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Steve DeRosa 11-06-2020 02:43 PM

Keep the drool towels handy...
 
I was surfing the net and I came across this beauty - the uber-rare Epiphone Emperor Concert:

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/images/58809_full.jpg

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/images/58809_back.jpg

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/images/58809_side.jpg

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/images/58809_head.jpg

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/images/58809_label.jpg

Yes folks, that's a genuine 1949 New York original in dead-mint condition - a near-twin to Johnny Smith's personal guitar, and one of only three known to exist; here's the back story:

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/closeup28.html

Had the "classical archtop" school not essentially crashed after WW II (a result of Segovia's 1928 American debut and the subsequent adoption of the Spanish-style guitar as the concert-hall standard, as well as changing postwar musical tastes), I could easily see one of these as a virtuoso soloist's instrument...

Richard Mott 11-06-2020 06:23 PM

Steve, now THAT is an amazing instrument! How modern the sound hole looks—never seen one remotely like that. Let us know if you ever get to play and how it sounds!

DCCougar 11-06-2020 08:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa (Post 6543602)
I was surfing the net and I came across this beauty - the uber-rare Epiphone Emperor Concert...

Wow! Pretty amazing! Looks like Guild copied those fret markers.

mc1 11-06-2020 09:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa (Post 6543602)
I was surfing the net and I came across this beauty - the uber-rare Epiphone Emperor Concert:

Yes folks, that's a genuine 1949 New York original in dead-mint condition - a near-twin to Johnny Smith's personal guitar, and one of only three known to exist; here's the back story:

https://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/closeup28.html

Had the "classical archtop" school not essentially crashed after WW II (a result of Segovia's 1928 American debut and the subsequent adoption of the Spanish-style guitar as the concert-hall standard, as well as changing postwar musical tastes), I could easily see one of these as a virtuoso soloist's instrument...

Looks big!

Bit of a bittersweet ending to that story:
Quote:

It was always treated as 'sacred' in our family so it's only been played a handful of times and has been in its original case pretty much the whole time.
I'm intrigued by what you refer to as the "classical archtop" school. Who were members of that academy?

Steve DeRosa 11-06-2020 10:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DCCougar (Post 6543820)
Wow! Pretty amazing! Looks like Guild copied those fret markers.

A little bit of New York guitar history, lore, and general gossip - all true in this case and stated as briefly as possible - is that Guild was in fact formed as a result of the gradual disintegration of the original Epiphone operation in the early 1950's, in the wake of Frixo Stathopoulo's acrimonious departure and Orphie's unwillingness to acquiesce to employee demands for unionization; when Alfred Dronge founded the Guild operation in lower Manhattan in 1952 he took many of the local Italian craftsmen with him (several others jumped ship to Gretsch and Favilla), adopting the brand name as much an evocation of the European roots of his workers as a not-too-thinly veiled social statement. Inasmuch as they specialized in jazzboxes (acoustic and electric) for the first few years of production, it's no surprise the earliest Guild instruments bore a strong resemblance to their Epiphone forbears - in a later day their use of the center-dip headstock, aforementioned inlay, and body profiles (especially on their early 17" archtops) would have been considered lawsuit-worthy...

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6543827)
Looks big!

Bit of a bittersweet ending to that story:

I'm intrigued by what you refer to as the "classical archtop" school. Who were members of that academy?

That's an 18-3/8" body, the largest factory archtop ever produced (Elmer and Charles Stromberg's small-shop operation produced the 19" Master 400, acknowledged by many Big-Band players as the loudest acoustic guitar in creation, and the preferred instrument of the legendary Freddie Green), but with some subtle body-contour modifications (suggested by Johnny Smith) that distinguish it immediately from its standard f-hole contemporary in a side-by-side comparison. I played my share of New York Emperors back in the early-70's, when nobody wanted them and good examples could be had for $500 (I was in college then and couldn't float the cash...:() - big, full, powerful, with a velvety richness to the bass and midrange not commonly found in the smaller sizes - and if they're any example I suspect this one is really special: comparable volume, but more sustain and sweetness to the treble register; as I stated, a true virtuoso instrument for those with the technique to bring out its best - shame none of us will ever get the chance to hear it...

In answer to your question, most contemporary players are unaware that there was an entire school of "classical archtop" guitar that flourished from about 1925-1940, and upon which Mel Bay based his well-known method; when I was learning in the early-60's the method books bore a statement that they were in fact designed and intended "to place the plectrum guitar in the same class as the violin, piano, and other 'legitimate' instruments" (and if you've never hung around in certain so-called "serious" music circles it's difficult to imagine the pejorative attitude directed toward the guitar, even in its "classical" incarnation)...

