Sunday, February 28, 2016

Epiphone Solidbody Guitars

Epiphone guitars are one of Americas oldest brands. They had their start in 1873 when Kostantinos Stathopoulo when he brought his family from Sparta in Greece to the town of a large town in Turkey. It was here that he established himself as a lumber merchant.

The A. Stathopoulos Family
Stathopoulo would bring his son, Anastasio with him on trips throughout Europe for the purpose of importing tonewoods. On these Anastasio learned the importance of good wood in the creation of musical instrument.

While living in Smyrna the family already had established a good reputation for selling and repairing lutes, violins and bouzoukis. In time, Anastasio became a very talented luthier.

By 1890 he opened his own instrument factory and taught the trade to his sons, Epaminondas, Alex, Minnie, Orpheuand Frixo.

Anastasio's Mandolin Patent
Due to the extreme taxes imposed on immigrants Anastasios and his family immigrated to the United States to a home on Manhattan’s lower east side where he opened a shop to create and repair stringed instruments. He even established a patent for an Italian style bowl back mandolin under the Orpheum Lyra brand.

Epi from Bob Cage collection
Anastasio’s oldest son, Epaminondas was better known to all as Epi. As a young man he was fortunate enough to attend Columbia University where he graduated with honors. Following graduation Epi and his brother Orpheuand, who was better known as Orphie, helped their father in his shop.

Anastasio passed away when Epi was only 22 years old, leaving behind an established business. It was then that Epi, the eldest son, took control and renamed the shop, The House of Stathopouli.

Epi made some major changes by phasing out the manufacturing of older instruments that had been standard in the "old country" in favor of banjos which were quite popular at the time.. He was even granted a patent for a banjo tone ring and rim.

Recording banjos
The Stathopoulis'  “Recording” banjo was earning some popularity and created income so the Stathopoulos family acquired interest in another musical instrument manufacturing firms assets and gave the growing business a new name; Epiphone, which was not just a reference to Epi’s name, but this was taken from the Greek word epiphonous, that in Greek means one sound upon another.

In 1928 Epiphone was contracted to make banjos for the Selmer/Conn (Connecticut) Music Company. That same year Epiphone introduced a line of acoustic guitars, which they sold under the Recording Series brand name.

From the Dutch Archtop Museum
WWII took a toll on US industry and changed manufacturing forever. The musical instrument industry was no exception. Money was tight. Sadly Epi Stathopoulos had died in 1943, which left the company in the hands of his brothers.

Fixo playing an Epiphone guitar
By 1948 Frixo had enough of the business and sold his shares to Orphie. By the early 1950's the Epiphone factory was having trouble with its workforce and a union strike was eminent.  So in 1953 the decision was made to move from Manhattan to Philadelphia to avoid the strike.

Many of the companies best workmen refused to leave New York, which lead to the start of Guild Guitars, but that is another story. Orphie had also moved the distribution rights for Selmer/Conn along with the company. Despite this the company was having financial problems.

Orphie Stathopoulos

Les Paul, who was a good friend of Orphie, knew of Epiphones struggles. He contacted his friend Ted McCarty, president of the Gibson Musical Instrument to see if Gibson was interested in purchasing its biggest rival; Epiphone.

Les Paul and Ted McCarty
The Gibson company made an offer to buy out Epiphone for a mere $20,000. McCarty and Gibsons plan was originally to use their factory to produce double basses, however McCarty soon realized that he could contnue manufacturing guitars under the Epiphone brand and offer these instruments to dealers that had been standing in line to get a Gibson franchise, but were not yet profitable enough.

Orphie took up the offer and the Stathopoulos family was out of the musical instrument manufacturing business. Gibson Guitars/ CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) straightaway went into production of Eiphone Guitars.

Gibson display 1958 NAMM
By 1958 Gibson made Epiphone guitars were featured at the NAMM exhibition. Due to Gibsons marketing strategy for many future years Gibson guitars were perceived as top dog, and Epiphones were left in the "also-rans" category. However this was far from being true. Epiphone guitars made between the years of 1958 to 1969 were in some instances superior and every bit equal to Gibson guitars, in construction quality and materials.

1921 Advertisement for the Chicago Musical Instrument Company
By 1969 Chicago Musical Instrument/CMI, which had owned Gibson Guitars since 1944, was having financial problems. The guitar craze had ended and Chicago Musical Instrument allowed Gibson Guitars to be purchased by an Ecuadorian beer company known as ECL and managed under the name Norlin Musical Instruments.

