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|Headquarters||Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America|
|Parent||Gibson Guitar Corporation|
The Epiphone Company is a musical instrument manufacturer founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos. Epiphone was Gibson's main rival in the archtop market. Their professional archtops, including the Emperor, Deluxe, Broadway and Triumph, rivaled (and some contend surpassed) those of Gibson. Aside from their guitars, Epiphone also made upright basses, banjos, and other stringed instruments. However, the company's weakness in the aftermath of World War II allowed Gibson to absorb it.
The name "Epiphone" is a combination of proprietor Epaminondas Stathopoulos' nickname "Epi" and "phone" (from Greek phon-, "sound"/"voice").
Epiphone started in 1873, in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire (now İzmir, Turkey), where Greek founder Anastasios Stathopoulos made his own fiddles and lutes (oud, laouto). Stathopoulos moved to the United States of America in 1903, and continued to make his original instruments, as well as mandolins, from Long Island City in Queens, New York. Anastasios died in 1915, and his son, Epaminondas, took over. After two years, the company was known as The House Of Stathopoulos. Just after the end of World War I, the company started to make banjos. The company produced its Recording Line of Banjos in 1924, and, four years later, took on the name of the "Epiphone Banjo Company". They produced their first guitars in 1928. Epi Stathopoulos died in 1943. Control of the company went to his brothers, Orphie and Frixo. In 1951, a four-month-long strike forced a relocation of Epiphone from New York to Philadelphia. The company was bought out by their main rival, Gibson, in 1957.
Epiphone instruments made between 1957 and 1969 were made in the Gibson factory at 225 Parsons Street and on Elenor Street. Only solid guitars with flat tops and backs were made at the Elenor Street plant (both Gibson and Epiphone) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. These Epiphone instruments were effectively identical to the relevant Gibson versions, made with same timber, materials and components, and by the same people as the contemporary equivalent Gibson guitars. They shared the Gibson serial-number sequence.
Some specific examples of Gibson-made Epiphone instruments from this period includes the Epiphone Sheraton (co-developed with the Gibson ES-335 & sharing its semi-hollow body, but with, Epiphone's pre-Gibson "Frequensator" tailpiece and "New York" mini-humbucker pick-ups, and significantly fancier inlays) and Sheraton II (replacing the Frequensator with Gibson's "stop-bar" tailpiece), the Epiphone Casino (similar to the Gibson ES-330), the Epiphone Cortez (similar to the Gibson B-25), the Epiphone Olympic Special (similar to the Gibson Melody Maker), the Epiphone Sorrento (similar to the Gibson ES-125TC, except for a few cosmetic changes), and the Epiphone Texan (similar to the Gibson J-45, apart from a change in scale-length). The other Kalamazoo-made Epiphones had technical or cosmetic relationship with the similar Gibson version.
In the early 1970s, Epiphone began to manufacture instruments at the Matsumoku plant in Japan with the production and distribution being managed by Aria in cooperation with Gibson. At this time Epiphone ceased production of all of its traditional designs and began manufacturing markedly less expensive guitars, many of which had less traditional bolt-on style necks and unspecified wood types. Some of these guitars had similar body shapes to traditional Epiphone and Gibson designs but had different names while other models retained certain model designations, such as the FT (Flat Top) guitars. Construction of these guitars differed greatly from past Epiphone models. For the first several years of production in Japan, Epiphone guitars were actually rebranded designs already produced by the Matsumoku Company.
By 1975 the Japanese market started seeing some of the more familiar designs and names being reintroduced. These guitars were of higher quality than that of the previous years of production in Japan and included models such as the Wilshire, Emperor, Riviera and Newport bass. These models were available to the Japanese market only. By 1976 new designs of higher quality were being introduced for export but did not include the current Japanese market models. Notable new designs from this era were the Monticello (Scroll Guitar), the Presentation (PR) and Nova series flat tops and the Genesis solid body guitar. By 1980 most Japanese-only designs were available for worldwide distribution. The Matsumoku-made archtops, such as the Emperor, Riviera, Sheraton and Casino, were available into the mid-1980s.
From the 1980s, Epiphones were manufactured mainly in Korea but also in Japan by contractors licensed by Gibson. One of these contractors was Samick, which also built instruments under license for other brands and in its own name. The brand was primarily used to issue less expensive versions of classic Gibson models.
These guitars were constructed using different woods (usually Nyatoh, for example, instead of Mahogany), were fastened with epoxies rather than wood-glues, and were finished in hard, quick-to-apply polyester resin rather than the traditional nitro-cellulose lacquer used by Gibson. These particular budget considerations, along with others such as plastic nuts and cheaper hardware and pickups, allow for a more affordable instrument.