By way of background, in its original form the classical-archtop movement drew from the earlier American school of (fingerstyle) classical guitar exemplified by the likes of William Foden, Vahdah Olcott-Bickford, et al. (rather than that of Segovia and his Spanish contemporaries, which would become the accepted concert style and instrument), as well as the parlor, "light classical," and vaudeville music of late-19th/early 20th century America. In addition to transcriptions of well-known classical repertoire, a number of guitarists of the day produced original compositions in a late-Romantic style - music which, while largely out of fashion today, still retains its technical and artistic merit nine decades later. Bear in mind that the original L-5 archtop guitar was in fact envisioned as a "classical" instrument both tonally and visually, intended as a part of the mandolin orchestras of the late-vaudeville era and designed for hall-filling acoustic projection in the days before electronic amplification; were it not for Segovia's sensational American debut in 1928, the plectrum-style archtop guitar - with its violin-family looks and construction - may well have become the accepted "classical" guitar...

If you're interested there are a number of recordings of these period pieces on YouTube, either in the original (by the likes of Harry Volpe, Al Hendrickson, et al.) or re-recorded by contemporary revivalists; in addition, you might also want to check out some of the work of Eddie Lang (both solo and with Joe Venuti on violin), Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Tony Mottola (when he was a teenage whiz kid), and George Van Eps, among others. Finally, there's an excellent collection published by Mel Bay, entitled Masters of the Plectrum Guitar which, should you be intrigued enough to investigate this style further, will definitely keep you busy for a while - and give you a taste of what might have been...

mc1 11-06-2020 10:43 PM

Thank You, Steve, for the lengthy reply. I understand what you mean now. I'm a fan of Eddie Lang and Tony Mottola, etc. I just think of them as jazz guitar pioneers (is that the name of an Eddie Lang CD I have?) Maybe its Jazz Guitar Virtuoso. Something like that. Time to dig it out.

The Growler 11-06-2020 11:21 PM

Very nice. What a beautiful guitar.

Thanks for the pictures and the detailed background.

billyg 11-06-2020 11:45 PM

Enjoyed the information. Always learn great stuff from your posts.

Howard Emerson 11-07-2020 04:29 AM

And it came in Sunburst too!
 
Steve,
When I saw this posting the first thing that came to mind was that I'd never seen anything like that before.

The second thing was that a FB acquaintance, Mike Thompson, has a staggering collection of Gibson archtops, and somehow may not be aware of this model........silly me.......

Here's his:

https://i.imgur.com/FnqRstb.jpg

Best,
Howard

Dave Richard 11-07-2020 07:29 AM

Great post, Steve, your discussions of archtop history(especially regarding Epiphone) are always interesting.
This model is fascinating to me, because it's Jonny Smith's and Epiphones version of a 'round' hole archtop, but retaining the standard tone-bar placement('splayed parallel'), and shaping the centered soundhole to fit. My early '30's Epiphone Spartan round-hole, has reverse splayed tone-bars(opposite of a standard f-hole model), to clear the soundhole, resulting in the tone bars coming closer together under the bridge. IMO, the tone & volume are lacking(compared to my other f-hole Epis), and I believe it's because of the bracing arrangement. Gibson used the same arrangement on some of the earliest scroll '0' models, too.
So I've been intrigued by this particular, very rare, Epi model, and would love to hear how it sounds!

Steve DeRosa 11-07-2020 09:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Howard Emerson (Post 6543954)
Steve,
When I saw this posting the first thing that came to mind was that I'd never seen anything like that before.

The second thing was that a FB acquaintance, Mike Thompson, has a staggering collection of Gibson archtops, and somehow may not be aware of this model........silly me.......

Here's his:

https://i.imgur.com/FnqRstb.jpg

Best,
Howard

Good morning, Howard - a little good news to brighten your (and your friend's) day:

Although it's well-known that Gibson produced Epiphone instruments with original New York parts as late as the end of 1963, the instrument in the photo is most emphatically not one of them; in fact, not only was it not made by Gibson, but it happens to be the sole documented sunburst example of the Epi Emperor Concert (#58825 dating to 1949) and possibly the only one released to the general public (Johnny Smith's was custom-built to order, and the blonde example above was a gift to an Epiphone employee from the Stathopoulo family) - in a word, your bud is in possession of one of the all-time Holy Grail guitars for any archtop collector...

If you have personal access to this unique instrument, I think most (if not all) of us would be interested in an OGD (old guitar day) hands-on evaluation/play test along with some additional photos; absent that, if you coud arrange for the owner to do the same for (with his permission) reposting here on the AGF Archtop subforum, I believe it would be greatly appreciated by all...

Let us know how it goes...

mc1 11-07-2020 10:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa (Post 6544094)
...it happens to be the sole documented sunburst example of the Epi Emperor Concert (#58825 dating to 1949) and possibly the only one released to the general public (Johnny Smith's was custom-built to order, and the blonde example above was a gift to an Epiphone employee from the Stathopoulo family) - [I]in a word, your bud is in possession of one of the all-time Holy Grail guitars for any archtop collector
...

