On January 14, 1986, during the era of popular music when the electric guitar had been pushed aside by keyboards and synthesizers, Henry Juszkiewicz and Dave Berryman, two entrepreneurs who had met in graduate school, purchased a struggling guitar company called Gibson. Thrown into the bargain was another guitar company owned by Gibson since 1957--Epiphone.
While Juszkiewicz and Berryman went to work putting Gibson back into shape--improving quality, distribution, and dealer relationships--the new owners also began to slowly unravel the long history of Epiphone, the House of Stathopoulo. In the process, they discovered they had a diamond in the rough with a history of producing groundbreaking instruments and a story unlike any other in the history of American instruments. They also discovered that Epiphone's greatest rival in the guitar business had been Gibson and that Epiphone fans from all generations had a fierce loyalty to the brand despite its long and rocky history.
Epiphone.com talked with Gibson President Dave Berryman about the early days of the "new" Epiphone and their radical idea of producing an affordable, professional instrument available to anyone, anywhere around the world.
We spoke with Dave while he thumbed through Walter Carter's new book, The Epiphone Guitar Book, edited by Tony Bacon ("I love the layout--the blend of instrument shots, historical catalogs, and promotional information.") and looked back on Epiphone's tentative first steps back in the market place.
You bought Epiphone 27 years ago in January of 1986. Did you wake up the next day and think: "Uh oh, we haven't bought one company--we've bought two?”
We didn't realize that at first. Epiphone was a jewel that was basically hidden within Gibson. It was there, but it was way under-developed. I'll give you an example of what the situation was like. Gibson, under the management of Norlin, came down from Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1974 and built the Gibson factory on Massman Drive here in Nashville. So from 1974-84, this Nashville facility was making all of Gibson's solid body electric guitars: Les Pauls, SGs, Flying Vs, and Explorers.
Meanwhile, all the acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, and hollow bodies were still made in Michigan. In 1984, to save costs, Norlin closed the Kalamazoo plant and moved the rest of production down here. They sent all the remaining production equipment down to Nashville and just left it on the floor of the factory! But they didn't bother bringing down the people--the expertise--who knew how to use the equipment and build those instruments. So if that was their attitude with Gibson, you can imagine how they felt about Epiphone (laughs)! They didn't care about Epiphone at all. Epiphone was lost.
In 1984, Epiphone consisted of just a handful of models, perhaps 6 or 8 models--that were imported, at that time, from Korea. Not a lot of time and effort was spent on Epi. It was just a support line to Gibson and sadly the only models that they had in the line were lower cost versions of Gibson models. That was it. And they were offered in just a very few colors. And options? Nothing!
So, yes--we also had Epiphone, this other company--you're right--but we weren't in a position to do much with it yet because it was a question of, where do you spend your time? On the Gibson side, there were so many things that were wrong. Sales had dwindled because the company under Norlin had really lost touch with the market and they weren't really addressing the needs of artists or consumers.
So to turn the business around, we really had to concentrate on rebuilding Gibson, getting the quality right, getting the pricing right, and getting the volume up. And then, we had to work with dealers to support those products, deal with those issues, and then expand globally, not just in the USA. That took several years of attention. And in that period from '86 to '92, we could only spend a minimal amount of time on Epiphone, much to our disappointment.
It really wasn't until 1992, when Epiphone was broken out as a separate stand-alone dedicated operation, that things started to change. As you can see from Walter's book, we didn't even have a catalog at that point--just sales brochures.
When Epiphone broke off as its own division, is that when you began to discover the history? At that point, before the Internet, there wasn't much literature written on guitar companies.
Right. Once Epiphone was separated from Gibson as a division and as an operation--physically--Epiphone finally had dedicated employees that could focus on the business. And at that point in time, Epiphone started to really develop. Because those people--and it was a small team of people--were totally focused on learning the history of the brand, learning what made it great, and going to Asia and working with the factory. They had an enormous task to build up volume and build the brand up and teach dealers about the rich history, embody that history into the products, and build for the future.
Back then, the idea of an affordable professional guitar didn't exist. Was that your intention for Epiphone when you began building the brand again?
Honestly, we didn't have an appreciation for the rich history of Epiphone until we got into it. The first order of business was to increase the business volume because we were up against some bigger competitors that were doing much higher production volume in the Orient than we were. But we saw an opportunity to separate our product from the competition because at that time, you just had a handful of manufacturers making all the competitor's brands. And they used essentially the same components.
We needed to separate our product from the competition. Well, how do you do that? We got into--literally--every component that went into our instruments. We wanted to develop proprietary hardware, pickups, plastic parts, potentiometers--every component that went into the instrument; we wanted to make it better. And once we made it better, we wanted it to be used exclusively on Epiphone products. In doing that, we got involved in reaching back and researching Epiphone's history and all the innovations that Epiphone was instrumental in developing over the years.
That's how Epiphone developed their brand in the old days. That's how they competed with Gibson back in the 1920s, 30s, '40s, back in the heyday of the big box guitars, before amplification, when bigger guitars were considered better because they could be more easily heard above the other instruments in a band. Epiphone was always known for making a bigger instrument than Gibson. Whatever Gibson did, Epiphone had to out do 'em (laughs). They had to make it bigger! Epiphone always pushed the envelope. They invented the 7-string guitar, the Frequensator tailpiece, and many other guitar innovations. And Les Paul himself worked on guitars at the Epiphone factory. The key is, Epiphone has this history of innovation and we were able to get back into that as we developed better hardware and better electronics.
We had to do this because the first thing we heard, both from dealers and consumers, is "well I love Epiphone because you guys got great pricing. But the first thing I do is I rip the pickups out and put Gibson pickups in." And we just hated to hear that. So we had to make a better quality product. We viewed every instrument we made as something professionals would want to buy and make a living with playing ---every single day. But it took some time. We had to find out who made all these parts and it wasn't easy.
I imagine the last thing the big companies wanted was a major guitar company that made it's own parts.
Yes, the big companies that were doing the business for all the brands in Asia didn't really want you dealing with these venders. So we had to find smaller independent factories that were started by guitar guys that loved making guitars and were engineers in their own right. We'd find them and say: "Let's go to the component manufacturer together, introduce us, and then we'll start a relationship to develop improved components that are superior to everything else that's available in the market."
And then, you were not only the owner of the company, but you were also becoming an expert on every facet of guitar manufacturing.
Right. What started out as a pretty straightforward business trip--going to the factories that make the product and going over the details--became more involved since we were spending time with the component manufacturers and developing better parts. It made for some very long trips and spending a lot of time in the Orient. And we've continued to do that over the years.
For many, many years--I would go over to Asia with our Epiphone team, five or six times a year. You have to spend time there to make things happen. And as our relationships got better there and as we developed our engineering talent here in the U.S. as well as in Asia, Epiphone set up its own manufacturing operation in China in 2002. That took a decade of travel and working with all our independent factories on developing our brand. Remember, the bulk of the Epiphone line features set necks, like Gibson, so it's much more difficult to make and takes more expertise and skill. But it was well worth the effort because it yielded constantly improving product quality, production reliability and superior performance that was being noticed by many players and consumers. People were telling us, "Wow, your Epiphone product has come a long, long way."
And was that new Epiphone factory supervised by Gibson trained luthiers?
Yes, the two China factories that we've developed have USA people that are Gibson trained --from the main Gibson factory--and who have worked many, many years with Gibson. They know the Gibson way of making quality instruments. Those folks are instrumental in managing the facilities there. But we've developed talented people in China, too--managers, engineers and workers--and cross-trained them with our folks from Gibson as well.
The history of Epiphone's jazz era instruments are well documented but it seems like Epiphone fans are now finally discovering the great electric instruments from the late 50s and early '60s.
Yes, and that's what we're trying to recreate now. We think the real identity of Epiphone extends well beyond making great Gibson shaped product such as Les Pauls and SGs at popular prices. We think the unique personality of Epiphone is in these instruments that have different shapes and unique characteristics.
We talked about the '20s, '30s, '40s, when Epiphone was Gibson' main competitor--and a very viable one at that. But then under Gibson ownership, especially in the mid '60s, Epiphone developed their own identity pretty quickly with the Sheraton, the Wilshire, the Rivera, and the Casino--that's the tone that Paul McCartney fell in love with.
Now, you see collectors getting excited about that era of Epiphone, too. And I know that their enthusiasm is an indication of the development of the brand. People want those instruments not only because of their heritage, but also because they are great instruments.
Artists are also recognizing that if you're going to put your name on an instrument, Epiphone is their first choice for creating an instrument that's not only professional and affordable, but that's available worldwide.
That's correct, and our artists have recognized that. Actually, many Gibson artists have several Epiphones as well. They love the product--and they love the way it performs. Our artists are very conscious about their fan base and want their instrument affordable by virtually every guitar player. And that's pretty cool. Our quality and playability have come a long way, and I would put Epiphone instruments up against anybody's.
The Epiphone line has expanded to include every genre of music. Was that a new concept when you started out?
Yes, there really wasn't a brand with the breadth and depth of instruments that we developed at Epiphone. We cover every genre of music with our instruments. And there are still many opportunities for our product expansion, which, I think, will play out over the next few years. We have some very exciting product planned for Epiphone that will really get our fans excited about the future.
