New bracing and pickups make this mid-priced take on a Gretsch classic a lively and engaging inspiration machine.
Smooth playability on par with much more expensive instruments. Airy, open pickup sounds with lots of clean-to-mean latitude.
Blue finish is pretty but thick in spots. Vintage sticklers might miss some old-school Filter’Tron bite.
Though big hollowbodies like the Gretsch G6120 are beautiful and an essential ingredient in countless classic records, they can be a tricky playing experience for the uninitiated. Navigable fretboard space is limited by solidbody standards. Big bodies can feel bulky. They’re sometimes feedback prone in high-volume situations, too. Consequently, I’ve watched many solidbody-oriented chums who rarely play hollowbodies handle a big Gretsch with the baffled look of a spacefarer deciphering an alien tongue.
This latest affordable, mid-line evolution of Gretsch’s classic 6120, the re-designed Electromatic G5420T, smooths navigation of those intrinsic challenges. A new approach to trestle block bracing and FT-5E Filter’Tron pickups give the guitar a zingy, lively, and surprisingly feedback-resistant resonance. And the ultra-smooth playability makes it relatable for the average solidbody player. Together, the improvements make the G5420 a welcoming and intuitive-feeling vehicle for the less-orthodox modes of guitar expression that big Gretsch’s enable.
New Shoes in Blue
Trestle bracing, as a name and design concept, graced Gretschs beginning in the ’50s. That system utilized a bridge-like pair of laterally oriented braces. Trestle block bracing is different. It situates a slim, light center bock that is shaped like a bridge arch at a 90-degree angle between two straight, lateral braces. In one sense, the construction is akin to a center-block semihollow body. But the Gretsch trestle block has much less mass and a smaller footprint than the center block in, say, a Gibson 335, making the design a great compromise between rigidity, stability, and resonance. The effects, at least to my ears, are audible. And one thing every staffer that touched this guitar agreed upon was that this was the liveliest affordable Gretsch that any of us remembered playing.
The G5420T also feels like a dream underneath the fingers. The 12" radius makes string bends extra easy. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and, yes, fleet-fingered Chet Atkins picking feel effortless. And in general the playability is so nice you often forget that notes much past the 17th or 18th fret are a pretty uncomfortable reach. The control layout is a familiar take on Gretsch convention. The master volume control on the treble-side horn is always a blast to use for volume swells. And while the bridge volume is situated pretty far aft on the body, it’s easy enough to reach for fine tuning adjustments and corrections to the neck/bridge blend. The Bigsby, meanwhile, is both fluid, smooth, and, in relative terms, pretty tuning-stable if you’re not too aggressive.
You don’t achieve playability and intonation like that on our review model without sweating the details, and the 5420’s neck, nut, fretboard, and frets all feel very much of a piece.
Construction quality is typically very good in Gretsch’s more affordable Streamliner and Electromatic series, and the G5420T does its part to hold up the family reputation. You don’t achieve playability and intonation like that on our review model without sweating the details, and the 5420’s neck, nut, fretboard, and frets all feel very much of a piece. Little details like the binding around the f-holes are also flawlessly executed. One of the only overt signs of the G5420T’s mid-priced status is the polyester-azure-blue finish, which, while dazzling, looks a bit ripply and thick in spots. Even so, in sunlight, it reveals traces of pearlescent turquoise and lake placid blue, depending on the angle from which you view it.
Balance and Brawn
As Gretsch tells it, the new Filter’Trons are designed for stronger bass output and more articulate high end. I don’t know if I would call the low-end exceptionally robust. But 6th-string notes exhibit a concise, classy punchiness that resonates with just-right complexity and gracefully adds balance and ballast to chords. Some players expect low notes on a Gretsch hollowbody to explode with the heft of a grand piano. But the chiming low notes of a Fender Rhodes electric piano are a more apt analogy for the 5420’s present, overtone-rich-but-understated bottom-string output. This same knack for balance translates to awesome, articulate overdrive and fuzz tones (though, needless to say, it is important to mind the feedback when messing with the latter).
High-end output, meanwhile, is beautiful. First- and 2nd-string notes ring presently and in graceful balance with the rest of the strings, lending a kinetic but not-too-hot edge to leads and chords. And anyone with an affinity for vintage rockabilly or late-’60s West Coast psychedelia will love the way these high notes hop, quaver, and sing with a waggle of the Bigsby. For this author, anyway, it’s a visceral, addictive thrill—particularly with a big Fender amp and a heap of spring reverb and slapback echo.
