The Doctor is out there

Will Jones: the Epiphone Interview

Will Jones is the one and only Dr. Epiphone--the funny, irreverent, yet deadly serious and outspoken advocate for all things Epiphone. Dr. Epiphone is half mad scientist and half Epiphone evangelist; a 21st century P.T. Barnum for the House of Stathopoulo whose spitfire delivery and impeccable (and often hysterical) comic timing makes Groucho Marx's Captain Spaulding seem, well, rather bland.

For the few out there who haven't had the pleasure of meeting the good Doctor or hearing his expert lectures on the Ultra III Les Paul, ProBucker pickups, or any number of Epiphone technical breakthroughs in the last decade, we at Epiphone advise you to get a check-up right away. Thousands around the world have done just that and it has changed their musical lives for the better. We can't help but think that if the spirit of Epi Stathopoulo could inhabit any mortal, who better would he choose than the Doctor?

But in all seriousness (if only for a moment), Dr. Epiphone is one-of-a-kind. No other instrument company in the world could ask for a more enthusiastic and tireless (but not necessarily rested) spokesperson to spread the word that a great instrument can sometimes be your one true friend. Something is happening and this Mr. Jones does know what it is. Epiphone.com caught up with the Doctor between planes, trains, and automobiles.

Thanks for sitting down with us Dr. Epiphone. Let's start with the basics. Just who is Dr. Epiphone and why/how was he invented?

Hey, thanks for asking me! Well, my name is Will Jones and I've worked for Epiphone during most of its remarkable modern renaissance. I won my first Epiphone on a game show and at a young age, opened a very small music store here in Nashville that was part of the famous Ernest Tubb Record Shop chain. (E.T. also played Epiphone!) Concurrently, I had my own alt-country-rock-comedy band that toured around the region in which I played my Epiphone and then eventually, a regional cable music/sketch comedy TV show that ran for several years until I decided to stop the abuse.

Will Jones: the Epiphone InterviewEverybody that thinks they are going to make a living at music needs a good day gig and I was recruited to come to work at Epiphone in the sales department. I enjoyed working with Epiphone dealers and over time developed an encyclopedic memory of the line. Our current Director or Operations, Scott Aisenbrey, created a new position for me as product specialist and sent me out around the U.S. to educate Epiphone dealers about the amazing value of Epiphone products.

Jim Rosenberg, the President of Epiphone and the first Dr. Epiphone, developed a "Dr. Epiphone" curriculum for me to use as a guide. I already had a lab coat left over from a zany Epidemics info-propaganda-rock-parody act that Jim, Scott and myself performed at NAMM shows back in the day. Because most of my first store training appointments were early in the day, before the music stores would open, this presented a challenge in that most guys working there had gigged the night before and were not exactly bright-eyed and ready to learn about anything. So to get a few laughs and keep their attention, I would put on my lab coat and crack a few jokes and I became Dr. Epiphone.

This concept was somehow greatly successful and eventually, I had a small team of guys working with me traveling around, doing the same. But no one else would wear a lab coat for some reason. Dignity perhaps. In 2004, I was invited to Japan where the folks over there loved the Dr. Epiphone shtick, and I became formally known as Dr. Epiphone. We morphed my routine into a consumer-friendly clinic, blending product education with humor, music and spontaneity where hopefully, people have fun and accidentally learn a few things about Epiphone and guitars.

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. Sometimes I speak to groups of retail employees that visit our facility here in Nashville and the next day I may board a plane and perform public events in Tokyo, Toronto, Torino or Toulouse. At other times, I may represent Epiphone at various trade shows, such as Musik Messe in Frankfurt, NAMM in Anaheim, CES in Las Vegas or public events such as Brisbane Guitar Show in Australia, Music Moscow, and countless others. I go wherever they want me!

Unlike some brand's traditional clinicians, we don't try to impress folks with how many notes we can play in a second or rant about our own career; instead, we try to provide a fun, relaxed experience imparting our passion to whoever is listening. It's my job to represent everyone at Epiphone who go above and beyond on a daily basis to keep us the best in the world at what we do and help make more satisfied Epiphone instrument owners. Yes, this sounds like a commercial, but we mean every word. I'm honored to have the only job I know of like it in the world. If only because there is no other company - no group of passionate people - like Epiphone in the world.

What has the reaction been to Dr. Epiphone around the world? I'm sure there are some retailers who look forward to your visits and some that are seeing you for the first time.

(Laughing) Over the years, 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. Sometimes we explain things a bit at the beginning of an event, but then, sometimes words just aren't enough. As long as people learn something and had fun, I'm happy. I'm happier still when someone buys their first guitar, an Epiphone, at our event and wants to snap a photo with me. It's one of the most important days of their lives and I'm honored to share it with them!

How has Dr. Epiphone's role and duties developed over the last decade during Epiphone's unprecedented growth?

My Dr. Epiphone act, if you will, has indeed evolved over they years, just as our brand has on all fronts - quality, features, and variety. Every time I do a session, it's a little bit different, a little bit better, just like any artist's effort. But I have other various behind-the-scenes duties as a regular team member of our talented marketing department here at Epiphone. I occasionally produce various video pieces and sometimes perform emcee duties at Gibson events as well. This year, I was charged with designing and fitting-out Epiphone's new state-of-the-art showroom and training hall.

Will Jones: the Epiphone InterviewHas Dr. Epiphone had to overcome resistance? Buying a guitar is such a personal choice and here comes a man in a lab coat with a very persuasive pitch!

