John Lennon played an Epiphone guitar. It was, and still is, called the Casino. In fact, John Lennon played the same Epiphone Casino from 1965 through his remaining years with the Beatles. The original sunburst finish was stripped off to a natural varnish and you can see him playing it in the iconic performance on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios from the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.
These days, Epiphone is often referred to by it’s alternative name, Not a Gibson(TM). While the company had already merged with Gibson in the late 50’s, it wasn’t until the Epiphone version of the famous Les Paul came out in 1989 that they started to become associated with “lesser” versions of flagship Gibson models. That’s unfortunate, because I’ve owned both Epiphone and Gibson models and, while I’ve loved them both, Epiphone is now my preferred choice for a modern guitar brand. To be clear, I am in no way stating that an Epiphone is better than a Gibson–that would be downright treasonous. I’m just saying that having played both brands and weighing the overall benefits of each, I’m an Epiphone guy–my name is John…
But it will never be a Gibson!
The fight over Epiphone vs. Gibson (and to a lesser degree Fender vs. Squier) has been the subject of comment wars all over the internet and has probably ended a few friendships. For that reason, I’m going to avoid that particular debate and just offer my experience and perspective allowing for the certainty that others will have a different take. I used to own a Les Paul Custom. It was a work of art with a heritage sunburst finish and weighed at least 50 pounds…without the strap. Okay, maybe it was 10 pounds, but it certainly felt like 50 after a three hour gig. But, it was my “go to” guitar for years.
Sometime during the 90’s I picked up a cheapie hollowbody made by a company called Global (don’t bother looking them up), put some Gibson humbuckers in it, and started to notice my gorgeous Les Paul Custom was spending a lot of time in it’s case. How could such a cheap knockoff guitar replace a guitarist’s dream instrument? I’ve since learned it has to do with pickups and resonance but that’s a topic for another article. Long story short, I eventually sold the Les Paul to help pay some bills and immediately replaced it with a well-reviewed Epiphone Les Paul Standard–I couldn’t stand the thought of not owning some version of a Les Paul. There are not many instruments that can compare to the beauty and craftsmanship of a Gibson Les Paul Custom. However, when you put aside bindings, finish and other aesthetics and focus on the basic essential build quality and sound, the Epiphone Les Paul becomes a very appealing option. Personally, I prefer the sound of my Epiphone to the Gibson it replaced. It’s a slightly lighter/brighter sound that’s not as thick and dark as the Gibson, but still 100% Les Paul.
The Unsung Epiphone
In addition to their unique Casino model (Gibson doesn’t make one of these), Epiphone continues to put out some gems that are solely their own. My current favorite guitar, aside from the Global of course, is my ES-339 with P90 pickups. For me, it possesses nearly all of the qualities I’ve prized in both Gibson and Fender models. I’ll gush about the specifics I love about the sound another time but for now, I’ll just leave you with a picture.
Sounds as good as it looks!