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  #1  
Old 09-18-2021, 05:30 PM
radiofm74 radiofm74 is offline
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Default Dream-come-true NGD: 1938 Epi Deluxe

Since starting out in jazz I always wanted a golden era acoustic archtop, and the model I thought was the most beautiful was the 17" Epiphone De Luxe of the late thirties. I located one in Paris during the summer of 2020. Almost a done deal, but then COVID happened and I could not travel. This summer the prospective seller texted me, and after some hesitation I arranged to go. Actually not the seller: the wonderful Romain Vuillemin, without whom the deal would not have been possible. Check out his YouTube channels if you like swing and archtops!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1a...lBig4IFgYSebpQ

Anyway, after a pretty nourished exchange of information I go to Paris and in the same afternoon get to try the 1938 Deluxe I was going for, a 1934 16" Deluxe also for sale, and some not-for-sale guitars (an early 30s 16" L-5, a later 17" L-5, a 1939 Emperor, a 1960s De Luxe cutaway, and a 1942 D'Angelico Excel). Even though the 1934 was a true tone beast, I chose the 1938. Even in such exalted company, it was the best archtop I've laid hands on (well… on par with the 16" L-5, '39 Emperor and D'Angelico… all so different … and far beyond any other archtop I had tried until that day).

More in detail: the guitar is the best musical instrument I've ever played. It plays wonderful, sounds wonderful (both acoustically and electrically), and looks wonderful. The neck is a supremely comfortable big soft "V", straight as an arrow. The fretboard is also extremely comfortable, with a 1 11/16 nut. The sound is sweet and strong, with impressive note separation – almost lute-like, when you play above the end of the fretboard. There is an impressive evenness to the notes, and no dead spots, wolfs or buzzes all along the fretboard. A paragon of "quality". While playing it you don't have the impression that it's terribly loud – the '34 16" seemed louder. But as I was sitting in front of Romain playing both guitars I realised what an extraordinary projection and dynamic capabilities my '38 has: all that Romain would give it with his strong right hand, she would give back without ever getting shrill. Sitting close in front it was so loud. Last thing: it's surprisingly lightweight for such a big instrument.

The Adjustable Rhythm Chief it came with is an interesting middle ground between my FHC and Rhythm Chief 1000: hotter than the 1000, but a little more refined than the FHC. I've had to learn how to dial it in with tone and volume – doesn't work like my others – but it has wonderful sounds in it. Indeed, unlike the FHC it works very well with (while responding differently to) all my main amps: black, brown and octal.

Nerdy stuff:
- as stated, the fundamentals are strong: a fantastic neck and a sound sonorous body devoid of any cracks or repairs. To me this is all that matters.
- some appointments have been replaced (inlays – all but one I think; frequensator; most likely the body binding). We never discussed this but the frets seem far too pristine for an 83 yo guitar, I am thankful that the job was made so well and without ruining the binding. The bridge is (uncharacteristically) the original one.
- It's an open question whether it's a refin. I have no horse in the race as I don't mean to ever part ways with this guitar so could not care less about its market value, but I'm of course intrigued. The only thing I'm positive about is that it's very old, well-worn finish. The owner, based on the idea that Epiphone introduced blondes only in '39, thinks that it was refinished right that year or shortly thereafter, after the owner realised he liked blonde guitars better. Nice theory. I'm not sure. Epiphone made blond an optional finish for its top models in '38 already, and as Romain pointed out to me the back is highly figured and would more naturally be used for a translucent finish than for sunburst. His '39 burst Emperor had considerably plainer wood. All in all, I'm inclined to think that it's a factory blonde.
- she came with a very old and beat-up (but sound) case. I have no way to tell whether it's the original one: over 83 years so much can happen. It certainly is period, and it fits the guitar like a glove. Epiphone would introduce the € marking in cases only on the following year so it's absence is not relevant.
- she's from when Epi Stathopoulo was still around the factory. For some reason this matters to me.

I've been living symbiotically with her since acquiring her last Tuesday. I've played it every day, had a rehearsal (wow), today full set-up, and first gig on the 30th. What a marvellous instrument




Last edited by radiofm74; 09-20-2021 at 01:02 AM.
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  #2  
Old 09-18-2021, 06:01 PM
DanR DanR is offline
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Beautiful guitar!

Congrats and enjoy ♫
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Old 09-18-2021, 09:12 PM
Dadzmad Dadzmad is offline
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the real deal - all I can say is - WOW
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Old 09-18-2021, 10:21 PM
RLetson RLetson is offline
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Old Epis are really interesting instruments with, to my (old) ears, less clank and more growl and song than the equivalent Gibsons. (Though I've heard some wonderfully growly-singing Gibsons.) Twenty-some years ago, I came across a 1946 Broadway sunburst that, I was told, had been owned by a guy who had gigged on it every week until he got too old to play. It's not as cosmetically clean as this Deluxe, but it has a remarkably kind neck profile and plays very comfortably even with pretty heavy strings. And though it has nothing to do with its sound, I'm pleased to see how the finish on the back of the neck is worn down right around the B-flat position--the handprint of that first owner.
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Old 09-19-2021, 03:36 AM
radiofm74 radiofm74 is offline
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Thanks a lot to you all!