I found a couple of links with a few pictures of this guitar. Looks like it was sold at auction in 2014:
http://guernseys.com/v2/artistry_guitar.html

Some nice shots here:
https://mellowmarty.tumblr.com/post/...ert-arch#notes

Howard Emerson 11-07-2020 10:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa (Post 6544094)
Good morning, Howard - a little good news to brighten your (and your friend's) day:

Although it's well-known that Gibson produced Epiphone instruments with original New York parts as late as the end of 1963, the instrument in the photo is most emphatically not one of them; in fact, not only was it not made by Gibson, but it happens to be the sole documented sunburst example of the Epi Emperor Concert (#58825 dating to 1949) and possibly the only one released to the general public (Johnny Smith's was custom-built to order, and the blonde example above was a gift to an Epiphone employee from the Stathopoulo family) - in a word, your bud is in possession of one of the all-time Holy Grail guitars for any archtop collector...

If you have personal access to this unique instrument, I think most (if not all) of us would be interested in an OGD (old guitar day) hands-on evaluation/play test along with some additional photos; absent that, if you coud arrange for the owner to do the same for (with his permission) reposting here on the AGF Archtop subforum, I believe it would be greatly appreciated by all...

Let us know how it goes...

Hi Steve,
I was clumsy in my post. He has a monstrous Gibson Archtop collection, but I assumed he’d be interested in the guitar you posted.

He owns that Sunburst Epiphone.

I can try to see if he’ll do a recording with it.

I’ll try to get him involved here. If you’re on Facebook his name is Mike Thompson, and he may live in Japan....

Howard

Howard Emerson 11-07-2020 11:01 AM

Steve,
For those who can access it, here’s Mike Thompson’s FB link. Prepare to be overwhelmed.

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001245716570

Howard

Steve DeRosa 11-07-2020 11:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Howard Emerson (Post 6544155)
...I can try to see if he’ll do a recording with it.

I’ll try to get him involved here. If you’re on Facebook his name is Mike Thompson, and he may live in Japan...

Thanks, Howard - looking forward to it... :up:

The Growler 11-07-2020 01:41 PM

Wow. Very cool.

JoeYouDon't 11-07-2020 02:01 PM

Well this is just glorious. I love that funky soundhole. New York Epiphones are some of the most special guitars out there.

Howard Emerson 11-07-2020 05:29 PM

As embarrassing as it is, my bad: Mike Thompson thought it would be funny to lead me on, and I have no one to blame but myself.

He owns no such Epiphone.

Sorry for the misleading posts.

Howard Emerson

Steve DeRosa 11-07-2020 07:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Howard Emerson (Post 6544406)
As embarrassing as it is, my bad: Mike Thompson thought it would be funny to lead me on, and I have no one to blame but myself.

He owns no such Epiphone.

Sorry for the misleading posts.

Howard Emerson

No problem - with an attitude like his he wouldn't have fit in too well with the AGF community anyway; great pic though, and a fascinating instrument regardless of its rightful owner...

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6543870)
Thank You, Steve, for the lengthy reply. I understand what you mean now. I'm a fan of Eddie Lang and Tony Mottola, etc. I just think of them as jazz guitar pioneers...

Here's a couple of samples of "classical archtop" from back in the day:



- and a few from modern revivalists keeping this historic style alive:





Interesting side note: Although barely visible in the picture, Harry Volpe's guitar is a prewar Gretsch Synchromatic 400 with a triangular center soundhole (Django's playing the cats' eye version) - similar in concept to the above Epiphones, and heard to great effect on the YouTube clip. Inasmuch as both Volpe and Johnny Smith had made the move from Gretsch to Epiphone around that time (as a consequence of Gretsch's use of unstable kiln-dried woods in the postwar period, resulting in twisted/warped necks and cracked bodies - hope we all remembered to humidify today, folks... :rolleyes:), it's well within the realm of possibility that this was the inspiration for the Emperor Concert; as the two were fixtures on the New York studio/club circuit, knew each other, and often participated in jams with other A-list players, Smith would have been quite familiar with Volpe's guitar and its unique visual/sonic properties - even through the primitive recording equipment/techniques the sweetness of the trebles and rich, woody bass/midrange one would anticipate in a guitar of this size/type can be clearly heard, and in conjunction with Volpe's technical prowess further substantiates my earlier comments about being a true virtuoso instrument. By the mid-1950's Volpe had gone to an FT-210 Deluxe, a 17" cutaway flattop instrument with a pressed arched back (a technique adopted by erstwhile competitor Guild for many of its iconic flattop guitars, and still in use to this day), as his main acoustic instrument; here's a blonde example (Volpe's was sunburst):

https://www.frettedamericana.com/sit...1892_front.jpg

Cabarone 11-07-2020 08:26 PM

I think Ralph Kramden summed it up best: "Homina-homina-homina!!!"

mc1 11-08-2020 09:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Howard Emerson (Post 6544406)
As embarrassing as it is, my bad: Mike Thompson thought it would be funny to lead me on, and I have no one to blame but myself.

