Epiphone looks to its past before adding some modern-day updates and topping it all off with great playability. By Peter Hodgson
Hands down, this has got to be one of the most beautiful guitars in the entire Epiphone catalog. Look at it! Those cool Art Deco touches ooze charm out of every diamond motif and collection of parallel lines. This is part of Epiphone’s New Century line, which re-introduces the 6-string guitars they were making in the 1930s in the Big Band era. Back then, acoustic volume was a big consideration, but these updated versions have electronics for amplification. But of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
This is a classic 6-string acoustic-electric - not quite Jumbo dimensions, but not far from it - with a Sitka spruce top on what the spec sheet says are flame maple back and sides - but they’re painted dark, so my guess is that some models offer transparent finishes with flame maple, while others are plain maple under solid finishes. The neck is a big, chunky carve made of five-piece maple/mahogany with an ebony fingerboard. The fingerboard is accented by scalloped diamond mother-of-pearl inlays, which look absolutely gorgeous, and the headstock carries the Epiphone and Masterbilt logos on two scrolls, with a De Luxe logo on a diagonal block in front of a floral decal. It’s really striking, if not downright fancy, and the trapeze tailpiece at the other end mirrors this vibe in a slightly more subtle way. The bridge is floating, the pickguard is elegantly oversized and old-timey-lookin’, and the f-holes are well-cut.
The f-holes also serve a third function, beyond sound projection and decoration: the treble-side one hides the controls for the eSonic™ HD preamp. There’s also a Shadow NanoFlex™ HD Under-saddle pickup (you can see the wire connecting it, poking through the bottom of the saddle). There’s a 9-volt battery compartment near the rear strap pin,
and the preamp gives you basic control of your volume and tone.
PICKIN’ A WINNER
Unplugged, this is a beautiful sounding instrument. The dynamic range is really intriguing: while a great many acoustic guitars seem to compress when you hit the strings harder, this one seems to get louder and louder, whereas the volume of the quietest, softest picking seems elevated just enough that all your notes ring clearly - even when you’re playing gently. It’s hard to explain, but as soon as you pick it up and play it, it makes sense; here’s a guitar that will present the more delicate nuances of your playing - even at the softest volumes - yet when you really lay in, it feels like there’s no end to the volume, projection and useable tone. Sonically, it has elements of bluegrass and jazz, but would also be a great blues fingerpicker or singer-songwriter strummer. The action is so consistently even across the whole neck, too, that it’s even great for more sophisticated fingerpicking of the Tommy Emmanuel variety.
The plugged-in sound isn’t as full or expressive as the natural acoustic voice of this guitar, and you’ll probably find yourself winding the tone control back a bit to tame the high end - it does capture the clarity and detail quite well, though. But ideally, this guitar would be mic’d up with high-quality mics and preamps to really capture the range and tones that it’s capable of. It’s also worth mentioning that this guitar was plucked straight out of the warehouse and was not set up before the review, and yet the factory setup was still flawless from before it hopped a boat to Australia. The only thing close to a flaw that I could find was that the tuners seemed to need a little turn before engaging, but once the strings were in tune, they didn’t slip at all. Perhaps a glossy finish would have completed the look, but the matte finish seems pretty hardy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a really classy, charming acoustic guitar with a vibe all of its own, and yet, it would be comfortable in all sorts of musical situations from blues to bluegrass, country to jazz and acoustic rock. And as good as it looks, the playability is even better.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Solid spruce top
• Laminated, flamed maple back and sides
• Longitudinal bracing
• Three-layer body binding, one-layer fingerboard
• Five-piece laminated maple/mahogany neck
• Great playability
• Impressive dynamic range
• Matte finishes aren’t for everyone
• Preamp is a bit primitive
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