You've been collecting vintage Epiphones over the years. That's a difficult endeavor since it's rare to see a vintage Epiphone for sale.
Yes, that's correct. I think that's a result of the number of instruments actually made and the fact that the owners don't want to give them up. We've managed to build a collection of 50 pre-Gibson ownership instruments dating back to the early 1900's. Our oldest is a 1910 harp guitar, which is very cool. And it's not unlike the original Orville Gibson harp guitars. The similarities are just amazing over the history.
The heart of the line in the pre-'57 years is really the hollow bodies, the jazz boxes and all the different varieties, with the Emperor, Zephyr Deluxe, Broadway, Triumph and a long list of artist models that Epiphone made when the factory was located on 14th street in New York City. That era was very rich and we've tried to build a collection that's representative of all those key models. And we're not done yet. We had a good start with procuring the Jim Fisch collection. Jim was the co-author of the first book on Epiphone, The House of Stathopoulo, along with L.B. Fred, and he amassed a great collection himself. At the time we acquired the collection after his passing, it was really the most representative collection of pre-1957 Epiphone instruments anywhere. And we've been building on that slowly so it's been a labor of love.
The Gibson-Kalamazoo Epiphone era--with the Texans, Casinos, Rivieras, Sheratons, Coronets and Wilshires--that's a whole other era that we've tried to also acquire.
Are there particular instruments from the Kalamazoo era that you're looking for?
Well, there are a few of them. Of course, my two personal favorites are the '63 or '64 Casino and also the Texan, because of the historical significance of the guitar and the great tone they have.
Paul McCartney loves his original Texan and Casino. Many people know he composed and recorded Yesterday on a Texan. However, many people don't know of his love of the Casino. In talking to Paul many years ago at the debut of The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas at the Mirage Hotel, Paul said to me: "Now I know you're one of the principals at Gibson--and I love Gibson--but I gotta tell you, I've always been particularly fond of the Epiphone instruments. I'm the first Beatle that bought a Casino. John and George had to get Casinos when they heard mine. It's my favorite guitar."
And Paul has said that many times over the years. It's just so satisfying to hear an artist of his incredible stature telling you that his favorite guitar is an Epiphone Casino. That's truly amazing. You can't get much better than that.
As part of our 140th Anniversary celebration, Epiphone.com reflects on the House of Stathopoulo's steady climb back into the limelight during the 1990s and 2000s as the working musician's favorite instrument maker. One can argue Epiphone has gone through more change and growth under the stewardship of current Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg than at any other time in its long history.
For 50 years, Epiphone was Gibson's #1 rival before the two merged in 1957. Over the next decade, Epiphone produced what are now considered some of the best instruments of the modern era including the Epiphone Casino, the Texan, the Sheraton, and the Riviera. But from the late '60s until the mid '80s, Epiphone--and much of the industry--struggled to find a place as musical tastes shifted.
Today, Epiphone is more like the Epiphone of the 1930s---innovating, shaping trends, and making hits. Epiphone's new headquarters in Nashville is state-of-the-art, and the company is firing on all cylinders with critically lauded reissues and fan-favorite signature models. Epiphone.com talked with Rosenberg about the long road home and what's in store for Epiphone in the future.
What was Epiphone like when you started and what kind of challenges did you have?
When the new owners acquired Gibson in 1986, they recognized that Epiphone had huge potential. But, I think their first order of business was primarily restoring Gibson's image and strength. Once that was on track, they hired me in 1992 to focus solely on Epiphone and soon after, established Epiphone as a stand-alone division within GMI. At that time, Epiphone had a recent history of struggling sales and a lack of focus on quality and design. Most sales people and retailers had little or no desire to sell Epiphone. On the production side, we had just a couple of independent or "OEM" suppliers and a small line-up of products that was not very exciting and had no real advantage or differentiation over our competition other than they were authorized LP and SG guitars. It was bleak on the surface. But once you started to dig down, it was clear that there was gold. The gold was Epiphone's illustrious past and all it really needed was some renewed passion and attention.
Dave Berryman talked about how Epiphone got involved in designing and manufacturing all the components in an Epiphone instrument. How do you see Epiphone's influence on the industry?
In 1992 and earlier, I think most imported brands, including Epiphone, were not really taken seriously- even by many of the companies that owned them. Obviously they enjoyed the sales revenue and certainly strived to increase it, but frankly I don't think the real passion or commitment was there. To really make it work, you had to dedicate a huge amount of time in Asia, at the factories. You had to be there, often. You had to communicate with them on a daily basis. You had to build relationships that went beyond that of a customer-supplier. You had to be a partner. You had to believe that you could make a great guitar regardless of the factory's location. I think that's how we may have changed or at least tweaked the industry's thinking. Our competitors saw that what we were doing was working and most recognized that if they didn't also up their commitment to their imported guitar lines, they were going to get beat. As a result, I'd like to think that we helped raise the bar for not only Epiphone, but all imported guitar brands.
Take us behind the scenes a bit. How is an Epiphone guitar made today?
I have given many customers from all over the world tours of our own Epiphone factories in China. Most of these customers have also been on tours of many of the guitar factories in the USA. Almost every single person comments how surprised they are that our Epiphone production is very similar to USA production. For me, that's not surprising because when you come right down to it you can't really significantly change the way you make a good guitar. There are processes, procedures, machinery and a discipline that have to be maintained. Certainly, spraying lacquer versus polyurethane is different. And scraping binding with a razor blade is different from taping off binding before you finish it, but in general it's the same and a labor of love regardless of where the factory is located.
What are Epiphone's plans for the future?
Simply put, our plans are to continue to improve and to continue to expand upon unique Epiphone innovations and models. We have our own history, a real history that cannot be denied. How we continue to build upon that, I cannot say specifically. But I do know we're not going to rest because we have an obligation to our 140 year legacy and millions of Epiphone fans to provide the best, most affordable instruments day in, day out. And, under the umbrella of Gibson Musical Instruments, we can continue to do that for another 140 years or more.
For Epi fans who are unsure where Gibson ends and Epiphone begins, is there a cliché about Epiphone we can debunk once and for all?
I think the most misleading cliché I hear is that Epiphone is a "cheap" Gibson. To me, that's like saying Toyota is a cheap Lexus. First, the word cheap implies inferior quality. Epiphone guitars, like Toyota cars, are some of the best, most reliable products made. And I don't just say that. I know it. We diligently track and review our quality and performance. For example, we are currently at a less than 0.5% return rate. That's incredible. If our quality was not consistently great, how could we offer a lifetime warranty? Also, we interact with retailers, consumers and artists every day. Consistently, the feedback we get from them is that they cannot believe how good our instruments are. And that includes everything from fit and finish to electronics to playability. In reality, if that was not the case there is no way so many professional musicians including Zakk Wylde, Dave Navarro, Jeff Waters, Robb Flynn, Jack Casady and more would put their name on our product and proudly use our instruments. Second, Epiphone has been part of the Gibson family for 56 years now. How can there not be a shared history and similarities? But even so, Epiphone's history of and contribution to guitar design and innovation is unquestionable*. And today, we have so many unique Epiphone models and features in our lineup; from our Wildkats, Masterbilts and Swingsters to our acoustic guitar preamps, Ultra-III electronics and LockTone™ hardware. So while we do offer affordable instruments, there's nothing cheap about them. And while we are proud to be part of the Gibson family of brands, we will continue to march to the beat of our own unique 140 year heritage.
As Epiphone's supervisor for R&D for over a decade, Richard Akers has been riding in the front seat during the remarkable and transformational rebirth of the House of Stathopoulo. Working together with Epiphone team members, Richard oversaw the (literal) nuts and bolts dismantling and rebuilding of every facet of Epiphone instruments. The result has been a steady stream of critically lauded instruments, endorsements from the best artists in the world, and most importantly, the continued and unprecedented devotion of generations of Epiphone players around the world. As part of our ongoing series celebrating Epiphone's 140th anniversary and the opening of the new state-of the-art headquarters in Nashville (Epi's first dedicated building since the early days in Manhattan), Epiphone.com spoke with Richard about what it takes to design a world class instrument.
When we spoke with President Dave Berryman, we discussed how before Epiphone's rebirth in the '80s and '90s, there was no such thing as a professional affordable instrument in the marketplace. Tell us about some of the key improvements that turned things around.
Since coming over from Gibson USA to join the Epiphone team over 13 years ago, I have been dedicated to a systematic effort to improve every aspect of our instruments. As a kid growing up, I remember how hard it was to find a good quality guitar at an affordable price. We've worked hard to make sure the value we offer to our customers is unsurpassed. There's an Epiphone instrument for everyone, from the kid starting out to the professional gigging musician that demands the best. I don't believe you can find a better guitar for the money than the Epi's we are producing today. I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished over the last decade.
There are a number of notable improvements we've implemented over the years. The LockTone™ bridge hardware, for instance, is a patented tailpiece and bridge locking system that provides several decibels of increased sustain over traditional hardware. Our patented "No Spin" output jack is another example of an improvement that is exclusive to Epiphone guitars.
