Eastman Juliet P-90-VR and PB review

Romeo signalled a change of direction for Eastman, moving away from recreations of well-known shapes and styles to crafting new and exciting originals. Juliet continues that theme

Eastman Juliet PB
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Guitar World Verdict

If the recent thinline Romeo models and the two guitars featured here mark the direction Eastman is taking for the future, then we say ‘Juliet Bravo!’ indeed.

Pros

  • +

    Bold new design with original and innovative features.

  • +

    Great tone.

  • +

    Superb playability.

  • +

    Good pricing.

  • +

    Generally fantastic build.

Cons

  • -

    Slight cosmetic blips, but these are bound to be ironed out as the production process gets going.

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We’ve been singing Eastman’s praises for many years now at Guitarist. But until the thinline Romeo model was officially launched at the Winter NAMM Show two years ago, the Chinese company was primarily known for building instruments based on well-known American designs. 

What made them stand out from the crowd, though, was expert craftsmanship and the choice of very high-end pickups, electronics and hardware, something not so common with guitars made in China. 

Also, since Eastman also manufactures other fine stringed instruments, the factory took advantage of its knowledge of violin finishing to bring a unique and appealing ‘antique’ look to its guitars.

Eastman’s new electric guitar, which has been on the cards for a little while, is now available in three flavours: Juliet comes in Pomona Blonde sporting two humbuckers, Juliet P-90 is Vintage Red with dual soapbar single coils (both use Eastman’s new Truetone gloss finish and are on review here), while a third Juliet/v Bigsby is in a lightly aged Antique Black Varnish with dual humbuckers and a USA B5 vibrato.

Pickups on all three Juliets are by Bare Knuckle and hardware comes from the renowned Gotoh stable, with pots, pickup selector switch, capacitors and output jack by CTS, Schaller, Sprague and Switchcraft respectively. All top-notch stuff more commonly found in boutique-level guitars.

Eastman Juliet PB

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Okoume has been chosen as a more sustainable wood than the more widely used mahogany, but also for its perfect weight and density. 

Mahogany requires careful selection as it can vary wildly in weight from one plank to the next, and sometimes requires chambering; our okoume guitars are not weight-relieved and Juliet weighs in at 3.04kg (6.7lb), Juliet P-90 very slightly heavier at 3.2kg (7.04lb), which makes for two very comfortable-feeling instruments.

The finishes on our two six-stringers are interesting, too. Since the boutique acoustic guitar builder Dana Bourgeois has joined forces with Eastman with his own company, Bourgeois, they have had access to the ‘special recipe’ that Dana uses on all his high-end acoustic guitars

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

While not nitrocellulose, this Truetone gloss is said to have all of nitro’s sonic benefits and looks but with far less impact on the environment – something Eastman is most proud of.

Sure enough, we thought they were indeed nitro; the Pomona Blonde is rather like Gibson’s limed mahogany, and the Vintage Red is a gloriously rich and vibrant cherry. The okoume’s grain shows through both colours extremely well, the guitars exuding a real touch of class.

Eastman Juliet PB

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Part of the Juliet range’s visual appeal is in its stepped body design, where the centre section that holds the pickups, bridge and tailpiece is raised a couple of millimetres from the rest of the body – much like Gibson’s Firebird. 

Although, while the Firebird consists of a centre section that includes the neck, with separate body ‘wings’ glued on either side, the Juliets are hewn from one solid okoume slab, with the similarly one-piece neck glued in. The stepped theme carries on to the headstock, and imparts an attractive and expensive look.

It’s always scary for a manufacturer that’s made its mark by paying homage to established classics to bust out and go original. Sometimes it’s a disaster, and others a triumph

And this, of course, brings us to the design of the guitars themselves. It’s always scary for a manufacturer that’s made its mark by paying homage to established classics to bust out and go original. 

Sometimes it’s a disaster, and others a triumph. Well, we think these Juliets look fabulous. They are pretty radical, but like Collings’ 360LT design, Manson’s Matt Bellamy model, or even Brian May’s Red Special, they really come into their own when sitting on a guitarist’s lap or hung on a strap, where the outline and contours suddenly make ergonomic and visual sense.

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Additional styling cues come in the form of inlaid pickguard and control panel, our Pomona Blonde’s in amber tortoise acrylic, and the Vintage Red’s in black. These are a serious extra amount of work compared with the simple screwed-on variety, demanding accuracy in machining and in the finishing process.

Actually, there is a tiny cosmetic flaw on our Vintage Red model where the inside edge of the cut-out looks partially unfinished. It’s not enough to put us off, though, and it’s also early days for the model so tiny inconsistencies such as this (and a small cosmetic flaw on the Pomona Blonde’s headstock) are highly likely to be ironed out as everything else is so good.

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Feel & Sounds

Both guitars feel great straight out of the box, the action height fitting in with Eastman’s stated 2.38mm on the bass side and 1.58mm on the treble side at the 12th fret. 

In feel the necks have a medium-to‑slender C section profile suiting the style of guitar perfectly, the 43mm nut and 305mm (12-inch) radius ebony ’board seeming like old friends. Depth-wise, both are 21.5mm at the 1st fret and slightly over 24mm at the 12th. 

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Along with a quoted Fender-like 648mm (25.5-inch) scale length – which actually measures slightly shorter at 644mm (25.35 inches) – and medium jumbo Jescar frets (approximately 2.59mm wide by 1.2mm high), it’s all familiar fare that players of almost any other make and model would feel at home with. The jet black ebony ’boards are smooth and slinky, and the jumbo-ish frets beautifully set and polished.

As already mentioned, the Juliets sit just as beautifully on a strap as they do sitting down and noodling. Balance and weight are just right, and although their mass is similar to that of a Gibson SG, they don’t have that guitar’s issue of the 12th fret being where you expect the 15th to be. If you regularly play a Strat and then pick up a Juliet, there are no funny surprises.

Eastman Juliet PB

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

With a P-90 Les Paul Goldtop and humbucking ES-335 on hand for a ballpark comparison, and a Custom Shop Blues Junior ‘Woodie’ to play through, the results were interesting.

Although the Bare Knuckle Old Guards in our VR model are ‘low wind’ P-90s, they were clearer and if anything a tad punchier than the Gibson’s. Of course, a Les Paul is a far heftier beast than a Juliet and so you wouldn’t expect them to sound the same.

There’s an openness here that our Gibson doesn’t possess, with 1st position chords having more of a Malcolm Young or Pete Townshend sprang, and bluesy licks sounding closer to Clapton’s Cream-era tone, or that of Malcolm’s precocious brother in his less lairy moments. There’s a lovely nasal ‘quack’, too, that gives the guitar a definite personality.

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s not a huge difference in voice when switching to the humbucking Pomona Blonde. That’s not too unusual, though, because we’ve always suspected that Seth Lover’s brief was to create a P-90 tone but with no hum. Indeed, this reviewer’s old humbucking Les Paul sounds pretty close to his current P-90 one. 

And the two Juliets here are identical to one another in all other respects save for pickups. If anything, we’ll stick our neck out and say the PB is slightly more open and a tad less honky than the VR, perhaps more Firebird than SG.

Both guitars have separate volume controls for each of the two pickups but a tone that only covers the bridge. Of course, it does modify the overall sound when both pickups are on (even though it’s only acting on one), and that provides an almost Brian May or Jimmy Page-style ‘honk’, which always sits great in a rock mix.

Verdict

As already mentioned, it’s all too easy to come up with an original design that’s merely a hotchpotch of other models, or something so outlandish that it just looks a mess. 

Of course, looks are always subjective but our view is that Eastman’s team, headed up by Pepijn ’t Hart with head designer Otto D’Ambrosio, has created something of a gem. Although full of interesting lines and angles, with stylish items such as the sunken pickguard and switch plate, and that two-tier body and headstock design, it all hangs together really well. 

The use of sustainable okoume rather than mahogany and the nitro-alike Truetone finish must also be applauded

The use of sustainable okoume rather than mahogany and the nitro-alike Truetone finish must also be applauded. Then there’s those super and original-sounding Bare Knuckle pickups that, when all the other elements come together, lend a distinct and interesting voice to both models. And at under a grand and a half, what’s not to like?

Specs

Eastman Juliet P-90-VR

  • PRICE: $1,875/£1,499 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: China
  • TYPE: Offset solidbody electric
  • BODY: Solid okoume with Firebird-style centre step
  • NECK: Okoume, glued-in
  • SCALE LENGTH: 644mm (25.35”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony, cream dot inlays, 305mm (12”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium-jumbo (Jescar)
  • HARDWARE: Gotoh 6-a-side tuners, Gotoh tune-o-matic bridge and stud tailpiece, recessed faux tortoiseshell pickguard
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51.5mm
  • ELECTRICS: 2x Bare Knuckle BC Old Guard low-wind P-90s, 3-way pickup selector switch, individual pickup volume controls and one tone control (bridge pickup only)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.2/7.04
  • OPTIONS: Black tweed Juliet case (£129)
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Eastman Juliet/v Bigsby (£1,899) with black Antique Varnish finish; Eastman Juliet PB (as reviewed)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not yet
  • FINISH: Vintage Red – Truetone gloss

Eastman Juliet PB

  • PRICE: $1,875/£1,499 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: China
  • TYPE: Offset solid body electric
  • BODY: Solid okoume with Firebird-style centre step
  • NECK: Okoume, glued-in
  • SCALE LENGTH: 644mm (25.35”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43.09mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony, cream dot inlays, 305mm (12”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium-jumbo (Jescar)
  • HARDWARE: Gotoh 6-a-side tuners, Gotoh tune-o-matic bridge and stud tailpiece, recessed faux tortoise pickguard
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51.5mm
  • ELECTRICS: 2x Bare Knuckle BC Old Guard humbuckers, 3-way pickup selector switch, individual pickup volume controls and one tone control (bridge pickup only)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.04/6.7
  • OPTIONS: Black tweed Juliet case (£129)
  • RANGE OPTIONS: See Juliet P-90
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not yet
  • FINISH: Pomona Blonde – Truetone gloss
  • CONTACT: Eastman Guitars (opens in new tab)

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In the late '70s and early '80s Neville worked for Selmer/Norlin as one of Gibson's UK guitar repairers, before joining CBS/Fender in the same role. He then moved to the fledgling Guitarist magazine as staff writer, rising to editor in 1986. He remained editor for 14 years before launching and editing Guitar Techniques magazine. Although now semi-retired he still works for both magazines. Neville has been a member of Marty Wilde's 'Wildcats' since 1983, and recorded his own album, The Blues Headlines, in 2019.