The last decade saw an increased interest in what previous eras might have called “pawnshop prize” guitars, with players such as Jack White and Marc Ribot favoring the original versions of these formerly cheapo specials for their offbeat tones. The bad news is that the astronomical prices of vintage Fenders and Gibsons led to a second tier of collectors jacking up the price of those quirky Kays, Silvertones, Harmonys, etc. The good news is that this situation helped create companies like Eastwood, who reissue this type of garage guitar with much better build quality at prices even nonfamous musicians can afford. Eastwood’s AirLine Tux Deluxe model fits securely in this category.
An upgrade of the company’s Airline Tuxedo, the Tux Deluxe is patterned on the mid-1950s Barney Kessel, the original model sold under the brands Kay and Airline. Working with Randy Bachman (Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Guess Who), Eastwood added features like a zero-fret, custom coil-tapped pickups, and push-pull tone pots that allow you to choose 100 percent or 70 percent of each pickup’s output.
Opening the truly deluxe hard case, the flame maple top appeared more butterscotch than “natural,” which I prefer. Multiple-layer body binding that extends to the headstock, a bound neck, and frets that are nicely finished over the binding add touches of class to this funky guitar’s styling.
Players whose fingers rest on the guitar’s body may want to remove the period-style pickguard, but I got used to it quickly and prefer the look with it in place. The action came in very low with minimal buzzing (none audible when plugged in). I raised it for more comfortable bending, and also to facilitate the kind of slide work for which this guitar cries out. Even with the action taller, the Tux still played easily and had an even tonal response.
I tested the Tux Deluxe through an Egnater Rebel 30, an Orange Tiny Terror, and a ZT Ghost. Regardless of which amp it drove, the Tux Deluxe delivered tons of character, courtesy of its hollowed out body and overwound P-90s. In full winding mode the pickups pushed the 35-watt Ghost and the Orange set for 7-watts into the kind of dark, muddy, distortion you hear on early blues or jump swing records. The clarity of the Egnater’s clean channel tamed the low end some. Pulling out the push-pull tone pots to cut the windings back 30 percent, I found that the Tux retained plenty of punch, while offering up a more modern low end. Being able to tap each pickup individually made for a surprisingly wide range of available tones.
Granted these tones reside within a certain roots music range, but it is a sound that is being applied to more and more pop records as well. If it is the kind of sound you seek, the Airline Tux Deluxe will deliver it for a fraction of the cost of an original, in a pro-quality form that will likely play better to boot.
CONTACT Eastwood Guitars, (905) 702-8291; eastwoodguitars.com
AIRLINE TUX DELUXE
PRICE $1,399 List (includes deluxe hard case)
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Maple, set
FRETBOARD Bound rosewood with block inlay
SCALE 25 1/2"
BODY Hollow body, flamed maple top and back, mahogany sides.
PICKUPS Two coil-tapped P-90s
CONTROLS Two Volume, two push-pull Tone, 3-way selector
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic w/ trapeze tail
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.9 lbs
KUDOS Gobs of rootsy goodness. Excellent playability. P-90 punch. Excellent fit and finish.
CONCERNS Not for all musical styles or aesthetic tastes.