Eastman has been making some of the best reviewed, medium priced instruments for some time. Their products cover an eclectic mix from violins to archtop jazz guitars to fiberglass guitar cases to mandolins. All are beautifully finished and are of professional quality at much better price than say a Gibson or one of the small luthiers who make quality instruments.
The other notable thing about Eastman is I don’t think any other maker has as many archtop guitars to choose from in their catalog. Ibanez may be close (I haven’t actually counted). But the Ibanez selection though is nice, is not as varied as Eastman. Remember I am not including 17″ guitars in the Eastman list today, but they make those too.
El Rey Series
These guitars don’t actually meet one of the criteria I had listed for inclusion in this survey. Specifically, the depth of the El Rey guitars is only two inches which puts them more in the thinline category rather than a full depth archtop. The guitars are fully hollow and are being marketed to jazz guitarists, though blues and other guitarists might also be interested. But I am including them because they are unique. In fact, one of the things I like about Eastman guitars is that although their designs are inspired by classics, they are still willing to explore something new.
The dimensions of the the three El Rey models are identical: 25.5 inch scale length; 14 inch lower bout width; and 2 inch body depth. All have ebony fingerboards and 1 3/4″ nut width.
The least expensive has a single humbucker pickup with a solid spruce top. The back and sides are mahogany. The list price as of writing this is $1695. 1
The ER2 has two humbucker pickups. The top is solid spruce Top. The back and sides are maple. $1995
This guitar also has two humbucker pickups. However the top is maple and the back and sides are mahogany. The difference in woods is intended to give the guitar better resistance to feedback. $1995
List Prices Under $1000
The AR371CE looks similar to a Gibson ES-175. It has double parallelogram position marker inlays on a 16 inch wide, body and a 24 3/4 inch scale length. Top, sides and back are all laminated maple. Differences from the ES-175 are that it has single small humbucker pickup mounted on the body, the neck is maple (same as on the Epiphone version of the ES-175), the bridge is rosewood (not tune-a-matic style) and the price is under $1000. List price $850.
The AR403CE is also an all maple guitar. It has dot position markers and a Venetian cutaway (instead of the pointy Florentine cutaway as on the AR371CE or an ES-175). 25 inch scale length; 16 inch width; single humbucker pickup; Laminated Maple Top, Back & Sides. The bridge is rosewood. The fretboard as well as the pickguard are also rosewood. List $950.
All the remaining models have a 25 inch scale length and 16 inch wide lower bout width.
This is an amazing value. A solid carved spruce top with flamed maple (laminated) back and sides. It has a single surface mounted humbucker pickup. The cutaway is the smooth curve Venetian style. The fingerboard, pickguard and tailpiece are all made from ebony. Only $1250 list. I am really amazed at the value here.
The AR605CE has a carved spruce top with solid mahogany back and sides. The bridge, tailpiece, pickguard and fretboard are all rosewood. The cutaway is Venetian. A single floating humbucker pickup should allow greater acoustic tones. The List price is $1895.
Eastman sells two models of guitars designed by John Pisano. The main difference between the two models is that the AR680CE has solid mahogany back and sides while the AR880CE has solid maple back and sides. Both have solid, carved spruce tops and Venetian cutaways with a single surface mounted Kent Armstrong humbucker pickup.
Carved Spruce Top;Solid Mahagony back and sides. Rosewood bridge, tailpiece and pickguard. $2825 List.
Carved Spruce Top; Solid Maple back and sides. Ebony bridge, tailpiece, pickguard and fingerboard. $3650 List.
Carved spruce top. Solid figured maple back and sides. Ebony bridge, tailpiece, fingerboard and pickguard. Dual surface mounted Kent Armstrong humbucking pickups. $2625 List.
Single humbucker pickup; Carved Spruce Top; Solid Maple back & sides. $2500
Single floating humbucker pickup; Carved Spruce Top; Carved Maple Back/Sides. $3500. The copy on the Eastman website indicates the guitar has deluxe appointments and is made from private reserve woods. It’s special. I can’t attest to that, but take a look at the website images. It’s beautiful.
Where to Buy
Unlike many of the other guitars I’ve described in this series, you cannot buy Eastman guitars direct from the manufacturer nor can they be found at the large, discount, online retailers. Eastman only sells through dealers, likely a local guitar shop. The advantage of this is you can be sure that the guitar will be properly setup, something that you won’t get from big online stores.
The best place to find a local dealer that sells Eastman is to use their Dealer Locator web page. However, I do want to mention one specific seller. Mass Street Music is in Lawrence Kansas. I’ve never been to Lawrence Kansas. But the images in this post and a few others as well are from the Mass Street Music’s Flickr photostream which they were kind of enough to post under a Creative Commons license. They are beautiful pictures of guitars they have offered at their store and I want to thank them for making these pictures available. If you are near Lawrence Kansas you should check them out.