Due to questionable marketing and poor sales of Epiphone products, ECL made the business decision to move Epiphone production to Matsumoku Japan, sometimes known as Matsumoto Mokko, or the Matsumoto Woodworking Company.

This company was already an established guitar producer and already exporting vast quantities of guitars and violins which had been flooding the world market since the early 1960’s. Epiphone, for the most part, has ever since been produced in the Far East.

Ed Sullivan Show 2/09/1964
It was in 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Immediately after it every kid in America wanted to play the electric guitar, including me. By 1965 my friends and I had formed garage band.

Dave Kohl with Epiphone Coronet
At the time I owned a Fender Stratocaster and my band mate David Kohl owned a 1964 single pickup Epiphone Coronet that came with a Gibson P-90 pickup, an Epiphone vibrato and a six-on-a-side batwing headstock. Had we only known how to set up a guitar, that instrument would have rivaled any Gibson SG Junior.

1963 Epiphone Coronet like Dave's
During that brief eleven year period Gibson produced only five Epiphone solid body guitars, if you count the two different Olympic models.

Price comparison - Epiphone from eBay - SG from Gary's Classic Guitars
In my opinion these were excellent guitars back then and in the vintage market can still be purchased at a reduced price when compared with solid body Gibson instruments of the same vintage.

These guitars bore a resemblance to Fender guitars in their features; double cutaway horns and later models came with the six-on-a-side headstock, but they were more like Gibson guitars based on the choice of wood, electronics and finishes.

1958 Epiphone Crestwood
The Epiphone Crestwood was the first solid electric guitar to come out of the Gibson factory back in 1958. Its body was made of mahogany and shaped with two symetrical rounded horns.

The set in neck was also made of mahogany and topped with a rosewood fretboard and dot inlays. It’s scale was typical of Gibson; 24.75 inches.

This guitar had twin New York adjustable pickups, which were Epiphone single coil models that the company had been using since 1947.  The guitar also had two volume and two tone controls, and a 3-way selector switch.

1961 Epiphone Crestwood Custom
The 1958 headstock was a 3 on-side model topped with a plate Epiphone logo. This was later updated in 1963 to the six-on-a-side style that is known as the “batwing” due to the shape of its bottom.

The guitar featured a stop tail piece and a tune-o-matic bridge. The pickguard changed over time. The original instrument came with the guard covering only the lower portion of the guitar. Sometime during 1959 the guard was updated to cover most of the guitars upper bout.

1961 Crestwood
The hardware on the 1958 model was gold-plated and the electronic knobs were white. It was only available in sunburst. In 1959 Gibson came out with the Crestwood Custom.

1962 Crestwood
From 1959 to 1962 the body was symmetrical, but in 1963 until the end of the run in 1969 the shape changed and it was slightly asymmetrical. The upper horn was longer than the lower one.

1965 Crestwood Custom
The body and set in neck were still made of mahogany. The neck was topped with a rosewood fretboard featuring dot inlays. The headstock was still the 3-on-a-side style through 1962, when it was updated to the batwing style in 1963.

In 1961 the neck featured block inlays.

The Crestwood Customs pickguard covered the upper half of the body until 1965 when it was updated to the modern and unique shape that you see here.

The control pattern also changed in 1965 from the previous staggered Gibson style arrangement to all the potentiometers being in a row on the lower bout.

From 1959 to 1962 the hardware was gold plated. This changed to nickel plated in 1963.

The guitars pickups were still twin Epiphone adjustable New York models through 1960. Gibson changed them to Gibson mini-humbuckers in 1961. This guitar was offered in a variety of colours which included sunset yellow, California Coral, Pacific Blue, Black, White and Cherry.

'65 Crestwood Deluxe
The Crestwood Deluxe was introduced in 1963. Like the other Crestwoods this came with similar accouterments. The mahogany body was offset and asymmetrical. The mahogany neck was topped with a batwing style headstock that was bound, however the bound neck was fitted with an ebony fretboard that had block inlay position markers. The hardware was nickel-plated. The strings went over a tune-o-matic bridge and were secured by an Epiphone Tremtone vibrato tailpiece. This model came with three mini-humbucking pickups. It was offered with the same colour options as the Custom model.

