A look back at a humbucking anniversary

Epiphone at 140


In 2013, Epiphone celebrated its 140th anniversary and its long, incredible history as the rebel of instrument makers. It's a story that features every great artist of the last century and counting. The family company that grew to take over the world has traveled a rocky road but its mission has been straight on: to make a great instrument that anyone--novice or pro-- can take off the shelf and start playing right away. And today, it's clear that Epiphone's dedication to quality as well as its keen eye for bell-weather artists who are about to make history has paid off. Today, Epiphone instruments can be heard everywhere--played by rock, pop, country, metal, folk, jazz, and blues artists around the world. Its headquarters in Nashville, where all Epiphone instruments are designed, tested, tuned, and inspected, is state of the art. And there isn't a spot on Earth (hardly!) where a person can't order and receive the very same Epiphone played by The Beatles, Les Paul , Joe Pass, John Lee Hooker, Gary Clark Jr., Zakk Wylde, or Slash--and one with a lifetime warranty.

At Epiphone, we also take pride in how much hasn't changed since the days founder Epi Stathopoulo, a virtual Walt Disney of the instrument world in his time, led the "House of Stathopoulo" in the first decades of the 20th century. Epi anticipated virtually everything we take for granted in the music business today: world-wide distribution, consistently high quality, in-house research and development, electric guitars, electric basses, acoustic-electric guitars and small but powerful amps. Virtually everything from the Epiphone logo to our extended line of banjos, mandolins, archtops, Les Pauls, SGs, and classics like the Casino, the Riviera, and the Ultra III, can be traced back to Epi's vision of Epiphone as the musician's instrument maker, which is exactly what Epiphone is today.

Put another way: If you consider that Mr. Les Paul--whose friends extended to George Beauchamp of Rickenbacker, Paul Bigsby, Leo Fender, Gibson, and virtually every other instrument maker at the time--chose the Epiphone factory in Manhattan above all others as the place to try out a radical new solid body guitar, that says everything about Epiphone's long history of being savvy, inventive, and more than a bit rebellious. And don't forget Epiphone's sense of humor, too. For every great archtop released by Gibson in the early 30s, Epiphone made one a little bigger! And today, vintage Epiphone archtops are a rare find at guitar shows. That's because no one wants to get rid of them!

So at the close of 2013, Epiphone celebrates its 140th anniversary as the working musician's most reliable and affordable instrument maker. It was a terrific year where we brought several artists that we've long admired into the Epiphone family.

Tommy Thayer, Matt Heafy, and Brendon Small joined Epiphone's esteemed group of Signature Artists, which over the decades have included Chet Atkins, Paul McCartney, John Lee Hooker, John Lennon, Slash, Jack Casady, and Joe Bonamassa.

Epiphone at 140

Tommy Thayer of KISS designed the “Spaceman” Les Paul featuring Gibson 498T pickups. Matt Heafy of Trivium introduced the Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom 6 string and 7 string with EMG pickups and a deep-set neck joint with "Axcess" heel. And Brendon Small presented the "Thunderhorse" Explorer with Gibson USA BurstBuckers with coil-splitting All were Limited Editions that quickly sold out to our Authorized Epiphone Retailers around the world.

Longtime friend and Signature Artist Tak Matsumoto presented the Aqua Blue double cutaway Les Paul Standard PlusTop exclusively for Japan. Other highlights in 2013 included the Thunderbird Classic-IV PRO, the return of the Genesis Deluxe PRO and the knockout TV Silver and TV Pelham Blue collections.

Perhaps most exciting of all for new players, this year Epiphone introduced an incredible collection of Packs--the Les Paul Player and Performance Packs, the Goth SG Performance Pack, and the Toby Bass Performance Pack. Together with the fan favorite PR-4E Pack, these all-in-one goodie boxes offered Epiphone fans new and old everything they needed in one handy collection: a pro quality Epiphone instrument, a specially designed Epiphone amp, straps, picks, lessons, and Epiphone's singular lifetime guarantee.

Epiphone at 140

The Packs also helped to herald the arrival of Rocksmith 2014, the incredible Plug and Play video experience that quickly and easily allows any player to plug in their new (or vintage!) Epiphone and learn guitar and bass from their favorite songs. Check out our Rocksmith 2014/Epiphone Buyer’s Guide.

