The 1950s may have witnessed the rise of
the solidbody, but hollowbodies ruled
the decade. Some of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest
vanguards are synonymous with archtops
and hollowbodies: Scotty Moore backed
Elvis Presley on a Gibson ES-295, Chuck
Berry reeled and rocked with an ES-350, and
rockabilly pioneer Eddie Cochran wielded
a Gretsch 6120. But as cool as they looked,
those instruments were out of reach for
most burgeoning rockers. The Harmony
Company—the largest musical-instrument
maker in the United States at the time—did
a remarkable job of filling the void with
affordable hollow and semihollow guitars like
the Meteor, Rocket, and others that, over
the next six decades, would propel everything
from the Rolling Stones’ salvos to Dan
Auerbach’s fuzz riffs. That enduring appeal
has made Harmony guitars (and those they
built for companies like Kay, Airline, and
Silvertone) the subject of collector affections.
The H63 Espanada is among the rarest
and most coveted of Harmony instruments,
drawing auction bids in the thousands
of dollars. So it was a logical subject for
reinterpretation (or reissue, depending on
how liberally you define such terms) by
Eastwood, which has been revisiting oddball
guitar designs since 2001. In tackling one of
Harmony’s most elegant designs, Eastwood
has delivered a great-playing hollowbody that
brims with vintage authenticity, even if it
doesn’t deliver all of the mojo of the original.
Like the original, the Eastwood Airline
Espanada features a hollow 16-inch body
with a Venetian cutaway. The top and back
are made from laminated maple, the sides
from laminated mahogany, and the set-neck
is solid maple with a rosewood fretboard. The
Fender-like 25 1/2" scale (just a hair longer
than the original) and Gibson-ish 1.6875"
nut make for a comfortable, spacious-feeling
neck that works well for complex chords.
Many of the design details that endeared
the Espenada to collectors remain intact,
including the black glossy finish, white
binding and pickup rings, diamond-shaped
toggle plate, and cupcake-style knobs. The
pickguard retains the original’s shape but
is spruced up a touch with a black pinstripe
and the Airline coat-of-arms logo.
Eastwood happily deviated from tradition
when it came to several critical pieces of
hardware: Instead of an unreliable wooden
bridge, the Espanada features a TonePros
Tune-o-matic-style bridge, and it’s also
outfitted with modern Grover-style tuners.
Vintage-spec sticklers might argue that vintage-style, open-geared tuners with smaller
buttons would look a bit more authentic
and not add significantly to the bottom
line. They may also wish Eastwood had
reproduced the original harp-style tailpiece
instead of throwing on a conventional trapeze,
but it’s likely the latter would have
been prohibitively expensive.
The Espanada is built well where it counts,
but it could use more attention to detail in
a few areas. The finish is irregular in spots,
especially around the f-holes. Similarly, the
plastic parts—especially the pickguard—are
not as neatly cut as one would expect them to
be. And inside the guitar there’s sawdust left
over from the manufacturing process.
To be fair, original Harmony guitars
were far from impeccably built—you still
see sawdust inside some originals!—but
we’ve grown accustomed to improved quality
on imported guitars. Given both the
Espanada’s $999 price tag and the quality
work we usually see from Eastwood, it
would be nice to see tighter quality control.
Dressed up Like a Player
Eastwood describes the Espanada as a light
guitar, but at 7.3 pounds (which might be
light for some solidbodies) it isn’t exactly
featherweight. It is, however, well balanced
and very comfortable to play either seated
or standing. The neck feels great—neither
too skimpy nor too ample—and the action
is sleek and easy right out of the case. It’s
easy to zip around on the neck playing
single-note lines and barre chords alike,
which is something you can’t say about all
vintage Harmony instruments of this type.
But though it’s outfitted with fairly light
D’Addario .010s, the Espanada (like many
big hollowbodies) isn’t an instrument that’s
conducive to deep string bending.
Plugged into a Fender Deluxe Reverb, the
high-output P-90-style pickups sound great.
The guitar has a robust, transparent voice
with excellent clarity and fairly uniform note-to-note output. The bridge pickup’s tone can
be quite aggressive and responds well to everything
from a hot, hybrid-picked rockabilly
solo to punk-rock downstroked eighth-notes.
The neck pickup is a bit more subdued
and lends itself nicely to jazz explorations.
It’s easy to dial in a warm but cutting tone
for single-note lines in a Grant Green mold,
or something darker for chord-melody-style
work in the manner of Joe Pass or Wes
Montgomery. In any of these styles, it’s a
very fun and responsive guitar to play.
The Eastwood Airline Espanada is based on
a sound premise—to build a new guitar with
the playability and quality of a good modern
instrument and the appealing aesthetic of a
vibey vintage specimen. Eastwood falls short
of this goal on a few counts—mostly cosmetic—
and some of the cool and unusual details
found on the original were too hard to include
without making the guitar too expensive.
The upside is tone and playability. On
both counts, the Espanada is a fine performer,
and roots-rock players, punks, rockabilly
cats, and country and jump-blues players will
all be hard-pressed to find a hollowbody that
can deliver this combination of faithful vintage
aura, sounds, and smooth playability.
Watch our video demo: