Other Guitars

NTGD: and now for something completely different…

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... in the form of the Eastwood Classic Tenor 4-string guitar.

I'm ambivalent about Eastwood: some of their "inspired-by" guitars are too close to out-and-out Gretsch copies for my comfort, and many of their resurrected orphan-brand guitars get tonally genericized on their way to "modern playability."

But the company does go in useful fresh directions with some of their custom series (Backlunds, Jeff Senns, Warren Ellis) - and especially their growing line of electric tenor guitars.

The 4-string tenor was a thing in the early days of the electric guitar, I think partly because its 5ths tuning made an easy transition for jazz tenor banjo players, partly because the narrower neck and lower string count made things easier for beginners - and partly because it's just a cool format. Gretsch even made some in the 50s (and probably earlier).

But in the modern era, Eastwood has at least the easy end of the ‘lectric tenor market pretty much to themselves. Besides the Classic, they have a MusicMaster/Mustang-looking thing, a Tele tenor, an Airline "map" tenor, a "tenor baritone" (tuned lower, of course), an 8-string "mando-cello", and a tenor electric resonator (which must get uncomfortably close to banjo-sounding).

I've wanted to try a tenor for quite awhile, and have realized I'm too old to put things off. Out of respect for Gretsch, at first I ordered Eastwood's Warren Ellis Mustang-looking tenor (figuring the Fender-copy boat sailed long ago). It played fine and looked great, but I thought the solid-body format just accentuated a tendency toward dink and plink in the tone.

So I swallered my scruples and exchanged it for the Classic Tenor, with its obvious Gretsch inspiration. (First I asked Joe C if Gretsch tenors might be in the pipeline: they aren't, though he reports that Fred has been agitating for them for some time.)

Because I still wanted to minimize the Gretsch mimicry, I opted for the blonde maple rather than the oh-so-Genty walnut stain. And it still has walnut-stained rims (which look goofy to me), semi-tron-lookin' pickups, Gretschy knobs, and a very Gretschy tailpiece. Waddaya gonna do. At least they’ve moved away from the T-roof EasTwood logo on the headstock in favor of the ugly medallion they now affix.

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But enough of all that - what's it about and how is it? It's a 23"-scale full-hollow maple thinline with binding on top, back, f-holes, and neck (but not headstock).

Looks like a rosewood board with 22 medium jumbo frets and ill-considered "shark-tooth" fret markers. A compensated ebony bridge sits on an ebony base (which is not over-carefully shaped). The body is a little over 15" across the lower bout, and 2" deep at the rim (probably 3" in the middle). There's a tone-post, about 3" x .5", under the bridge; otherwise, truly hollow. I can't see for the binding, but we'll assume the top is laminated.

I believe it's made in China. Overall, workmanship is clean and neat, with careful smooth joints and no finish flaws. Frets are nicely finished, and the action is as low as a feller could want, with no obvious problem areas anywhere across or up and down the fretboard. The bridge came properly placed for accurate intonation (and had a foam protector sheet under it).

I have my cosmetically fastidious reservations - the headstock logo, goofy fret markers, and chrome pickup surrounds and fauxter'tron mini-hum pickup shells - but those are matters of taste. It's not Eastwood's fault I hate chrome pickup surrounds (and didn't like them on Gretschs either). It also came with a silly mirrored gold pickguard, which I promptly removed.

Other than those quibbles, it's a graceful and attractive instrument. I especially like the strong arching of both top and back, which feels expensive at this price. And there's even some flame in the top. Overall, I'm well-pleased with as-delivered fit, finish, and fundamental quality. It's easily in Streamliner league, and maybe in a bracket with the hollowbody Electromatics of a couple years ago.

There are small things to whine about, though - none of them affecting basic functionality, but still. A stray screw (extra to anything on the guitar) was rattling around inside the body, the nuts on both the rim-mounted (and plate-reinforced) output jack and the pickup selector were loose; the neck pickup drove me nuts with sympathetic rattling against its plated ring until I shoved a piece of thin pick between the pickup shell and the ring. In the scheme of things, minor stuff on a 600.00 guitar - but an index to why Eastwood hasn't stepped into the Reverend realm of quality. I would guess they just don't do comparably thorough stateside QC checks and setups.

The guitar comes tuned C-G-D-A (low to high), like a tenor banjo; Eastwood allows as how it can be tuned G-D-A-E (like an Irish tenor or bouzouki). While the overall tone of this hollowbody is much warmer, more textured, and resonant than the sound of the slab-bodied Warren Ellis I had at first, I still found the tenor tuning just too high. Too banjo-like, too brittle.

