DUE TO THEIR INHERENT COMPLEXITY and difficulty to build, archtop guitars have always tended to be more costly than their flat-top or solidbody cousins. The price differences can be enormous if an archtop has a body that is constructed of carved solid woods for the top, back, and sides—and that’s why guitar companies have traditionally used laminated woods that are pressed and/or bent to shape to reduce production costs. Still, no archtop is a picnic to build, which makes finding a good one for an affordable price a bit of a challenge. That’s not to say it’s impossible, though, as evidenced by some of the recent archtop guitars being produced by companies such as Godin, Eastman, Epiphone, Eastwood, and others. On review here are two instruments—the Eastwood Doral and Stromberg Montreux Custom—which score well in the areas of construction, appearance, playability, and tone. We tested the two using a Dr. Z EZG-50 combo, which with its superb headroom and rich, open sound seemed like the perfect amp to suss the sounds that guitars of this type are typically expected to deliver. To hear these guitar in a grittier sounding configuration we also plugged into a new Vox AC30C2X combo.
This generous-sized guitar, which shares its name with a well-known cigarette from R.J. Reynolds, has a body width of 17" and a depth of about 3r". The three-piece neck is a fancy affair with its multiple binding on both the fretboard and the expansive headstock. The edges of the body and the f-holes are also trimmed in neatly applied bindings. With the orange hue on the top and the figuring in the maple on the sides and back, the look is quite stunning. The gold-plated humbuckers, gold Tune-o-matic bridge (which is mounted on a rosewood base), and gold tailpiece and tuners add more bling factor, and there’s a lot of pearl on this guitar too: including the oversized “E” on the headstock, triangular fretboard markers, and the classy looking heel cap, which is embellished with a script “D.”
The Doral has a sweet playing feel, which is due to its slim neck, smooth medium-jumbo frets, and good setup. The low action causes no string buzzes and the intonation is tuneful. The nut’s sharp corners are a bit of a drag, but there was no binding or pinging in the nut slots when pulling the strings up to pitch with the silky Grover Imperials.
Played acoustically, the Doral produces a good amount of volume and has a bright, midrangy tone. Plugged into a Dr. Z EZG- 50, the Doral has a warm, clear, and very full-bodied sound. The full humbucker mode delivers a big, girthy response with plenty of output for driving an amp into clipping for those cool blues and rockabilly tones. You can also get great rhythm tones in the dual-pickup setting, and having individual Volume controls lets you fine-tune the settings in order to get the right balance of clarity and warmth.
The Tone controls are also voiced well to elicit those nicotine-brown jazz sounds where notes pop out with roundness and definition. By pulling on the Volume knobs—which isn’t the easiest thing to do because of their shape and vertical grooves—the humbuckers are put into split mode, effectively turning them into single-coil pickups. This provides more crispness and a leaner midrange, which can be very useful for some sounds, such as a snarling P- 90 tone for blues. There are also some very cool tones to be had by running one pickup in full ’bucker mode and the other one split.
The Doral is a versatile archtop that can cut it for jazz, blues, rockabilly, or even heavier rock styles. It looks sharp and plays well, and it’s affordably priced too. In the lofty world of archtop guitars, the Doral is a hip and affordable ax.
STROMBERG MONTREUX CUSTOM
With its single floating compact humbucking pickup, rosewood bridge, and flatwound strings (it can also be ordered with roundwounds) the Montreux Custom is indeed a full-fledged jazz guitar. A very nice one too when you inspect it closely and start groovin’ on the multi-ply bindings that trim every perimeter surface of the entire instrument (including the floating 5-ply hand-bound pickguard), the split-block fretboard inlays, and the ornate “Stromberg” inlay on the headstock, which is also rendered in neatly inlaid pearl.
The construction and finishing of the Montreux Custom are also impressive. Everywhere you look, from the tight neck joint to the careful shaping and slotting of the nut to the finely shaped frets, the attention to detail is remarkable. In fact, the only flaw I could find was a bit of dodgy binding in one of the f-holes.
Playability-wise the Montreux Custom is very happening. The action on our review guitar is nice and low, the intonation tuneful, and the feel very solid despite the guitar’s light weight. Having the fret ends terminating just inside the edge of the ’board also makes for an extra silky ride on the neck. The sonic vibe of this guitar is lively and open. There’s abundant acoustic volume and the tone is sweet and juicy with good lowend tightness and clarity.
Plugged into the Dr. Z EZG-50, the Montreux Custom delivered a round tone with a snappy midrange and just enough brightness to make notes punch though without sounding too zingy. I never felt that a Tone control was needed, and the Volume knob maintains a balanced response wherever it’s set. Though mounted under the pickguard, it is also easy to access with one finger.(Note that this guitar is also available as the standard Montreux model with two Kent Armstrong pickups and dual Volume and Tone controls.)
As tested, the Montreux Custom is a very satisfying jazz guitar. It proves that you don’t have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get a quality archtop, and how cool is it to own something that can trace its lineage back to the famed Strombergs of the 1930s? For all it has to offer the jazz guitarist on a tight budget (is there any other kind?), the Montreux Custom is a guitar that most definitely merits an audition.
CONTACT Eastwood Guitars, (905) 702-8291; eastwoodguitars.com
PRICE $1,379 street
NUTWIDTH 1 5/8"
NECK Maple, three-piece
FRETBOARD 25 1/2"-scale
TUNERS Grover Imperial
BODY Laminated spruce top, laminated flamed maple back and sides
BRIDGE Floating Tune-o-matic with nylon saddles
PICKUPS Dual-coil tapped EW humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volumes (w/push-pull coil tap), two Tones, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.1 lbs
KUDOS Nice build quality. Plays well. Lots of happening sounds.
CONCERNS Nut corners are very sharp.
CONTACT Stromberg Guitars, (800) 449-9348; strombergguitars.com
PRICE $1,395 street
NUTWIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Maple, two-piece scarf jointed
FRETBOARD 24 3/4"-scale (14" radius)
TUNERS Kluson Deluxe
BODY Laminated spruce top, laminated maple back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood floating style with compensated saddle (Tune-o-matic bridge also available)
PICKUPS Kent Armstrong Jazz Slimbucker
CONTROLS Volume, mounted under pickguard
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario ECG-25 Chrome flatwound, .012-.052
WEIGHT 7.1 lbs
KUDOS Excellent quality. Great player. Sweet sounding.