A recent addition that I'm really excited about are the new Probucker™ and Alnico Classic Pro™ pickups. These pickups are not just slight improvements over previously produced Asian pickups but were completely designed here in Nashville and tooled from the ground-up at a new factory dedicated to high end pickup production. The pickups use only the highest quality components and are based on the most sought after humbuckers of Gibson's history. I spent many, many hours making sure these came out great and I am really happy with the results. They sound fantastic.
These are just a few of the more notable improvements. We are constantly refining and improving our manufacturing procedures and construction details. We've added many innovative electronic features as can be seen on our Ultra series guitars. And we've added functionality through push pull pot electronics to many of our new models, most recently with the Pro Series improvements. I'm currently working on several additional improvements that I'm really excited about. As good as our guitars currently are, I truly believe our best days are yet to come.
Epiphone has gone to great lengths to make sure everything from screws to magnets are on-the-money for the vintage reissues. Do you have a particular story that stands out about this process?
You're right, our recent reissues are as accurate to history and well built as humanly possible. I have spent hours researching and documenting great historical examples of the instruments the reissues are based upon. Historic examples of the instruments we've reissued were all digitized with very accurate measuring equipment (<.005" accuracy) and 3D models were then created from the data. The manufacturing process is held to exacting specifications based upon the historic model and manufactured to exceedingly high standards. We are very proud of our storied history and these recent reissues are a worthy tribute to the great instruments of our past.
Do you enjoy trying to recreate the historic reissue?
Recreating these instruments has been one of the most enjoyable ongoing projects I have been involved with over the last several years. I've had the opportunity to see and play a lot of great old guitars. And I have worked with a variety of dealers and individual owners in obtaining the samples. Through the process, I have learned a wealth of knowledge about Epiphone and Gibson history and what made these guitars so great. As a result, I feel the entirety of our line has benefitted in a number of ways. So while there may not be one single story that stands out the overall process and the results have been tremendous. In my opinion these are some of the best guitars we've built since the 60s.
Both Jim Rosenberg and Dave Berryman discussed how both the PRO and the Ultra series manage to embody the Epiphone ethos of keeping the past alive and still moving forward. In fact both guitars have some of the same inventive spirit that Les Paul put in his custom guitars.
That's right. As firmly as we are rooted in honoring our past through our reissues and legacy instruments, we are equally committed to innovation and moving Epiphone into the future. It has always been my design philosophy that there is little value in change for the sake of change. Any change should offer real value without sacrificing or undermining our history and what our customers love about Epiphone.
A great example of this philosophy in action is the development of the Ultra II and Ultra III. At the foundation of both the Ultra II and Ultra III is a solidly built guitar. Consider the Ultra Les Paul or the Ultra ES-339. From arm's length, both of these appear to be standard issue guitars. But on closer examination, you find numerous innovative features that drastically expand the useful palette of tones available and provide unique capabilities exclusive to Epiphone. The addition of the end-of-fingerboard Nanomag™ pickup provides great acoustic tone and interesting blends when used with the traditional humbucking pickups. The pickup ring tuner, A/B : A+B switching system and USB output on the Ultra III offer very powerful capabilities through the use of technology without sacrificing the fundamental nature of the instrument people love.
The Pro series guitars are another example of taking great guitars and making them even better. To facilitate the added functionality and at the same time increase the reliability and ease of assembly we created a unique and effective quick connect system for our electronic control circuitry. The Push Pull Pot interconnect system uses a printed circuit board mounted directly to the volume pot to enable the coil tap feature implemented on the Pro Series guitars. The pickups plug directly into a quick connect on the circuit board insuring that the wiring is always correct while also allowing for quick assembly and pickup replacement. This modular approach provides production flexibility while also allowing customers the ability to easily modify their guitars if desired. Beyond coil tapping there are several other features we have in mind for future development using the quick connect PCB approach.
It seems like you're involved in a very collaborative process. Every detail involved in creating an Epiphone--from glue to wire to screws--are discussed in a very open, inclusive way.
Yes, the design process here at Epiphone varies from project to project and ideas come from many different sources both inside and outside the company. We have a very active community of social media users and listen to their input. We get input from our retail partners. We have great artists that contribute. And nearly everyone within the company plays music and contributes numerous ideas. All drawings and manufacturing information are created here in Nashville and are then communicated to our factories. Samples are then produced at our factories for final approval. Only after every aspect of the instrument has been perfected are they approved for production.
Epiphone has also always maintained a very strong presence on the ground at every factory that produces our instruments. Since the establishment of our factory in Qingdao the link between USA design/engineering and our Asian manufacturing has been greatly strengthened. We have skilled supervisors with decades of guitar manufacturing experience from Nashville that live in Qingdao and run our factories. Unlike other guitar brands that deal exclusively with sub-vendors for their production, we control our own factory and only Epiphone product is manufactured at our Qingdao facility. Having complete control over our manufacturing process allows us to exert a level of control that would be otherwise more difficult.
Management and our USA Engineering and Quality team here in Nashville are involved at every step of the design and manufacturing process. And once the instruments are completed our team of set up experts here in Nashville inspect 100% of incoming product to insure it is set up and functioning to our strict standards.
What else can you tell us about what's in store over the next year to celebrate Epiphone's 140th anniversary?
As always, we have a variety of improvements and new products under development. There are several instruments currently in the proto stage that should be out this year to honor and celebrate Epiphone's 140th year anniversary. These include some great examples from our past and some brand new things on the cutting edge. In general, you'll see more of the same dedication to quality, continual improvement, and providing the greatest value in the industry to our customers.
As part of our ongoing 140th Anniversary series, Epiphone.com goes behind the scenes into the world of the Director of Operations--a world of planes, trains, & automobiles, nuts & bolts, and wood & wire that combine to make an instrument worthy of the House of Stathopoulo
Thanks for speaking with us, Scott. Tell us the story of how you got to Epiphone.
I was living in Los Angeles, playing music, and got a gig in Nashville. And so I packed up my stuff and came here. Three weeks later, the band got dropped by the record company but I decided to stay. It was, after all, a wonderful town for music and still is. And after about a year and a half, a friend of mine said: 'You should go talk to Gibson. They're looking for people like you who know guitars.' So, I filled out an application and about two weeks later, I got a job. And I haven't looked back since then!
How long was it before you came to Epiphone?
Basically, I got hired as a customer service representative. I was first assigned to inside- sales and after my third week, I got moved to Epiphone so I could deal exclusively with the Epiphone brand.
What is your job title today?
I'm the Director of Operations. I have responsibility for everything once the guitars are approved for production. From placing production orders all the way through until delivery to the final customer.
How has that changed over the last decade?
When I started, Epiphone wasn't the size we are now. And the systems that we had at that time were minimal at best. So, over the years, my goal--and that of our entire team--has been to make constant improvements. We developed our own systems and worked with factories to enhance their capabilities. Communications and the ability to move product around the world quickly has gotten much better as well. We want to make the best instrument at the best price and bring it to the market as quickly as possible. I've always enjoyed my job here because you always have the ability--and the encouragement--to make improvements. Quite frankly, Epiphone was one of the best marketeers when the brand first started and I think we've carried that tradition forward. There are a lot of innovations that Epi Stathopoulo originally put into the brand. And we try to live up to that tradition today as well. The history of Epiphone is spectacular and I'm happy to be able to contribute to it.
What is a typical day like for the Director of Operations at Epiphone?
I have to remember that even when my work day ends our business is world-wide and keeps going 24/7. We have offices in Asia and in Europe and of course the U.S. and due to the time differences, I'm getting information 'round the clock about production and distribution.
Most of what I see is data based on when product will be completed and ready for shipping as well as any questions the factory may have about specifications. Distribution centers also report back to me when they have received our instruments. I oversee the 24/7 monitoring of everything that's involved in getting Epiphone instruments made and transported.
How long does it take to make an Epiphone instrument?
The whole process of an instrument going on the line and coming off the line is usually three days, sometimes a little bit longer. I should mention that Epiphone has two factories in China that produce all of our premier product. A lot of other brands don't have that.
Were our factories built from the ground up?
The first factory was quite an interesting process because we procured ground in China and built the factory ourselves. We patterned a lot of the design on our Gibson factory. And from that process--building from the ground up--we learned a lot. It was really a wonderful experience. The second factory was originally owned by someone we had done business with for quite a long time. They wanted to get out of the business, so we bought that factory and restructured it to be more consistent with our first factory. The two factories are about an hour and a half from each other.
Is making an Epiphone instrument still a hands-on process?
Absolutely. Certainly we have fantastic machines to cut bodies and necks but once that's done, there's a lot of hands-on work. Many companies have tried to make a fully automated process but I can't see why we would do that at Epiphone. The attention to detail that our workers put into making an Epiphone instrument is tremendous. And I consider our workers as skilled as any in the world. Most importantly, our employees take pride in that process and it shows in the quality of our instruments.
You make regular visits to Epiphone factories. Why are those visits so important?
My visits help build and maintain relationships. That can't be done long distance. Yes, this is a business, but it's a passionate business. When I go around the world and watch our instruments being made, I also get to see and hear our instruments played on a worldwide stage. It's wonderful to see our instruments in the hands of musicians and know where it came from, what went into the building of that instrument, and to know that it's being played and appreciated. We have a huge range of products that we make. I don't know of any other brand that has the breadth that Epiphone does--from entry-level acoustics, to historic archtops, Les Pauls, mandolins and banjos and Dobros, and all at great price points.
