The Anatomy of an Epiphone guitar. Part 1: The Humbucker

The humbucker, or humbucking pick-up, is a feature of most of the electric guitars made by Epiphone and its parent company, Gibson.

The humbucker is a two-coil pick-up with coils of reversed polarity, reverse wound, and connected in series. The name is derived from the fact the design of the pick-up significantly reduces the noise and interference associated with single coil pick-ups used in other guitars, such as Fender’s Stratocaster. In other words, they ‘buck the hum.’

Guitars which are fitted with humbuckers have one at the neck and one at the bridge, along with a three-way switch to choose either pick-up individually, or both together. Humbuckers are often covered with a metal plate; where they are uncovered, the coils and six magnetic pole pieces are clearly visible.

Originally invented by a Gibson employee, Seth Lover, in 1957, the humbucker is strongly associated with Gibson, and in particular the Les Paul, although it’s widely used by other manufacturers. Like every other guitar pick-up, the humbucker works by ‘picking up’ the vibrations of the guitar strings, which then induce an alternating current in its coils. The key difference between it and single coil pick-ups is that it is unaffected by the electromagnetic interference which causes an audible hum from a single coil pick-up.

The reason for this is that the twin coils are reverse wound and reversed in polarity, this means that the electromagnetic interference induces current in opposing directions in each coil and the interference from each coil cancels out that in the other. By contrast, the signal from the vibration of the strings is increased. This is known as common-mode rejection.

The humbucker is known for its fat, warm tone which differs from the clear, bright tone produced by single coil pick-ups.This tone is key to the sound of guitars like the Les Paul and SG, as well as archtop guitars like the Casino and Sheraton. The reason for the tone is that the two coils resonate at different frequencies and therefore, the resonant peak is broader than that of a single coil pick-up.

The 10 best songs ever played on an Epiphone guitar

Everyone loves a list, so I thought I’d put one together containing what I think are the ten best songs ever played, either live or on record, on an Epiphone guitar. I’m sure there will be much disagreement, so please feel free to argue in the Comments.

I could have filled the list several times over with Beatles’ songs, but instead limited it to three, one each for Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, all of whom played Epiphone guitars at some time during the Beatles’ career and afterwards. You can read more about the Beatles and their Epiphone guitars in this excellent feature.

Read on for Fretboard’s run-down of the 10 best songs ever played on an Epiphone guitar, and don’t forget to tell us what you think.

10. Champagne Supernova/ Oasis

Noel Gallagher’s famous Union Jack guitar was a specially made Epiphone Sheraton II, and was made available by Epiphone as a signature model called the Supernova, as a tribute to this track from the band’s second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

9. Close to Me/ The Cure

Guitarist Porl Thompson rejoined The Cure in 1983 and played an Epiphone EA-250 between 1983 and 1986. Close to Me, from the album, The Head on the Door, was released as a single in 1985.

8. Last Nite/ The Strokes

The Strokes guitar player Nick Valensi uses an Epiphone Riviera with Gibson P-94 pick-ups as his main guitar. He has several models of the guitar including a red 12-string. Epiphone produced two signature models, the Elitist Nick Valensi Riviera P94 in 2005, and two years later, a standard Nick Valensi Riviera P94. Valensi also plays a Casino and a Dot fitted with P94s.

7. Taxman/ The Beatles

Written by George Harrison with a solo by Paul McCartney. Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney had all acquired Casino’s by the time this track was recorded and McCartney used his for the solo on Taxman.

6. Paint it Black/ The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards’ is known to have played an Epiphone Casino throughout 1966, both live and in the studio. Paint It Black was recorded in March 1966 and released as a single in the US and UK that year, hitting number 1 in both countries. It was also included in the US release of the 1966 album, Aftermath.

5. Boom Boom/ John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker. The great bluesman played a Sheraton for long periods of his career, and indeed, Epiphone launched a John Lee Hooker signature model Sheraton shortly before his death. Hooker’s early work, such as Boogie Chillin’ was recorded before the introduction of the Epiphone Sheraton, so I’ve gone for Boom Boom, released in 1961.

4. California Girls/ Beach Boys

In an interview with his brother-in-law, and Beach Boys keyboard player, Billy Hinsche in 1981, published by Guitar One magazine in 2001, Carl Wilson explained that he used an Epiphone acoustic on California Girls and Sloop John B. He also used a Sheraton during live performances with the Beach Boys in the early seventies and had a couple of 12-string acoustics in his collection at the time of the interview.

3. Yesterday/ The Beatles

Paul McCartney played an Epiphone acoustic when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and still uses one to play Yesterday in live performances.

2. Little Red Rooster/ The Rolling Stones

Brian Jones’ slide guitar was a key element of the Stones version of the Willie Dixon-written, Howlin’ Wolf classic. During a live perfomance of the song on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, Jones played it on an Epiphone Casino. He is known to have regularly used the guitar during that period.

1. Revolution/ The Beatles

John Lennon famously sanded down and lacquered his Casino during recording of the White Album. His newly blonde Epiphone Casino is prominent on the promo film for this track. The guitar also appears in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus Film, the Beatles’ Let it Be, and The Beatles’ concert on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. Epiphone later released a couple of John Lennon signature model Casinos, one of which is a replica of the sanded down model.

So there you have it. Fretboard’s pick of the ten best songs ever played on an Epiphone guitar. I’m sure you’ll disagree, so please let me know what you think in the comments.