And the strings it comes with (gauges roughly matching the 2nd through 5th strings on a guitar) just sounded too loose at G. So I've had it tuned A-E-B-F# for most of my adventures. With the supplied strings, at this tuning, tension is about like a 25.5" scale guitar with 11s.

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I'm actually very happy with the overall sound. The neck pickup is rich and throaty, the middle position jangly but with some textural heft, and the bridge pickup naturally bright - but with some body, not piercing or as thin as you'd expect.

The control layout, while a logical complement of knobs, is oddly arranged on the guitar: neck volume in the lower cutaway, bridge volume under the knob on the lower bout nearest the bridge pickup, and master tone under the remaining knob. It's like they were determined to make it look Gretschy with that knob in the lower cutaway, but didn't put much thought into how to lay it out. With just three controls, it would have made more sense (to me) to put the master tone there, and the two volume controls down below. But whatever - it's easy enough to handle, and the pots are all smooth, with nice gradual tapers.

I'm ambivalent about the pickups. They sound really good - but I'm not sure that's because they're any kind of special, and I'd like to hear a more up-scale pickup on the instrument by comparison.

Early on I tried to balance volume between individual strings by adjusting the polepieces, and found that they're very loose in their holes unless tightened all the way down. Almost like they're not really threading through much material inside the pickup. When raised, they accordingly wiggle around and rattle. So I tightened them back down and raised the pickup bodies as high as possible, and that's been good enough. It just annoys me when something looks like what it's not. These look like adjustable polepieces...but they ain't.

As they have six polepieces in each row and are wider than the string spread on the guitar, it's also evident they're not tenor-specific pickups. That's understandable at this price point; it would likely be pricey to purpose-build 4-pole pickups. (Likewise the 6-string tailpiece, for that matter.) Perhaps as tenors continue to prove themselves in the market - and as Eastwood positions themselves as tenor specialists - they will eventually develop tenor-specific hardware.

I haven't decided if I'll keep the ebony bridge. The tone is nice - almost certainly more rounded and drier than it would be with a metal bridge. But it's also a little plunkier than I expect from a guitar. I sometimes want more ring, and more sustain. So I have a tenor Tru-Arc on the way, in brass, and we'll see.

When that happens, I may move up a gauge in strings and try the G-D-A-E tuning again.

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ANYway, I digress. It's not really NGD; I've had the guitar for about three weeks, and I’ve played it a LOT. It's been entertaining and addictive. Not, I realize, only because it's a nice instrument - but because the tenor guitar format is new to me, and there are so many discoveries to be made.

Well, OK, the tenor format isn't that new to me. My first stringed instrument was (and remains) a Gibson tenor banjo from the late teens or early 20s (of the previous century) which belonged to my grandfather. On that, at age 10, I pretty much learned 3, maybe 6, chords and set about writing protest and love songs. I also tried to learn 60s guitar licks and hooks on the banjo. I found them, but when I got a guitar a couple years later, I discovered they laid SO much better on the guitar.

At any rate, during my childhood banjo-fyin', I did not become a proficient tenor banjo player of any persuasion. (If I had ever heard jazz/riverboat/Dixieland banjo, I had no interest in it.) And after I got a guitar, the banjo pretty much went back in the case for decades. I eventually, though warily, made friends with the mandolin - but not very close friends. I also haven't made progress with a brutal 26.5"-scale Irish bouzouki that kills me with hand cramps to play. So, overall, while I've remained conversant with instruments tuned in 5ths, I haven't developed fluid instincts with them.

So what was I going to do with an electric tenor guitar? Who knows! I didn't really have a plan. I wanted to see how it sounded, and I was conceptually intrigued by the notion of chords with sparse but wide-spaced intervals. Within the typical 3-fret span most of us use for chords, most of the time, and across the four strings of the banjo, you get two octaves of range. Try that across any four strings of a guitar, and you'll be lucky to get an octave and a half.

I thought it would teach me to be more selective - more economic - about voicings within chords, and that the different intervallic relationships straight across the neck - and in scales (typically four fretted notes per string before switching strings, rather than three) - would change my harmonic and melodic defaults, provide a novel perspective, and break me out of ruts. I thought it would fit interestingy into and around 6-string guitar parts. More texture, see.

All that is actually coming true, and I'm gradually developing some 5ths-tuned instincts - where I'm not trying to transpose guitar licks (often a clumsy expedient), instead finding the licks and phrases characteristic to the tuning.

