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