Who are Epiphone?
One of North America’s oldest and most renowned instrument makers, Epiphone are revered worldwide for their incredible selection of iconic guitar designs at prices that don’t pull hard at the purse strings. You’ll find the likes of the instantly recognisable Les Paul, kickass SG and Epi original Casino among their ranks – just to name a few.
Epiphone are an offshoot company of Gibson, who were the first to bring us these iconic creations. While Gibson cater to the high-end market, Epiphone are tasked with building production-line “Gibson-like” models to rival the very best. Most Epiphone instruments are assembled in their state-of-the-art Chinese factory opened in 2004. They're still making classic shapes such as the Emperor and Sheraton hollow bodies as well as the Texan and Frontier acoustics, of which you’ll only find in the Epiphone range.
Gibson vs Epiphone
Epiphone played an integral role in archtop and banjo guitar production from 1900-1940 but ran into financial trouble in the mid-20th century. This is where Gibson stepped in. They had just released the Les Paul electric guitar and dealer contracts were hotly contested. Gibson bought up the Epiphone brand and used their name to sell guitars of equally impressive construction standards to less proven retailers.
Since then, Epiphone have carved themselves a niche as working and touring guitars; affordable on a budget but trusted to produce great tone time and time again. Gibson don’t hide the fact they make the superior guitars, but Epiphone come very close. They often borrow Gibson construction techniques such as weight relief chambering and original pickup blueprints to make their guitars.
Popular Epiphone Artists
Epiphone guitars have been used by some of the biggest names in music for decades. Paul McCartney famously played an Epiphone Texan acoustic along with Peter Frampton in the sixties. The Beatles were also big fans of the stylish Casino and dedicated signature guitars have been made for John Lennon over the years. Going further back, folk artist Roy Orbison wielded an Epiphone 12-string to compose some of his most famous songs.
Over the past 20-or-so years, the likes of Chet Atkins, Noel Gallagher and Zakk Wylde have all used Epiphone – three musicians of completely different backgrounds displaying the diversity of Epiphone guitars. Current artists on the signature roster include Vivian Campbell, Joe Bonamassa, Dave Rude, Jack Casady and Tommy Thayer.
What are the Best Epiphone guitars?
The Epiphone collection branches far and wide, covering sounds for every genre of guitar music. They make solid body electric guitars, semi-hollow and hollow bodies, bass guitars and diverse acoustic shapes.
Latest in the works from Epiphone is the Inspired by Gibson range. These electric guitars are modelled after the Gibson Original collection and share many of the same supreme build qualities, styling and glorious tonality produced by Gibson humbucker and P-90 pickups. It would take an extremely fine ear to hear the difference between an Inspired by Gibson Epiphone and the real thing – testament to how far Epiphone have come. Let’s jump into the range.
The one and only. The Les Paul may come in many different guises, but the base design never changes. This is a thick-set solid body equipped with two humbucker pickups, 22 frets and a hardtail bridge.
Epiphone’s take on the Les Paul isn’t as simple as a copy of the original guitar. The Inspired by Gibson Standard ‘50s and ‘60s models don classic burst finishes, low output pickups and either ’59 rounded or Slim Taper necks, encompassing everything great about the Les Paul from each decade of its major changes.
There’s also the Studio and Classic models, which strip back lots of the extras and leave you with the raw tone of the Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers. The Muse and Modern LPs veer furthest from the vintage look at the other end of the spectrum. These contemporary pieces have metallic and flamed top finishes, respectively, as well as utilising weight relief chambering, custom ‘C’ shape necks and Graphtech nuts. The ceramic coil-split pickups deliver fast, smooth attacking tone for an aggressive sound.
Light, agile and feisty. Epiphone SG are devilish in nature - whatever model you favour. The Standard takes a retro approach to proceedings. It has a classic mahogany body and neck combo, medium jumbo frets and Gibson’s ProBucker-2 and 3 pickups for a roaring tone. After that it’s your choice of neck; the ‘61s Slim Taper or the Standard’s chunkier pattern.
