Epiphone's Scott Harrison (left) and Richard Akers (right).
Epiphone's PRO-1 Collection draws on a century's worth of experience designing affordable professional acoustic and electric guitars--a tradition that began with the introduction of the Epiphone Masterbilt series in the early 1930s. Back then, the dreadnought acoustic guitar (not to mention an affordable classical guitar) were totally new concepts. And the electric guitar was such a specialized instrument, many manufacturers were not convinced it would ever catch on. Though manufacturing a guitar has become faster, more precise, and considerably refined, designing a guitar still takes a sharpened pencil, imagination, wood, glue, and some "I think this might work" mojo.
One might say the House of Stathopoulo was always fated to make the world's easiest playing guitar. And the arrival of the PRO-1 Collection’s acoustic and electric guitars finally makes learning guitar and owning guitar easy! Check out the Epiphone PRO-1 Collection site and you'll see that we've brought new thinking to every facet of the guitar. Epiphone.com spoke with Epiphone's R&D team of Richard Akers and Scott Harrison about designing the PRO-1 acoustic and electric guitars.
The PRO-1 was designed to be easy to play. And each of the PRO-1's features addresses a problem that guitarists have had in the past such as tough action, body size, re-stringing. Was designing an Easy-to-Play guitar an easy process?
Richard Akers: For us on the engineering side, we immediately saw that this could work. Some of the features required some unique thinking. Any of them on their own would have been a notable improvement on a guitar. But when you add them all up, you really have a story to tell. Every year, we've brought new innovations to our line of instruments--better hardware, better pickups, better machine heads. So the PRO-1 was a logical next step.
Scott Harrison: One aspect of this series that required a bit of extra thought was the development of the EZ-String™ Bridge. We went through several iterations of it before we settled on one that we felt accomplished our objectives of providing the consumer with easy maintenance and classic looks as well as reliability in production.
Were there engineering obstacles in making all of these new features work in a single guitar?
Richard Akers: The design of the PRO-1 collection was pretty straightforward. As engineers, naturally, we enjoyed discussing the various bracing options available for improving the PRO-1 guitars. We very quickly came up with a solution that accentuated the tone of the guitar without deviating uncomfortably far from our tradition, which was what we were trying to achieve. Our Custom PRO-Prietary™ Bracing is based on a traditional X brace but we opened it up a bit. The bracing around the sound hole uses taller bracing than what is typically used in an effort to unify the vibrating plane on the surface of the guitar. Steel string guitar designs have mostly settled into using x bracing. Classical guitar bracing tends to be more proprietary--every luthier has a variation on the theme. But most have some variation of fan bracing where the top's tone predominately comes from below the sound hole.
We also sealed the inside of the sound chamber with a thin coat of sanding sealer. The key is to keep this coat thin enough not to influence top vibrations but enough to seal the wood grain and inhibit changes in moisture content. The goal there is to prevent moisture from being absorbed or released from the wood. Typical acoustic guitars are very sensitive to changes in humidity. Any notable variation will cause bowing or dipping of the top along with many other less than desirable side effects. It'll play havoc on your action and if extreme can really damage your guitar. This thin internal sealer coat goes a long way to mitigate many issues caused by fluctuations of moisture in the environment.
Scott Harrison: We also stiffened the support around the sound hole, which is a good idea for any acoustic guitar as it helps the top vibrate more evenly. Unlike a classical guitar that uses fan bracing, on a dreadnaught the top is vibrating almost over its entire surface.
Richard Akers: The sound hole on a steel string guitar falls within the vibrating plane. So, the hole contributes in a significant way to the resonant vibrations of the top. We used slightly taller and stiffer bracing around the hole to create a more consistent and uniform vibrating plane. This also had a positive effect on sound projection.
So, it wasn't a case of taking a guitar and shrinking it down...
Scott Harrison: No (laughs), It was not that at all. The only shrinking down, so-to-speak, was the thinner body, which was an effort to make it more comfortable for the player. Our priority was always: how do we minimize any negative impact of the thinner body and maximize tone. As you make the body smaller, you tend to lose some bass response because you have less internal volume.
Richard Akers: You might say the air mass of the sound piston has been reduced when you have a smaller body. So when that changes, the frequency response and projection characteristics of the guitar also changes. To compensate, we tried to do things that would either extenuate or add some of these qualities back that we lost when making the body thinner. But as we said, overall, the changes made were subtle and the result is a guitar that has very nice projection. We wanted to stay in the realm where we had confidence in the tonal quality. We made some small tweaks that really helped the response of the instruments given their lower air mass.
Did you find it easier to design a PRO-1 electric as opposed to an acoustic?
Richard Akers: In general I think it’s typically easier to design a quality sounding electric guitar as opposed to a quality acoustic guitar. With acoustic guitars the tonal qualities of the instrument are almost entirely dependent on the construction and woods used. It is far less forgiving and requires careful consideration of numerous variables and how they interact. With that said producing a quality electric guitar also has a unique set of considerations and is not simplistic. Many of the same construction details must be considered with the addition of careful thought given to the pickups and electronics.
What is unique about the PRO-1’s isn’t any one specific advancement or insight. It’s the sum of the parts. The thing that makes the PRO-1s such great instruments for beginners is the additive effect of all of these great refinements. Any of which would be considered a cool feature on their own. But put together they add up to a fantastic, easy to play guitar for beginners and advanced players alike.
So you made the design and the factory sent back samples based on your design. How close were those first guitars to the final PRO-1 Collection?
Scott Harrison: They were already fine sounding guitars when we received our first samples. We were concerned that with the smaller body that we would have some tonal issues. But we were on the right track right away.
Richard Akers: It was immediately clear to us that these were real instruments. An important component to the strength of the tone, is the GraphTech™ NuBone™ XB saddle and nut. The XB stands for extended bass. This material accentuates the bass or low end of the instrument. The result is a full-body sound from a small guitar. Which was what we were trying to achieve.
Why use JumboPRO™ frets on an acoustic guitar? Those are typically seen on electric guitars.
Scott Harrison: One attribute they have is that they are easier to press cleanly so you can get a clear full note. You're right, jumbo frets are typically not on an acoustic guitar. They are used primarily on electric guitars to give them a bit more bite. It's easy to fret a PRO-1 guitar because of the jumbo frets. And you can get a nice, articulate note, which is what you want whether you're just learning or if you get a PRO-1 as your working acoustic guitar.
Does the new bridge design affect the tone of the guitar?
Scott Harrison: No, we didn't hear any effect on the tone. There, too, we went through several designs. Our point was to make it easy for people to use and also make a design that wears well over time. It's really easy to use--just thread it through the back and you're done. It's a nice design.
Richard Akers: We were able to get there pretty quick. We came up with something that we were very pleased with tonally and certainly for the price, you get an excellent guitar that sounds great, is built to last, and is also easy to use in every way possible. What separates a really good guitar from a merely decent one in both cases is in the details. Knowing what unique features were required to provide as comfortable of an instrument as possible for beginning guitarist was the key to making the PRO-1 series as successful as they have been. We put a lot thought and decades of experience into making these instruments, both the acoustics and electrics, as player friendly as possible.
You might also be interested in: