Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mahogany Topped Blues Guitar: 1930 Epiphone Model 0

Pre-Gibson Epiphones have weighed heavy on my mind lately.  I bought this one off the Craigslist in my parent's hometown of Galatin, TN from a bluegrasser.  He didn't have much use for a guitar like this.  I didn't even haggle!

This is a C. 1930 Epiphone Model 0.  If it is the first one that you have seen then that makes two of us.  It is constructed of solid Mahogany throughout and features X-bracing with a single tone bar, 13 frets to the body and a deep V shaped neck.  It has a light build and is very resonant.  The bridge design is interesting but works very well.  It makes sense to be able to move the saddle around to adjust for intonation.

Dating an early Epiphone flat-top

...can be difficult.  To be honest, I don't know the exact build year but I have had some help narrowing it down.  It doesn't have a label but does have a hand written serial number.  There are a pair of fellers that are cataloging pre-Gibson Epiphone flat-tops and working on a good way to date them.  They've contacted me regarding a couple of other Epis that I've had and I am excited to hear that they are working on publishing their findings.  

It seems like only super guitar nerds (like myself) end up liking these guitars.  I think that it is a shame that they aren't held in high regard by the general guitar public because they are of very high quality and rarity.  Maybe the information gathered by these Epi fellows will spark some well deserved interest in New York and Philadelphia (pre-Gibson) Epiphones.

How does this guitar record?

I have a friend who is working on his first full length album.  He has a 1951 Gibson J-50 that I am fond of and is kind enough to bring it over every once in a while to drink beer and play the blues.  This Epiphone is a good sidekick for his recording because it can do the fingerpicking (without picks) much better than a larger guitar.  Since you don't have to use picks to get great tone from her then you also don't get the pick slap or click.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Question for Twitter: What is the best guitar?

Maybe that wasn't the best way I could have worded that.  How about:

1. What guitar have you not been able to get off of your mind?
2. If any guitar could suddenly appear in your hands, what would it be?

Both of those questions should be qualified with "right now."

It may have looked like I was trying to start a twitter fight about brands, models, etc. but that was not my intent.  The question stemmed from a discussion I had with a friend over guitars a couple of weeks ago.  He recently started working at Gibson 5 star dealer and so began his dream of a Gibson J-200 True Vintage.  It was the pinnacle of tone and nothing else would do (paraphrased).  This was after he was really digging the weird 1930 Epiphone Model 0 I loaned him to record his debut album (Pete's Debut Album).  I had felt the same way about that guitar before as well.  There is still a soft spot in my heart for the huge tone that comes from a lightly picked fingerstyle blues on the old Epiphone.

In My Opinion

the best guitar is always the next guitar and I think that Pete would say the same thing.  There is nothing like the anticipation of an old guitar coming in the mail.  What will it sound like?  What weird features will it have that I didn't see in the pictures?

I recently bought a 1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway from a fellow in NY.  I had only seen pictures of these and could not wait to have it in my hands.  I knew that it needed work but I just didn't care.  It was the pinnacle of vintage guitars for the three and a half days that UPS had it, at least in my mind.  When it arrived I was ecstatic.  Among guitar forum geeks (such as myself) this is called an NGD or New Guitar Day.

What did it sound like?  Terrible at first, I'll admit.  I was so in love with it that I couldn't put it down.  After about two days of playing it, it really opened up and the tone was unique.  I love it now.

What weird features did it have?  It was ladder braced and had a weird compensated rosewood bridge/saddle.

The next guitar?

The Epiphone is still extremely cool only a week later but I've already got my sights set on another.  There is an eBay auction ending tomorrow on a Kalamazoo KG-12 with rare Maple back and sides.  It is a sickness!  The forum term for this sickness is GAS- Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Buyout" Period Epiphone Texans: Parts Guitars?

By the dawn of the 1950s, the Epiphone company was struggling with problems in both the accounting and labor departments.  The company's product line hadn't kept up with the changing trends in guitars such as the new solid body electric (Gibson's Les Paul model?).  It had moved the production facilities from New York to Philadelphia in an attempt to avoid a problem with the labor union.  By 1957, the company's doom seemed imminent which forced its sale to their biggest competitor, Gibson, for the sum total of only $20,000.