How does an Epiphone travel from one side of the world to the other and arrive in flawless condition, ready to play?
A lot goes into that process. We have to pay close attention to the climate changes our instruments will go through during the processes of manufacturing and transit. We have to consider everything from how many instruments we're manufacturing at a time to how long it takes an instrument to arrive at our distribution centers in Nashville and around the world. Over the years, we've found the shortest way to run these routes. And we have quality teams set up in all the areas where our instruments may be shipped so we can go through each instrument before they are sent out to our customers.
How do you improve a process that's now become state of the art?
That's very difficult. As we discussed earlier, we're always looking for a better way of making a guitar. Les Paul is still our inspiration--how he worked in the Epiphone factory in Manhattan at night with the dream of building a new kind of electric guitar. If there is a better way, we at Epiphone want to discover it. We're always improving our instruments, delivery methods, and quality tracking. But in a way, all of those endeavors are easy. Our main job is to get a superb instrument into the hands of our customers so they can make magic. When that happens is when our entire team feels the greatest sense of satisfaction.
Are music retailers around the world still going strong?
In the United States, the neighborhood music store is struggling. Yes. Though online sales continue to grow, the whole experience of going into a music store is still exciting, especially for first time buyers and we value that relationship very much. And that is still the best opportunity to sit down and talk with a dealer, learn about Epiphone, and discover what instrument is best for you. That's a magical moment.
I believe that a big part of my job is to continue Epiphone's history of quality and innovation. We have a great history, great product, and a great worldwide team and they dedicate themselves to that idea everyday. I am a lucky guy, I love guitars and I have the joy of working here at Epiphone making iconic products everyday. PS - I play them too!!
Epiphone's Lloyd Williams, Director of China Operations, and Scott Lewis, Plant Manager, oversee the day-to-day operation of building Epiphone instruments at Epiphone's factory near the northern coastal city of Qingdao, China. The idea of making Epiphones around the world is not a new one. In fact, founder Epi Stathopoulo had plans of his own to make Epiphone a world-wide manufacturer of quality professional instruments back in the late '30s just prior to World War II. Now in the 21st century, Epiphone has more than realized Epi's grandest dreams. In our continuing series honoring our 140th Anniversary, Epiphone.com spoke with Lloyd and Scott about their team in China, all of whom have been taught the secrets of building world class--and world famous, Epiphone designs. It's a unique factor with a unique mission: all Epiphones, all the time.
Scott and Lloyd, thanks for speaking with Epiphone.com. Tell us about what you do for Epiphone?
Scott Lewis: My initial role here in China was to bring my experience from two decades at Gibson USA to oversee all aspects related to production. This included training of our Chinese staff to adhere to processes and quality standards set by Epiphone USA as well as communicating on a daily basis with Epiphone staff on R&D related items like quality control, shipping and material supply chains.
I started working for the Impulse Division in 1988 located on Elm Hill Pike in Nashville producing Gibson's line of pickups and electronic assemblies. Two years later, I transferred to the main Gibson USA facility as I had a strong desire to learn more about the guitar building process. Through the years I was fortunate to work in just about every department from rough mill to final assembly in various capacities from machine operator, supervisor and plant manager. In 2005, I came to China to work for Epiphone and hooked up with Lloyd Williams to begin improving the operations in China to meet and exceed Epiphone's quality standards.
Lloyd Williams: Like Scott, I have been in the musical instrument manufacturing business for more than 20 years. I originally started with Baldwin piano company in Cincinnati, Ohio in the marketing department. I held a variety of jobs there and was serving as a production manager when the company was acquired by Gibson in 2001.
At that time, I moved to Nashville to work at Gibson's headquarters as a product manager under the Epiphone division. In 2004, I transferred to China full-time to oversee manufacturing operations. Currently, I am the Director of China Operations with the primary responsibility of overseeing the production of guitars as well as Baldwin pianos. I also work on a daily basis with our partner factories and suppliers to ensure Epiphone's high standards are maintained here in Asia.
Tell us about your life in China.
Scott Lewis: China has a unique culture that you have to adapt to achieve effective results. Like life in any foreign country, you sometimes need to change your way of thinking and adapt accordingly. From a cultural perspective since I moved here in 2005, I have seen the popularity and sales of musical instruments and specifically guitars increase dramatically. While piano's still have a larger presence in China, there are now more rock bands at the local clubs, bars and hotels than ever before. As a result, our China domestic sales continue to increase every year.
Lloyd Williams: The biggest lifestyle challenge for me when I first came to China was using chopsticks. I almost starved to death learning how to use them. But seriously, I enjoy Asian culture and the people and found that I adjusted to life here really easily. As to the revolution Epiphone is experiencing here in China, it is a beautiful thing to behold. Chinese culture is rapidly, becoming more open especially in the music scene. I watch a lot of music shows in person and on TV and it amazes me how many leading and upcoming artists are using Epiphones and Gibsons as their instrument of choice.
What are some of the advantages to Epiphone owning its own factories?
Scott Lewis: The two advantages that come to mind are having 45+ years of experience with Gibson/Epiphone between Lloyd and myself and our commitment to the Epiphone brand. Another major advantage is that we produce only Epiphone guitars, which allows us to focus 100% of our attention and our exclusive production techniques on one brand. Unlike other OEM or contract factories that produce for several brands. we are one family -- Epiphone only.
Lloyd Williams: This is a trick question, right? This is our company making our guitars. We are focused on making only the best guitars and only Epiphone guitars. It is our reputation that is at stake and we play to win. Epiphone controls the designs, development, manufacturing and quality 100% throughout the entire manufacturing process. You just can't get that through OEM factory production alone. A lot of guitar companies are trying to rely on OEM alone but not Epiphone. Our proprietary Epiphone designs are built by Epiphone employees and that really makes all the difference. While we do use OEM factories to extend our capacity, production is tightly controlled by a dedicated team of Epiphone quality technicians stationed onsite within these facilities.
Quality is a huge part of what we're about at Epiphone. Tell me about the significant changes and improvements that you've overseen.
Scott Lewis: Quality is #1, and to achieve that #1 status you must be efficient in every aspect of operations. We basically changed the entire footprint for production to mirror USA production in terms of flow and processes. As some processes may differ, such as binding and paint application, the end result is a great instrument. Currently, we are engaged in changing our finished goods and work-in-process system to emulate Epiphone USA's inventory tracking and bin location system. That will significantly improve our efficiency managing production but more importantly will allow us an additional level of QC inspection every step of the way. We are also in the process of making changes to our current designs for shipping boxes that will reduce transportation damage and be much more environmentally friendly.
Lloyd Williams: The most important thing any manufacturer can do is to institute and maintain a factory-wide philosophy that is focused on quality control supported by the use of only premium quality raw materials. If the factory is geared toward total quality control and uses the best materials available then manufacturing is relatively smooth and the end product will be world class. About 1 out of every 10 workers here are in a quality control position, which is very unusual in a manufacturing environment in Asia.
Tell us about the Epiphone employees who make our guitars.
Lloyd Williams: Wow, where do I begin? When a new employee starts on the line they are assigned a mentor. Depending on the skill level for their position they will apprentice from 60 days to one year. Once they have passed their apprenticeship and mastered their skills they in turn become mentors for the next new employee. But, we have very little turnover so most of our folks have been with us for years. All of our senior managers and supervisors started on the shop floor and worked their way up the old fashion way (like Scott) by learning to be master craftsmen with strong leadership skills.
We also have Epiphone Master Luthiers who are dedicated to teaching critical skills such as neck jointing, buffing and final setup. These are former line leaders who have the knowledge and skills of traditional guitar making and keep the Epiphone flame burning bright. Scott and I are extremely proud of our team and in return they are extremely proud to be part of the Epiphone family.
What are some of the new challenges you see for Epiphone in terms of manufacturing?
Lloyd Williams: For producing Epiphone future models the criteria is simple: build a guitar that a musician really needs. And second, build the guitar with unique features and benefits that the musician can really use to expand their musical horizons. Oh yeah, and while we are doing this we focus on quality, quality, quality. I personally hope we continue to resurrect Epiphone models from years ago and at the same time continue to innovate. Our biggest challenge is to continue to deliver the best instrument at the best value.
Do either of you have an instrument that is your personal favorite to see made?
Scott Lewis: My favorite instrument is the ES-339. The playability is unbelievable and the sustain is just pure pleasure to the ears. To be honest, any production of the hollow body instruments is an amazing sight to see as it is more than a just a block of wood and neck.
Lloyd Williams: Oh, I guess I would have to say any model with lots of multi-binding, metallic finish and is a bear to build. But seriously, I guess I am drawn toward the Casinos. To me they are the heart and soul of Epiphone. Oh... and Paul McCartney likes them, too! But I also bang on my old Epiphone AJ acoustic but that is just to annoy the cats outside my window.
We have a very informed and demanding audience. Quality is serious business, isn't it?
Lloyd Williams: Everything about making a quality guitar must be taken seriously! Though it is more fun compared to making a washing machine. But to answer your question, quality demands keep growing as more and more information is out there for review. I would have to say the biggest challenge is meeting the increased expectations of the customers. Dave Berryman, Jim Rosenberg, Scott Aisenbrey and Marty Burns keep us focused on what is needed in the musician's world so we have to be very responsive at the factory level. We seem to always be working on something new so there is a lot of collaboration back and forth between the big office and the factories. But hey, when you have an army of guitar fanatics back at the home office you can expect to be challenged on a daily basis.
