Stringband jam at the House of Stathopoulo
Long before Bill Monroe left his family home in Kentucky to seek his fortune in Chicago and even before future banjo great Earl Scruggs was born, Epi Stathopoulo had a vision that the House of Stathopoulo, the company he had taken over after the death of his father in 1915, would one day become the great instrument maker for both professionals and regular folks. Epi succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. And today, Epiphone is still the home for classic instruments used in everyday dances, jam sessions, and cutting contests. Any time folks get together to play, the House of Stathopoulo has an instrument for any situation.
In 1919 when Epi first filed for a patent for a banjo tone-ring, there was no such thing as "country music." Anything "country" was known collectively as folk music. In the 20s, thanks to surprise runaway hits by Mamie Smith, Fiddlin' John Carson, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family, record companies realized that rural audiences moving north to find work craved the sounds of home they left behind--and nothing says "home" to Americans like the sound of mandolins, banjos, Dobros®, and acoustic guitars. Though now we call it Bluegrass, "folk" music was in the air when Epi Stathopoulo took over his father's business in the early 20s. And thanks to Epi's keen eye and ear, Epiphone's first line of banjos, mandolins, and Masterbilt guitars (as well as the Dobro®) would prove to be a huge influence in popular music. And today, Epiphone continues that tradition of innovation with the Epiphone Bluegrass line of instruments.
The music business has changed a lot on the outside since the 20s but the fundamentals are still the same. Epiphone Bluegrass instruments go straight to the heart of musicians and music lovers alike as evidenced by the success of Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers, and Pokey LaFarge, not to mention the classic Dobro® sound which GRAMMY winner Gary Clark Jr. takes with him everywhere. When fans see an Epiphone banjo, a Dobro®, a mandolin, and a Masterbilt guitar on stage, there is cause for instant celebration. At Epiphone, we've been in the pickin' business for nearly a century.
In 2014, we're featuring some of our favorite Epiphone Bluegrass instruments that belong in every musician's collection.
Epiphone MB-200 Banjo The Epiphone MB-200 Banjo can probably claim the distinction as being the oldest instrument in the Epiphone line. Featuring a classic shaped mahogany neck and body with an industry standard Remo™ head, the 26.25" scale neck has traditional pearloid inlay and the MB-200 projects the full, classic cutting tone that Epiphone banjos are known for.
And the MB-200 Banjo isn't just for stringband music. Before archtop and flattop guitars took over rhythm sections, banjos were heard from the back of jazz bands keeping the groove and were prominent on classic recordings such as Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven for Columbia and Duke Ellington's earliest cuts for Okeh (including "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" which Steely Dan covered in the 70s with Epiphone's Skunk Baxter on pedal steel). Banjos were a major part of the Epiphone story and for a time, Epiphone was known as the Epiphone Banjo Co.
MM-30S Mandolin The MM-30S was thought of as a radical new design of the mandolin in the early 20th century. But for Epi Stathopoulo, "radical" and "new" was exactly the direction that he wanted to take the family business. Epiphone's MM-30S "A"-style mandolin is renown for its sweet, balanced tone. Easy to play, the MM-30S is not as "sharp" or "aggressive" as some bluegrass mandolins and is a perfect compliment to singers and for rhythm. Much like a great acoustic guitar, the MM-30S has a full range--ringing highs and rounded lows--that make it ideal for "going natural" on stage and using just a mic for amplification.
MM-50E Professional Electric Mandolin The MM-50E is Epiphone's tribute to Lloyd Loar's breakthrough mandolin design--the "F5" style--he created while working at the Gibson (and future Epiphone!) factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And just as Loar's original the MM-50E has a full, aggressive tone that can put your melody lines and driving rhythm way up front. In many ways, the MM-50E "F" style Professional Electric Mandolin is the exact direction that Loar was headed for when he left Gibson to pursue amplification of string instruments in 1924. It's a pity Loar didn't set up shop at Epiphone!
In fact, Loar incorporated a pickup into the pickguard of his own 1922 F-5 mandolin and the MM-50E--though an original design to Epiphone--certainly has some of Loar's pioneering spirit with the unique Shadow electronics system which puts all the electronics inside the pickguard, allowing you complete control of your electric tone without adversely affecting the F-style mandolin's acoustic tone.
The MM-50E's "Quad" NanoMag™ pickup made by Shadow Germany, is a unique low impedance humbucker pickup designed in collaboration with Epiphone luthiers. The pickup is equipped with samarium-cobalt magnets that capture true acoustic tone with a wide range of harmonics. Under each string pair is a separate "coil" that only picks up the sound of that string pair, with crosstalk separation of >85dB! Each of the 4 output levels is controlled by 4 trimpots discretely accessible from the top of the pickguard via a mini flathead screwdriver. Once set to your desired levels, typically you would never need to adjust the levels again.
This allows the mandolin to respond and sound just like an acoustic mandolin should. The pickguard features separate rotary master volume, treble, and bass controls as well as an easy-access battery compartment for the light-weight, long lasting 2032 watch-style lithium battery.
For added versatility the NanoMag™ can slide back towards the bridge for a brighter tone or forward towards the neck for a warmer tone and anywhere in-between, allowing you to position the pickup for the optimum location for your picking style and stage sound.
