The Epiphone Company has a history that spans 138 years and reaches not only across the Atlantic Ocean but to the shores of the Aegean Sea. Its history and reputation is a checkerboard of success and failure, of both bad choices and sound decisions. But when it is all sorted out, Epiphone acoustic guitars are still considered top-notch instruments that any guitar player would be proud to own.
The Beginnings of Epiphone
The Epiphone Company was founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos, the son of a Greek Timber Merchant. Though he was expected to follow in his father's footsteps, Anastasios broke with tradition and chose instead to use the timber for making lutes, violins and lioutos (a traditional Greek instrument).
After moving to Turkey, Anastasios became so well-known for the quality of his instruments that he was able to open an instrument factory. But by 1903 the persecution of Greek immigrants by the Turks had become so bad that Anastasios and his family immigrated to New York. Here he re-built his business; building and selling his instruments out of his home.
In addition to the lutes, violins and lioutos for which he had become renowned in Turkey, Anastasios now branched out to begin building Mandolins; an instrument which was quickly gaining in popularity in the United States. It was a smart move and Anastasios's business flourished.
The Rise of "The House of Stathopoulos"
After Anastasios's unexpected death in 1915 at the age of 52, his twenty-two year old son Epaminondas took over the business. Epaminondas, who went by the nickname "Epi" had a healthy respect for the tradition of his father's craft, but he also had an excellent eye for business. Within a relatively short time he had turned his father's business into a thriving industry.
By 1923 the business had become so successful that Epi made himself President and General Manager and went looking for a "brand" name that would become a household word. The name "Epiphone" was chosen as a combination of Epaminondas's nickname (Epi) and 'Phone' the Greek word for sound, and so began The Epiphone Company.
The Fall and Return of Epiphone Acoustic Guitar
After adding guitars to their product line in the late 1920's, Epiphone enjoyed a healthy rivalry with the more popular Gibson Guitars for a number of years. Unfortunately, the popularity of Epiphone acoustic guitars ground to a halt during WWII when wartime manufacturing put guitar production on the back burner. To add to the downturn, Epi died of leukemia during the war. His younger brothers who took over the company did not have the vision or the leadership needed to keep the company afloat.
By the late 1950's things were getting desperate. In an attempt to keep solvent, Epiphone extended Gibson an offer to buy a part of the company; an offer that Gibson made no hesitation to take. Gibson decided to revive some of the more popular Epiphone models, a decision that brought Epiphone back into public eye. By the time the Beatles hit the stage – playing Epiphone guitars – it looked like Epiphone was back on track. Unfortunately, due to an attempt to compete with the foreign competition, The Epiphone Company was moved to Japan where it arrived just in time to suffer from the "cheap goods" reputation that Japanese products had during the 1970's.
It wasn't until 1983, when the company was moved to Korea, that the reputation of Epiphone began to revive. An expansion of the product line in 1986 and the arrival of Jim Rosenberg as Product Manager in 1992, Epiphone's reputation began once again to climb back into the realms of respectability that it has today.
As Good as New
While the move to Korea was a risk, it was a risk that paid off in spades. One of the first things the new and revised Epiphone did was to produce a limited-edition run of electric acoustics, but they didn't stop there. Soon Epiphone Acoustic Guitar was producing a limited run of Riviera and Sheraton's in the Gibson Nashville factory while the Montana factory was chruning out 250 Excellente, Texan and Frontier flat tops. The appeal of Epiphone guitars being "made in the USA" was a resounding success with the public. By 1994 Epiphone was re-introducing some of the legendary models such as the Riviera, the Sorrento, Casino and Rivoli bass. Soon all-American musicians like Chet Atkins and Noel Gallagher had signed on with Epiphone, and things were definitely looking good.
Notable Epiphone Artists
With the return of Epiphone's reputation, one now sees a whole host of musicians who play Epiphone guitars, groups such as My Chemical Romance, Finger Eleven, All American Rejects, Nancy Wilson (of Heart fame), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, Goo Goo Dolls as well as dozens more. There are a good number of artists who play primarily Gibson Signature guitars who also have a clone signature Epiphone. Artists such as Slash have their signature Les Paul model guitar in both Gibson and Epiphone brands. And then there are signature models for John Lennon, Zakk Wylde, Tom Delonge and Paul McCartney.
The beauty of these Epiphone clone signature models is that they are priced much more reasonably than their Gibson counterparts while retaining the classic quality that has made the Epiphone name one to be respected.
Popular Epiphone Acoustic Guitar Models
Even if you can't afford an Epiphone signature model, there are plenty of models that won't break the bank to purchase.
Take the Epiphone Hummingbird. The Hummingbird is Epiphone's copy of the Gibson Hummingbird, a guitar that has a sticker price of $ 1,999 as compared to the Epiphone's clone which can be purchased for $ 349. That is a savings of over $ 1,600.
Another example of the savings is the Epiphone 1958 Korina Explorer. This classic guitar is made with to the same exact specifications as the Gibson Explorer 1958 (with the exception of Gibson using mahogany rather than the korina wood the Eiphone uses), and yet can be had for $ 500 as compared to The Gibson's $ 1,400 price tag.
And the best thing of all is that each and every Epiphone guitar is subject to the same quality control inspections as any Gibson guitar before they make it into the hands of their adoring public. Even better, each guitar that comes to the US from Asia goes through a 15 point inspection at the Gibson Headquarters in Nashville. This guarantees that even the lowliest Epiphone Acoustic Guitar player can expect professional quality at an affordable price.
A Bright Future
Epiphone has become a staple for working musicians and recording artists who value a Gibson replica at an affordable price. Those who collect vintage guitars are excited to get their hands on the Elitist re-issues of some of the original Epiphone models and rock 'n roll enthusiasts line up to get their hands on their signature models.
Is it the quality that continues to attract customers and guitar enthusiasts? Perhaps it is the ingrained pioneering spirit of the company, a spirit that was a personal signature of Epi Stathopoulos. Or maybe it is simply the reputation of Epiphone Acoustic Guitar as being the "bad boy" when compared to the staid and traditional Gibson. But the Epiphone acoustic guitar star still appears to be on the rise, and there doesn't appear to be any indication that it will set any time soon.