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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Acoustic Guitar Review!
Eastman E20D Solid-Wood
Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar

Price: $1,500
Likes: traditional build, open dread sound
Dislikes: sunburst finish a little blotchy
Wow Factor! classic tone at 1/4th the price
More info: Eastman E20D

by John Gatski
  Let's face it. The world economy is bringing products to the US that we once thought would be impossible to make elsewhere. Twenty years ago, a high-end, Asian acoustic guitar was somebody’s dream. But today, the guitar market has changed. Low-end guitars from China and Indonesia are as common as USA-made Silvertones were in the 1960s, but also there are more and more top-class guitars being made in China.
  The Eastman Instrument Company has been making premium jazz guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins, and woodwind and brass instruments for decades, and began producing quality jazz guitars in the early 2000s. In fact, I wrote a review on Eastman’s first hollow body single pickup jazz guitar back in in 2003. It was bit rough by today’s company standards ,but it played nice and was a full, carved solid wood archtop.
  Today, Eastman Guitars has a full line of upper-end guitars, including acoustics. These guitars are designed to rival Martin, Gibsons and other USA-brand, top hand-produced acoustics. Based on my review of the E20D dreadnaught, these guitars are pretty darn good, especially when you can can buy them at 1/4th the price of a USA-brand equivalent.

  The E20D acoustic is a full-sized, solid-wood, dovetail neck, dreadnaught — similar to D28 Martin upper-end models. It features solid, Adirondack spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, 1940s traditional style, 5/8th-inch, scalloped X-bracing, ebony fretboard with snowflake inlays and herringbone/plastic body binding. The glued-in, dovetail neck is solid mahogany with a 25.5-inch scale length. Body width is 16-inches and body thickness is 4 and 23/.32-inches thick The rosewood veneered headstock gets Gotoh vintage style open back tuners.
 Because of the extra emphasis on the midrange/low treble, the E20D is an excellent fingerpicker for a dreadnaught. Some dreads are not great fingerpickers because of the extra mid-bass. The E20D, however, has a rich, percussive character.
  The E20D also sports bone nut and saddle with a carved ebony bridge. The guitar comes standard with Diaddario EXP light gauge strings (.012-.053) and is shipped in a nice case. In the case, is a stick on pick guard you can attach yourself — if you want to lessen the chance of scratching the top with a pick. I left it off. since the pick guard does have some sonic mute effect on the treble. The E20D is offered in a natural finish and the E20D-SB sunburst model, which I received for the review. There are also other dreadnaught, jumbo and parlor-sized Eastman models.

The audition
  The E20D reminds me of recent Martin reissues that pay homage to by-gone eras of the classic acoustic guitars. The E20D is closest to the Martin D28 Marquis or HD-28V Adirondack Edition — with their forward-shifted, scalloped bracing — which dates back to the late 1930s and solid Adirondack spruce tops, which is harder and relays a crisper, midrange and low treble with a tight, authoritative bass. In fact, the E20D looks a lot like the D28 Marquis in sunburst.
  Upon closer inspection, the E20D bracing is not quite like the Marquis standard “golden era” X-bracing that crosses once inch from the soundhole. The E20D braces cross about 1.25-inches behind the soundhole.
  The E20D’s top has that customary Adirondack wide-spaced grain and its apperance was accentuated by the thin, nitrocellulose lacquer finish. However, the E20D-SB test sample finish had some irregular blotching in the sunburst, which is not as attractive as blemish-free top-graded tops, but the aesthetic does not affect the sound.
  Inside, the perfing and braces looked professionally glued in and uniform, with just a smidgen here and there of excess glue. The saddle was little taller than I normally see from a top-grade Martin or Gibson acoustic, but the action was setup to compensate for it, and the action felt nice with the light strings.

  The Eastman E20D really showed its power. It is very close to the tone of a D28 Marquis — with a slightly brash midrange and low treble but plenty of volume.

  The E20D was a fresh guitar, and as such, needed time to season before I did any serious playing. Its initial tone was fairly loud, but a bit constrained as the wood was still quite “wet” The inside was very dark and damp looking. Thus, I left it out of its case for several months, playing it only occasionally.
  After four months, of “drying,” the Eastman E20D really showed its power. It is very close to the tone of a D28 Marquis — with a slightly brash midrange and low treble, but plenty of volume. Now I have played some D28 Marquis’ that were not as open as others. The broken-in, seasoned E20D was quite open under full strum, with perhaps a little less bass volume than the best Marquis, but enough volume to play with a Bluegrass band, and a bit of top-end sparkle. It reminded more of late 1950s D28 in sonic texture. Though not as midbass pronounced as an Adirondack-top Martin, the E20D bass performance, nonetheless, was quite good, a tight mid bass that was in balance with the mids and treble.

My Tester Eastman E20D

  In my sound SPL level test, using an AudioControl RTA, I measured the E30D sound level at full strum with a large triangle fender medium pick. With the light EXP strings, I got 96 dB at 1 meter. Plenty loud to keep up with a banjo or other acoustic instruments. The loudest acoustic I have ever played was a Martin D28VS at 99 dB.
  The Eastman neck/fretboard has the Martin feel with easy to fret and pick. My fingers never felt cramped. The guitar’s high saddle was compensated by a medium action, Thus, the string tension was m manageable. When I switched to Martin SP light/medium strings, the pinch to the fingers was more noticeable. If I played these strings, or true mediums on a daily basis, I would plane down the saddle a bit.
  Because of the extra emphasis on the midrange/low treble, the E20D is an excellent fingerpicker for a dreadnaught. Some dreads are not great fingerpickers because of the extra mid-bass. The E20D, however, has a rich, percussive character that gets more pronounced if you have a bit of extra fingernail.

The verdict 
  In this increasingly global world of commerce , the Eastman Instrument Company has learned how to compete in the musical instrument realm. Its jazz guitars and acoustic guitar line, such as the E20D tested here, is faithful variation of a USA-made dreadnaught with just a bit of extra mid/treble sparkle to give it is own character. After a few months of seasoning, I was impressed with its playability, quality setup and feel. Best of all for the customer, this guitar is only $1,500. A dovetail, lacquer-sprayed Martin D28 Marquis will cost you about $5,700. There are of course, less expensive Martin with different fretboard and bridge materials, and the mortise/tenon-attached neck, such as the HD-16 Adirondack ($3,199), but feature wise, the D28 Marquis and the HD-28V Adirondack, ordered through the custom shop, are the intended competitors.
  Don’t get me wrong. Heck, I love Martins, and I have saved up the extra cash many times to buy various top-end models, including a John Gatski-custom OO-28V and my beloved J-40 standard, as I love USA-made instruments. But if you can’t afford the American brand, there is nothing wrong with looking at an Eastman. They are excellent acoustic guitars, and there electrics ain’t too shabby either.

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  5. I wonder if anyone has heard of the Eastman E8D. It is exactly the same as the E20D, but with a Sitka Spruce top. I have one that I have compared side-by-side to high-end Martins (D-28s & D-35s) and it compares VERY FAVORABLY.

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