The Epiphone Casino

The Epiphone Casino is a wonderful hollow-bodied electric guitar first made in 1958 and based on the Gibson ES-330. It’s probably most famous for being played by three Beatles between 1965 and 1967. (You can probably guess that Ringo Starr was the odd Beatle out.) In fact, John Lennon loved his so much, he used it for the rest of his time with the band, favouring it over the Rickenbacker 325 he’d been using up to that point.

Thinking about buying a Casino? Click here to see a listing of Epiphone Casinos currently on Amazon.

The Epiphone Casino is famed for its rich, heavy sound. However, its use of Gibson P-90 pick-ups means that the sound is thinner than that of the Gibson ES-335 which uses humbuckers. The Casino, unlike most hollow-bodied electric guitars, doesn’t have a centre block and so is lighter and louder than, say the ES-335, but also more prone to feedback.

The body of the Casino is made of laminated maple, and the neck is mahogany, although has occasionally been maple. The fretboard is either rosewood or ebony, depending on the model. The first versions of the Epiphone Casino had a spruce top but subsequent models, until 1970, had a headstock made of five laminated layers of maple, birch, maple, birch, and maple, set at a 17-degree angle. Since then, the headstock has been set at a 14-degree angle and has five layers of maple laminate.

John Lennon sanded his Epiphone Casino down, recoated it with lacquer, took the pickguard off and replaced the tuning pegs with gold Grovers, making it look like a completely different guitar. Epiphone has two John Lennon re-issues in its current range. The John Lennon 1965 Casino shows how his guitar looked before he modified it, and the John Lennon Revolution Casino sports the Beatle’s modifications. The Revolution is so-called because the modified Casino was first seen in the promo film for the Beatles song, Revolution.

Other notable Casino players are Brian Jones and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, The Kinks’ Dave Davies, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ronaldo, The Edge, Paul Weller, and Noel Gallager of Oasis. It has been said that the Epiphone Supernova — Gallagher’s famous Union Jack guitar — was a Casino, in fact it is a custom made guitar closer to the Sheraton and the Dot than the Casino.

The Epiphone Story

The Epiphone name first appeared in 1928 as The Epiphone Banjo Company and is derived from the nickname of its founder, Epaminondas Stathopoulo, ‘Epi’, and ‘phone’, the Greek for ‘sound.’

Epaminondas Stathopoulo was the son of a Greek musical instrument maker who made fiddles, lutes, and Lioutos in Izmir, Turkey in the late 19th Century. Stathopoulo senior, Anastasios, moved to the US in 1903 and started making mandolins as well as his existing range of instruments. After his death in 1915, Epaminondas took over and in 1918 started to make banjos.

The first Epiphone guitar was made in 1928 and the company continued making guitars until Epaminondous’ death in 1943. Following Epi’s death, control of the Epiphone Banjo Company passed to his brothers who did a poor job of running the company. In 1951 workers went on strike for four months and the company relocated from New York to Philadelphia.

During the period from 1928, Epiphone made a range of archtop guitars such as the Emperor, Deluxe, Broadway, and Triumph which were a match for those produced by arch-rival, Gibson. It was probably inevitable then that, with Epiphone in trouble and the brothers seemingly incapable of resolving the problems, the Epiphone Banjo Company was bought by Gibson in 1957.

Following its acquisition, Gibson produced a guitar which was a close copy of its ES-330, the Epiphone Casino. The Casino counted amoung its admirers, three Beatles. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon all bought one and McCartney’s can be heard on his solo on Taxman. It’s also very much in evidence on the Revolver album. Lennon used the Casino regularly after that, both as a Beatle and a solo artist and McCartney still uses his today. McCartney also uses an Epiphone acoustic when performing Yesterday in concert.

Since the 1970’s the Epiphone brand has largely been used to produce less expensive versions of Gibson guitars, such as the SG and several versions of the Les Paul, first of all in Japan, then in under licence in Korea. Since 2002, Gibson has made Epiphone guitars in its own factory in China.

In addition to electric and acoustic guitars, Epiphone also makes amplifiers, such as the Epiphone Valve Junior.

Epiphone Casino Ltd Edition with Bigsby

The Epiphone Casino Ltd Edition with Bigsby is a special custom version of this ubiquitous Epi. It was launched at Namm in early 2006 and shipped throughout that year. If you’re quick, and very lucky, you’ll still be able to pick one up from a dealer. If not, you’ll have to resort to second hand dealers or eBay. Or you could buy a regular Casino and fit a Bigsby yourself.

The addition of a Bigsby tremolo and tailpiece is perhaps the most popular modification of the Casino, and so it’s no surprise that Epiphone decided to ship a few with the Bigsby fitted. Both Paul McCartney and George Harrison had Bigsbys on their Casinos. And Paul McCartney played his at the Live 8 concert in 2005, which may explain the timing of this limited edition model.

Find an Epiphone Casino with a Bigsby on Amazon

The Epiphone Casino Ltd Edition with Bigsby itself is a vintage sunburst Casino with a Bigsby tremolo in place of the usual trapeze tailpiece. It has a laminated maple body top and mahogany body. The neck is mahogany and the rosewood fretboard has the Casino’s trademark parallelogram inlays.

Essential to the sound of the Casino are the two dog-ear P-90 pick-ups which each have a volume and tone control.

In short, it’s a stunning guitar which not only looks sensational but sounds incredible. The Bigsy tremolo is the cherry on top of the icing of a very lovely cake. Add to that the fact that even this limited edition version can still be found for less than $1000, and you have a very special guitar indeed.

See and hear the Epiphone Casino Ltd Edition with Bigsby in action in the video below.