Epiphone offers players a vast range of excellent instruments at very fair prices. Gibson acquired the company in 1957 and kept each factory separate with their own specialization in instrument manufacturing.
This proved to be an excellent decision, for both companies are well respected by musicians of all different incomes and playing styles. Epiphone is one of the world’s largest electric guitar manufacturers and carries a modest line of acoustic instruments as well. If you have a pulse (and want to play guitar), there is something for you in the Epiphone catalogue of electric guitars.
The goal of this article is to provide you with a handful of Epiphone guitars that we feel are excellent affordable instruments of equal quality to their big brother Gibson. I will highlight a few of Epiphone’s top-buys and review the good, bad and ugly on each of them.
To better help you, please use our interactive guide below to directly compare some of the Epiphone guitars we will discuss today’s.
Things to Keep in Mind
Here are a few things to consider when buying an Epiphone electric:
Sound – When considering an Epiphone’s sound, I find it a waste of time to try and compare them to their Gibson bretheren. Think of the guitar as a standalone model. Ask yourself the simple question of whether it sounds good in the style you play in. Try and stick with the same amplifier and only make minor tweaks to your favorite EQ controls as you play and test. This is a scientific game, people.
Looks – Epiphone makes many killer-looking electric guitars. I find no difference in the quality of finish between Epiphone and Gibson. The type of wood under natural finish generally makes up the look of the instrument. When the wood is stained, it’s purely a question of “what’s your favorite color?” Many models are available in multiple different colors. If you find a model you like, I suggest checking out your favorite catalogue/website to look at all the different color options and ask your local music store if they have your favorite in stock. If not, they should be able (and willing) to order it for you. Trust me, it’s worth the wait for an instrument in your favorite style!
Feel – Electric guitars boast different neck styles, even trademarking them. Try not to buy too much into this; even trademarked necks vary little from each other. It’s all about how the company chooses to shape the contour of the neck. It’s a simple question of how it feels to you. No neck is “better” or worse; it’s purely objective, as is, well, nearly everything else about a guitar.
Setup and Action – This all plays into the ease of playability of a guitar. Many Epiphone’s feature either a Tune-O-Matic tailpiece or trapeze-style tailpiece. Both are relatively easy to adjust when considering action. If you are new to setting up a guitar, ask your local tech to show you the ropes. All include a truss rod, but reputable shops will already have the guitar setup before you are able to touch it. That means that if the guitar doesn’t easily fret up and down the neck when you play it, it’s best to stay away from it. It’s just not made for you.
Overall Value – How do you feel at the cash register? Ask yourself, will you play this Epiphone until death or Ebay do you part? Are there any alternatives to your selection that would help you save money? Or, should you pay a little more for the lonely guitar right next to it that really peaked your interest? Either way, guitar shopping should be fun, not stressful. So, if you are stressed about your decision leading up to it, chances are you aren’t making the right choice. “Use the force, Luke. Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.” (Obi and Qui-Gan as one person)
There you have it, folks. I recommend keeping the aforementioned qualities in mind when buying your Epiphone. Make sure that no matter your decision, the guitar has earned it’s place in your rig.
And without further ado, here are the electric guitars by Epiphone that I really enjoy.
Epiphone Dot – $430
The Dot is based off of the Gibson ES-335, which has been played by various top-acts including Dave Grohl, Otis Rush, Chuck Berry, and Mr. B.B. King. It’s gotta be good, right? Featuring 2 humbuckers, this guy packs a lot of punch with all the versatility buckers have to offer. This guitar lends itself beautifully to rhythm and lead without all the rattle and hum of single coil P90s. (I’m looking at you, Epiphone Casino). This guy is a semi-hollowbody, meaning it’s essentially a hollow body with an extra block of wood inside the lower bout. It’s a lot of guitar, and in cherry red is a bold statement on stage.
The setup is easy-going, featuring Gibson’s classic Tune-O-Matic bridge. It’s easy to adjust for pitch, tune, and action if you are so inclined. I’ve got mine setup with ultra-low action so it plays like a dream in all genres. That’s right, I’ve been able to play blues, rock, twangy country and yes, even metal. Throw your amp into overdrive with both buckers blowing and this guy can absolutely shred.
To be perfectly honest, the thought of a hollow body kicking out some Metallica licks seems a bit like picturing firefighters taming a fire with Nerf squirtguns. Trust me, it works. Don’t knock it until you try it. If you prefer the sound of Burstbuckers and work with a tech to install them, I recommend also swapping out the tone knobs with dual-pot potentiometers.
With the push/pull switch, you can kick the pickups into single-coil mode for some awesome P90-like screams. The tech may have to completely remove the knobs to access the pickups anyway, so it’s worth the extra cash for parts in what you’ll save on labor. Oh yeah…you just turned the versatility of this guitar up to 11.
Overall, I chose the Epiphone Dot as an addition to my shredder arsenal because it’s so incredibly versatile. I can do anything I want with it all the way up to going swimming with it. At a price point of $430 and several color options, you just cannot go wrong with it. I consider it among the best electric guitars to buy in terms of reliability, sound and value.
Epiphone Casino – $600
At first glance, the Casino looks a lot like the Dot. There are two key differences between the two: the Casino is a full hollow body, and also sports 2 single-coil P90 pickups. The combination of these two features makes the Casino a major blues and rock guitar. Played by the Beatles and newer acts like Gary Clark Jr., the Casino is appreciated because it is a bold looking guitar with a very punchy attack.
