Epiphone S400 Six String
Hands up those electric guitar manufacturers who don't produce a Strat copy or a model with a pointy headstock. I detect very little movement out there. Everyone sitting on their hands?
Respectively, the Korean-made Rosetti-distributed Epiphone S400 is one, has the other and, at £160 recommended, joins a busy ol' niche in the market.
Starting where one's right hand usually waves about is a familiar-shape, fairly heavy body of unspecified 'treewood' — laminated in horizontal plys. The only external evidence of this on the review sample was the ply strata peeking through at the heel directly underneath the detachable neck joint.
You won't find any surprises on the scratchplate-mounted hardware - it's standard Strat (in this case with a non-splittable rear humbucker) - but there's power in them thar' pick-ups and the neck/middle pairing is particularly sweet. Definitely a favourite setting this (not just for Straits' freaks either), retaining a healthy output level as well as a goodly portion of high frequencies which some in-between combinations tend to sacrifice. A cosmetic criticism in the pick-up department is the rather obvious gap around the humbucker which exposes the pick-up's base plate.
Tremolos can be tricky things to set up properly and the straightforward, through-the-body sync-type unit on the S400 could have used the expert's touch. It's tensioned by three springs (up to five can be accommodated) and worked reasonably enough but tended to come to rest - in its de-wanged state - in discernibly different positions. This led to less than 100% confidence in tremolo tuning stability.
First time around the maple neck felt a little over-substantial for a guitar of this type but with the passing of time came to be very comfortable. It's securely held too (four bolts bearing on a metal back plate), fitting snugly into a reassuring close-tolerance body recess. You'll be hard put to exert any sideways movement here. Slightly unusual for things maple is that the 21-fret, shallow-radius fingerboard is a separate piece of wood.
Fretting was well finished and of the narrow-to-medium width, oval section variety. For flying up and down the neck, I would have preferred the frets dressed lower and flatter-topped. Still they allowed, on the sample's straight neck, an action at the 12th fret of less than 1.75mm bass side and not much more than 1.0mm treble without any amplified buzz or intrusive choking when bending - not too shabby for a guitar straight out the box, as it were.
The black-veneered pointy bit carries the six separate and enclosed tuning machines, truss rod cover and a mother-of-something-or-other 'Epiphone by Gibson' logo. Whether this is intended to be evidence of hand-crafted detail I don't know, but on the sample the perfectly formed Epiphone motif was contrasted somewhat by a 'Gibson' which looked like it had been inlaid by a shortsighted oriental chap with shaky hands or a severe hangover.
The S400 grew on me. To begin with it leaves an unremarkable impression but after a short while you realise it performs well, unset-up tremolo excluded, in all the right ways. It's comfortable and well-balanced, it sounds good (the tremolo springs and housing contributing, as they always do, to the instrument's tonal character), the accommodating neck and fingerboard let you express the extent of your technique, it doesn't cost the earth (far from it) and, when it comes to buying on the strength of a name, you do at least have a headstock with Gibson on it (wobbly but nice nevertheless) to thrust knowingly at your admiring audience.
Review by Jerry Uwins
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