Our anniversary also gave us the opportunity to say 'thank you' to our fans as well as our Epiphone employees who make it possible for anyone, anywhere in the world to get a professional instrument with a lifetime guarantee.

Our colleagues in the magazine trade, who have carefully and thoughtfully critiqued our instruments over the last two decades of Epiphone's resurgence, all came out this year to honor Epiphone's 140th anniversary and we were grateful for their support. Check out these great features from Guitar Player, Guitar World, and giveaways with Bass Player, and Guitar Aficionado.

Epiphone at 140

Longtime Epiphone fan and guitar historian Walter Carter released a beautiful coffee table sized paperback, The Complete History of Epiphone that was filled with color photos of vintage and new instruments as well as period advertisements, artist photos, and interviews with key Epiphone history makers. Carter ended his history with the proclamation that Epiphone is still the working musician's best friend.

Epiphone originated the idea of the affordable, professional instrument. Whether you're a pro or just starting out, Epiphone has a guitar, bass, or acoustic instrument made with you in mind. Every day, Epiphone makes longtime classics like the Les Paul and the Casino as well as new models like the Ltd. E. Brendon Small "Thunderhorse" Explorer and the Wilshire Phant-o-matic available to players that less than a generation ago would have had to look for those instruments in used guitar shops, only to be hit with the sticker shock of a vintage instrument.

The roots of Epiphone begin with the Stathopoulo family from Sparta, Greece, who settled in Manhattan in the early 20th century where founder Epi Stathopoulo built a Manhattan showroom as both an exhibition hall and a gathering place for the best musicians of the day including innovator Les Paul, who built his first "Les Paul" solid body guitar at the Epiphone factory on 14th street. Throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s, Epi patented breakthrough designs of acoustic and electric guitars, and his Masterbilt series is prized in both its vintage and modern incarnation. In 1957, the Stathopoulo family--at the urging of longtime friend Les Paul--merged with its foremost competitor, Gibson.

Over the next decade, a new line of Epiphone electrics and acoustics were again embraced by artists in every genre including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Roy Orbison, The Who, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Winter.

Today, Epiphone instruments are played on stages and in studios everywhere. And once again, the great artists of our time like Paul McCartney, Gary Clark Jr., Dwight Yoakam, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, Alabama Shakes, and Tommy Thayer of KISS count on Epiphone for its history, quality and innovation. Rarely is a guitar player without an Epiphone and no guitar collection is complete without one. And now with a new state-of-the art headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, Epiphone continues to look to the future every day.

Epiphone at 140One of the highlights of our Anniversary was our year-long interview series with the folks who make Epiphone possible behind the scenes. We kicked off the year with an in-depth interview with the President of Gibson, Dave Berryman, who along with Henry Juszkiewicz purchased Epiphone on January 14, 1986, thus kicking off the modern era of Epiphone that has produced critically acclaimed new and reissued models like the Ultra III, the Sheraton II, and the 50th Anniversary ’61 Casino.

Berryman’s interview is fascinating for its detailed look at the early days of the Epiphone turnaround.

"For many, many years--I would go over to Asia with our Epiphone team, five or six times a year," recalled Berryman. "You have to spend time there to make things happen. And as our relationships got better there and as we developed our engineering talent here in the U.S. as well as in Asia, Epiphone set up its own manufacturing operation in China in 2002. That took a decade of travel and working with all our independent factories on developing our brand. Remember, the bulk of the Epiphone line features set necks, like Gibson, so it's much more difficult to make and takes more expertise and skill," continued Berryman. "But it was well worth the effort because it yielded constantly improving product quality, production reliability and superior performance that was being noticed by many players and consumers. People were telling us, "Wow, your Epiphone product has come a long, long way."

Read more of our interview with Gibson President Dave Berryman here. Epiphone.com also featured discussions with President Jim Rosenberg, Epiphone R&D Director Richard Akers, and perhaps the most famous face of Epiphone, Will Jones a.k.a Doctor Epiphone, who has been making house calls at dealers around the world for a decade.

Speaking of (and as) the mysterious "Dr. Epiphone" (certainly one of the most unforgettable characters in modern instrument making history), Jones said, "I know of no other spokesperson like him in the industry. My chief mission is to continue to "educate" folks through fun and engaging presentations to just what amazing value the Epiphone products bring to the marketplace."