The Casino is said to be the guitar that broke Epiphone away from Gibson. I find that the sunburst edition is one of the most classic looking guitars of its time. Featuring a trapeze-style tailpiece, this guitar has absolutely magnificent sustain. Even though one may argue the P90 pickups limit the instrument’s tonal palate (when compared to the humbucker-weilding Dot), I find that the Casino is capable of sustaining entire genres of music. Gary Clark Jr. does an excellent job transitioning from classic blues to a very Jack White-esque buzzsaw attack to your ears.
I found the Casino to be just as playable as the Dot, but without the block in the lower bout it weighs a tad less. Playing through dirty and clean channels, the Casino sounds superb in both. Just like the heroes that play it, I was able to dial-in on blues, clean and grunge with ease.
This is a guitar I recommend to any lead guitar player who has invested in a variety of effects pedals, but it can hold its own as a rhythm guitar as well. Available in several finishes – including Gary Clark Jr.’s signature Blak and Blu edition – this guitar will stand out in the crowd.
Century – $600
Are you an admirer of 1960 Epiphones? You may appreciate the Epiphone Century. Complete with all vintage appointments, this guitar is starkly different from the rest in that it only has one single-coil pickup.
I was very surprised by the tonal variation this guitar had given that it only has one neck pickup. However, I would limit buyers of this guitar to those who already have an electric guitar or two. While this axe sounds sharp, you may not want to limit yourself to an instrument with only one pickup.
The Century benefits those with an impressive footswitch/effect arsenal, but not many others. I love the look and feel of this guitar, but for $600 I feel as though this is a specialty instrument at best rather than a versatile tool for players.
Epiphone SG G-400
Metal welcomed the SG “Solid Guitar” with open arms. So did names like Pete Townshend, Tony Iommi, Paul Weller, AC/DC’s Angus Young, Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks.
The Gibson SG was made as an alternative to the Les Paul. Lead players loved the “fretless wonder” for its incredibly low frets resulting in fast-action shredding. The twin horns on the upper bout were unlike anything else on the market, making the SG stand apart from the rest of the crowd.
I appreciated the Epiphone version of the SG – get this – more than the Gibson version. Crazy, right?
Perhaps it was just the model of Gibson I tried, but the Epiphone version sounded and felt like a million bucks! While I am not a particular shredder, I was able to play some really complicated riffs on the Epiphone that were more difficult to play on the Gibson. Perhaps it’s the setup itself, but after a conversation with the store’s tech, I learned that Epiphone’s are more often than not setup better out of the box compared to Gibson’s
Ain’t that something.
Epiphone Sheraton-II – $600
The winner of best looks is the Sheraton-II. Complete with cream binding, abalone inlays and Epiphone’s vine headstock, this axe is a show-stopper. Once again, we have a guitar that looks a lot like the Dot. It even has two humbucker pickups. However, these pickups are Alnico Classic humbuckers, a different beast entirely.
The sound of the Sheraton-II varies from the Dot in that it sounds a little reserved with less “bite” than either the Dot or Casino. This sound lends itself well to blues players who prefer a rich clean sound with creamy bass tones and midrange goodness. While this is not my tonal preference, it may be yours.
All else aside, this guitar plays like a dream like its hollow-body brethren. If hollow-body isn’t your thing, at least go take a look at this beauty. You’d be crazy not to.
Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus – $750
Ah, the allure of the Les Paul…Gibson’s flagship guitar has found itself in the Epiphone line of instruments.
The 1960 Tribute is, well, a tribute to a 1960’s Gibson Les Paul. While this may seem like a specialized instrument to include in a list like this – limited to 1,960 worldwide – I wanted to show you that even an Epiphone can be made to the standards of a classic Gibson. This instrument includes everything you would find in its big brother: 2 USA Burstbucker humbucker pickups, D SlimTaper neck profile, AAA Flamed Maple veneer, Witchcraft 3-way toggle switch, trapezoid position markers, and a classic Gibson sunburst finish. All for a fraction of the price of a Gibson Les Paul.
It almost seems like brand suicide, doesn’t it? No! Gibson wants everyone to know that an Epiphone electric guitar is among the elite. Whether the Tribute or the Dot, you are purchasing a first-rate instrument. And, might I add, the guitar plays and sounds absolutely excellent. Slash would be proud to don one over his shoulder.
I appreciated the neck profile on this instrument. Again, I don’t much care for marketing particular neck profiles, but this guitar plays fast. The jumbo frets let me bend notes more than a whole step sharp without fear of breaking the strings.
Any genre of music would benefit from this instrument. I find that the tonal palate of this guitar is similar to that of the Dot, but in a more edgy way. At a higher price point than the Dot, I mark this second highest on the list. This guitar is for someone who has wanted a Les Paul since birth, but doesn’t have (or feel like its necessary, hint hint) to shell out the money for a “real” Les Paul. Seriously, other than the name on the headstock…what’s the difference?
I hope that after reading this article, you have a newfound appreciation for Epiphone’s line of electric guitars. I cannot stress enough how incredible it is that we can purchase affordable guitars that are truly excellent. We’ve come a long way from the Harmony/Stella days, and my gosh, what a great time it is to be alive.
I hope that as you go through your decision-making process in purchasing an electric guitar, you will seriously consider what Epiphone has to offer. Don’t shy away from an instrument – whether it be an Epiphone or other brand – just because it’s got a humble price tag compared to the big brothers. If it sounds and feels good, it is good.
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