What’s the first brand that comes to mind when you think of guitars? Is it Fender, Gibson, or maybe Ibanez? Well, have you ever heard of Eastwood Guitars?
This incredibly unique company focuses on recreating vintage guitars that have either been discontinued or lost to the pages of history. They also collaborate with artists to make one-of-a-kind creations that look as alien as they do retro. Bands like The White Stripes, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers have all been seen rocking these axes on stage.
Where did Eastwood guitars get its start, though? Who came up with the crazy idea to hunt down vintage guitar models and redesign them for the modern age? It’s a risky business venture, but one that has paid off tenfold. Here’s a brief history of Eastwood from the brains behind the operation to how they bring vintage designs back to life.
Where It All Began
Eastwood wasn’t always the guitar manufacturer it is today. It started as Michael Robinson’s hobby, which was buying and selling rare guitars (primarily electric models). Over the years, he became known as the person to see when you wanted something wholly exotic and one-of-a-kind.
As the years went on, Robinson noticed that a lot of these rare guitars played terribly. They were clunky, poorly built, or just sounded awful. Despite their gorgeous looks, they were either too worn or too goofy to compete with modern guitars.
Robinson decided that beautiful creations like these didn’t have to be decoration alone and started making his own. In 2001, he founded Eastwood guitars and the company began making vintage replicas. Now, people could purchase something with the ‘40s and ‘50s appeal but have it play like new right out of the box instead of crossing their fingers and hope the decades had been kind to their model of choice.
Forging A New Path
Guitar manufacturers in 2001 were mostly well-established and focused on creating modern models. Companies like Gibson and Fender had their classic stylings to rely on in guitars like the Stratocaster. Ibanez was pumping out a steady stream of gorgeous models, including their Steve Vai signature collection, and companies like Schecter were dominating the metal industry.
All of these companies continued to modernize their previous creations with sleeker edges, the newest electronics and experimented with differing builds. So, where does a company that creates unique, vintage-style guitars fit in? As it turns out, just about everywhere.
Focusing on long-dead models like the Supro Coronado and Valco Airline, Eastwood brought back the timeless appeal of guitars from the ‘30s to the ‘70s. These reissues stayed faithful to the originals, making minor adjustments to help their guitars deliver the classic tone associated with music from those eras.
Not only is the idea an excellent concept, but Eastwood took the time to make quality instruments. From the build to their playability, each model is meant to be used night after night instead of collecting dust like their predecessors. Matched with a playable price instead of a collector’s cost, musicians quickly found them irresistible.
Famed guitarist Jack White picked up their reissued Montgomery Airline while playing in The White Stripes, which is featured in the video for Seven Nation Army. Jeff Wootton of the Gorillaz uses multiple reissued Airline 59’s, Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre uses a Harmony H78 bass, and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers showed off his Airline Bighorn for Guitar World in 2011.
These vintage remakes caught on like wildfire, inspiring Eastwood to venture further down the rabbit hole and discover entirely new guitars lost to the pages of history. Every year, they release a new lineup of previously forgotten models. Each one is examined for the flaws that made it fade into nonexistence, then revamped to compete in the modern guitar market.
Not surprisingly, celebrity musicians using Eastwood guitars helped the company catch on like wildfire. It wasn’t long before musicians who love unique and classic guitars began partnering with Eastwood for specific recreations. DEVO’s line is perhaps the most instantly recognizable. It features the Whip It guitar, both the rectangular bass and guitar La Baye, and the quirky Be Stiff bass.
Warren Ellis from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Grinderman has a line of guitars with Eastwood as well. Inspired by the tenor guitars used in traditional folk, each of the six builds in this line offer something slightly different. There are also baritone and mandocello models.
Other notable artists that play Eastwood Guitars on tour include:
Classic Appeal in the Modern Age
Designing such renowned guitars is something that Eastwood takes incredibly seriously. They start by hunting down discontinued models from decades past, ones that may have never seen the limelight or popular models that merely became outdated.
Next, they focus on that guitars design. What flaws did have and why wasn’t it as well received as it could have been? Once these areas are addressed, they can tweak the visual and sonic aesthetics to recreate the guitar in a way that improves its functionality without tampering with its style.
Wooden components are milled to 1/1000th of an inch robotically, ensuring the design is perfect, before teams assemble them traditionally. Modern elements are added from pickups to tuning nuts after painting, then everything else is pieced together.
Final touches are made, and the entire unit is inspected by specialized personnel at Eastwood’s location in Chicago and Liverpool. After passing a rigorous quality inspection, they’re sent off to certified retailers.
While the process isn’t entirely different from companies like Fender or Gibson, there is one vital component that stands out. Eastwood doesn’t create new guitars from scratch or improve upon their existing guitars; they reissue long-lost models. Each spec has to match the original guitar as closely as possible, minus a few tweaks to make it more playable.
Purchasing a Gibson is owning a Gibson, but buying an Eastwood means holding a unique piece of history. These are one-of-a-kind creations that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and you can own one without the hassle of wear and tear.
Michael Robinson remains the owner of Eastwood Guitars, which is based in Canada. They continue to make vintage-style models today with factory location in Korea, China, and an accessories manufacturing plant in Canada. Each year, the company decides on a new line of discontinued classics to recreate and sell.
Operations have extended to include accessories as well. Recreations of classic pickups, Bigsby whammy bars, and necessities like straps are all sold online and through retailers. The company keeps their focus on classic style with straps and GHS strings.
Now, Eastwood produces more than just guitars. The company extended its manufacturing to include classic recreations of:
New collaborations are taking place all the time, with extremely stylish Backlund guitars taking the forefront of the limelight. Working with renowned guitar designer John Buckland, Eastwood now has seven models that look out of this world. Jeff Senn and Eastwood have an entire line together, as does Bill Nelson.
Of course, Eastwood continues to hunt down different guitars lost to history. The Eastwood Gemini, California Rebel, and EEG Deerhoof are proof of that. Each is a refreshing take on modern designs and true to their original build.
The Airlines continue to dominate their catalog, which features 55 different models. That’s just guitars, too. There’s bound to be something that catches your eye, especially with the bodies on these guitars.
The History of Eastwood Guitars
From its early days as an idea to its currently enormous presence, Eastwood has made a name for itself by bringing old guitars back to life. Breathing new life into these one-of-a-kind designs, both casual and professional players alike can enjoy vintage stylings with modern appeal without paying a collector’s price tag.
Whether you want to expand your collection or simply own a unique piece of history, Eastwood guitars are an excellent choice. As time goes on, who knows what kind of insane collaborations or rare finds the company may come across and create. Whatever the case may be, there’s nothing quite like an Eastwood guitar, and there never will be.