In light of my very limited experience, I also prefer Epis to comparable Gibsons. Although I will say that the 16" L-5 I tried along this De Luxe was absolutely stunning. Very different from the De Luxe, perfectly complementary, astounding.

Broadways are also very beautiful and I'm glad that yours is still played after a life on the bandstand. Testimony to how resilient these old ladies are. I hope to leave myself a nice mark around the Bb position ;D
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Old 09-19-2021, 05:42 AM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Radiofm74—What a terrific acquisition and informative review! I have not played an Epi DeLuxe but I have always heard them described as the very best in class. Your ear for the guitar and pick-up sound extremely refined. Great photo by the way of the guitar and period amp. They could be in a museum, but it is great to know they will still be making music. —R.

Last edited by Richard Mott; 09-19-2021 at 05:59 AM.
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Old 09-19-2021, 05:43 AM
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hubcapsc hubcapsc is offline
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I saved the headstock picture ...

-Mike
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Old 09-19-2021, 09:21 AM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Sweet archtop, radio!

It looks very similar to my 39 Triumph, but different inlays and tuners with cast ivoroid buttons.

I found my 39 when I was around 16 years old on top of a garbage pile in it's original case with the DeArmond pickup still attached. I kept it several years and sold it so it could go to a jazz player who could better utilize it.

I regret to this day not going through the pile to see what else was there!
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Old 09-19-2021, 12:03 PM
radiofm74 radiofm74 is offline
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Some may think that the Strat in the attic is the ultimate find – but a 39 professional Epiphone with a DeArmond in a garbage pile is waaaaay more for me! Take me there!!

Please share a pic. Triumphs are beautiful! As are Broadways, Deluxes, Emperors… to me, those late '30s Epis are the most beautiful archtops ever made (allowance being made for 20s L-5s and D'Angelicos)
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Old 09-19-2021, 12:23 PM
DCCougar DCCougar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radiofm74 View Post
...Please share a pic. Triumphs are beautiful! As are Broadways, Deluxes, Emperors…
Then there's the lowly Zenith. My dad played this beat-up 1939 model for years and years. It never sounded great. My brother and I got him a Yamaha acoustic and later a Gibson Les Paul that he loves. I absconded with his Zenith, had it fixed up a little and set up, and it still did nothing for me, so I eventually unloaded it. I'm loving my newer model Guilds though.

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Old 09-19-2021, 02:05 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radiofm74 View Post
Some may think that the Strat in the attic is the ultimate find – but a 39 professional Epiphone with a DeArmond in a garbage pile is waaaaay more for me! Take me there!!

Please share a pic. Triumphs are beautiful! As are Broadways, Deluxes, Emperors… to me, those late '30s Epis are the most beautiful archtops ever made (allowance being made for 20s L-5s and D'Angelicos)
I'm going to look at my old photos and see if I can find one. I had it for several years and played it often. Other than strings I didn't have to do anything to it.

I sold it sometime in the early 1980's and the only thing that needed a bit of attention was the binding that was loose at the waist from shrinkage.
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Old 09-19-2021, 02:10 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCCougar View Post
Then there's the lowly Zenith. My dad played this beat-up 1939 model for years and years. It never sounded great. My brother and I got him a Yamaha acoustic and later a Gibson Les Paul that he loves. I absconded with his Zenith, had it fixed up a little and set up, and it still did nothing for me, so I eventually unloaded it. I'm loving my newer model Guilds though.

The Zeniths are not a bad choice for a very simple arch top.

It's funny that you could often find them for $50 or $100 until David Rawlings single-handedly propelled their popularity to stratospheric proportions. I always thought they sounded pretty dead, but DR certainly brings out the best in them.
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Old 09-19-2021, 03:36 PM
radiofm74 radiofm74 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCCougar View Post
Then there's the lowly Zenith. My dad played this beat-up 1939 model for years and years. It never sounded great. My brother and I got him a Yamaha acoustic and later a Gibson Les Paul that he loves. I absconded with his Zenith, had it fixed up a little and set up, and it still did nothing for me, so I eventually unloaded it. I'm loving my newer model Guilds though.

Zeniths were meant as student instruments. I don't think that Epi ever imagined they'd still be around and played 80+ yrs down the road. I might have bought one as my first acoustic archtop (but did not like it much) and played another once that I thought was nice. They certainly are the lowest-priced vintage carved-top archtops out there, and can kick many a Gibson L-48 and L-50 in the butt

If ever I were to get me a vintage 16" archtop to complement the Lux, and given that a L-5 is out of my financial range, I think I'd look into Epi's offerings … a Spartan would be wonderful, a '35 Broadway even more so, and an early Masterbilt Deluxe would be stellar. But even a Blackstone might have its charms… or a Zenith: there were good ones made!
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Old 09-19-2021, 07:29 PM
AmericanPicker AmericanPicker is offline
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Very nice! Congrats!
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Old 09-19-2021, 07:42 PM
The Growler The Growler is offline
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Beautiful! What a combo. I can see why that’s a dream come true.

Congratulations!
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