Is there anything about the processes that you oversee that might surprise our audience?
Scott Lewis: Having worked at both Gibson and Epiphone, there isn't much difference in the basic processes with the exception of a few high end CNC's and few other minor variances. Epiphone remains true to what I would call a handcrafted instrument. Several of our processes today require hands on work that remains one of the most intriguing discussion points with touring guests.
Lloyd Williams: What really is unique about crafting Epiphones is that we are mixing 100-year old techniques with modern technology. Epiphone's engineers provide us with 3D drawings based on actual historical instruments for use in making our jigs and molds for many of the re-issue models. I remember when we tooled up for Casino production how accurate the shapes had to be and it took some time to get it spot on. We do use some automation but at the end of the day most of the work is done by hand. You are more likely to see our craftsmen with a chisel than pushing a button on some behemoth machine.
The guitar market is one of the most demanding markets in the world when it comes to quality. To be successful in this market you have to deliver the best guitar that can be made without exception. The passion shown by an Epiphone player is truly unique.
In 2013, Epiphone celebrated its 140th anniversary and its long, incredible history as the rebel of instrument makers. It's a story that features every great artist of the last century and counting. The family company that grew to take over the world has traveled a rocky road but its mission has been straight on: to make a great instrument that anyone--novice or pro-- can take off the shelf and start playing right away. And today, it's clear that Epiphone's dedication to quality as well as its keen eye for bell-weather artists who are about to make history has paid off. Today, Epiphone instruments can be heard everywhere--played by rock, pop, country, metal, folk, jazz, and blues artists around the world. Its headquarters in Nashville, where all Epiphone instruments are designed, tested, tuned, and inspected, is state of the art. And there isn't a spot on Earth (hardly!) where a person can't order and receive the very same Epiphone played by The Beatles, Les Paul , Joe Pass, John Lee Hooker, Gary Clark Jr., Zakk Wylde, or Slash--and one with a lifetime warranty.
At Epiphone, we also take pride in how much hasn't changed since the days founder Epi Stathopoulo, a virtual Walt Disney of the instrument world in his time, led the "House of Stathopoulo" in the first decades of the 20th century. Epi anticipated virtually everything we take for granted in the music business today: world-wide distribution, consistently high quality, in-house research and development, electric guitars, electric basses, acoustic-electric guitars and small but powerful amps. Virtually everything from the Epiphone logo to our extended line of banjos, mandolins, archtops, Les Pauls, SGs, and classics like the Casino, the Riviera, and the Ultra III, can be traced back to Epi's vision of Epiphone as the musician's instrument maker, which is exactly what Epiphone is today.
Put another way: If you consider that Mr. Les Paul--whose friends extended to George Beauchamp of Rickenbacker, Paul Bigsby, Leo Fender, Gibson, and virtually every other instrument maker at the time--chose the Epiphone factory in Manhattan above all others as the place to try out a radical new solid body guitar, that says everything about Epiphone's long history of being savvy, inventive, and more than a bit rebellious. And don't forget Epiphone's sense of humor, too. For every great archtop released by Gibson in the early 30s, Epiphone made one a little bigger! And today, vintage Epiphone archtops are a rare find at guitar shows. That's because no one wants to get rid of them!
So at the close of 2013, Epiphone celebrates its 140th anniversary as the working musician's most reliable and affordable instrument maker. It was a terrific year where we brought several artists that we've long admired into the Epiphone family.
Tommy Thayer, Matt Heafy, and Brendon Small joined Epiphone's esteemed group of Signature Artists, which over the decades have included Chet Atkins, Paul McCartney, John Lee Hooker, John Lennon, Slash, Jack Casady, and Joe Bonamassa.
Tommy Thayer of KISS designed the “Spaceman” Les Paul featuring Gibson 498T pickups. Matt Heafy of Trivium introduced the Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom 6 string and 7 string with EMG pickups and a deep-set neck joint with "Axcess" heel. And Brendon Small presented the "Thunderhorse" Explorer with Gibson USA BurstBuckers with coil-tapping All were Limited Editions that quickly sold out to our Authorized Epiphone Retailers around the world.
Longtime friend and Signature Artist Tak Matsumoto presented the Aqua Blue double cutaway Les Paul Standard PlusTop exclusively for Japan. Other highlights in 2013 included the Thunderbird Classic-IV PRO, the return of the Genesis Deluxe PRO and the knockout TV Silver and TV Pelham Blue collections.
Perhaps most exciting of all for new players, this year Epiphone introduced an incredible collection of Packs--the Les Paul Player and Performance Packs, the Goth SG Performance Pack, and the Toby Bass Performance Pack. Together with the fan favorite PR-4E Pack, these all-in-one goodie boxes offered Epiphone fans new and old everything they needed in one handy collection: a pro quality Epiphone instrument, a specially designed Epiphone amp, straps, picks, lessons, and Epiphone's singular lifetime guarantee.
The Packs also helped to herald the arrival of Rocksmith 2014, the incredible Plug and Play video experience that quickly and easily allows any player to plug in their new (or vintage!) Epiphone and learn guitar and bass from their favorite songs. Check out our Rocksmith 2014/Epiphone Buyer’s Guide.
Our anniversary also gave us the opportunity to say 'thank you' to our fans as well as our Epiphone employees who make it possible for anyone, anywhere in the world to get a professional instrument with a lifetime guarantee.
Our colleagues in the magazine trade, who have carefully and thoughtfully critiqued our instruments over the last two decades of Epiphone's resurgence, all came out this year to honor Epiphone's 140th anniversary and we were grateful for their support. Check out these great features from Guitar Player, Guitar World, and giveaways with Bass Player, and Guitar Aficionado.
Longtime Epiphone fan and guitar historian Walter Carter released a beautiful coffee table sized paperback, The Complete History of Epiphone that was filled with color photos of vintage and new instruments as well as period advertisements, artist photos, and interviews with key Epiphone history makers. Carter ended his history with the proclamation that Epiphone is still the working musician's best friend.
Epiphone originated the idea of the affordable, professional instrument. Whether you're a pro or just starting out, Epiphone has a guitar, bass, or acoustic instrument made with you in mind. Every day, Epiphone makes longtime classics like the Les Paul and the Casino as well as new models like the Ltd. E. Brendon Small "Thunderhorse" Explorer and the Wilshire Phant-o-matic available to players that less than a generation ago would have had to look for those instruments in used guitar shops, only to be hit with the sticker shock of a vintage instrument.
The roots of Epiphone begin with the Stathopoulo family from Sparta, Greece, who settled in Manhattan in the early 20th century where founder Epi Stathopoulo built a Manhattan showroom as both an exhibition hall and a gathering place for the best musicians of the day including innovator Les Paul, who built his first "Les Paul" solid body guitar at the Epiphone factory on 14th street. Throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s, Epi patented breakthrough designs of acoustic and electric guitars, and his Masterbilt series is prized in both its vintage and modern incarnation. In 1957, the Stathopoulo family--at the urging of longtime friend Les Paul--merged with its foremost competitor, Gibson.
Over the next decade, a new line of Epiphone electrics and acoustics were again embraced by artists in every genre including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Roy Orbison, The Who, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Winter.
Today, Epiphone instruments are played on stages and in studios everywhere. And once again, the great artists of our time like Paul McCartney, Gary Clark Jr., Dwight Yoakam, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, Alabama Shakes, and Tommy Thayer of KISS count on Epiphone for its history, quality and innovation. Rarely is a guitar player without an Epiphone and no guitar collection is complete without one. And now with a new state-of-the art headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, Epiphone continues to look to the future every day.
One of the highlights of our Anniversary was our year-long interview series with the folks who make Epiphone possible behind the scenes. We kicked off the year with an in-depth interview with the President of Gibson, Dave Berryman, who along with Henry Juszkiewicz purchased Epiphone on January 14, 1986, thus kicking off the modern era of Epiphone that has produced critically acclaimed new and reissued models like the Ultra III, the Sheraton II, and the 50th Anniversary ’61 Casino.
Berryman’s interview is fascinating for its detailed look at the early days of the Epiphone turnaround.
"For many, many years--I would go over to Asia with our Epiphone team, five or six times a year," recalled Berryman. "You have to spend time there to make things happen. And as our relationships got better there and as we developed our engineering talent here in the U.S. as well as in Asia, Epiphone set up its own manufacturing operation in China in 2002. That took a decade of travel and working with all our independent factories on developing our brand. Remember, the bulk of the Epiphone line features set necks, like Gibson, so it's much more difficult to make and takes more expertise and skill," continued Berryman. "But it was well worth the effort because it yielded constantly improving product quality, production reliability and superior performance that was being noticed by many players and consumers. People were telling us, "Wow, your Epiphone product has come a long, long way."
Read more of our interview with Gibson President Dave Berryman here. Epiphone.com also featured discussions with President Jim Rosenberg, Epiphone R&D Director Richard Akers, and perhaps the most famous face of Epiphone, Will Jones a.k.a Doctor Epiphone, who has been making house calls at dealers around the world for a decade.