American made Epiphone guitars (both during and before the Gibson buyout) are fantastic instruments.  Their relative obscurity and high standard of quality is a recipe for a very inspiring guitar.  I recently came across an immediate post-buyout Texan that has me intrigued (1959 Epiphone Texan with strange features).  The description states:

"Gibson FON on the neck block indicating 1952 manufacture, starts with a "Z"; solid, un-kerfed linings (no one has ever seen this on any modern Gibson instrument); the word GUITAR rubber-stamped on the inside of the back, between the neck block and the first back brace; black paint on the heel underneath the clear coat, which has been seen many times on various Gibsons in the 1960's."


The body is easily dated using Gibson's backwards letter prefix used from 1952-1961.  They started with Z in '52 and ended with Q in '61.  These letters were stamped on the interior neck block and were proceeded by a batch number (usually 4 digits) then a unique rack number (the Xth number in that rack).  This guitar received a Z indicating that it was made in 1952.

Easy, right?  Not quite.  The description also states that this guitar has solid lining (as opposed to kerfed).  Lining is what gives the body's joints (top to rims and rims to back) a solid gluing surface.  Usually this lining is kerfed, meaning that it has small cuts vertically to make it bend without needed to be soaked in hot water and bent over a hot pipe.

Kerfed Lining

Solid Lining

Gibson phased out solid lining in favor of the kerfed style from 1933-1934.  I have never seen any flat-top Gibson guitar that used solid lining after 1934.  I would venture to say that Gibson did not build guitars using this kind of lining after 1934.  This is my opinion based on my experience so feel free to prove me wrong.  Edit:  I just acquired one of these guitars.  The lining is made of laminated Poplar.  The only other place I have seen this is on my 1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway.  I'm assuming Gibson got leftover strips of lining from Epiphone and used it?  Not sure.

(Edit)  At least Gibson phased out the use of solid lining made of Mahogany in 1934.  After acquiring a buyout period Texan I determined that this "solid lining" wasn't really solid.  In fact, it is made of laminated strips of what looks like Poplar.  The only other place I have seen this is on my 1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway.  Perhaps Gibson also acquired strips of unused lining from Epiphone as well as necks?

Gibson "J" body surplus

In the early 50s Gibson was selling some of their jumbo bodies to National.  National would manufacture a neck and bolt it on to a Gibson body calling it the National 1155.  These are great guitars for the vintage player on a budget but I am told that the necks are a bit difficult to get used to.  You'll have to decide that for yourself.

Since National ordered a bunch of J bodies from Gibson, they had more bodies than necks.  When a bunch of Epiphone necks showed up at Gibson's doorstep in 1957, the answer was simple.  They went downstairs to the parts basement and grabbed a bunch of J sized bodies.  That is how I would explain this guitar having a Z (1952) factory order number.

(Edit) .....but I'd be wrong.  After acquiring one of these, the tops were definitely made post 1955 judging by the bracing.  My next theory would be that Gibson needed finished bodies to sell to National.  Since National was bolting on the necks, Gibson needed bodies with uncut neck blocks (instead of cut for a dovetail joint).

When the Epiphone necks showed up in 1958 they were already cut for a dovetail joint.  Since the dovetail extension on the neck and the neck block were cut by two different manufacturers they differed to the point that they wouldn't fit right.  Gibson would need to use a body with an uncut neck block and cut it to fit the Epiphone neck.

So you have one of these short headstock Texans?  Send me some shots of yours.  Here is @guitaristo's (Instagram) 1958 Epiphone Texan that has recently been sold.  The serial on the blue label was an A-XXX number but he can't remember what was on the neck block.  I wonder if it was an earlier FON?

Why do these features even matter?

Although these Texans look like weird J-45s they are certainly not.  The main difference in a standard Texan and J-45 is the scale length.  Epiphone was using a 25.5" scale length so the necks were manufactured to this spec.  Gibson's traditional scale length and that of the J-45 is 24.75".  This alone makes for a tone that is probably louder and more piano-like than a J-45.  It also doesn't bend strings as well and may wear out your fingers a bit quicker.

This '58 Texan has more than just the scale length to set it apart from a J-45.  The body was probably manufactured in '52 which means that it differs from a '57 by the bracing.  The pre-'55 J bodies were made with scalloped braces while the post-'55s had straight braces.
(Edit):  Wrong again, TVG.  While the FON prefix was Y, the tops were definitely made in the late 50s.  The bracing is short and straight (unscalloped).

These buyout era features make for an interesting guitar.  Mine needs some braces reglued before it is playable again.  It was covered in 50 years of sweat and tar until I hit it with some Virtuoso cleaner.  Here are some shots of the clean up.