Yes, I have! I've talked to a lot of people all over the world. But I could never have done what I have if we didn't have the absolute best guitars in the world for the money and at any price. (Seems to be somewhat redundant - for the money and at any price? I like at any price.) Well, actually many brands have mascots these days, from restaurants, to insurance companies, so people identify with that. But the difference with Dr. Epiphone is that I'm not some random actor Epiphone hired. I work here. In fact, most people here at Epiphone play guitar, have played or still play in successful bands or are musically inclined. I doubt Ronald McDonald has ever worked the drive-thru or those Clydesdales can tell you how many calories their products contain. Music is about enjoyment, so I've found that most music lovers and musicians are fun people. Even if they don't speak English, people still smile and laugh and pick up an Epiphone and give it a strum. Music is, after all, the universal language.

Tell us what a typical day is like for Dr. Epiphone.

There is no typical day for Dr. Epiphone. Honestly, one day I'm in Houston talking about our Masterbilts at Fuller's Guitars and the next I'm in a huge airport in some other part of the world wondering which one little item that I always seem to forget to pack is.

I would imagine part of your job is not just about putting on a show but also getting into the nitty gritty of stocking, delivering, and receiving ideas. What do you hear from dealers about our instruments and the industry in general?

As Richard Akers of R&D attested in his interview, ideas come from everywhere, and I do receive great feedback when in the field that I'm happy to pass on to our team in Nashville. Sometimes dealers and customers get us thinking about a particular thing that we find a way to make better. Epiphone has for most of its history contributed to the development of the industry as a whole and is doing so right now. Few brands can really claim that.

How much do you travel over the course of a year?

Each year is a little different due to various factors, but my record year was 2010 when I went to 27 different countries, (5 repeat countries), and 3 states. There were only 2 months of that year I did not travel.

This year I will visit at least one foreign country every month and usually one other U.S. city or state. I usually have "handlers" of some sort, whether area reps for our company or from our distributors around the world. Occasionally, our own James Kim will travel with me and take care of the business side of things for me while I do my thing for the store staff and customers. I can get around on my own fairly well, but it's nice to have help, especially when I not only have to contend with a different language but also when people are driving on different sides of the road.

A few years ago, I suddenly started understanding other languages, first by reading and then by listening and speaking some. This weird little knack is especially handy for reading signs in airports, and menus. Let me tell you, being able to read a menu in more than a dozen languages is very beneficial. Had I known that I'd been traveling this much later in life, I would have actually studied foreign languages when I was younger and had way more free time. So study up, kids! You never know!

Will Jones: the Epiphone InterviewSo you must enjoy traveling...

I enjoy being in different places and having and making new friends all over the world-- and making a difference in people's lives. It can be absolutely exhausting and going back and forth over the international dateline six times in a month is brutal. When you are on the other side of the planet, you are away from your friends and family, your entire personal life. Several other folks here at Epiphone also make the sacrifice like Marty and even the big guy, Dave Berryman, making regular trips to our factories, suppliers and distributors to ensure things are running smoothly. That said, Epiphone is a global brand, with fans all over the world, and we wouldn’t--and couldn't--impact the world as well if we didn't go there.

Where do you think Dr. Epiphone has made the most impact?

Since my Dr. Epiphone activities are geared more towards in-person events, clinics and appearances, I would think that our greatest impact has been with the people around the world with whom I have the privilege of making personal contact. I love helping people figure out what their first guitar will be or to actually want to get a guitar and learn to play it. That can be a huge day in someone's life. And to impart the need to start on a quality instrument that will assist you in learning and encourage you instead of cheap or inferior instruments that make things much more difficult, if not impossible. After all, you don't run a marathon in flip-flops.

When did you begin to feel that Epiphone's message of quality was really starting to break through?

In the last few years, it has become evident that not necessarily our message of quality has become more prominent, but that our reputation for quality has proliferated. Yes, there are still a lot of people out there that don't know how awesome Epiphone is these days and so as long as there are, yours truly will be coming to see them.

If you do see my presentation, you will hear us talk about the legendary Les Paul and how he built the first solid-body electric guitar at Epiphone New York factory with our parts in 1941. In my 2003 Epiphone interview with him, Les told me that he "swears by Epiphone" guitars. Today, more and more people consider Epiphone a premium brand.

Where is Epiphone headed next?

Always getting better and giving our customers the best artistic tools possible.

That's something we've been doing for 140 years, and we're rockin' now more than ever. For instance, Kent Allen, our creative director, somehow manages to come out with an even better Epiphone catalog every year, full of Don Mitchell's gorgeous photography. This year's Epiphone catalog is sublime. In a web-centric world, our printed catalog is in more demand than ever, jam-packed full of yummy Epiphone eye-candy and info.

Is there a particular incident that stands out for you where Dr. Epiphone made a difference for a customer or a dealer?

There have been many over the years. I've seen music stores become more successful and more useful to their communities by throwing inferior products out the door and offering more Epiphone to their customers. There are some really bad guitars out in the world that can only do harm and waste your money. We're happy to help folks steer clear and find the best instrument they can buy for their hard-earned dollars, yen, pounds, euros, rubles, crowns, zloty, and pesos.

One very gratifying thing that's developed in the last year or so is when I have the occasion to teach an absolute beginner at one of my events how to play guitar. I half-jokingly refer to myself as an "expert beginner," and as my karate sensei teaches, you must always consider yourself a student at everything. No one is really ever an expert. I greatly enjoy getting someone over the mental hurdles and helping them learn their first chords and then to see their faces light up when they realize that they can do it!

It's possible to take someone from knowing nothing about guitar to playing 3 chords and playing songs and making music in about 20-30 minutes. It can be a life-changing encounter, and who knows, maybe that person will be a music legend someday. This has got to be the coolest thing I've been a part of lately.