Speaking of (and as) the mysterious "Dr. Epiphone" (certainly one of the most unforgettable characters in modern instrument making history), Jones said, "I know of no other spokesperson like him in the industry. My chief mission is to continue to "educate" folks through fun and engaging presentations to just what amazing value the Epiphone products bring to the marketplace."
"Over the years", continued Jones, "the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, I think because people know that I obviously don't take myself very seriously. That puts people at ease and they tend to be more receptive to my message. I let the facts about Epiphone --our rich history, quality innovations and diverse line of fun instruments-- impress folks. Yes, when one of our distributors or reps book a Dr. Epiphone event at a new place, people are often surprised at the different format and offbeat vibe, but we try to leave our retailers even more enthusiastic about offering Epiphone products and their customers as die-hard Epiphone fans.”
Visit the Doctor's entire interview here. In July, Epiphone threw a massive weekend-long birthday party in downtown Nashville and at its new state of the art headquarters. Music City is the premier spot on Earth to compose, arrange, record, manufacture, and perform music and for the first time, it too is enjoying a hipster renaissance.
Epiphone kicked off its weekend-long 140th birthday celebration July 12, 2013 with a killer rooftop concert at the exclusive Nashville bar Aerial which is situated high above Lower Broadway, Nashville's infamous honky tonk highway. The all-evening throwdown featured two sets from The Beatles-themed band The Return along with the Magnolia Sons and Young Hines on a much loved-Casino.
The open house the next day drew scores of Epi fans, Epiphone forum members, and producers and musicians from the Nashville community. Once again, Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg and Gibson President Dave Berryman hosted the festivities, which began at high noon on Saturday with music, food, and giveaways and carried on through the early evening.
As guests signed in, they were greeted by Epiphone's world famous collection of vintage Epiphones which includes an early mandolin built by Anastasios Stathopoulo, a House of Stathopoulo harp guitar, and vintage collectable (and extremely rare) Hawaiian guitars, acoustic archtops and electric tenor and jazz guitars were not only on display but were also set up and in tune. Guests were advised to not play the instruments and though everyone was on their best behavior, many a hand brushed the strings to compare tones and timbre. Special guest Jeff Waters thrilled the crowd with two blazing sets of guitar virtuosity. (Jeff also checked out several Epiphone acoustic guitars when no one was looking.) But perhaps the event that will go down in Epiphone memory started out as a humble exhibition in the Epiphone warehouse where R&D Director Richard Akers hosted the Epiphone ProBucker Pickup Challenge. Guests were invited to try two sets of three Les Paul Standard PlusTop PROs--in Vintage Sunburst and Heritage Cherry Sunburst--both set up with new Epiphone ProBucker pickups as well as some very fine boutique humbuckers pickups. Many guests took up the challenge to see if they could tell which Les Paul had Epiphone ProBuckers including pros, guitar magazine editors, and guitar collectors. While every pickup sounded fantastic and the differences were slight, Epiphone won a majority favorite.
Our anniversary year also included exclusive interviews with Gary Clark Jr., Heath Fogg of Alabama Shakes, Frank Iero's first interview since the break up of My Chemical Romance, Duke Robillard after leaving Bob Dylan's band, longtime Paul McCartney bassist and guitarist Brian Ray, rising Americana star Pokey LaFarge, Epiphone Genesis designer Jim Walker, Paul Barrere of Little Feat, producer and longtime Mark Knopfler bandmate Richard Bennett, Keb Mo, Jason Ringenberg, Tommy Thayer of KISS, Brendon Small, and Captain Kirk Douglas of the Roots on the infamous Prince incident.
Epiphone artists also released terrific albums this year including Paul McCartney, The Roots, Duke Robillard, Zakk Wylde, Slash, Vampire Weekend, and vintage collections from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and many others.
This October, Epiphone was back in the news again with the launch of Rocksmith 2014, the critically acclaimed video experience that teaches guitar and bass the best way possible—through great music. The Plug and Play Revolution is being televised and Epiphone is leading the way. Check out Epiphone's handy buyer’s guide to get the right Rocksmith 2014 instrument for you. And be sure to enter our year long Sweepstakes for your chance to win an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. Go here for details.
Epiphone is still at the forefront of instrument design--whether it's award winning reissues like the 1962 50th anniversary collection or genre bending instruments like the Brendon Small Thunderhorse Explorer. As Brian Ray of Paul McCartney said, "you have to keep telling people Epiphone is the real deal. They need to know you've been making great guitars for a long, long time."
Happy Anniversary and thanks from Epiphone. Wait 'til you see what’s coming in 2014!
While you're waiting for the official announcement of all the great Epiphone goodies that we have in store for 2014, both new and vintage fans should check out guitar expert Walter Carter's most recent publication, The Epiphone Book, which tells the in-depth story of the House of Stathopoulo from its earliest days in New York--where Les Paul had his own workbench to cause trouble--to its historic days in Kalamazoo and now home again in Nashville.
And, of course, Les Paul, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Band, Marcus Henderson, Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance, and many other great artists are included in the story as well. In fact, it could already use an update thanks to artists like GRAMMY winners Gary Clark Jr., Vampire Weekend, and FUN. who have also taken Epiphone to heart. And let's not forget Alabama Shakes, Nick Colionne, and Robben Ford.
Carter's previous works include The Gibson Electric Guitar Book and Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon. Carter also served as the historian for Gibson Guitars. Epiphone.com spoke with Carter in Nashville from his new shop, Carter Vintage.
For a lot of guitar fans, there's a bit of mystique to Epiphone. Seemingly against all odds, it has not only survived, but its spirit as an upstart, (which goes back to Epi Stathopoulo), remains intact today. What did your research turn up that surprised you?
Although I was aware of the loyalty that many guitarists have had for Epiphone through the years, it was somewhat of a surprise to find that level of spirit within the Gibson company. In the 1960s, Andy Nelson was so gung-ho for Epiphone (he designed the Excellente, among other models) that Ted McCarty saw him as a threat to the Gibson brand, and Andy's enthusiasm probably cost him his job. In the 1970s, Bruce Bolen and other long-term Gibson employees made Epi much more of a cutting-edge company than Gibson was. And then there was (and still is) Jim Rosenberg, the ultimate Epi evangelist. Of course, my "research" on Jim was actually first-hand experience, my desk was right outside his office in 1993, but I was surprised even back then to find someone so completely dedicated to the Epiphone brand.
What were some of the differences between Gibson and Epiphone when Epi was running the company in the 20s, 30s, and 40s?
Before World War II, there was a fundamental difference in management between Epiphone and Gibson. Epi Stathopoulo was a musician who had regular contact with New York's finest guitarists at jam sessions at the Epi offices. Gibson, since 1924, was headed up by Guy Hart, an accountant, whose only contact with top musicians would have been when they made an out-of-the-way trip to Kalamazoo. Although Gibson was fiercely competitive, I think Epiphone was better positioned geographically as well as in management to take market share away from Gibson, but the war changed everything. Epi died and Gibson was acquired by Chicago Musical Instrument Co.
Do you think had Epi lived, Les Paul would have taken his solidbody guitar design to Epiphone?
Epi had a relationship with Les Paul, but so did Gibson. It's impossible to know if Epi would have jumped on the solidbody guitar, but he did have a track record of identifying a changing market (from banjo to guitar in the late 1920s) and re-inventing his company to cash in on it. It's easy to imagine a surprise attack of solidbody Epiphones released on the market, just as Epi did with his archtops guitars in the early 1930s.
How much separation was there between Gibson and Epiphone when the companies merged in the late 50's? Was Ted McCarty involved with shaping the new Epiphone of 1958?
There were no separate R&D or design teams for Gibson and Epiphone in the late 1950s. The Gibson ES-335 and the Epiphone Sheraton, for example, grew out of the work of one design group. The differences between Epiphone and Gibson models were decided on the basis of marketing. The marketing-driven concept is clear in a 1958 outline of the new Epiphone line that included a square-shouldered dreadnought and the instruction to "copy Martin d'naught size." Ted McCarty was heavily involved. The document outlining the new line was the product of a meeting between McCarty, his sales manager and the sales manager of the parent company (CMI).
You must have played a lot of Epiphones from all eras during your research. Does anything unique stand out in regards to older Epiphones compared to other vintage models you've played?
Epiphone's prewar acoustic archtops are among the best of that genre. They're every bit as good as the rival Gibsons but they have a different sound. It's easy to see how a Ford-or-Chevy kind of loyalty could have developed among players of that era. The Epis of the 1960s are pretty much as you would expect, having been made side by side with Gibsons. The electric imports of the 1970s are always an adventure. If you pick one up with no pre-conceptions and take a few minutes to find its "voice," it's usually a rewarding playing experience.
What stands out about new Epiphones compared to vintage models?
The quality of the new Epiphones is impressive, and the quality-to-price ratio is phenomenal. There is a lot of inconsistency among vintage Epis. Not all of them are great, and many of them will need significant repair work to bring them up to the performance standards that today's guitarist expect--and get--from a new Epiphone.
