This Article Was Originally Published On: June 3rd, 2015 #Issue 16.
It’s an old saying that holds more than a small grain of truth: “everything old is new again.” This is especially true for Eastwood Guitars. Established in 2001 by Michael Robinson, Eastwood’s business model centers on re-creating older classics at affordable prices for modern players. Michael explains:
“In 1988, I started a software company in Toronto. It grew rapidly, and in 1992, I moved to California. This is where I built my business experience during the early days of the high-tech boom out west. I’ve been collecting odd-ball guitars for over thirty years. In the early days of eBay (mid 1990’s), I would buy/sell/trade as a hobby while living in Northern California. In 1997, I started a website to document all the guitars I was acquiring and started writing stories about their history. This website still operates today as our main “blog.” It’s called www.myrareguitars.com. Throughout this period, I continued with the wacky guitar hobby. I sold the business in the late 1990’s and eventually moved back to Canada in 2002. After moving back, I was faced with a decision to either get back into the high-tech world, or to start something new. With the success of MyRareGuitars, I found myself with an international following of like-minded crazy guitar fans, so the choice to start Eastwood Guitars was an easy one.”
The Company Line
True vintage instruments are getting harder – and more expensive – to buy, play, and maintain all the time. Robinson’s goal with Eastwood is to build modernized, affordable, playable instruments to make the vintage experience more accessible and more enjoyable to everyone. The Eastwood line includes both guitars and basses which embody Gretsch, Mosrite, Airline and Ampeg styles and designs, but also includes instruments of their own design. Robinson says, “We have over fifty guitars models, a dozen bass models and a bunch of other instruments, such as tenors, mandocasters and mandolas, under the brands of Eastwood and Airline. We also have accessories, like custom pickups, instrument cables and clothing. In addition to our main warehouse and distribution center outside Toronto Canada, four years ago we opened a similar facility in Liverpool, UK to handle growth in UK and Europe. We are opening a new USA Warehouse in Chicago in April of 2015. We continue to bring new models to the Eastwood lineup each year. Our goal is to introduce 3-5 new models each year, available in a wide variety of colors and, of course, including left-hand versions. All Eastwood guitars are fitted with high-quality modern components that offer an optimal playing experience that far exceeds their 1960’s original counterparts.” In some cases, this is a pretty bold claim. While some vintage basses left much to improve on, others really were quite good.
The Past, Re-Visited
If you recognize the Eastwood EEB-1, you have a keen eye for the obscure. At first glance, the Eastwood EEB-1 is visually a fairly correct and easily recognizable copy of the 1960’s Ampeg “Horizontal Basses,” the AEB-1 and AUB-1. Rare then, and rarer now, you might remember Rick Danko from The Band played one of one. These were Ampeg’s fretted and fretless models of an electric bass designed to somewhat mimic an upright bass; they embodied double bass styling cues, like f-holes and a scrolled headstock. The Ampegs had an asymmetrical double cutaway body, bolt on neck, and an oddball pickup system borrowed from the Baby Bass dubbed “The Mystery Pickup.” This system used a steel diaphragm and two magnetic pickups placed under the bridge to turn vibration into sound, and allowed players to use non-magnetic strings, including gut and tapewound strings. This system turned out to have some reliability issues, and was, overall, very dark and thumpy, like the Baby Bass. The tailpiece of the Ampeg hung 2-3” off the back of the body to help get the proper angle over the pickup system; and to gain string length to make plucking feel more like a double bass. These instruments also had reliability issues; at times, string tension could crack the body around the tail piece. The bolt-on maple neck had an ebony fingerboard, and plastic scrolls were glued on, not carved. Though the Ampegs appear to be hollow (because of the f-hole), they weren’t; they were constructed using three layers of maple glued to a one-piece plywood back.
My brief experience with an Ampeg AUB-1 fretless left me with the impression that it was a nice-enough bass, but its “Mystery Pickup” had one tone: deep and dark, without a lot of definition. Some of the few Ampeg AEB-1 users replaced that with Precision Bass pickups.
