Vintage thinline sounds abound in an impressively relic’d and smooth-playing hollowbody.
First section is neck pickup, followed by both pickups, and finally bridge pickup.
Excellent pickups. Near-perfect fit, finish, and setup. Impressive relic’ing.
Very expensive for a China-built instrument.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of a session with a thinline electric, you’re missing a world of sounds and overtones that are hard to come by elsewhere. Whether it’s an old Vox, a Rickenbacker, Gretsch, or Gibson, thinlines sound and feel different. The larger physical dimensions lend the feel of an old-world instrument. And there’s a resonance that can veer from beautifully, tonefully flowering to teetering at the edge of feedback. But when it comes to thinlines that feel truly alive in hand, few can match the hollowbody Epiphone Casino, its cousin the Gibson ES-330, and, by extension, the very Casino/330-inspired Eastman T64/v reviewed here.
Like those famous hollowbodies, the Beijing-built Eastman T64/v is sparkling, exciting, mellow, smooth, jangly, or rowdy depending on your mood, musical mode, and the gear you put at the other end of your cable. It’s also an exceptional guitar that feels more expensive than it is—even though, by import standards, it’s not exactly inexpensive itself.
Original Beat Box
Though frequently mistaken by casual observers for the more famous Gibson ES-335, Epiphone Casinos might be the most commonly heard thinlines. They helped propel just about every Beatles record from Revolver onward. (Paul McCartney had one as far back as 1964.) And Keith Richards used a Casino for some of the Stones’ punkiest early tracks. The variety of tones these guitars contributed to records by these artists alone speaks volumes about the Casino’s versatility. And the same flexibility is easy to hear in the T64/v.
A big part of the T64/v’s tone signature is the true hollowbody design. Unlike a Gibson 335 or a Rickenbacker 330, the T64/v is built without a center block—a feature that typically adds sustain and contributes resistance to feedback. Hold a T64/v sideways up to the sun, peer through the f-hole, and you’ll see daylight shining through the opposite side. You’ll also notice an unusual amount of attention to fit and finish on the inside. Even in the hardest-to-see corners (and I checked with a flashlight), the laminate maple top and back were sanded smooth and kerfing was carefully bound to the body, with only a few, very small errant glue spots visible at the heel block.
The guitar’s exterior, meanwhile, verges on flawless. Frets are perfectly seated at the neck binding. The cutouts for the two Lollar Dog Ear P-90 pickups are cut to the closest possible tolerances. The setup and action are close to perfect. It’s hard to image a new guitar playing more smoothly out of the case.
Part of the T64/v’s visual allure is the relic’d amber antique varnish finish. And in all but a few places, the artificial patina holds up to close scrutiny. Placed alongside real 50-plus-years-old instruments, the color fade and finish wear look remarkably authentic. Even the yellowing of the binding is convincing. The only element that detracts from the otherwise careful aging effort is pearl inlay, which has a fresh-from-the-dentist whiteness that’s jarring against the ebony fretboard and compared to the aged tuning keys and binding. Even the black pickup covers have a cool, lived-in, lack of plasticky gloss—though I can’t help but think that aged chrome covers rather than black would have made the T64/v a perfect “10” from a visual standpoint.
A Playmate That Resonates
Any hollowbody worth its salt tends to sound and feel musical before you amplify it, and the T64/v is a delight to play unplugged. Thump the low E string and you can feel it in your ribs as it resonates. Center bocks may improve sustain in amplified situations, but it’s hard to imagine the superb resonance of the T64/v’s top and body failing to translate to extra sustain and overtone color when the guitar is amplified.
That said, the tone profile of the T64/v and the Lollar P-90s may surprise when you plug in. If the sonic point of reference you imagine for the T64/v is the trebly clank of Sgt. Pepper’s “Getting Better,” you could be astonished to hear that the Lollars, even in the bridge position, tend to be smokier and smoother than you might guess. But the beauty of this tone profile is the leeway it gives you to shape the tone in either direction on the EQ spectrum. If it’s Beatle-y treble you seek, you can add amp treble or a treble-boosted overdrive (I used a Jext Telez White Pedal, in the interest of Beatles authenticity) without losing an ounce of the pickup’s even-handed harmonic balance. The neck pickup may lack a PAF-and-center-block’s wooly ballast, but sounds arguably more complex in some tone-attenuated jazzy contexts.
The T64/v’s hollow body means there is a feedback penalty if you use the guitar with fuzz, overdrive, or even a big amp at high volume. At times, things can get hairy enough on the feedback front that you might find yourself wishing for a Les Paul—or at least a yard of beach towel to stuff in those f-holes. Mastering the Eastman’s feedback threshold, though, can yield a bounty of very manageable and expressive overtone and feedback possibilities—especially when you put the responsive and surprisingly tuning-stable Bigsby to work.
At nearly $1,700, the T64/v is unquestionably expensive for a pre-aged China-built instrument. Then again, the attention to detail and playability are, in many respects, perfect. And with the Lollar Dog Ear P-90s on board, the guitar is more than capable of rich vintage-correct tones to go with the impressively executed patina. And the end of the day, whether the T64/v is worth it to you is down to whether you bond with it as a guitar player and musician. I suspect many will be convinced by their playing experience to lay the cash down and walk away with a lifetime partner.