I have a question that seems really difficult to find a straight, knowledgeable answer. You know that I have the '91 Emperor. It's "slangly" called the "Pre Joe Pass" model for obvious reasons. But I took it to a very reputable shop here in town. The older gentleman there did a double take when he looked at it. He identified it as a "Monterey". I have read that name before on the internet, but without confirmation, it's been undermined. However, this person informed me that the Emperor was, originally, another Epi, but had a different pickup arrangement. He offered me $700 cash on the spot. I laughed thinking he was joking. Then he showed me a completed auction on the "Bay" where one exactly like mine sold for almost $900!
Now, I could care less about it's value, as I'm not a collector. And it will never be for sale unless I fall on some really hard times. But my question is this...
Does his claim to the name "Monterey" hold any weight?
No. There was no Epiphone Monterey. I'm not sure of the history of that name. It might be some slang term or similar model by a different company. This guitar shows up in the 1986 Epiphone catalog as an Emperor and began as this style in 1984. The Korean model ran with the "Emperor" name until it was endorsed by Joe Pass. Three years later it became the Joe Pass Emperor II. I do not have access to my catalog files until monday, but maybe Paruwi can post a pic of the 1986 catalog page with the Emperor if he has time.
Look at the label in the sound hole of your guitar. If it says "Emperor", then its an Emperor. Funny though, doing a search for "Epiphone Monterey" brings up some Emperors. However, none of these are referred to a Monterey on the websites hosting the pics. It seems that the search term brings them up becuase of things like the gallery at MLP and this page - http://www.oocities.org/oasysco/joepass.htm - which is inaccurate with several details and only says that the Emperor was "possibly" known as the Monterey. And maybe it was in small circles of oldtimers, but never officially. The name "Monterey" is just folklore.
Meet the Director of Epiphone’s Supply Chain & Quality Control
To celebrate our 140th Anniversary, Epiphone.com is taking you behind the scenes to meet the people who make it possible for us to make one great instrument after another, each one backed up by our limited lifetime guarantee.
We've spoken with Gibson owner Dave Berryman, President Jim Rosenberg, and Research and Design Supervisor Richard Akers about the fun stuff--the epic history, the rebirth of Epiphone in the 80s and 90s, and Epi's critically acclaimed design process.
Now we turn to perhaps one of the more fascinating and unsung pieces of the puzzle--quality control. Marty Burns, Epiphone's Director of Supply Chain & Quality Control, oversees a world wide network of Epiphone factories, distribution centers, and proprietary manufacturing facilities as well as Epiphone's new state-of-the art headquarters where every Epiphone instrument that comes through the door is checked, polished, played, adjusted, and ok'd. And just how many instruments go through that door? A lot. "Being a player myself, I can 100%--without a doubt--tell you that no brand puts as much emphasis on value and quality as Epiphone," says Burns. And as a veteran player who has toured extensively and lived to tell the tale of the music business, you can bet that when Burns says 100%, it's not a boast, it's fact. As you'll gather from our interview, Marty Burns treats every new Epiphone instrument as if he made it with his own hands.
What is the job of the Director of Supply Chain & Quality Control?
I oversee and monitor the production and quality control of every instrument we produce. Along with our worldwide quality team, I observe every step of the way for our instruments while they are being produced and distributed. I have daily contact with the people who are working with every piece and part that goes into an Epiphone and as you know, we're making many different kinds of instruments at a variety of price points. That's what makes my job so challenging and exciting.
We're making instruments that retail for a little over $100 on up to $2,000 and all that comes into play with regards to our customer's expectations of a high level of quality no matter the price. I travel throughout the year to every facility that produces an Epiphone instrument as well as to the vendors that are making proprietary parts for us. Though we monitor what they're doing and have dedicated Epiphone staff in each facility that are reporting directly to me on a daily basis, I still like to see things with my own eyes. When it comes to monitoring production and quality control, there are so many things that an email or a phone call can't and will not tell you.
I follow the production phase and all the quality control points as the instrument filters through the manufacturing process, our worldwide distribution network, onto the consumer and even throughout the lifetime of the instrument. Also, when it comes to the suppliers that we use, I am part of the process of identifying and approving those sources to ensure they are a good fit for Epiphone production and meet our rigorous standards.
When Epiphone looks to manufacture a proprietary part outside of the Epiphone factory, how do you choose who can do the best job?
In that determination, there are a lot of factors that go into our decision. We consider the level of expertise they have, the machinery and technology they have at their disposal, the natural changes in climate of the region of the world where their facility is located, temperature and humidity controls throughout their facility, and even the transportation infrastructure available and what our products may be subjected to while in transit.
Fans and critics continually praise Epiphone for outstanding quality, especially over the last decade. What kind of challenges have you faced during the process of raising Epiphone's standards?
Epiphone quality, playability and player friendly features over the last 15 years have continually risen but our prices have remained very affordable. I think one of the most difficult things for an approved Epiphone manufacturing facility to grasp when they enter into a partnership with us is when I say to them: "I don't care what level of instruments you have made in the past; you are now an Epiphone supplier. With this title, there is now a great responsibility that you and all of your employees hold. You're going to be held to the highest standards that we have." There's no exception. There's no gray area. If you're making an Epiphone, you have firm specifications, and approved suppliers, that are all within our very extensive and exclusive network. There can be no negotiation in working outside this network, because even one part manufactured outside of the network could throw the quality of that part, and ultimately the performance of the instrument, completely off. We're very diligent in ensuring that each of our factories meets every Epiphone guideline, specification and requirement, even down to the working environment for the employee in the factory.
Epiphone established the idea of making a professional affordable instrument and raised its profile over a very short period of time. What was Epiphone like when you started?
When I started here, I had to first learn the brand from the ground up. I started doing instrument set ups and quality control in our distribution center. Then, I progressed into training our staff, processing returns and ultimately supervising our distribution center staff. In this capacity I was able to implement a lot of our quality and training policy and procedures that stand to this day. Then the scope of my responsibility transitioned into supervising our Asian team and overseeing our worldwide quality efforts. It is in this regard that I have been able to work closely with our Epiphone team and help further define the Epiphone brand as the best quality instruments at the best price. And what is so amazing to me is the passion that not only our customers and our players feel, but the passion that each Epiphone employee has for our brand and the instruments we produce. This passion resonates throughout our entire network of suppliers, partners and dealers as well. I personally take pride in every instrument that we produce. Sometimes it can be stressful because I like to be very involved in every step that goes into producing our instruments. I monitor the entire process along the way, and even throughout the life of the instrument. I'm heavily involved in the day-to day of our manufacturing facilities and any issues that may be found during the manufacturing process. Working closely with our Epiphone R&D experts, I'm the person that addresses these issues. We get them fixed immediately. We don't wait. This involves our quality team many times working around the clock to ensure we minimize any impact to production and/or quality.
I also work closely with our returns departments to ensure that we capture the data needed so that we may monitor how our instruments are holding up in the field and watch for quality trends. This process also involves listening to our customers and our dealer's feedback on a daily basis. Every morning I start my day with reading reports that give me actual product comments, ideas and suggestions from our customers. The bottom line each day is: How do we make a better instrument for our customers?
What do customers expect from an Epiphone instrument?
What stands out for me the most is that regardless of whatever markets we ship to, our customers expect that they're getting an instrument they can take out night after night and play the heck out of. They depend on the security that comes with buying an Epiphone and knowing it's going to last a lifetime. Of course, we have players who baby their Epiphones--don't get me wrong--but I feel all Epiphone players depend on a work horse instrument--great playability, rock solid reliability and an amazing looking finish that's really going to pop but at the same time is incredibly strong and durable. Those are the biggest things our customers seem to identify with Epiphone. We have many different levels of players who play our instruments every day or night. Whether they are a beginner or a pro, they know that they can take an Epiphone off the hook at the dealer and it's ready to go.
Gone are the days when you bought an Epiphone and replaced the pickups.
That's right. Today, you can buy an Epiphone anywhere in the world and say: 'Wow this is a great playing instrument. I don't need to take it anywhere to have work done. I don't need to switch out the pickups or the pots. It's ready to go and will stay that way.'
Was that consistency harder to come by before you started?
Epiphone has always had a dedicated team. But the combination of experience, dedication, and technological advances have enabled us to reach a level of consistency that is unprecedented in the industry. At Epiphone, we believe that if you are not growing as a brand, you are dying. Now, we have so many unbelievable technical features that take our instruments to the next level. Our instruments have evolved and become more comprehensive with spot-on specifications, detailed drawings, and proprietary suppliers. Our level of expertise, our expectations of our worldwide Epiphone team and our understanding of our customer's wants and needs, is--I feel--100 times greater than what it once was.
Can you help dispel a long-standing myth that guitars today--and specifically Epiphones-- are made more by machine than by hand? From what I gather from you and from Richard Akers, our supervisor for R&D, much of the process of making an Epiphone instrument is still very hands-on.
That's right. Of course, we have fixtures and templates in place---just as Epiphone had in New York and in Kalamazoo, but I feel to get a good quality instrument you have to have that personal touch. One of the ways in which Epiphone distinguishes itself is that we ensure that every person who works on or with our instruments throughout the manufacturing process recognizes that they are using their hands to make an actual musical instrument that will one day make wonderful music in the hands of the musician who is playing it. It's a process to be proud of. It takes skill and care. And it's an important part of my job to help them recognize that what they do is so important to this instrument being made properly with attention to detail and quality, and--ultimately--changing the life of its future owner. That is what makes me passionate about building guitars.