He owns no such Epiphone.

Sorry for the misleading posts.

Howard Emerson

It's not embarrassing at all. Perhaps he thought you would know the rarity of the instrument and get the inside joke. Like if I said I used my Somogyi as my camping beater. 99% of people wouldn't get that.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa (Post 6544464)
Here's a couple of samples of "classical archtop" from back in the day:
...

Thanks, those were fun. I'm a big classical guitar fan, so hearing Villa-Lobos on the archtop was neat. I also checked out some William Foden and Vahdah Olcott-Bickford.

Howard Emerson 11-08-2020 12:10 PM

Here’s Olivier Laroche playing 15” archtop made by Guillaume Rancourt of Montreal, Canada:



He also plays Al Valenti arrangements to perfection!

Howard Emerson

ArchtopLover 11-23-2020 02:16 PM

Round Hole Tone?
 
This is certainly a breathtaking masterpiece of an archtop guitar to behold, and I am sure it would be a dream to play as well.

However, I am curious, for such a high-end, masterpiece, custom made Archtop guitar, from this period, why would the master luthiers have chosen to use a "round" (not exactly, in this case), sound hole?

I own, and play, two cheapo (in contrast to this example), vintage archtops, one is a 1934 Gibson L-50 (first of its name) and the other is a 1928 Gibson L-4. Each has a very similar quality of tone difference from the traditional, Lloyd Loar designed "F" hole versions, that I wonder what Epiphone was trying to achieve by using a round-like sound hole in an instrument of this caliber?

My point is this, the L-50 and the L-4 sound more like flattop acoustics, than archtop acoustics. With the round sound hole there is absolutely no natural reverb as I am accustomed too in my many other "F" hole archtops. And, the lower register is much fatter an more full sounding too. Not that I am necessarily preferencial in this regard, it's just that they are very, very different in the way they sound.

So, at the absolute pinnacle level of a vintage Epiphone Emperor Concert archtop guitar, did the master luthiers believe the tonal characteristics, produced by this sound-hole shape superior, or just different and unique, or what?

Dave Richard 11-23-2020 07:52 PM

I believe Johnny Smith specified the trapezoidal soundhole, when discussing and ordering the guitar from Epiphone. I’d guess he wanted to try combining the parallel tone bars, with a ‘centered’ soundhole that would fit. I myself am very curious about how this design sounds. A standard round hole prevents the use of parallel tone bars(not truly parallel, of course), requiring the use of x-bracing, or Gibson’s h-bracing, or Epiphone’s own unsuccesful(IMO) use of reverse-splay tone-bars.

This design did not apparently satisfy Smith, because he ended up with the Gibson made, Smith endorsed JS model, which I believe is x-braced. He wanted some of that flattop tone, in his archtop.

Steve DeRosa 11-23-2020 08:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ArchtopLover (Post 6557768)
...I am curious, for such a high-end, masterpiece, custom made archtop guitar, from this period, why would the master luthiers have chosen to use a "round" (not exactly, in this case), sound hole?

I own, and play, two cheapo (in contrast to this example), vintage archtops, one is a 1934 Gibson L-50 (first of its name) and the other is a 1928 Gibson L-4...With the round sound hole there is absolutely no natural reverb...And, the lower register is much fatter and more full sounding too...

I think you answered your own question when you described the defining characteristics of these instruments vis-a-vis their f-hole counterparts and which, when taken in light of the existence of the "classical archtop" school, actually make perfect sense in a steel-string virtuoso guitar: powerful natural acoustic projection, immediate response, and extended frequency range with minimal sonic artifacts (that natural reverb that sounds so sweet in more intimate surroundings is largely unnecessary in a concert-hall setting); while the design/execution is sound - Johnny Smith used one as his go-to-acoustic, Harry Volpe played a similar Gretsch Synchromatic 400 at least through the early postwar period, and Howard Roberts' Kalamazoo-era Epiphone signature model was an updated variation on a 16" cutaway platform - the concept belongs to a style of music already well in decline when these guitars were built, and I wouldn't be surprised if the aforementioned three examples are in fact the only ones in existence. By the same token, many flattop players looking to cross over find typical archtops strident, steely-sounding, and lacking dynamic/frequency range (they're not when played with the proper technique, but we all know that around here...:cool:), so this may indeed be an idea whose time has finally come - and I've had a guitar of this size/type on my bucket list for many years...


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