I'm aware how NOT exotic any of this is - many many musicians are as intimately familiar with 5ths as with the bastard 4ths-and-a-3rd of the guitar. But my instincts and muscle memory are so guitar-besotted that it's something of a conscious jailbreak process for me to dig out.

This thing is also a blast with effects - and, perhaps unfortunately, stacked-5th power chords are stupidly one-finger easy. It's easy to maintain a drone on a couple of strings and lay modal melodies on top of them. Occasionally I stumble into things that remind me of various "ethnic" musics; I'm always attracted to Irish melodies/fiddle tunes, Eastern European modalities, Arabic forms, and the like. So when they start to just appear, it's a little like musical transporting.

The small neck is also extremely comfortable, and the scale feels so easy to get around.

So, you know. So far, so good. I'm pleased with the experience.

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So how's it sound, and what I have found to do with it? Here's a thing.

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Wow, I gotta say (so I will) that I’m diggin’ the character of chords and movements available from the different set of intervals. And when you kicked in the dirt and Pitchfork, it sounded pissed-off yet minus the sameyness of the usual repertoire of powery chordal-type stuff.You got me curious now, Protelicious. After getting my Surfcaster, I got a bit more curious about summa the other Eastwoods. That might be a handy beast indeed for dirty power chord tracks but richer without having to tip-toe around the potential mudbage of some chords played dirtily. Wonder if they do one in black with gold apperntments.

Great demo and a great job of Getting Back but not STRAIGHT Back.

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I've got a crush on Eastwood these days.

They have done an updated version of the Fender Maverick. It looks killer, except the logo.

I do like the shape of that tenor.

...------

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WOW!!! VERY cool, Tim!! And..... great playing by you.

You continue to be a very bad influence on me...................

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Great demo. I have a hard enough time with EADGBE.

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Nice work, Mr. H. You have answered the question “what can you do with a tenor?” quite successfully.

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Great review Tim, I'm completely wow'ed by it. I thoroughly enjoyed your review of your Eastman tenor guitar, it looks and sounds like you are having a great time with it and you sound very good playing it. I'm impressed with the video, you've come up with a very flattering composition for your tenor guitar, I love it! I do agree with your reservations about the shark tooth fret markers, but at the price point you mentioned, it is what it is. It looks like a well made instrument, and I'm glad you are enjoying it!

Like you, I've also got a 1920's era Gibson tenor banjo, that belonged to my grandfather. It was a thing back then, a lot of old time musicians had these Gibby banjos. Mine has a really funky MOTS fretboard and head stock plate, it's some type of celluloid/resin mixture that Gibson called Pearloid. I have the original hard case, that is still serviceable, though the handle has been replaced with a leather strap.

These tenor instruments are a lot of fun to play. My grandfather also had a very old Tenor archtop guitar, that my cousin ended up with. I actually preferred it to the banjo (for obvious reasons), nevertheless, I do like playing the tenor banjo from time to time. I play the mandolin, which I also inherited from my grandfather, so it was easy to cross over to the tenor banjo. I play the violin/fiddle, so the mandolin was a very natural and easy instrument for me to learn. The fifths tuning makes diatonic scale runs very intuitive and easy to play, especially on the short neck of the mandolin.

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Wade, your grandpa's Gibson is fancier than my grandpa's! Mine is a TB...well, -2 or -3. Knowing my family, probably the least expensive option from the best brand.

The fifths tuning makes diatonic scale runs very intuitive and easy to play

Ha! For you, brother. You must be one of those many many musicians I mentioned...whereas I'm a guitar dolt.

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Oh, and I forgot to mention. It needs a Bigsby.

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Oh, and I forgot to mention. It needs a Bigsby.

– Proteus

Here ya go..,.

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Cool guitar and great run-down Prot!

I wouldn't encourage FMIC/Gretsch to venture into tenor-land any time soon, simply based on the fact that I haven't been able to sell my 1953 Corvette hollowbody tenor in the several years since I've decided that we haven't bonded.

I think the boys in the Brooklyn factory had it right... offer your guitars in tenor format by custom order only. And... unlike back then when a customer could order any Gretsch model in the 4 string set-up, maybe FMIC/Gretsch could relegate a handful of options... (6120, Annie Jr., Duo Jet, and an acoustic flat-top). I can't believe the current market is very big for the tenor format... unless Jack White shows up on SNL playing one, that might give it a shot in the arm!

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I can't believe the current market is very big for the tenor format.

Well, I wouldn't have either. But Eastwood makes about 8 different models, and Mike usually doesn't do stupid.


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