The history of Epiphone started in 1873, in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire (now Izmir, Turkey), where Greek founder Anastasios Stathopoulos made his own fiddles and lutes (oud, laouto). Stathopoulos moved to the United States of America in 1903, and continued to make his original instruments, as well as mandolins, from Long Island City in Queens, New York. Anastasios died in 1915, and his son, Epaminondas, took over. After two years, the company was known as The House Of Stathopoulos. Just after the end of World War I, the company started to make banjos.
The company produced its Recording Line of Banjos in 1924, and, four years later, took on the name of the “Epiphone Banjo Company”. They produced their first guitars in 1928. Epi Stathopoulos died in 1943. Control of the company went to his brothers, Orphie and Frixo. Unfortunately, they were not as capable owners as Epi. In 1951, a four month long strike forced a relocation of Epiphone from New York to Philadelphia. The company was bought out by their main rival, Gibson in 1957.
It is extremely important to understand that all Epiphone instruments made between 1957 and 1969 were made in the Gibson factory at 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan. These 1959–1969 Epiphone instruments were, effectively, identical to the relevant Gibson versions, and made with same timber, materials and components. These guitars were made by the same people, in the same place, and with the same materials and components as the contemporary equivallent Gibson guitars were. They even shared the same Gibson serial-number sequence!
To note some of the specific examples of Gibson-made Epiphone instruments from this period: the Epiphone Casino was identical to the Gibson ES-330; the Epiphone Cortez was identical to the Gibson B-25; the Epiphone Olympic Special was technically identical to the Gibson Melody Maker; the Epiphone Sorrento was identical to the Gibson ES-125TC (except for a few cosmetic improvements! ), and the Epiphone Texan was (apart from a change in scale-length) an identical guitar to the Gibson J-45.
All of the other Gibson/Kalamazoo-made Epiphones had some clear technical or cosmetic relationship with the relevant Gibson version. This wealth of information can, admittedly, be quite confusing so I direct any interested readers to “Gruhn’s Guide To Vintage Guitars” (Gruhn-Carter, Miller-Freeman Press). Most of the specific information that you will need can be found here. Gibson eventually realized the folly in having two identical brands and, therefore, by 1970, Gibson commenced using the Epiphone brand as a budget-line and started having them made, initially, in Japan.
Some confusion arises here because the first year or so of Japanese acoustic guitar production utilizes a label that denotes the address “Kalamzoo, MI”. At no point does this label say “Made In USA” but some confusion, especially on internet auction websites, still arises. It is equally important to understand that the overwhelming majority of Epiphone-branded instruments made since 1969 are, in essence, exploitation instruments are and are basically facsimilies of either Gibson (most commonly) or Epiphone guitars of the past.
The vast majority of these facsimilies are very decent, budget-versions of the iconic instruments that they replicate and are, in may cases, exactly what a student guitarists needs, but they must not, in any way whatsoever, in terms of materials, components and intrinsic quality, be mistaken for the real item. In the hands of a good player the guitars may sound indistinguishable, but that doesn’t grant them inherent equality. Casino Main article: Epiphone Casino The most famous Epiphone model introduced by Gibson after taking over was the Casino.
The Casino was made in the same shape and configuration as a Gibson ES-330 guitar. It has a very heavy sound and is a very good rhythm guitar due to its fairly thick sound when strummed. It is a genuine hollow body electric guitar with single coil P90 pickups. Epiphone Casino VT The Casino is famous for being used by The Beatles. Paul McCartney was the first to acquire one and John Lennon and George Harrison followed suit soon after. Paul McCartney used his for the solo in Taxman and the Casino sound is very prevalent throughout Revolver and their later albums.
John Lennon made his Casino one of his main guitars and used it for the rest of his time with the Beatles and into the ’70s. Paul still uses his Casino, which has a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, in concert and studio today. 1970–present In the early 1970s, Epiphone began to manufacture instruments in Japan. From the 1980s, Epiphones were manufactured mainly in Korea but also in Japan by contractors licensed by Gibson. One of these contractors was Samick, which also built instruments under license for other brands and in its own name.
Thus, a Korean-era solidbody Epiphone would have been built under license. The brand was primarily used to issue less expensive versions of classic Gibson models, in a manner similar to that of the Squier brand by Fender. Like all Asian-made copies, these guitars were constructed using different timbers (usually Nyatoh, for example, instead of Mahogany), were stuck together with epoxies rather than wood-glues, and were finished in hard, quick-to-apply polyester resin rather than the traditional nitro-cellulose lacquer used by Gibson.
Nitro-cellulose lacquers are applied very thinly, and as a result, do not impede the resonance of the instrument as resin finishes do. Nitro-cellulose, being a solvent-based lacquer (as opposed to a catalyzed resin), requires many more very thin coats (but still results in a lighter, thinner finish because of much more hand-applied cutting and polishing) and is therefore much more time-consuming (and consequently expensive) to apply. Resin finishes are much quicker and cheaper to apply.
These particular budget considerations, along with others such as plastic nuts and cheaper hardware and pickups, allow for a more affordable instrument. Although the decent Epiphone copies look (other than upon very close inspection) to be very much like the iconic, original instruments that they replicate, and often, in the hands of a good player, DO sound very, very close to the originals, they are not, as is the case with all of these budget brands, conceived and constructed to the same intrinsic quality.
But it is a matter of budget – if you can look and sound close to how your favorite player sounds for a fraction of the cost then it is a good thing. Gibson, via their Epiphone brand, just like Fender via their Squier brand, bring a close approximation of the real thing to countless players who cannot afford, or justify, the expense of a professional-quality instrument. The result is that Epiphone and Squier have become the world’s highest selling brands of electric guitar. Samick has stopped manufacturing guitars in Korea.
In 2002, Gibson opened a factory in Qingdao, China, which manufactures Epiphone guitars exclusively. With few exceptions, Epiphones are now built only in the Qingdao factory. Unique Epiphone models, including the Emperor, Zephyr, Riviera and Sheraton, are built to higher quality standards than the company’s “Gibson copy” line. Epiphone also produces a range of higher quality instruments under the “Elitist Series” moniker, which are built in Japan. The “Masterbilt” acoustics are manufactured in Qingdao.