The Epiphone Sheraton and that gorgeous Vampire Weekend guitar tone

Columbia University graduates, Vampire Weekend are one of a seemingly endless stream of bands to have come from nowhere and gained huge popularity almost overnight, and long before they did anything as mundane as release an album, thanks to the internet. In Vampire Weekend’s case, it was indie music blog, Stereogum that played a crucial role.

For once, the hype surrounding the band was justified by its eponymously-titled debut album which, for me, is one of the best albums of the year so far. And not just me. Uncut’s John Mulvey said in his review: ‘when you’ve heard these songs more than once, it’s hard to shake them out of your head.’

That’s certainly true of tracks like Walcott and I Stand Corrected, both of which are more conventional than other tracks on the album but none the less enjoyable for that. The inclusion of beautiful orchestral strings adds to the rich tapestry, but it’s that wonderful guitar tone that time and again, track after track, adds something special to the album.

Vampire Weekend combines the band’s much-documented blend of Afro beats and pop melodies with smart, intelligent lyrics in which the band occasionally come across as trying a little too hard to be clever.

Oxford Comma, the second track on the album, is a case in point. Lead vocalist and guitar player, Ezra Koenig, explained the song in an interview: “Part of the idea of Oxford Comma is the idea of grammar as this obviously construct that a categorical imperative because it’s so specific to the English language. It’s kind of linguistic imperialism.” See what I mean?

We can forgive Ezra his verbosity, however, because as well as fronting a band which has produced a great album, he plays an Epiphone, a Sheraton II to be precise, as you can see from the pictures.

Vampire Weekend have been busy touring over the summer and at the end of June played two terrific sets at the Glastonbury festival.

Click on the video below to see and hear Vampire Weekend play Oxford Comma at Glastonbury.

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.

Epiphone Sheraton

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B0002GZQGU” locale=”us” height=”500″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41xwGHv01zL.jpg” width=”224″]The Epiphone Sheraton was one of the first Epiphone electric guitars to be made following the purchase of the company by Gibson, appearing a year after the Casino in 1959. The Epiphone Sheraton is a double-cut thinline, semi-hollow-bodied guitar with twin humbuckers.

Check out the Epiphone Sheraton II Archtop Electric Guitar at Amazon

The Sheraton’s body was based on Gibson’s ES-335 and had the same twin rounded horns and the electronics in the same place. One key difference between the ES-335 and the Epiphone Sheraton was the tailpiece. The Gibson used a stop, or sometimes a vibrato, tailpiece, while the Sheraton employed a Frequensator. The Frequensator allows for longer bass strings and shorter treble strings, though this arrangement is sometimes reversed by guitar players. The other difference was the fretboard inlay: the Sheraton had a block and triangle inlay.

Later, the company introduced the Epiphone Sheraton II which swapped the Frequensator for a stop tailpiece. This version became much more popular than the original Sheraton. Both guitars were notable for being played by blues legend John Lee Hooker. Epiphone introduced a John Lee Hooker signature model shortly before the great man’s death in 2000. This guitar along with Epiphone’s other Sheraton II models now has a black on orange/yellow sunburst colouring rather than the black on deep red colour of the original Sheraton and Sheraton II.

Other notable Sheraton fans include Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, and the guitar which Epiphone custom-made for him, the Supernova, is closely based on the Sheraton and the Epiphone Dot.

The Sheraton II is still in production but the original Sheraton hasn’t been made for several years and is now pretty rare. The current Sheraton II has a laminated maple body, three piece maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard. It still features those lovely twin humbuckers.

Know anyone who has an original Sheraton? Ever played one yourself? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add the details to the article.

Check out the Epiphone Sheraton II Archtop Electric Guitar at Amazon