plied and sanded thin” 3

1. Along with aged Go­toh hard­ware, we get a pair of Sey­mour Dun­can An­tiq­uity hum­buck­ers. The stan­dard SB59 uses Dun­can ’59s and a more con­ven­tional gloss ni­tro fin­ish 1

4 4. Our ‘cus­tom shop’ Ltd ver­sion of the Sum­mit Clas­sic uses a pair of Bare Knuckle Mules; the Supreme Ltd comes with Lol­lar El Rayo hum­buck­ers or Gold Foil sin­gle coils

5 5. Like the stan­dard Sum­mit Clas­sics, we have sim­ple mas­ter vol­ume and tone knobs. The push switch in front of the tone con­trol in­tro­duces an ac­tive buf­fer/boost: Godin’s High-Def­i­ni­tion Revoicer (HDR) cir­cuit

An­other mod­ern de­tail is the use of Rich­lite for the Godin fingerboard, in­stead of rose­wood or ebony. Godin also uses it on other high-end mod­els, such as cer­tain Mul­tiac mod­els; Martin, too, of­fers it for fin­ger­boards

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