Dobro® Hound Dog Round Neck and the Dobro Hound Dog Deluxe Round Neck The Dobro® resonator guitar has been an American classic since its arrival in the early 1920's. The wood resonator or resophonic style guitar became a national phenomenon thanks to Dobro® pioneer Bashful Brother Oswald, who became the instrument's virtual ambassador, performing with it weekly on the Grand Ole Opry for over 60 years backing up the Opry's first major star, Roy Acuff.
Today, the resonator guitar is still an iconic instrument for bluegrass and traditional American music styles and in the hands of Gary Clark Jr., one of the decades most exciting and innovative recording artists, the Epiphone Dobro® Hound Dog Round Neck is turning on a whole new generation to the possibilities of the resophonic sound.
The Dobro® Hound Dog Round Neck has a maple body and top with a mahogany neck, a 25" scale, a spider bridge with an ebony capped maple bass, a classic Dobro® cone, and Grover® machine heads.
The Dobro® Hound Dog Deluxe Round Neck features a Laminated Flame maple top and body with Black Binding, a Mahogany neck, and a Fishman Resonator pickup.
Masterbilt DR-500MCE Thanks in large part to Lloyd Loar and Epi Stathopoulo, the guitar soared in popularity in the 20s and has since become the quintessential American instrument. The original Masterbilt line was (and still is) Epiphone's pride and joy, employing not only the best design ideas of its time but the priceless advice of New York City based musicians like Lee Blair from Louis Armstrong's band and George Van Epps, who both gave Epi advice on how to combine the cutting power of an archtop with the smooth balanced projection of a flattop guitar.
First released in June 1931, the original Epiphone Masterbilts made a big impression on musicians from all styles of music and Epiphone's modern Masterbilts have done the same. The original Epiphone Masterbilt catalog made the promise: "The possessor of an EPIPHONE instrument has the assurance that every possible precaution has been taken to build instruments for lifetime performance and pleasure" and new Masterbilts carry on that same promise.
The classic lineup for most folk and bluegrass groups now always feature an acoustic guitar like the Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500MCE that can project a band--and its lead singer--way up front while keeping the groove nimble with powerful low string runs.
The DR-500MCE features a solid Sitka Spruce top, hand-scalloped Sitka Spruce braces, and mahogany kerfing along with a rosewood bridge and bone saddle. One of the great attributes of a Sitka Spruce top is that it gets better with age--and playing time! The DR-500MCE's modern cutaway is a nod to the 2nd generation of guitar wizards like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, and David Grier who have brought a dazzling new vocabulary to Bluegrass and folk music.
The DR-500MCE also features solid mahogany back and sides, which adds to the guitar's legendary tone as well as a hand-shaped solid mahogany neck. The 25.5" scale mahogany neck joins the body at the 14th fret and is adorned with carefully cut "split-diamond" pearl fretboard inlays. The historic "off-set" headstock has a "stickpin" headstock inlay along with a 1.68" bone nut. Players looking for vintage tone and vibe will appreciate the handcrafted dovetail neck joint and hide-glue construction as seen in all classic '30s era acoustic guitars.
While the DR-500MCE sounds great "unplugged," it really comes alive when plugged-in, thanks to the new eSonic2™ preamp system. Made in cooperation with Shadow Germany, the new eSonic2™ preamp features a built-in, easy-to-use tuner. When engaged, the guitar's output is automatically muted with no "popping" noise, making it a perfect choice for stage use. You can even push in the "tuner" button and unplug the guitar without a loud "pop." Other controls on this state-of-the-art preamp include Master Volume, NanoFlex™ Tone, NanoMag™ Tone, stereo blend, low battery indicator and a phase switch to help eliminate unwanted feedback. The preamp uses two 2032 lithium watch batteries that are not only lightweight, but provide significantly longer life than old-fashioned, heavy 9V batteries.
Under the bone saddle is Shadow's proprietary NanoFlex™ low-impedance pickup. Rather than the harsh piezo sound like you'd find on budget models, the NanoFlex™ uses unique flexible sensing material featuring integrated active electronics that not only can pick up string vibrations but also top and body vibrations as well for a truly acoustic tone not possible with piezo pickups. Complimenting the NanoFlex™ is the revolutionary NanoMag™ pickup mounted at the end of the fingerboard. Exclusively from Shadow, the NanoMag™ features 3 Samarian-Cobalt magnets and an integrated active circuit to capture all the highs and lows, including a wide range of harmonics. With your choice of either 1/4" mono output blending both pickups or 1/4" stereo output splitting the two pickups, you have incredible flexibility and opportunities to create the perfect acoustic tone live.
The Epiphone Bluegrass Series used to be one of the kept secrets in the world of guitar but with the recent revival in stringband blues, folk, country, and bluegrass, the secret is out. Epiphone pre-dates bluegrass music and has been on the cutting edge of building superb string band instruments with amplification--even before Les Paul! Sunny days are never far away with the Bluegrass Collection. See your favorite Authorized Epiphone Dealer today to check out the Epiphone MB-200 banjo, the MM-30S and MM-50E mandolin, the Dobro® Hound Dog Round Neck and the Masterbilt DR500MCE.