Outta the Box and Into Action
While the Eastwood EEB-1 visually recreates most of the AEB-1’s styling cues, there are some readily apparent visual and electronic differences as well. The EEB-1’s body is made from mahogany, and the bolt-on maple neck has a rosewood fingerboard. While the Ampeg had a scrolled headstock, the Eastwood has a slotted headstock. Eastwood wisely decided not to recreate the “Mystery pickup,” and opted instead for much more modern humbucker. The Eastwood uses a Fender-style bent-plate bridge with four adjustable saddles, in place of the AEB’s problematic tailpiece, and a Fender-style bridge cover, as well.
The EEB-1 shipped to us from Eastwood well in a nice, tolex-covered hard shell case, with gold hardware and a gold Eastwood logo. The case has three latches and a plush interior, with a nicely sized storage space that held the quality registration card, 3-year warranty info, an instrument cable and truss rod wrench. The storage compartment has a lid – some don’t! – and more than enough room for your strap tuner, and some charts. Well done, Eastwood.
The EEB-1, itself, looked really nice. The sunburst finish is nicely applied, though I wish the rear of the bass had been shot black. The rear view of the f-holes, to me, just looks odd without the pickguard around them. Fit and finish are quite good; and not just for this price level. The Gotoh-type enclosed tuners mount sideways to the slotted headstock and face rearward, mimicking the look and function of both a double bass and the Ampeg. The pickup, controls, bridge and cover all seem to be nice quality pieces that function well. The plastic nut, fretwork and neck joint are well done. My lone nit to pick with fit and finish is that the pickguard did overhang the f-hole a bit in one spot.
The 1 5/8” width maple neck has a 12” radius and deep, but comfortable, contour; it’s easy and fun to play on. Fretwork on the rosewood fingerboard was neat and consistent up and down the neck. The neck joint was tight, clean and well done. In place of the “Mystery Pickup,” Eastwood use a single alnico EW-Humbucker, with passive volume and tone controls. The Eastwood EW-Humbucker sounds more or less like a good P-bass, with slightly muted highs. Sweeping through the tone knob at first rolls off those highs, then darkens and fattens up tone nicely at the end of its range. At home, the EEB-1 balanced well enough both seated and standing, with just a hint of manageable neck dive. Due to the nicely done and consistent fretwork, the EEB-1 played out nicely, both in the lower register, and on up throughout the very accessible upper register.
On The Job
Once a month or so, a blues band I play with hosts a local blues jam. The host band does the first set, and then anyone can come up and sit in. Since the EEB-1 is a vintage-looking and sounding bass, I took my best approximation of a vintage rig: my Gallien-Krueger 1001RB-II, and two Baer ML112 cabs. This turned out to be a great match! You might think something as simple as the EEB-1 would be “a one trick pony,” but throughout a long night of playing thru many different blues styles, the EEB-1 delivered a good range of tones to match. Through plucking hand placement, fingerstyle and pick use, and deployment of the tone knob through its range, one can readily give the EEB-1 quite a few nice, different voicings. It’s as good at what it does as any single-pickup passive bass. Without exception, other bass players in the venue all asked what it was, wanted a chance to try it out, and enjoyed playing it.
The Bottom Line
The Eastwood EEB-1 is a well-made, fun and easy-to-play, nice-sounding bass that also brings a hip retro look to the gig with it as an extra added bonus. It’s actually more usable, in my opinion, than the Ampeg it copies, making Eastwood’s statement that their replicas offer a playing experience that exceeds their counterpoints – in this case – right on the mark. Eastwood offer a wide range of vintage repro basses and guitars … and might even include one you design yourself:
“We are adding new models every year, many of which are suggestions from our customers. That’s what makes this business so much fun; it is the direct connection with the customers, all of whom are fans of what we are doing. In fact, this month we are launching a new site called ‘Eastwood Custom Shop’ where people can launch new model ideas in a forum where ‘crowd-sourcing’ funds the new projects and brings their ideas to full production models.”
So, whether you find something in the Eastwood lineup you like, or design one yourself, if they’re all as good as the EEB-1, Eastwood is a company well worth looking at if you have the vintage bug!