The Epiphone Masterbilt Century Series: Bringing Back the Essential Pre-Gibson Epiphone Archtops

When you think of Epiphone, you probably think of affordable import versions of Gibson guitars, and for good reason - Gibson is Epiphone’s parent company. They do, in fact, manufacture Les Pauls, SGs, and the like. What you may not think about is Epiphone’s history before they were acquired by Gibson in 1957. It’s hard to imagine, but in the early 20th century, Epiphone was Gibson’s main rival in the archtop guitar market.

The company’s roots go back to its Greek founder Anastasios Stathopoulos, who built fiddles and lutes. Eventually, Stathopoulos moved to New York City and when he passed on, his son Epaminondas took the reigns, expanding the lineup to include banjos and eventually guitars, including the venerable Masterbilt archtops.

At Summer NAMM 2016, Epiphone reintroduced some models of yesteryear, including the De Luxe, Olympic, and Zenith, to make classic Epiphone tone and workmanship more accessible to the masses. These guitars hearken back to the early days of the company when they crafted incredible, beautiful archtops that became popular with players the world over. In honor of these newly-available beauties, let’s go inside the house that Stathopoulos built and check out some of Epiphone’s early work.

The models were similar in appearance and construction, with the main differences being in wood type, size, and cosmetic appointments. They all possess a sound different from a standard acoustic; there’s no other way to get an acoustic archtop sound without playing an acoustic archtop.

Broadway

Epiphone Broadway

Epiphone Broadway

The original Broadway of the 1930s had a 16 ⅜” body width, but was later increased to 17 ⅜”. It began with walnut back and sides, but was changed to maple in 1939. The spruce top featured two f-holes. As with other models, changes were made over time, and a cutaway version of the Broadway, the Broadway Regent, became available in 1950. The cutaway model is more rare and consequently more desirable amongst collectors. After being acquired by Gibson, the Broadway was put back into production as an electric archtop with two mini-humbuckers.

Epiphone De Luxe

Epiphone De Luxe

De Luxe

The large-bodied De Luxe is a perfect choice for swing, big band, or jazz, and it sounds as great as it looks. When it was first introduced in 1931, it was one of the finest guitars in the Epiphone line. It has been used by players such as Howard Roberts, Teddy Bunn of the Spirits of Rhythm, and even Keith Richards.

Emperor

Epiphone Emperor

Epiphone Emperor

The Emperor, as the name implies, was intended to be the grandaddy of them all. A competitor to Gibson’s Super 400, it featured a large 18 ½” body, and was the flagship Epiphone instrument up until the time the company was acquired by Gibson. The current production Joe Pass Emperor is much different than the original Emperor, but you can get close to it with the new De Luxe model.

Olympic

Epiphone Olympic

Epiphone Olympic

The Olympic is a small-bodied archtop, with the first incarnation in 1931 having a body width of 13”. Later, it was changed to 13 ⅝”, and in 1937 it became slightly bigger at 15”. While lower bout statistics of guitars aren’t exactly exciting, the dimensions of each guitar gives them their own distinct tonality. Like other Epiphone archtops, the sound is rich and woody, with more midrange than a standard flattop acoustic guitar. Dave Rawlings, of the Gillian Welch band, swears by his 1935 Olympic. The Olympic is a great choice for someone with a smaller frame who doesn’t want to hold a big archtop, or for anyone seeking the distinct tone its smaller body provides.

If you’ve ever longed for a classic Epiphone archtop, now is the perfect time to strike. You don’t have to blow your life savings, and you don’t have to worry about taking a vintage guitar to your next gig. If you’re new to archtops, there’s nothing quite like them, and a new Epiphone is a great way to add a classy guitar to your collection. These guitars are physically attractive enough to where your significant other should give you approval based on the way it looks in the living room corner alone. Whether you’re an archtop aficionado, or you just want to try something new, make it a point to check out the new - and vintage - Epiphone Masterbilt models. They are awesome, unique guitars, and there are countless songs waiting to be discovered inside them.

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection Olympic Pre-Order

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection Olympic Pre-Order

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection De Luxe Pre-Order

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection De Luxe Pre-Order

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection Zenith Pre-Order

Epiphone Masterbilt Century Collection Zenith Pre-Order

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