This is a beautiful natural blond 1953 Epiphone Century Archtop. This guitar was made in the Epiphone plant in Queens, NY – the same place where Les Paul created “The Log” in 1940, which was his contribution to inventing the electric guitar as we know it.
Epiphone didn’t manufacturer Les Paul’s log, and neither did Gibson at the time. Les Paul went from being a Gibson player to being an Epiphone player and played nothing but Epis until Gibson eventually manufactured his name sake guitar in 1952 – the Gibson Les Paul. He even tells a story that in his first ad with Gibson where they say “Welcome to the Gibson Family” that he refused to hold a Gibson. He held his Epiphone instead. He said when Gibson makes a guitar as good as these Epis, then he’ll switch. They apparently took the Epiphone badge off the Guitar and put a Gibson decal on the guitar to pretend it was a Gibson. Keep in mind that this is before Gibson owned Epiphone. They were competitor guitar makers. So, that’s kind of crazy.
You can hear Les Paul tell this and other stories (and profess his love for these old Epis) in this video:
I bought this guitar from Rivington Guitars in New York City. Here’s a picture I took of it on the counter in the store before they packaged it up.
The pickup on this guitar is what is called a New York Pickup. It’s a single coil pickup wound sideways. It has a unique sound – an even and subtle sound. Many say it is the pre-cursor to the P90, but I don’t know how that is really – not familiar with that story or those details. This guitar has a rosewood fretboard and headstock. It has a trapeze tailpiece and octagonal volume and tone controls with peaked facets.
Everything is original on this guitar except the pick guard. This pick guard came off of a 1950s Harmony. It gives the guitar a great unique look. The guitar is missing the brand plate from the headstock. These can be found on Reverb.com for sale.
Epiphone is a very old guitar company (founded in 1873) and was a leading maker of high end guitars. They were early to the electric game when they released the Electar series in 1935. And then, they introduced the Century model in 1939. The Century and others (like the Zypher) dominated the 40s of American Jazz players. According to Wikipedia, “Django Reinhardt acquired a Zephyr to play during his American tour with Duke Ellington in 1946. He used the guitar for the rest of his career.”
Epiphones were also big for early Rock n Roll, played by the Beatles and Rolling Stones alike. Check out this great TV appearance by the Rolling Stones. I’m pretty sure that Keith Richards is playing an Epi. Also, listen to the painful segment where the host introduces himself to each member… shy boys for sure.
Eventually, Epiphone hit financial woes and were bought by Gibson, and then Gibson made the Epiphone brand be their lower-end brand, thus capitalizing on the power of the Epiphone name.
The Epiphone Century Archtop was discontinued in 1970, but they’ve recently started making reissues.
Review of a 52/53 Epiphone Century Archtop by Dave Simpson: