Epiphone Guitars: Background
Today, we all mostly know of Epiphone as a cheaper alternative to Gibson.
However, the brand was established back in the early 20th century, making mandolins.
The company’s roots go way back to 1873 and Greek luthier Anastasios Stathopoulos.
Not long after moving to New York, his son Epaminondas Stathopoulos took over, giving the company its current name.
After a while, in the 1920s, they began making banjos and guitars.
But it wasn’t until 1957 that they became part of Gibson.
From that point onward, they started making cheaper Gibson alternatives.
In 1970, they finally moved all of their production outside of the USA.
Initially, it was all in Japan, but Epiphone eventually spread to Korea and finally China.
Those Japanese Epiphones also included some unique models which are also prized collectors’ items today.
There have been some limited runs of US-made guitars under the Epiphone brand.
And there have also been some additional models from Japan.
But in the 21st century, they’re pretty much all from factories in China.
There’s only a handful of models made in Gibson factories today, but I’ll get to that.
Despite cheaper prices, Epiphone guitars today offer a wide variety of guitars.
Some of these include models exclusive to Epiphone, although most are Gibson-style guitars.
There’s anything from super-cheap classic Gibson copies up to mid-priced guitars with some higher-end components.
It’s even not unusual to have them compared to some higher-end brands on the market.
Some Notable Epiphone Guitars Today
Along with Kramer, Maestro, Mesa Boogie, and other brands, Epiphone is working under Gibson.
But although we’re mostly looking at Gibson copies, there’s a nice variety within their product line.
And, of course, there’s something for everyone’s pocket.
Epiphone has two main categories:
- Inspired by Gibson
Of course, the Inspired by Gibson category is much larger and it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
I’ll explore some of the company’s most notable series and models and their main traits.
Bear in mind that none of Epiphone’s guitars have Gibson headstock.
Some may look similar, but it’s still not the same “open book” design.
Cheapest Epiphone Guitars
As of this writing, Epiphone’s cheapest guitar is Les Paul Melody Maker E1.
It’s a single-cutaway LP-style instrument with two single-coils and a wraparound stoptail bridge.
There are also Les Paul and SG cheap variants, the Special-II E1 series.
These come with a pair of humbuckers and tune-o-matic bridges with stopbar tailpieces.
All of these less expensive variants have bolt-on necks and super basic aesthetic features.
There are also Les Paul 100 E1 guitars that are just one notch above these cheapest models.
Nonetheless, all of these instruments are what a beginner would want to check out.
They’re well worth the price but you can’t expect them to handle some serious settings.
Other Les Paul copies include a plethora of models.
These imitate Gibson’s Special, Junior, Standard, and Custom guitars.
There are even some signature models, including a pretty unusual Matt Heafy 7-string Les Paul.
Of course, all of them come with set-in neck and body joints.
Along with that, we have a headstock that’s slightly more similar to Gibson ones.
What you can also notice with these guitars is that they have carved tops.
Junior and Special LPs are exceptions, although that’s normal for their Gibson counterparts too.
Finishes and aesthetic details are also improved and we could say the same about hardware and electronics.
However, aside from the classic models, we can also find modern-style Les Pauls.
For instance, the Prophecy model has active Fishman electronics and a few ergonomic features.
On its backside, you can find a well-designed indent to allow easier access to higher frets.
Les Paul Modern is a slightly more affordable model with passive Pro-Bucker pickups.
For the most part, these Les Pauls are modestly-priced.
We’re talking about the $400 to $700 range, with a few models going outside of these limits.
Some guitars pass the $1,000 mark like the Jerry Cantrell signature model.
It’s a similar story with Epiphone’s SG guitars.
We can find Special, Classic, Standard, and Custom models.
Along with that, there are Modern, Muse, and Prophecy models with a more contemporary twist.
The Prophecy model is pretty interesting, bringing a Custom-like design with some classy finish options and Fishman pickups.
And just like with the Les Paul Prophecy model, you have active electronics and even push/pull knobs for voicing options.
But if you prefer something old-school, the Special will get you covered with Epiphone’s version of P90 pickups.
Additionally, SG Special has that wraparound bridge for extra vintage feels.
There’s even one SG Standard variant with an old-school-style Maestro Vibrola tailpiece.
The price range is almost the same as with Les Pauls.
They’re slightly cheaper on average and there aren’t any limited-run or artist variants at the moment.
What’s important, however, is that you get a thin body with a set-neck joint.
Along with super-comfortable necks, these guitars are really easy to play.
Epiphone has a few ES-335 variants as well.
They’re all functionally the same with only some aesthetic differences.
Nonetheless, you get the same maple body with a maple center block.
All of the other traits pretty much imitate Gibson at a lower price point.
Epiphone also offers cheaper variants to Gibson’s B.B. King Lucille signature model.
It’s a classic ES-style semi-hollow-body shape without the F-holes and with some special design traits.
None of these models pass the $1,000 mark.
Original Epiphone Guitars
As far as Epiphone’s original designs go, there are a few nice guitars in there.
- Emperor Swingster
- DC PRO
The Casino is the most expensive one as it’s manufactured in the US.
It’s very similar to Gibson’s ES guitars and it bears some tasty vintage features.
DC PRO, Crestwood, Coronet, and Wilshire are all pretty similar solid-body models.
They’re somewhat unusual yet stylish double-cutaway models.
Are Epiphone Guitars Good?
I can’t help but give the simplest answer possible.
Yes, Epiphone guitars are good.
You’ll rarely find a brand that makes such great guitars within this price category.
The best part is that there’s a lot to choose from.
Their cheapest models are pretty decent for beginner or backup guitars as well.
But what they offer with some of their higher-priced guitars is just incredible.
In my opinion, their best models are Les Paul Prophecy, Les Paul Modern, Prophecy SG, and SG Modern.
These guitars will get you covered for pretty much any genre and playing style.
Gibson vs. Epiphone
What I’m going to say here might be super controversial to some.
But in all honesty, I’d rather buy a higher-end Epiphone than any Gibson guitar available today.
And yes, this comes from a Gibson owner.
It’s not a secret that Gibson overprices most of their stuff.
Along with that, they’ve hardly even introduced some new features.
And don’t even get me started on their quality control.
In all honesty, Gibson often deserves most of the criticisms that they get.
With Epiphone, you can get a pro guitar for under $1,000.
Even a mid-priced model, something like SG Standard, can be a great choice.
If you want a full Gibson tone, just put some Gibson pickups into it and you’re good to go.
Some counterarguments are that Gibson uses better tonewood and that they have some high-end design traits.
If you ask me, it’s just expensive “furniture” with a Gibson logo slapped onto the headstock and arguably better electronics.
But it’s just not worth the price, at least not most of the time.
Are Epiphone Guitars Good? Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you think through Epiphone guitars and whether this brand is for you!
And if you want to read more about guitar brands on this blog, then check out:
Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!