From the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY GREG OLWELL
The mighty dreadnought has been an immensely successful guitar shape for decades, and it continues to be capable of great tone, feel, and volume. But that’s not enough for everyone. Some power-hungry pickers want more clarity and rafter-shaking bass response—and they want to be heard. With these players in mind, Eastman created a bold new dread, the DT30D, which is part of the company’s recent Double Top line, also featuring grand auditorium (DT30GACE) and orchestra (DT30OM) models.
Eastman’s series is among the first to use the boutique-maker idea of a double top—a soundboard incorporating two outer wooden layers over a synthetic core, for enhanced sound and responsiveness—in a production steel-string model. (Read more about this in the sidebar below.) Double tops were first seen in high-end classical guitars, but if our review model is any indication, Eastman’s use of this constructional technique shows great promise for the steel-string world.
A Fully Engaging Guitar
All that double-top technology would be meaningless if the guitar didn’t engage the senses, and my tester made me want to play it from the moment I first opened the case. When I did, I was hit with the aroma and shine of the nitrocellulose lacquer finish; the eye candy of the body’s herringbone purfling; and the pearlescent shimmer from the fingerboard, headstock, and rosette inlays. As a visual package, this guitar shines, looking familiar and also unique with its “hallelujah pattern” headstock and fingerboard inlays. The faux tortoiseshell celluloid pickguard has a bit of orange and yellow in it, giving it a distinctive look over the more reddish varieties. Typical of Eastman’s attention to detail, the body’s finish is flawless, as are all of the instrument’s constructional aspects.
Armed with a few of my favorite picks, I dug in hard with garden-variety open-chords and was rewarded with the powerhouse tone typical of an HD-type guitar—bass-heavy with scooped mids and lacey highs. The Eastman’s low end was incredibly punchy, with a tight and defined clarity that encouraged me to both push it hard and go easy.
The DT30D has a lot of headroom, which certainly makes it a guitar for those who want to be heard in a group situation where some low-end thunder might help establish you in the mix, but it’s more than that, as I found when I played more delicately. The lower notes poured out like a thick foundation under the melody parts. This carried over to fingerpicking when I played in standard and open-D and -G tunings with bare fingers and a thumbpick. The immediate responsiveness of the Eastman was really fun to explore and made me feel more confident with a thumbpick than I usually do.
Easy on the Hands and Ears
Given that the double top is something we’re to think of as an exceptional feature, it would be impossible to attribute any of this guitar’s strengths to this one component. But that’s beside the point, because no amount of technology matters if the guitar doesn’t sound and perform well. And the Eastman did. Like, really well. The setup made playing easy on both hands, while the neck’s C-shape and satin finish made it a delightful place to spend time working on new material. And the tone was more like one from a guitar that you’d have to pay more for than the Eastman’s entry fee will cost you.
After using the DT30D for a few weeks, in a variety of environments, I also found that it needed retuning much less frequently than most guitars. How often do you leave an instrument for a few days and return to find it still in perfect tune? That happened often during my time with the Eastman and it was an endearing trait to be able to pick up a guitar and start strumming without being greeted by sour notes.
For some shoppers, nearly $2,000 might be a lot to spend on a guitar made in China (albeit by a team of dedicated Eastman luthiers). But for that cost, the Eastman DT30D rewards players with a snappy, loud guitar with the powerful bass-heavy tone of a rosewood dreadnought that punches above its weight and also dishes up oodles of visual appeal. You’d have to spend considerably more to get a guitar that compares to the tone, power, and looks of the Eastman DT30D, but you don’t have to.
BODY Dreadnought with solid rosewood back and sides; Sitka spruce double top with Nomex honeycomb core; scalloped X-bracing; abalone rosette; herringbone purfling with binding; natural gloss nitrocellulose finish
NECK 25.4″-scale mahogany neck with “traditional even-C” profile; 20-fret ebony fingerboard with 12″ radius and 1-3/4″ width at nut; dual-action truss rod; pearl headstock and “hallelujah” fingerboard inlays; hand-rubbed nitrocellulose lacquer finish
OTHER Ebony bridge and bridge pins with abalone dots; bone nut and saddle; tortoiseshell pickguard; D’Addario EXP16 strings (.012–.053); gold Gotoh SX 510 open-geared tuners; deluxe hardshell case;
4mm truss rod wrench
MADE IN China
PRICE $1,999 street
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All About Double Tops
One of the most important requirements in building a guitar is balancing the needs of a top that is strong enough to withstand string tension yet light enough to respond to a player’s picking and strumming. Among the traditional choices available to guitar builders, spruce has an outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio and it sounds good.
The idea of a double top is to engineer a soundboard that is stiffer and less dense than one crafted from wood alone, for a guitar with greater volume, tonal clarity, and dynamic response—without sacrificing sensitivity or nuances of tone. Though called a double top, this composite soundboard in fact incorporates three parts: inner and outer layers of very thin wood glued in a vacuum over a central core of a very lightweight polymer.
The concept was pioneered in the late 1980s by German luthiers Matthias Dammann and Gernot Wagner and created a sensation in the classical guitar world. (Read an interview with Wagner at ClassicalGuitarMagazine.com.) Double tops offer builders the opportunity to craft new tones by mixing types of woods on the inner and outer layers. Classical luthier Kenny Hill says that using cedar and spruce, for example, brings both sounds together into one instrument, with the outer layer seeming to dominate the tone. Some also claim that double-top guitars break in quicker, reaching their sonic potential sooner than those with traditional solid soundboards. —GO
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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