Eastwood Red Special Reviews 5

Primarily a singer, I've been playing guitar for about 10 years, been in a band (drummer!), and have continued to record and play with other musicians on a non-professional basis. My styles range from folk to hard rock, with heavy power-pop leanings -- Big Star, not Green Day.

Bought at Truetone Music in Santa Monica, CA for $499.

One of the most versatile-sounding guitars I've ever had, the Red Special's three-pickup, six-switch setup doesn't lend itself to speedy changes. But the number of different sounds you can wrestle out of this guitar is staggering. Each pickup has an on-off switch, and each pickup can be put in or out of phase. It's like having a Telecaster, Stratocaster and SG with P-90s all in one guitar. It is lighter than most Fenders and very comfortable to wear on a strap, its very thin body makes it uncumbersome, and the heritage cherry on the one I own is gorgeous. The neck is a thick "baseball-bat" type which fills the hand, but I was delighted to find that it is very comfortable to play, even though my left hand is used to thin Telecaster and SG necks. As with every good guitar I've owned, this Red Special opens up whole new styles and approaches I had never explored. In my view, this instrument is best when it's somewhere between clean and dirty. The price was also very good consider how versatile this instrument is. The distinctive Brian May design will also make you stand out instantly from the hordes of Gibsons, Fenders, PRSes and Ibanezes out there.

The switching system that allows for such tonal versatility also means you'll have to do much fidgeting to get the sounds you want. There was another Red Special, a sunburst model, in that same store, and this one didn't feel nearly as good as the one I ended up buying. Strange how even lower-priced guitars are subject to the X-factor, "magic". The acoustic tone of this guitar is weaker than most electrics, which suggests that the resonance is not all that great. While I love the sounds coming out of it, it is not the loudest instrument on earth and is better at coming up with vintage, Queen-style, classic-rock tones than heavy modern high-gain rock. Finally, the distinctive visual statement of the guitar can also be a minus -- it might make you seem like a Brian May wannabe just because of how unique the guitar looks. I also find it easier to vibrato and bend strings on my Les Paul and SG than on this Red Special -- I think the frets are a tad on the low side. The vibrato arm is not all that powerful and offers even less bending ability than the one on a Strat; don't expect to be able to even bend up or down a half tone -- its only function is to gently shake a note.

Looks and feels great so far. Flawless finish, aged binding, set-neck construction, feels like an instrument farther up the price range.

The Brian May model has gone through several companies, including a Burns model several years back. I don't know how this instrument compares with the current, more expensive Brian May brand, but I'm simply very happy with the Eastwood Red Special as it is. Its sonic versatility leaves all other instruments in this price range in the dust, and the build quality and visual appeal can compete with higher-end guitars. Really, my only worries are the vibrato unit (a vulnerable point with Strats) and whether the six switches would remain responsive. Other than that, this guitar may be in line to become my main stage guitar thanks to its sheer range of sounds and comfortable feel.

Derek Mok rated this unit 5 on 2007-10-05.

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