The story of the Epiphone Texan (or FT79 as it was first known) follows a long and winding road that begins in 1942 and passes through honky tonk country, the folk revival, the British Invasion, 70s rock, New Wave, Grunge, Britpop, and Americana. Considering the many other fine acoustic instruments that share the Texan's timeline, it could have easily wound up as a curiosity among collectors like so many other guitars from the pre-rock era. And at various times, both the Epiphone and Gibson company dismantled, abused, and stopped production of the Texan (even while The Beatles--the Texan's most famous admirers--were still together, no less).
But even before Paul McCartney debuted "Yesterday" on American television playing an Epiphone Texan, it was already an acoustic guitar with a high profile thanks to the folk music revival. John Herald of the Greenbriar Boys and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band performed with Texans at Hootenanny's and club dates in New York City and Boston (and often on locally produced televised music shows). Country's honky tonk queen Connie Smith was an early Epiphone Texan fan. Paul McCartney put the Texan on the map for good with his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965 and at the Beatles televised appearance on the UK's Blackpool Night Out, probably one of the best live performance clips of The Beatles from the Help! era.
Over the years, the Texan's many famous owners including Mr. McCartney, Peter Frampton, Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, Paul Weller, and Noel Gallagher of Oasis--to name a few--have stuck with their Texans even after success allowed them the opportunity to purchase more expensive, limited run instruments. Earnie Bailey, Nirvana's guitar tech, said Kurt Cobain's 1961 Texan was Cobain's favorite acoustic guitar. "I would choose to lump Kurt into a category with artists like George Harrison, in that he was not a flashy guitarist," Bailey told Nirvana Club. "His guitars were essentially workhorses that fit his needs." And a workhorse is a good way to describe the Texan. Its famed owners insist that their vintage Texans rival or beat guitars made by Gibson, Martin, and Guild from the same era. For many artists, a Texan was their first great professional guitar. And, it's not something you see every day. To own a Texan is to have a badge of originality. If you play a Texan, well then---you're in a very exclusive club.
Epi's Last Guitar
The first production of what we now call a Texan was in early 1942 with a model called the FT79. The 16" wide acoustic had more or less the form of the popular Gibson J-45. The FT79 was likely on the drawing board at Epiphone's NYC production office in 1941. After the United States' entry into WWII in December, 1941, most instrument production shut down which meant that the launch of the FT79 was a quiet affair at best. The FT79 had walnut back and sides with triple binding on the top and a single bound back. The rosewood fingerboard had slotted block inlays and the now classic Epiphone "stickpin" headstock.
An interesting footnote to the first FT79 is that there is a good chance it was the among the last--if not the last--Epiphone acoustic instruments designed under the guidance of founder Epi Stathopoulo who died in 1943. (If the ghost of Epi wandered the halls of the Kalamazoo factory--the home of his once biggest rival--he would have surely enjoyed the fact that The Beatles are especially known for playing Casinos and a Texan.)
While most of Epiphone's post war production was centered on semi-electric archtops and acoustic basses, the FT79 did return to production in 1954, this time with maple back and sides and single parallelogram inlays.
The Texan continued to change--and survive--after Epiphone merged with Gibson in 1957. At the first NAMM show to feature new Epiphone instruments the following year, the "Texan" debuted with angled rectangle fingerboard inlays, mahogany back and sides, and plastic tuner buttons with a cursive Epiphone script. Though the Texan's shape did vary during the '50s, the J-45 profile eventually stuck. But there were notable differences between the Texan and its inspiration. The Texan had a 25.5" neck while the J-45 had a 24.75" neck which according to vintage owners, gave the Texan a unique timbre. The fingerboard switched back to parallelogram inlays in 1959/1960. The pickguard retained the original Epiphone shape with a classic silver 'E' on the guard. During this time the truss rod cover changed to an "arrowhead" shape (sometimes in white) before going to the more familiar black cover with a white E.
It's been suggested by some vintage repair techs that Gibson used a cache of left-over Epiphone necks for the rather limited number of Texans first produced at the Kalamazoo factory. Vintage Texan owners have noted online and at guitar shows that early Texan necks have different construction and finishing details compared to later models that more resemble typical Gibson acoustic necks. Whether that's an indication of the Kalamazoo factory using pre-Gibson Epiphone necks or that early Texan models were made by Epiphone workers who moved to Kalamazoo to keep some consistency to Epiphone construction methods might be lost to the ages.
