From the Dawg Collection by Eastman
Not long ago, American mandolinist pioneer David Grisman, known for his tastes in collecting and performing with exquisite vintage instruments, caused quite a stir when he was seen heralding an enigmatic silhouette on stage, something resembling more spacecraft than folk music implement. With a simple swipe of the mando-master innovator's pick, the broad Dawg music following was introduced to Grisman's enduring passion for the hand craftsmanship of worldclass builder Corrado Giacomel of Genoa, Italy.
Popular veteran performer Grisman and the instrument maker have since forged a unique friendship and business relationship, offering this breakthrough design a widespread and immediate audience this side of the Atlantic. The original J5 model he currently sports bears a substantial price tag at $12,500; in addition a production capacity limited to approximately ten per year, both factors pose major acquisition barriers to all but the exlusive elite of professional players and dedicated hobbyists. The good news, however, is this partnership is now broadened to the mass market with its collaboration with Eastman Strings, inarguably one of the fastest growing manufacturers of mid-level mandolins, already having achieved a decade of acceptance and notoriety in quality orchestral strings production, as well as world renown acceptance in Jazzbox guitars.
Eastman's first introduction in a larger experiment offering other reproductions of Grisman's personal collection is this joint effort, a mid-priced replica inspired and approved by Giacomel, the DG1. Suggested List Price at $3495, its street price will likely to be closer to $3K, a much more palatable acquisition for a broader market.
The uniqueness of the instrument is not only in its looks and other-world cosmetic panache. Much like its older sisters in Eastman's 900 series, the AAA quality highly flamed maple is capable of a robust resonance; great volume is not an issue at all on this model. Where it departs is in the multitude of sensuous wood curves and alien angle, a myriad of hand carved bends and folds; it feels as good to hold as it looks to the eye.
Physical balance is comfortable in playing, and any strap designed for a traditional scroll will have no trouble attaching to the functional, albeit abbreviated Giacomel scroll. There's a subtle beauty in the carved arching here that extends to the circumference of the rest of the top, elegantly mirrored on the back. We also like the aesthetics of the hand-bound ivoroid binding, a thin black line accentuating the instrument's extraterrestrial perimeter.
The ebony pickguard nicely balances and complements the easy-access custom ebony tailpiece, great for quick string changes, a homogenous veneer repeated on the back of headstock. The F-holes exaggerate tradition a bit in center flare, but remain unbound, driving the eye instead to its unique outer body silhouette.
If we had any negative concern at all with this instrument, it would its V-profile neck, an admittedly personal dislike. The thin pronouncement is slightly uncomfortable for a player preferring a flatter or rounded neck.
Tuners and headstock adornments are extraordinarily classy, from the high quality gold tuners, to the updated torch/flowerpot, to the wood-inlaid Dawg logo on the truss rod cover.
Asian import instruments have penetrated the American market with substandard quality for decades, but Eastman has distinguished its name early into home and stage during its five year mandolin manufacturing by focusing its production on an upper scale, discriminating advanced-entry and mid-level market. The precision of joint fitting and deviation from cosmetic shortcuts is a charter that has served them well in establishing a reputation for premium quality at an affordable price.
As mentioned earlier, the instrument is sufficiently loud, but not "chop" loud. It trades a definitive "cut" for a more reserved sweetness. Still, its capacity for roundness in the hands of the right pick and player allow for a wide variety of music, and would bode well for the classical and jazz mandolinist. A modest deficiency of authoritative lows might make it a more appropriate "blending" orchestral ensemble tool for some than solo stage, but for an instrument in this price range, certain concessions should be allowed. This is not the $12K instrument it replicates, and at its remarkable price point to expect anything different would be unrealistic.
The DG1 came in a classic, oblong lightweight violin-style case, adequately protected from environmental intrusion or blow. We understand this is a limited production run, so any player interested would be prudent in visiting his/her authorized Eastman dealer soon.
Manufacturer Website: Eastman Mandolins
Information on original Giacomel J5: Acoustic Disc
Recommended Eastman Dealers
Acoustic Music Vibes
Fiddler's Green Music
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