An affordable plug-in version of a Gibson classic. By Peter Hodgson
The Gibson Hummingbird square-shoulder dreadnought, originally released in 1960, is one of those guitars that invokes all sorts of images and emotional resonances. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger both used them, as did Thom Yorke, John McLaughlin and Chris Cornell.
You can spy one in Almost Famous, where it provides a little visual indicator of the time-frame. They look equally at home on classic rock, country and alternative stages, and they carry a decently hefty price tag. Epiphone has taken the wallet-sting out of this notoriously beautiful model, and added some electronics to make it more stage-friendly. Let’s take a peek.
IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
The Epiphone Hummingbird PRO looks very much like the original Gibson version, with the most noticeable difference being the larger and more ornate Epiphone headstock in place of the typical Gibson one, or the more commonly‑seen ‘Gibson‑like, but snipped at the edges’ Epiphone design. It has a solid spruce top on a select mahogany back and sides, with a select mahogany neck which is cut to a SlimTaper D Profile carve.
The fingerboard has 20 medium frets and a 12-inch radius, and like the Gibson version, it has pearloid parallelogram inlays and, of course, the classic Hummingbird pickguard. The originals were made of tortoise shell, but this version is made with an imitation material. The bridge saddle is made of imitation bone, too. The hummingbird isn’t real either, obviously, but the tuners are real Grovers with a 14:1 turn ratio.
The electronics setup is built around a Shadow NanoFlex pickup and ePerformer preamp, which has controls for Master Volume, Treble and Bass, plus a Dynamics slider and a Phase button for helping to eliminate feedback.
HUMS LIKE A... WELL...
Firstly – and most importantly – this guitar sounds and feels very much like a Hummingbird. Sure, it’ll feel more like a classic one after 50-something years of throttling, but the broad essence of a vintage model is very much there, and it’ll only get better over the years as that solid spruce top settles in.
That’s the magic of a solid top as opposed to a laminate one: the more you play them, the sweeter they sound, as the vibrations and the natural drying of the wood work together to create something truly special.
This guitar has the full, yet tight low end, bright upper mids and clear highs of a classic dreadnought, with enough personality to sound great whether you use a pick, your fingers or even slide. In fact, it’s a brilliant slide guitar thanks to those upper mids and breathy highs.
SHORT AND SWEET
The plugged-in sound is very, very adaptable. The key element seems to be that Dynamics control, which lets you find the sweet spot for whatever musical situation you may be in. It’ll assist you to make individual notes ring out clearly from within a full chord, or knit them together more tightly for when you need to take more of a ‘wall of sound’ type approach. And if you’re doing a lot of Chet‑style fingerpicking work, it’ll help you to find the perfect balance of bass, chord and melody.
Personally, I’m rarely a fan of onboard preamps unless they bring something special to the table in terms of flexibility, or at least capture the guitar’s individual voice. This one doesn’t pretend to be a multi-mic setup that reproduces all the resonances and reverberations inside the body, but it does provide plenty of different voices across a wide spectrum of genres for use both onstage or in the studio.
CUTTING THE BULK
The playability of this guitar is great, especially if you prefer your acoustics a little more on the ‘neck feels like an electric’ side of things. It certainly feels more like a Les Paul or SG than a big and bulky acoustic, which is probably why this model has been so revered by rockers who need something playable for acoustic moments in an evening’s set.
It should be noted though that upper-fret access is pretty much restricted past the 15th fret, so this isn’t necessarily the guitar to swing for if you need those higher notes at the widdly end of the neck. A Hummingbird with a cutaway just wouldn’t be a Hummingbird though, after all and this a classic guitar for the collection at a really great price.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately, this is a really well-built guitar that brings the key attributes of the Gibson Hummingbird to everyone. The USA-made Gibson model is still a nicer guitar, but something tells me that owners of the Epiphone version will probably bond with theirs a little quicker, since its lower price point means you won’t be as stressed about little nicks and bumps.
I’ve seen players buy expensive dream guitars and then be too scared of the dang things to play them anything but timidly. But with this guitar, Epiphone has really created the best of both worlds: a Hummingbird that looks and sounds the part, but is player-friendly enough that you won’t hold back when you’re pouring your heart and soul into it.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Solid spruce top
• Parallelogram inlays
• Grover tuners
• Shadow preamp and pickup
• Classic looks
• Versatile preamp
• Electric guitarist-friendly neck
• Look at it. LOOK AT IT!
• No upper fret access
Australian Musical Imports (AMI)
Ph: (03) 8696 4600