An 'Outstanding Instrument' Takes Shape
In the 1960 catalog, the Texan ("an outstanding instrument") was available in both 'natural' finish and 'shaded finish' and was described as a "jumbo flat top guitar with a booming voice, fine response, and a fast action neck," with a 25-1/2" scale, 20 frets, and a 4-7/8" deep body. The Texan appeared with an adjustable saddle in the 1962 catalog.
Paul McCartney's Epiphone Texan was produced in 1964 and was virtually unchanged from those found in the 1962 catalog. According to Andy Babiuk's research for Beatles Gear, PM's Texan was purchased at the same time Macca purchased his Casino in London. The Beatles' bassist probably got a good deal off the retail price of £88.20 or $250 ($1,500 in today's currency).
Yesterday... and Today
Epiphone's Limited Edition Paul McCartney 1964 Texan was an exact recreation of Paul's original. Observant fans will note that though "Yesterday," the Beatles song most identified with the Texan, was in the key of F, McCartney tuned down a whole step so he could use "G" shape chords when performing. (If you listen closely to the early take of "Yesterday" on the Beatles Anthology, you can hear Paul tell George Harrison "It's in G, which is F for you." Perhaps there was some consideration in the studio that "Yesterday" should be recorded with two acoustic guitars.) McCartney was enthusiastic about the project and pointed out many of his Texan's player-friendly features when it was photographed and examined for the reissue release.
The "Yesterday" Texan featured a solid mahogany back and sides, a sitka spruce top, and a rosewood fingerboard. The neck has a tapered dovetail joint and an adjustable bridge saddle which by late 1962 was a feature on all production models. Macca's 1964 Texan was indicative of how Texans would be produced through the remainder of the Kalamazoo, Michigan factory's most revered period when the Epiphone and Gibson operation was overseen by Ted McCarty who contributed greatly to the original design of the solidbody Les Paul in 1952.
The Texan would get metal tuners and a slightly squared-up shoulder in the late '60s, as well as an ugly adjustable screw in the bridge before it was taken out of production when Epiphone moved out of the Kalamazoo factory at the end of the 1960s.
Naturally, McCartney's original Epiphone Texan was a worthy inspiration for the Inspired by 1964 Texan which (in combination with the Masterbilt line) put the spotlight back on Epiphone's long history of producing superb and affordable acoustic guitars when it was reissued in 2006. (And it wouldn't surprise us is if some very known artists now take their Inspired by 1964 Texans on the road and leave their vintage heirlooms at home.)
The Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan could arguably be the ultimate Texan and not just for its astonishing closeness to the McCartney original. 1964 was a terrific year for the Texan and for Epiphone in general when the company's Casinos, Sheratons, and Texans were seen as a professional and more affordable option for kids in a mad dash to follow the explosive revival of rock and roll in all its infinite varieties. Today, Texan owners get the advantage of Shadow's state-of-the-art Sonic™ preamp system with the revolutionary under-saddle NanoFlex™ low-impedance pickup, an amplification system that vintage owners could only dream about. But vintage owners stick by their originals, warts and all.
Patrick Simmons' recent interview with Guitar Word sums up how most Texan owners feel about their jumbo acoustic. "That guitar has been my companion forever. It is the guitar on 'Black Water'. I've played it on every album we've ever made. It's my buddy."
Inspired by Texan Specifications:
||Rosewood w/Pearloid Parallelogram Inlays
||Shadow NanoFlex™ Low-Impedance
||Shadow Sonic sound-hole Mounted System Controls, Master Volume, High EQ, Low EQ, Phase Switch, Low Battery Indicator
||Two #2032 Lithium Batteries (3V)
||Body: 5-Ply (W / B / W / B / W), Top and Back
||Rosewood, Reverse Belly
||Vintage-Style, 14:1 Ratio with Small Cream Buttons
||Epiphone Limited Lifetime
Inspired by Texan Photo Gallery:
The Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan could arguably be the ultimate Texan.
Solid Mahogany body with Solid Spruce Top.
Shadow NanoFlex™ Low-Impedance Bridge Pickup.
Shadow Sonic sound-hole Mounted System.
Vintage-Style Machine Heads, 14:1 Ratio with Small Cream Buttons.