An outstanding guitar player, Asleep at the Wheel founder Ray Benson now has his own signature electric guitar model thanks to Eastman Guitars, a manufacturer specializing in archtop, flattop and electric guitars, as well as mandolins.
The Thinline T486-RB Ray Benson signature model is a double cutaway featuring deluxe laminate top, back and sides, with ivoroid binding throughout the body, neck and headstock. The maple neck features an ebony fingerboard adorned with standard pearl block inlays.
Additionally, the T486-RB features a custom-sized black pick guard and is finished in a transparent red satin with a custom-designed “RB” logo branded between the trapeze style tailpiece.
“It’s based on the Gibson ES-355, that I used to play for years,” says Benson, referring to the famous guitar model played by Chuck Berry and many others. “But it’s different.”
He notes that Jeff Bridges had endorsed Eastman guitars, “and I kept seeing the archtop guitars they were making and called them up. They made a version of the 355, but I like to change some things and told them what I wanted.”
Eastman came up with what Benson now calls “the Rockin’ ‘RB’.”
“’RB’ is my brand, and they made what I wanted and burned the brand into it,” says Benson, whose brand shows the “R” initial in reverse. Of Eastman, he notes, “It’s a Chinese company that makes violins and basses and acoustic guitars and beautiful archtops and mandolins. They’re new to the scene, but I noticed that I was seeing Eastman archtops–which very few people make–and beautiful guitars, and wondered who was doing it.”
Besides the archtops, which are especially popular among jazz guitarists, Benson noticed Eastman’s mandolins.
“They’re the hardest instruments to make,” he says, noting that the company makes signature models for mandolin legend David Grisman. “If they’re making Grisman model mandolins, they’re making quality instruments,” he adds.
Besides currently performing with his Eastman Thinline T486, the Austin-based Benson, who was named the official Texas State Musician in 2004 and Texan of the Year in 2011, continues to promote his latest project, a solo album titled A Little Piece, which was released earlier this year. Next up for Benson is completion of Asleep at the Wheel’s third Bob Wills tribute album.
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