Samick has stopped[when?] manufacturing guitars in Korea. In 2002, Gibson opened a factory in Qingdao, China, which manufactures Epiphone guitars. With few exceptions, Epiphones are now built only in the Qingdao factory.
Unique Epiphone models, including the Emperor, Zephyr, Riviera and Sheraton. In 2004 Epiphone introduced a series of acoustic guitars named Masterbilt after a line of guitars of the 1930s. Today's Masterbilt guitars are manufactured in Qingdao, China.
Imperial Series and Elitist
During the early 1990s Epiphone released a series called the Imperial Series. These were remakes of the classic Epiphone archtops of the 1930s and '40s. Each instrument was handmade in the Fujigen Workshop in Japan. This short-lived series was discontinued in 1993, after only 42 Emperors were made. Several other models, including De Luxe, Broadway and Triumph models, were also produced in varying quantities.
Production was moved back to Nashville and Bozeman for a similar limited run of instruments (250 each of Sheratons, Rivieras, Frontiers, Excellentes and Texans). These guitars were the "Nashville USA Collection" (archtops) and the "Anniversary Series" (acoustics). Contrary to popular information, this line was related to, but not part of the 1994 Gibson Centennial Series commemorating 100 years of the Gibson Guitar Corporation. The Nashville and Anniversary Collections were intended as reintroductions of original, USA built Epiphone models.
In 2002, Epiphone began producing a range of higher quality instruments under the "Elitist Series" moniker which were built at the Terada and Fuji-Gen workshops in Japan. As of 2008, all of the Elitist models have been discontinued with the exception of the Elitist Casino and the Dwight Trash Casino. The Epiphone Elitist guitars included features such as higher grade woods, bone nuts, hand-rubbed finishes, "Made in the USA" pickups and USA strings. Japanese Domestic Market Elitists used the Gibson Dove-wing headstock as opposed to the "tombstone" headstock used on exports.
Several Epiphone guitars have been produced in the United States since 1971. The Epiphone Spirit and Special were produced in the early 1980s in Kalamazoo. In 1993, three historic Epiphone acoustic guitars, the Texan, Frontier, and Excellente, were produced by Gibson Acoustic in Montana. The Paul McCartney Texan was produced in 2005, and in 2009, the Epiphone Historic Collection was created, beginning with the 1962 Wilshire, built by Gibson Custom. Several other models, such as the Sheraton and John Lennon Casinos, were built in Japan and assembled and finished by Gibson USA.
Serial numbers and factory codes
Current Epiphone serial numbers give the following information:
- I = Saein
- U = Unsung
- S = Samick
- P or R = Peerless
- K = Korea
- MR = Korea
- DW = DaeWon
- EA = Gibson/QingDao
- EE = Gibson/QingDao
- MC = Muse
- SJ = SaeJung
- Z = Zaozhuang Saehan
- BW = China
- No letter or F = FujiGen
- J or T = Terada
- B = Bohêmia Musico-Delicia
- SI = Samick Indonesia
Example: SI09034853 SI = Samick Indonesia, 09 = 2009, 03 = March, 4853 = manufacturing number.
- YY year
- MM month
- FF factory-code
- 12345 production#
- FACTORY NUMBER CODES—for some models starting in 2008, if serial # begins w/numbers
- [NOTE: The factories identified by these codes are based on patterns that forum members have observed. The numbers appear as the 5th and sixth digits in the serial number.]
- 11 = MIC sticker on a '08 Masterbuilt
- 12 = DeaWon or Unsung (China—uncertainty remains as to which factory)
- 15 = Qingdao (China) -- electric
- 16 = Qingdao (China) -- acoustic
- 17 = China - factory unknown MIC sticker on a J160E
- 18 = China - factory unknown found on one 2009 model bass
- 20 = DaeWon or Unsung (China—uncertainty remains as to which factory)
- 21 = Unsung, Korea
- 22 = ??? Korea (factory still unknown)
- 23 = ??? Indonesia (factory still unknown, probably Samick,)
- I = Indonesia (this letter has appeared as the 5th digit on two authentic new models made in Indonesia
Epiphone is now a subsidiary of Gibson. Because of this subsidiary relationship, many of the instruments look the same as the more expensive Gibson versions. However Epiphone still maintains its own line of archtop guitars.
Epiphone also manufactures its own line of amplifiers.