1959 Epiphone Wilshire
In 1959, Gibson also debuted the Epiphone Wilshire solidbody guitar. The instruments shape was similar to the Crestwood, but the Wilshire featured P-90 pickups. Initially the Wiltshire's mahogany body was symmetrical, but this changed in 1963 to the same asymmetrical shape as the Crestwoods of similar vintage.

The models were available with one pickup in the bridge position or two in the neck and bridge position. Initially the pickups came with black plastic covers.

1961 Epiphone Wilshire

The bridge saddle was  a tune-o-matic bridge with a stop tailpiece or an optional Gibson Maestro Vibrato.

The Wilshire came with a single volume and tone control for the one pickup models or twin volume and tone controls, plus a three-way selector for the two pickup models.

The unbound mahogany neck was topped with a rosewood fretboard that had dot inlays. The headstock was the three-on-a-side model in black with the silkscreen Epiphone logo in script similar to a Gibson logo.

The headstock style continued through 1962. By 1963 many updates were put into place. The Wilshire's headstock was replaced with the batwing version. This same year the pickups were changed to mini-humbuckers and the pickguard shape changed as well.

1964 Eiphone Wilshire
Initially the pickguard covered the upper portion of the guitar. But in 1963 the pickguard was modernized and the controls were placed in a row on the guitars lower bout, instead of the staggered Gibson-style arrangement.

The hardware on the Wilshire remained all nickel-plated throughout its run.

The Epiphone Wilshire ceased production in 1969, but was still being offered through 1970. It was available in a variety of colours which included ebony, sunburst, “red fox”, inverness green, white and cherry.

66 Wilshire 12 string
In 1966 the Epiphone Wilshire was offered for two years as a 12 string model. It came with twin mini-humbucking pickups. The only colour choice was cherry.

In 1958 the other solid body model that Gibson Guitars introduced under the Epiphone brand was called The Coronet. This was an inexpensive solid body electric guitar, that sold at $120 that year. The mahogany body on this guitar was the same symmetrical one used on the Crestwood and the Wilshire of that era, as was the neck.

Two 1958 Epiphone Coronets
From 1958 to 1959 the Coronet came with a large white pickguard that covered most of the bottom of the upper bout. By 1960 this had changed to a large white pickguard that coverd most of the guitars upper section. The pickguard had a large stylized letter E on the guard.

All of Epiphones solid guitars were a little thicker during the years of 1958 through 1959; 1.75 inches.

Starting in 1960 until the end of the run the body thickness was 1.375 inches.

1958 Coronet
The Coronet first came with a non-adjustable Epiphone New York Century pickup with a metal cover. This model's name had been used since the 1950’s on Epiphone archtop guitars. Starting in 1958 Gibson introduced the solid body Epiphone Coronet. This guitar initially was offered with a P-90 pickup which came with either a black plastic or nickel-plated cover.

The guitars one piece 24 3/4” scale mahogany neck was topped with a rosewood fretboard that came with dot inlays.

1962 Coronet with pearl logo
The original headstock was a three-on-a-side model that had an Epiphone metal logo from 1958 to 1960. During the years 1960-1962 this was changed to a pearl inlaid logo. For one year, 1962, the logo was done in silkscreen. Then in 1963 through the end of the run in 1969 the Coronet acquired the batwing headstock with a silkscreen logo.

Different pickups nnd bridge saddles. - Gary's Classic & Willie's Guitars
The Coronet originally came with an angled wrap-around tail piece. Starting in 1961 this became the Gibson model straight/compensated wrap-around model. In 1962 a vibrato was offered as an option with a straight compensated non adjustable bridge saddle.

1964 Epiphone Coronet
Following the examples of the Crestwood and Wilshire, in 1963 the Coronets body was changed to an asymmetrical shape.

The Coronet was offered with finishes in cherry, black, silver fox, sunset yellow, pacific blue or California coral.

Epiphone Dwight Coronet
For one year, 1964, the Sonny Shields Music store of East Saint Louis, Illinois, owned by Charles Dwight Shields, offered a Coronet model under their own logo which was Dwight. This was the same as Epiphone Coronets except the name “Dwight” was inscribed on the guitars truss rod cover. The Dwight Coronet only was offered with a silver fox finish.

1935 Epi Olympic
In the mid 1930's Epiphone first offered an archtop guitar known as the Olympic. In 1960 Gibson used that same name on an Epiphone solidbody guitar.

1961 Epiphone Olympic
Unlike all the other Epiphone solidbody models of this era, The Olympic started out with the same mahogany body as Gibson Melody Maker. In fact it looked just like a single cutaway Melody Maker. Just like that guitar, the Olympic came with a single pickup in the bridge position mounted on the all-in-one pickguard that was assembled with a volume and tone control and the jack.

