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Epiphone Semis

Article from One Two Testing, June 1985

Casino and Emperor guitars


AS WE ALL know from last month's One Two, a JAZZ guitar is easy to spot: providing it wasn't made in that dim dark era known as the mid-Seventies, a JAZZ guitar is recognisable by virtue of its sheer bulk, its single rounded cutaway and the funny-shaped holes in it. This means the Epiphone Emperor is a JAZZ guitar; but what of its companion, the Casino? While its double cutaway bears a strong resemblance to that of the Gibson 335, much beloved of both blues- and Bunny-men, it has certain internal characteristics that deny its usefulness as a loud instrument, thus placing it firmly into the realms of JAZZ.

These two guitars are half of a series of Epiphones that have just begun appearing in music shops in this country, although the guitars have been around for some time. The other models are the Sheraton and the Riviera, standard Epiphone lines from the past that bear a marked resemblance to the Gibson 355 and 335 respectively.

Older guitar persons will remember Epiphone as a part of the Kalamazooo empire of the Gibson clan, an offshoot of the famous name to produce cheaper equivalent models of famous lines. Epiphones weren't quite Gibson copies, but slightly altered designs that attempted to offer an alternative to big brother — cheaper components, less exotic woods, but still a high standard of workmanship (does this sound familiar?). Thoroughly commendable, but not totally practical, which could explain why Gibson stopped using the Epiphone name in the Seventies.

So how come, in the equally economically astringent Eighties, that Gibson have revived the Epiphone name? Well, squire (that's a clue), if you peer at the back of the elegant and well-finished headstock on either the Emperor or the Casino, you will see — apart from a serial number, and Epiphone own-brand machine-heads — a small sticker saying "Made In Japan". It seems that Gibson are using the name of Epiphone to run an operation not too dissimilar to Fender's Squier 'made-under-licence-and-with-our-full-co-operation' set-up.

THE CASINO



I mentioned an internal characteristic of the Casino that made it unsuitable for high volumes — in common with the Emperor it is entirely hollow, lacking the central block of maple down the length of the body that stops it from being a Riviera. This makes the guitar highly prone to feedback in a rather unhelpful way; it is of course possible to turn this to your advantage, but the Casino's tendency to feed back only on particular frequencies can be inhibiting rather than exhilarating.

The Casino is not an expensive guitar. The list price of £400 is considerably above what you would expect to pay over the counter, and it includes a good quality hard case. The pickups are the most obvious indication of cost-cutting as they resemble the type of tinny one-piece you used to find on your first-ever electric — a rectangular chunk of metal with large triangular flanges through which the pickup is screwed directly onto the body. Bearing in mind that it's difficult to mount pickups on to a hollow body in any other way, I should say that they both do their job perfectly adequately, giving warmth at the neck and a sufficiently cutting "edge" at the bridge. They do look dodgy, though.

After the electronic hardware, the strings pass over a standard Tune-O-Matic style bridge (mounted on bolts that protrude from the body without any visible means of support) down to a long but stable trapeze tailpiece, which is fixed over the edge of the body, and under the strap button.

The body itself is beautifully finished in a deep cherry that brings out the grain of the wood (importers Rosetti weren't sure what type of wood was used in either the Emperor or the Casino). Neck and body are bound in cream, which clashes awkwardly with the bright white scratchplate (looks like cheap dental work). The staining of the body even carries over the lip of the f-holes, which is always a fair indication of attention to detail.

The electrics of the Casino are bog-standard two-volume and tone, though the pots appear to be slightly mismatched as they do not work quite as smoothly as they should (this means jumps in volume, rather than gravel in the knob).

For a semi-acoustic, the Casino is smallish, and comfortable to wear. Despite appearances to the contrary, it's plenty loud, and offers a reasonable tonal spectrum for you to tamper with. But it all feels a bit stiff. It's not as warm as some semis, nor as hard sounding and the 22-fret rosewood neck felt very dry and unforgiving, which contributed to the overall "Woodenness" of the guitar. It sustains well, the neck has no discernible dead spots, it looks good (apart from the pickups), and is well-constructed; but the Casino only sounds "all right". Is that enough?

THE EMPEROR



Admittedly, by the time I came to the Casino, I had been spoilt by this enormous beast, the Epiphone Emperor. Both guitars had arrived straight from the crate, unplayed since they left Japan, and still equipped with factory strings (flat-wound, and with a wound G). This was an annoyance in the Casino, but seemed irrelevant to the Emperor.

The 20 fret neck on the Emperor is a work of art: from the double-pinstriped binding to the block mother-of-pearl markers with reverse triangular inlays, from the polished ebony fingerboard to the gold-plated machines (all the hardware is gold-plated), from the dark staining on the back of the three-section neck to the exquisite mother-of-pearl weed (it looks like a weed) inlay in the headstock, this neck is a thing of beauty. It plays all right an' all.

As befitting one of imperial stature, the guitar's body is full and sumptuously rounded. The cream binding is triple pinstriped around the edge of the body, beautifully offsetting this Havana cigar of Tobacco Sunbursts. The pickups are height-adjustable, being set in mountings above the body. The bridge is a floating Tune-O-Thingy, as I discovered when I knocked the whole arrangement out of alignment (I did panic for a moment). The trapeze tailpiece is split in two for treble and bass strings.

And it sounds expensive too: it has the extra body (literally) that makes a good jazz guitar sing. With the action set characteristically high, it's not an easy instrument to play, but the rewards are there for the reaping if you are prepared to work at it.

The Emperor has a clean and substantial sound which makes your fingers hunt out those esoteric chord shapes — the Dim 7s and Aug 11/13s fall neatly into place under previously stubborn fingers, fingers start tapping... daddyo, this is one rootie-tootie, jivearootie, cool geetar.

So it should be, at over £600. Mind you, that is approximately £2,400 less than the Gibson equivalent (if you can find one).

Perhaps it's a little misleading to compare these two models, as one is very definitely a top-of-the-line flagship, and the other is almost a bargain basement job. But it does illustrate that the Epiphone name is back, and with a diverse range on offer at a high standard of manufacture and a reasonable price. This is a good thing.

EPIPHONE emperor £625 casino £400

CONTACT: Rosetti, (Contact Details).


Also featuring gear in this article

Epiphone Casino
(IT Jun 85)

Epiphone Emperor
(IM Sep 75)


Browse category: Guitar > Epiphone



Previous Article in this issue

Island Logic Music Software

Next article in this issue

ABC


Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jun 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter

Review by Jon Lewin

Previous article in this issue:

> Island Logic Music Software

Next article in this issue:

> ABC


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