The SG Muse follows a similar route as the Les Paul Muse, kitted out in funky pastel colours and premium hardware. Where things take a turn is on the Special models. You’re getting dynamic single coil P-90 pickups for an old school high output. Last but not least is the luxurious Modern SG, providing an asymmetrical neck taper and AAA flame maple top.
Epiphone truly let loose in their Designer range, much like Gibson did when they first conceived of the three striking guitars. The major shapes at play here are the Flying V, Explorer and Firebird. The Flying V still turns heads even today. It combines the wild two-pronged design with hardy features such as the V-shaped tailpiece, three neatly laid-out controls and unopposed access to the top frets.
The Explorer is a heftier beast. It has come to be associated with chunky rhythm playing, and it’s certainly equipped to do so. It has a sturdy LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge, Grover tuners and those powerful ProBucker humbuckers to churn out solid low and mid frequencies. Finally, the more elegant guitar here is the Firebird; a unique sculpture adored for its mini-humbucker pickups that produce a raucous, fiery tone.
Without a doubt, Epiphone are masters of the hollow body guitar. Their Uptown Kat, ES-339 and Casino creations possess original features making them ever so elegant to play.
Gibson first pioneered the ES-339 shape and it’s been handed down into the reliable hands of Epiphone. This is a streamlined semi-hollow for the modern player. It captures the juicy sounds of a vintage guitar with contemporary playability thanks to a glued-in neck joint and Slim Taper ‘D’ neck.
Epiphone Original Designs
The Uptown Kat is a relatively new Epiphone original design, drenched in style from the art deco headstock to the trapeze tailpiece. It uses the same FB720 mini humbuckers as the Firebird, so you’re getting searing output with the dynamism of a semi-hollow construction.
Epiphone’s Casino and Sheraton guitars are staples of their catalogue. The Sheraton has a firm foot in the blues and heavy rock camp similar to a 339 but with a deeper body. Meanwhile, the Casino is your classic jazz choice for a warm, fulfilling P-90 tone.
Honourable mentions go to the left field Riviera and Emperor guitars; the former wielding three P-90 pickups, a Bigsby tremolo and striking finishes. The latter is more understated, but only just. It has an audacious Bigsby tremolo arm and unique alnico V Swingbuckers in the bridge and neck positions.
You truly are spoiled for choice in the Epiphone acoustic department. Whether you’re after an entry level strummer or American-made giant, you’ll find it here.
The Pro-1 line-up is geared firmly towards beginners. These stripped back acoustics are extremely to get to grips with thanks to the Slim Taper necks and rosewood fingerboards. The premium tuners will keep you in tune as you learn the trade.
Further up the range is the famous Masterbilt selection, consisting of the Texan, Frontier, AJ-45 and Excellente. You’ll find a stunning array of solid tonewoods at your disposal, including mahogany, spruce, maple and ovangkol for various tonal tweaks. Each model is styled in a unique way; be it the bridge, pickguard and fingerboard inlays. Opt for a hard or soft shoulder construction, which determines the projection and body of the sound.
On top of all this is a great choice of Gibson originals body designs, including the renowned Hummingbird and Jumbo. There’s also a handful of travel, 12-string and classical guitars for more niche uses.
What Epiphone Guitar Should You Buy?
Epiphone is the closest you’ll get to owning a Gibson without paying premium prices. In most cases, they sound almost indistinguishable! It’s worth checking out Epiphone if you like the classic style of Gibson, but you need a more affordable instrument.
You might not want to be too precious about gigging and the possibility it might get bashed about. You could add an Epiphone to your collection to expand your tonal possibilities. Maybe it’s simply the next step in your guitar progression. Whatever it is, you’re getting a quality instrument, built with precision and top of the line hardware for the price.
Epiphone provide an excellent choice of vintage-inspired instruments and their contemporary counterparts. There’s something for you, whether you play old school blues, rock and folk or pristine pop and even metal.
Acoustic players are bound to find a guitar suited in size, tone and finish. Singer-songwriters are covered with the impressive amount of dreadnought, home jammers will find the affordable Pro-1 highly tempting and guitarists out and about can pick up a small-scale acoustic for travelling.