Any player well versed and at ease with the idiosyncrasies of a Gretsch hollowbody will love the way the 5420 sounds and feels. And on the latter count, certainly, the 5420T is the equal of many much more pricey guitars. It’s very easy to imagine an upmarket or vintage Gretsch owner who sweats gigging with an expensive axe taking this guitar out instead and feeling right at home. The pickups are very well balanced, present, and detailed. And the Bigsby is smooth and invites all manner of twitchy or surfy vibrato moves. Most important is how these factors conspire to offer an uncommon playing experience with an upmarket feel. “Riff machine” may be a term that you could apply to many guitars, but the combination of the 5420T’s playabililty and open, detailed, and balanced pickups add up to a deep well of habit-smashing inspiration—all at a very nice price, to boot.
Gretsch G5420T Electromatic Hollowbody Demo | First Look
Outfitted with new hardware and potent pickups, the glammy Eastman Romeo LA is ready to rock.
Comfortable feel. Even neck response. Responsive vibrato. Sounds equally great clean and dirty.
A bit expensive for an Asia-built instrument.
Eastman Romeo LA
They say first impressions are everything. And a guitar's appearance often tells us exactly what it aspires to be. When we look at a pointy guitar with humbuckers and a locking trem, we know its intentions. Subverting those expectations can be fun though—like seeing someone rip bebop licks on a Flying V (more of this, please!).
Just as fun is when a guitar model subverts its own intentions, which is what Eastman's Romeo LA accomplishes to some extent. First released in 2019, the original Romeo glowed with a vintage-style radiance that, apart from its curvy, offset profile, evoked traditional Gibson and Epiphone semi-hollowbodies and the jazzy, bluesy tones they produce. The LA, however, with its glammy options and assertive pickups, feels made for bright lights, big stages, and modern rockin'.
The Romeo and Romeo LA share many specs: a maple neck with 12" a radius ebony fretboard, mahogany laminate back and sides, and 24.75" scale. There are pronounced differences too, though. Eastman replaced the solid spruce top on the Romeo with a laminate spruce top (which are common on even the most expensive archtops). Another big change is the shiny, metallic celestine blue finish that covers the asymmetrical body and maple neck. Rather than cultivating the understated, traditional elegance of its predecessor, this Romeo screams for attention.
The slick finish isn't the only thing primed for hot stage lights. Two Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P-90s are housed in stylish gold foil–style radiator covers. And a Göldo Les Trem and 3-point bridge look sharp and enhance the Romeo's tonal personality and expressive abilities. Göldo K-Line locking tuners help keep the guitar pitch stable.
A California Dream
Playing the Romeo LA is a dream. It's resonant, with lots of sustain, and big, open chords sound great unplugged. It arrives with stock .011-.049 D'Addario NYXLs, but the fretboard feels fast and slinky and easily accommodates quick licks of all flavors. The guitar feels balanced and comfortable too, which kept it in my lap for long spans.
Rather than cultivating the understated elegance of its predecessor, it screams for attention.
The Phat Cat P-90s are a real statement piece—and not just visually. They are warm, dynamic, and bright. Each pickup has a dedicated volume knob. But there's just one tone knob, which is wired to the bridge pickup. That means no rolling back the neck tone for straight-ahead jazzbos—a clue to this guitar's more rocking orientation. But the neck pickup is bright and clear, and to darken that sound up would be a crime. Both pickups offer sparkling cleans but really come alive when paired with overdrive. Hitting my Klon with the bridge pickup, the Romeo LA sounded strong and focused across the fretboard. The neck pickup, meanwhile, added powerful low-end rumble.
The Göldo Les Trem is a serious highlight too. It does all the things that Bigsby-style vibratos do well, and the arm, though a little pointy on the end, fits nicely in the palm of my hand while I do my picking. The Göldo feels more modern and is faster than the competition though. It's capable of quick, springy attack—in both directions—and impressively deep dives.
The Romeo LA may offer a lot of flash and pizazz, but it sounds and feels as good as it looks. Thoughtful hardware decisions make it feel like a hot rod. But while it definitely rocks, it's suited for many mellower playing styles. At $720 less than its predecessor, it's a great deal, too.