"Over the years", continued Jones, "the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, I think because people know that I obviously don't take myself very seriously. That puts people at ease and they tend to be more receptive to my message. I let the facts about Epiphone --our rich history, quality innovations and diverse line of fun instruments-- impress folks. Yes, when one of our distributors or reps book a Dr. Epiphone event at a new place, people are often surprised at the different format and offbeat vibe, but we try to leave our retailers even more enthusiastic about offering Epiphone products and their customers as die-hard Epiphone fans.”

Visit the Doctor's entire interview here. In July, Epiphone threw a massive weekend-long birthday party in downtown Nashville and at its new state of the art headquarters. Music City is the premier spot on Earth to compose, arrange, record, manufacture, and perform music and for the first time, it too is enjoying a hipster renaissance.

Epiphone at 140

Epiphone kicked off its weekend-long 140th birthday celebration July 12, 2013 with a killer rooftop concert at the exclusive Nashville bar Aerial which is situated high above Lower Broadway, Nashville's infamous honky tonk highway. The all-evening throwdown featured two sets from The Beatles-themed band The Return along with the Magnolia Sons and Young Hines on a much loved-Casino.

The open house the next day drew scores of Epi fans, Epiphone forum members, and producers and musicians from the Nashville community. Once again, Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg and Gibson President Dave Berryman hosted the festivities, which began at high noon on Saturday with music, food, and giveaways and carried on through the early evening.

As guests signed in, they were greeted by Epiphone's world famous collection of vintage Epiphones which includes an early mandolin built by Anastasios Stathopoulo, a House of Stathopoulo harp guitar, and vintage collectable (and extremely rare) Hawaiian guitars, acoustic archtops and electric tenor and jazz guitars were not only on display but were also set up and in tune. Guests were advised to not play the instruments and though everyone was on their best behavior, many a hand brushed the strings to compare tones and timbre. Special guest Jeff Waters thrilled the crowd with two blazing sets of guitar virtuosity. (Jeff also checked out several Epiphone acoustic guitars when no one was looking.) But perhaps the event that will go down in Epiphone memory started out as a humble exhibition in the Epiphone warehouse where R&D Director Richard Akers hosted the Epiphone ProBucker Pickup Challenge. Guests were invited to try two sets of three Les Paul Standard PlusTop PROs--in Vintage Sunburst and Heritage Cherry Sunburst--both set up with new Epiphone ProBucker pickups as well as some very fine boutique humbuckers pickups. Many guests took up the challenge to see if they could tell which Les Paul had Epiphone ProBuckers including pros, guitar magazine editors, and guitar collectors. While every pickup sounded fantastic and the differences were slight, Epiphone won a majority favorite.

Our anniversary year also included exclusive interviews with Gary Clark Jr., Heath Fogg of Alabama Shakes, Frank Iero's first interview since the break up of My Chemical Romance, Duke Robillard after leaving Bob Dylan's band, longtime Paul McCartney bassist and guitarist Brian Ray, rising Americana star Pokey LaFarge, Epiphone Genesis designer Jim Walker, Paul Barrere of Little Feat, producer and longtime Mark Knopfler bandmate Richard Bennett, Keb Mo, Jason Ringenberg, Tommy Thayer of KISS, Brendon Small, and Captain Kirk Douglas of the Roots on the infamous Prince incident.

Epiphone artists also released terrific albums this year including Paul McCartney, The Roots, Duke Robillard, Zakk Wylde, Slash, Vampire Weekend, and vintage collections from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and many others.

This October, Epiphone was back in the news again with the launch of Rocksmith 2014, the critically acclaimed video experience that teaches guitar and bass the best way possible—through great music. The Plug and Play Revolution is being televised and Epiphone is leading the way. Check out Epiphone's handy buyer’s guide to get the right Rocksmith 2014 instrument for you. And be sure to enter our year long Sweepstakes for your chance to win an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. Go here for details.

Epiphone is still at the forefront of instrument design--whether it's award winning reissues like the 1962 50th anniversary collection or genre bending instruments like the Brendon Small Thunderhorse Explorer. As Brian Ray of Paul McCartney said, "you have to keep telling people Epiphone is the real deal. They need to know you've been making great guitars for a long, long time."

Happy Anniversary and thanks from Epiphone. Wait 'til you see what’s coming in 2014!