Epiphone first started producing amplifiers in 1935 with the Electar Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar Outfit. This outfit was an amplifier, case and lap steel guitar stand all rolled into one unit and was supplied by a suitcase manufacturer of the time.
Gibson produced Epiphone amplifiers in the 1960s. These were basically copies or variations of Gibson and Fender amplifiers. They used a tube design, and some had reverb and tremolo. Gibson decided to launch a new line of Epiphone amplifiers in 2005 with many different models, including the So Cal, Blues Custom, and the Epiphone Valve Junior. The Valve Hot Rod and Valve Senior were released in 2009. The Valve Hot Rod is a 5 watt amp like the Valve Junior, but has a gain and reverb control. The Valve Senior offers 20 watts of power, with a full equalizer, gain, volume, reverb, and presence control.
As of 2012, Epiphone has ceased production of their line of amplifiers with the exception of the Player and Performance Pack practice amplifiers, available only in Epiphone's starter packages. These Amplifiers are under the Epiphone Electar moniker.
As of January, 2013 Epiphone currently makes the following guitars:
- B.B. King Lucille
- Dove / PRO
- EJ-200 Artist / 200CE (J-200)
- EL-00 / PRO (L-00)
- ES-335 PRO
- ES-339 / ES-339 PRO / ULTRA-339
- Explorer - 1984 EX / 1958 Goth
- Firebird TV-Silver
- Flying-V - '58 Korina
- Flying-V - Jeff Waters Anihillation-V
- Flying-V - Robb Flynn Love/Death Baritone
- Hummingbird / PRO / Artist
- John Lennon EJ-160E
- Les Paul
- Les Paul-100
- Les Paul 1956 Goldtop
- Ace Frehley Budokan Les Paul
- Joe Bonamassa Goldtop
- Les Paul Black Beauty 3
- Les Paul Custom PRO / Blackback
- Les Paul Junior
- Les Paul Prophecy EX & GX
- Les Paul Special II
- Les Paul Special Bass
- Les Paul Standard / Royale / PRO
- Les Paul Studio / Goth
- Les Paul Tribute
- Les Paul Traditional PRO
- Les Paul Ultra III / PRO
- Les Paul Ukulele
- Tak Matsumoto DC Standard & Custom Plus
- Zakk Wylde Custom Plus Bullseye
- Nighthawk Custom
- Nikki Sixx Blackbird
- Thunderbird-IV / Goth / PRO-IV / Classic-IV PRO
- Tom DeLonge ES-333
- AJ-100 / 100CE
- AJ-220S / 220SCE
- Allen Woody Rumblekat
- Casino / 1961 50th Anniversary / Elitist / Insp. by John Lennon
- Dobro Houndog Roundneck & Squareneck Resonator Guitar
- Dobro Houndog Deluxe Roundneck & Squareneck Resonator Guitar
- Dot / Dot Studio
- DR-100 & 212
- Dwight Trash Casino
- Emperor Swingster / Royale / Black Royale
- Graveyard Disciple
- Inspired by 1964 Texan
- Jack Casady Signature Bass
- Joe Pass Emperor II
- Masterbilt DR-500MCE
- Masterbilt EF-500RCCE
- MB-100 & 200 Banjo
- MM-20 / 30S / 50E Professional Mandolin
- Riviera Custom P93
- Sheraton II
- SST Classic
- Tobias "Toby" Deluxe IV & V
- Tobias "Toby" Standard
- Viola Bass
- Wildkat / Royale
- Wilshire PRO / 1966 Worn / Phantomatic
Players of Epiphone
- Ingram, Adrian. The Gibson L5: Its History and Its Players. Anaheim, CA: Centerstream Pub., 1997. Print.
- "Epiphone: A History - Hard Times". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "Epiphone: A History - Epi". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "Epiphone: A History". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "Epiphone: A History - Epiphone and Gibson". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "Epiphone: A History - A New Beginning". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- 1971 & 1974 Epiphone Catalogs
- 1974 & 1976 Epiphone catalogs
- "History". Epiphone.com. 1909-03-25. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
- 1977 Epiphone Japan catalog
- "Epiphone: A History - Epiphone in Korea". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "A-Chat-With-Epiphone-President-Jim-Rosenberg". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
- "Epiphone Masterbilt Series" (PDF). Epiphone. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- "Epiphone: A History - Taking On The World". Epiphone.com.
- "Epiphone Elitist". .epiphone.com. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
- 2002 Epiphone Japan Elite/Elitist catalog
- "Serial Number Search". Gibson. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- 1935 Electar Hawaiian Guitar
- "Epiphone Introduces Three New Electric Packs!". Epiphone.com. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
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