The Olympics bridge was a tilted wrap-around model.

The neck was also made of  mahogany and topped with a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays. But for the fact the headstock read Epiphone the Olympic was indistinguishable from the Gibson model.

1963 Olympic
In 1963 the Olympics mahogany body was updated to conform with the other 1960’s Epiphone models. The body was now asymmetrical with a larger upper horn. The 1963 and 1964 models came with the Epiphone three-on-a-side headstock that bore the silkscreen Epiphone logo.

The mahogany neck still had a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays. What carried over from the Melody Maker version was the all-in-one pickguard with electronics. This was a cost cutting measure that Gibson utilized on these student instruments. The pickguard covered the center and and lower portion of the Olympics body.

Like its predecessor, the pickup(s) were still  single coil models with a black plastic cover, but narrower than the Melody Maker version.

The bridge/saddle was a wrap-around model, only it was non-tilted and compensated.

1964 Epi Olympic

In 1964 the headstock was updated to the batwing design and the Olympic was now offered with an optional Maestro Vibrola. Colour choice for the Olympic was sunburst or cherry.

1960 Olympic Double
The Olympic Double came with twin single coil pickups. The first model offered in 1960 was the same guitar as a Gibson single cutaway Melody Maker with the same mahogany neck and body, the same rosewood fretboard and same pickguard with all the electronics mounted on it.

1962 Olympic Double
In 1962, the Olympics shape was changed to resemble the double cutaway Melody Maker.

All that distinguished it from a Gibson was the silkscreen Epiphone logo.

1963 Olympic Double
By 1963 the Olympics shape changed to the asymmetrical Epiphone style. The pickguard was enlarged and had the Epiphone stylized E in its center, between the two single coil pickups.

'64 Olympic Double
Initially the headstock was the Epiphone three-on-a-side style, but this was updated to the batwing headstock in 1964.

The Olympic was offered with a wrap-around tailpiece or an optional Maestro Vibrola. It came only in sunburst or cherry finishes.

Olympic Special
The Olympic Special was the same guitar as the Melody Maker style Olympic. This gutiar was only offered in sunburst and only with a single pickup.

3/4 size Epiphone Olympic
A 3/4 scale version of the Olympic was available from 1960 to 1963. This shorter version had a 22 3/4” scale with only 19 frets on its rosewood fretboard. Gibson designers made this guitar a short scale model by shortening the neck and attaching it to the body at the 12th fret. The 3/4 size Olympic was only available as a single cutaway model with a sunburst finish.

The last Epiphone Solidbody guitars made in Kalamazoo
The run of Kalamazoo manufactured Epiphone solidbody guitars ended in 1969. As stated earlier, production was moved to Japan. The Epiphone solidbody guitar would not resurface until 1975 and then it was only for the Japanese market.

Mid '80's Wilshire
By 1982 production started up for the world market, but these guitars barely resembled their predecessors. They may have had the Epiphone logo, however these were more Strat-style guitars.

Then in 1991, an updated version of the Epiphone Coronet was issued. This time the guitar had a slightly different body.

A single coil angled pickup was in the neck position and an uncovered humbucker in the bridge position. This version of the Coronet came with a stop tailpiece, but could be ordered with a tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece or a modern vibrato system with string locks and micro tuners.

1990's 2nd version of the Coronet
The 1991 Coronet guitar initially had the 3-on-a-side headstock, but this was changed to and upturned 1990’s six-on-a-side style with the tuners on the bottom. The neck had 24 frets. However this guitar was manufactured in the USA.

1995 Crestwood
By 1995 the current owners of Gibson saw the value in offering the 1960’s style Epi solidbody guitars and introduced a Far Eastern made versions of the Coronet and the Wilshire.

2009 - Epiphone Wilshire 1962 reissue and 1966 reissue
Then in 2009 the Epiphone 1966 Wilshire reissue was offered that was made in Asia. That same year a limited run of 100 models of the USA made 1962 Wilshire were offered that same year.

Epiphone Wilshire Phant-o-matic
Currently the only Epiphone solidbody offered is the Wilshire Phantomatic that was designed by Gibson and Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance. There are a lot of updates on this guitar such as the 12” neck radius, Wilkinson tuners and the Varitone notch filter instead of a tone control.
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