Epiphone gets all 1930s with its latest series, which goes from ultra-deluxe beauties to more practically-appointed (but still flashy) models like the Zenith Classic. By Peter Hodgson
Part of Epiphone’s Masterbilt Century Collection, this guitar has a definite and deliberate 1930s vibe, and while some models in the line get pretty dang fancy, this one strikes a balance between practicality and flair. It looks like the kind of guitar a 1930s big band guitarist would have bought when he’d already started to move up the ladder to affording a primo L5 when he landed his really big gig.
NOW AND ZENITH
The top is made of solid spruce atop laminated flame maple body and sides, with a five-piece laminated hard maple/mahogany neck and an ebony fingerboard. Aged nickel hardware is used for a more vintage vibe, and the body binding is understated, yet classy. Epiphone has included the floating scratch plate in the box with its associated mounting hardware, so you can decide for yourself whether or not to attach it. Be forewarned that this requires a little bit of drilling into the guitar, so if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, most stores would be happy to do so for you.
Like the Masterbilt De Luxe, the Zenith’s headstock carries the Epiphone and Masterbilt logos on two scrolls, with the Zenith logo on the same kind of diagonal block in front of a floral decal. In this case he fretboard inlays are pearloid ‘falling snowflakes’ - diamonds that cascade down the neck. It’s a really cool look, and an interesting way of putting some flare into what is otherwise one of the slightly simpler guitars in the line. The tuners have a little bit of give in them before they engage and the shape is a little bit uncomfortable to grip but they work well. And like the De Luxe, the Zenith’s treble-side f-hole hides the volume and tone controls for the eSonic™ HD preamp, which is fed by a Shadow NanoFlex™ HD Under-saddle pickup. There’s a 9 volt battery compartment near the rear strap pin, and a battery is included in the box.
OBEY YOUR MASTER
Compared to the Masterbilt De Luxe reviewed in these pages, this guitar has a more focused sound and it requires a little more effort to play at high speeds. It’s not quite as suited to complex single-note lines, for instance. But where it really shines is in its projection and power. The treble and bass are both very clear which always helps, but what really stands out is that the mids really jump out in a bold way: there’s an upper-midrange bite here that would make this a really great bluegrass or slide guitar, even without amplification. The voicing really punches through and would easily hold its own amongst a busy band. Maybe with a little bit of a bridge adjustment and more jazz-specific strings, it could be a great gypsy jazz guitar, with such a vocal, prominent tone.
As with the De Luxe, the amplified sound doesn’t quite capture the nuance and tonality of the body itself, but it does a good job of capturing the string detail. But again, this is a guitar with such a great acoustic voice that it really deserves to be mic’d up to make sure your audience is getting everything it can out of your guitar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a great guitar for those who need something a little more aggressive for heavy strumming or bold slide work. It’s not as well-suited to subtle playing, but that wasn’t a consideration at all when this type of guitar was originally released by Epiphone, and I doubt it’s a big concern for anyone who has read this far.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Solid spruce top
• Laminated, flamed maple back and sides
• Longitudinal bracing
• Three-layer body binding, one-layer fingerboard
• Five-piece laminated hard maple/mahogany neck
• Great punchy mid-heavy tones
• Killer looks
• Preamp is a little simplistic
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