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Epiphone Guitars History, Compare Guitar Prices on eBay and Amazon

Updated on July 18, 2013

The Epiphone Company

The Epiphone Company is a musical instrument manufacturer founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos. Epiphone was bought by Chicago Music Company, which also owned Gibson Guitar Corporation, in 1957. Epiphone was Gibson's main rival in the archtop market. Their professional archtops, including the Emperor, Deluxe, Broadway and Triumph, rivaled (and some contend surpassed) those of Gibson. Aside from their guitars, Epiphone also made upright basses, banjos, and other stringed instruments. However, the company's weakness in the aftermath of World War II allowed Gibson to absorb it.

The name "Epiphone" is a combination of proprietor Epaminondas Stathopoulos' nickname "Epi" and "phone" (from Greek phon-, "sound"/"voice"), as well as a play on one meaning of the word "epiphany," namely a sudden inspiration frequently presenting itself as supernatural in origin.

Epiphone ES335 dot
Epiphone ES335 dot

The History of Epiphone

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. In the famous "Dueling Banjos" scene in the 1972 motion picture Deliverance, actor Ronny Cox plays an Epiphone acoustic guitar.

Order the classic Epiphone Casino on Amazon

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.

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.

Epiphone Flying V
Epiphone Flying V

Epiphone 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. These Epiphones were thought to have sometimes been built with different species of woods from the original Gibson versions; some players speculated that this resulted in the instruments bearing a visual and ergonomic similarity to the Gibson originals but having a slightly different tone; however this has always been suspected to be based on prejudice more than empirical fact. 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.

Epiphone Elitist Guitars on eBay

Epiphone later released a series of guitars called the Elitist series (originally called Elite but changed to avoid confusion with Ovation's Elite model). These were made to very high specifications in Japan but some parts are made in other countries, including the USA and Germany. These guitars cost more than twice as much as Standard Epiphone guitars. Standard Epiphone and Gibson guitars have an open-book headstock, but Elitist models have a more curved style dating back to the Epiphone Masterbilt series of guitars. The Elitist series was discontinued in 2008, with the exception of the Casino model.

Tim Schnieders performing live with is Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Tim Schnieders performing live with is Epiphone Les Paul Standard

Understanding Epiphone Serial numbers on your guitar

According to several forum entries, current Epiphone serial numbers give the following information:

Korea

I = Saein

U = Unsung

S = Samick

P or R = Peerless

K = Korea

China

DW = DeaWon

EA = Gibson/QingDao

EE = Gibson/QingDao

MC = Muse

SJ = SaeJung

Z = Zaozhuang Saehan

BW = China

Japan

No letter or F = FujiGen

J or T = Terada

Czech Republic

B = Bohêmia Musico-Delicia

Indonesia

SI = Samick Indonesia

Example: SI09034853 SI = Samick Indonesia, 09 = 2009, 03 = March, 4853 = manufacturing number.

Several Epiphone guitars have been produced in the United States since 1971. The Epiphone Spirit and Special were produced in the early 1980s in Kalamazoo. In 1993, three historic Epiphone acoustic guitars, the Texan, Frontier, and Excellente, were produced by Gibson Acoustic in Montana. The Paul McCartney Texan was produced in 2005, and in 2009, the Epiphone Historic Collection was created, beginning with the 1962 Wilshire, built by Gibson Custom. Several other models, such as the Sheraton and John Lennon Casinos, were built in Japan and assembled and finished by Gibson USA.

Order your Epiphone Les Paul on eBay

My favorite guitar in my collection is my Translucent Blue Epiphone Les Paul Standard. I've had this guitar for almost 12 years now. It's been my main guitar when performing live and when recording in the studio. It has the quality, tone, and feel of it's big brother the Gibson Les Paul but at a fraction of the cost. So if your wanting a quality guitar but don't have the bankroll to buy a Gibson model then check out Epiphone, you wont be disappointed.

Epiphone Masterbilt Acoustic guitars on eBay

Quality Acoustic and acoustic electric guitars with wallet friendly price tags.

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