In a world of robots, the guitar is still such a personal thing. I'm a player, and when I hold this guitar in my hand, I can feel all the love that went into making this instrument and giving it musical life.
It seems like Epiphone fans are finally able to see Gibson and Epiphone as unique entities.
There are quite a few unique Epiphone models and shapes like the Genesis, the Wildkat and the Wilshire to name a few. But I think one of the best things our team has brought to the table over the last decade is a better way of building guitars and finding a great balance between tradition and innovation. Some other companies make the same guitar over and over again. As a result, they can be more cookie cutter and assembly line- oriented. That's not the case with us. We have the Les Paul, the SG, Flying-V's, the Sheraton, the Texan, the Dot, the Casinos, Thunderbirds, Casady basses, banjos, mandolins and more --- and they are all such different and diverse instruments. The innovations we’re building into our instruments today--like the PRO series and the Ultra III--gives our players the ultimate amount of flexibility. I don't feel there is another brand that has really taken it to the next level the way Epiphone has. We have made the experience for the player more enjoyable while giving them better tools to do their job. As far as a brand goes, we don't do anything halfway and our fans know that. I want the customer's experience with Epiphone to be completely out of sight, over-the-top, and extremely satisfying. Having been on the road, playing music, I've had experiences with other brands that were just heartbreaking.
You were a touring artist prior to coming to Epiphone?
Ages ago, I had a record deal which brought me to Nashville. And needing to be closer to the industry I so loved, that's why I moved here initially. That opportunity grew into me joining the Epiphone team and I have never looked back since. I grew up in a musical family and came from a long line of players, so from the beginning, I understood what a high quality, good playing instrument encompassed. Back in those days, if I had an issue with another guitar brand, I would contact them for service and they'd say "we'll have your guitar back to you in about 6 months." Those 6 months sometimes turned into 9 or 12 causing nothing but confusion and frustration on my part. When I got the opportunity to help shape and develop Epiphone policies and procedures, that was one of the first areas we focused on. How to get the instrument in our facility and then back out to our customers in tiptop shape. Doing it in a matter of DAYS, not months.
But really, we make a great quality instrument and not that many ever come back. But if and when a customer does have an issue, it becomes our top priority. We make it our #1 goal to get it solved and get the instrument back in their hands. I want them playing their Epiphones. Many customers have called me and said 'we've had such a great experience with Epiphone, this the only brand we’re gonna buy moving forward,' and that's what you want to hear.
Tell us about the new Epiphone headquarters in Nashville.
I'm really excited about our new facility in Nashville. This facility is going to help take our brand and our business to the next level. We have a state-of-the-art warehouse facility that gives us the ability better serve our customers, deliver our guitars more quickly to those customers, and to conduct superior set-ups. Overall, we have created a better environment for our instruments and our employees. I'm already getting feedback from our dealers and customers that their new Epiphones have never played better. Even the ability to take a few more minutes with each instrument during the set up process can make a huge, noticeable difference.
What is the inspection process at Epiphone?
We use a 15-point checklist but that, of course, is what follows a rigorous inspection and set-up process at the manufacturing level. Around the world, our Epiphone technicians check the specifications and make minor adjustments to the set-up of our instruments as needed. This includes playing every note on the guitar as well to ensure great playability. They look for anything that might affect our goal of providing our customers with an awesome, ready-to-gig instrument.
What we hear from Epiphone fans is that they, on average, own 7 guitars including Les Pauls, archtops, and acoustics.
That's right. So if you have any issue with an Epiphone in your collection, I want to know about it, so that we can continually make improvements in our instruments while providing you with a positive Epiphone experience!
Will Jones is the one and only Dr. Epiphone--the funny, irreverent, yet deadly serious and outspoken advocate for all things Epiphone. Dr. Epiphone is half mad scientist and half Epiphone evangelist; a 21st century P.T. Barnum for the House of Stathopoulo whose spitfire delivery and impeccable (and often hysterical) comic timing makes Groucho Marx's Captain Spaulding seem, well, rather bland.
For the few out there who haven't had the pleasure of meeting the good Doctor or hearing his expert lectures on the Ultra III Les Paul, ProBucker pickups, or any number of Epiphone technical breakthroughs in the last decade, we at Epiphone advise you to get a check-up right away. Thousands around the world have done just that and it has changed their musical lives for the better. We can't help but think that if the spirit of Epi Stathopoulo could inhabit any mortal, who better would he choose than the Doctor?
But in all seriousness (if only for a moment), Dr. Epiphone is one-of-a-kind. No other instrument company in the world could ask for a more enthusiastic and tireless (but not necessarily rested) spokesperson to spread the word that a great instrument can sometimes be your one true friend. Something is happening and this Mr. Jones does know what it is. Epiphone.com caught up with the Doctor between planes, trains, and automobiles.
Thanks for sitting down with us Dr. Epiphone. Let's start with the basics. Just who is Dr. Epiphone and why/how was he invented?
Hey, thanks for asking me! Well, my name is Will Jones and I've worked for Epiphone during most of its remarkable modern renaissance. I won my first Epiphone on a game show and at a young age, opened a very small music store here in Nashville that was part of the famous Ernest Tubb Record Shop chain. (E.T. also played Epiphone!) Concurrently, I had my own alt-country-rock-comedy band that toured around the region in which I played my Epiphone and then eventually, a regional cable music/sketch comedy TV show that ran for several years until I decided to stop the abuse.
Everybody that thinks they are going to make a living at music needs a good day gig and I was recruited to come to work at Epiphone in the sales department. I enjoyed working with Epiphone dealers and over time developed an encyclopedic memory of the line. Our current Director or Operations, Scott Aisenbrey, created a new position for me as product specialist and sent me out around the U.S. to educate Epiphone dealers about the amazing value of Epiphone products.
Jim Rosenberg, the President of Epiphone and the first Dr. Epiphone, developed a "Dr. Epiphone" curriculum for me to use as a guide. I already had a lab coat left over from a zany Epidemics info-propaganda-rock-parody act that Jim, Scott and myself performed at NAMM shows back in the day. Because most of my first store training appointments were early in the day, before the music stores would open, this presented a challenge in that most guys working there had gigged the night before and were not exactly bright-eyed and ready to learn about anything. So to get a few laughs and keep their attention, I would put on my lab coat and crack a few jokes and I became Dr. Epiphone.
This concept was somehow greatly successful and eventually, I had a small team of guys working with me traveling around, doing the same. But no one else would wear a lab coat for some reason. Dignity perhaps. In 2004, I was invited to Japan where the folks over there loved the Dr. Epiphone shtick, and I became formally known as Dr. Epiphone. We morphed my routine into a consumer-friendly clinic, blending product education with humor, music and spontaneity where hopefully, people have fun and accidentally learn a few things about Epiphone and guitars.
I know of no other spokesperson like him in the industry. My chief mission is to continue to "educate" folks through fun and engaging presentations to just what amazing value the Epiphone products bring to the marketplace. Sometimes I speak to groups of retail employees that visit our facility here in Nashville and the next day I may board a plane and perform public events in Tokyo, Toronto, Torino or Toulouse. At other times, I may represent Epiphone at various trade shows, such as Musik Messe in Frankfurt, NAMM in Anaheim, CES in Las Vegas or public events such as Brisbane Guitar Show in Australia, Music Moscow, and countless others. I go wherever they want me!
Unlike some brand's traditional clinicians, we don't try to impress folks with how many notes we can play in a second or rant about our own career; instead, we try to provide a fun, relaxed experience imparting our passion to whoever is listening. It's my job to represent everyone at Epiphone who go above and beyond on a daily basis to keep us the best in the world at what we do and help make more satisfied Epiphone instrument owners. Yes, this sounds like a commercial, but we mean every word. I'm honored to have the only job I know of like it in the world. If only because there is no other company - no group of passionate people - like Epiphone in the world.
What has the reaction been to Dr. Epiphone around the world? I'm sure there are some retailers who look forward to your visits and some that are seeing you for the first time.
(Laughing) Over the years, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, I think because people know that I obviously don't take myself very seriously. That puts people at ease and they tend to be more receptive to my message. I let the facts about Epiphone --our rich history, quality innovations and diverse line of fun instruments-- impress folks. Yes, when one of our distributors or reps book a Dr. Epiphone event at a new place, people are often surprised at the different format and offbeat vibe, but we try to leave our retailers even more enthusiastic about offering Epiphone products and their customers as die-hard Epiphone fans. Sometimes we explain things a bit at the beginning of an event, but then, sometimes words just aren't enough. As long as people learn something and had fun, I'm happy. I'm happier still when someone buys their first guitar, an Epiphone, at our event and wants to snap a photo with me. It's one of the most important days of their lives and I'm honored to share it with them!
How has Dr. Epiphone's role and duties developed over the last decade during Epiphone's unprecedented growth?
My Dr. Epiphone act, if you will, has indeed evolved over they years, just as our brand has on all fronts - quality, features, and variety. Every time I do a session, it's a little bit different, a little bit better, just like any artist's effort. But I have other various behind-the-scenes duties as a regular team member of our talented marketing department here at Epiphone. I occasionally produce various video pieces and sometimes perform emcee duties at Gibson events as well. This year, I was charged with designing and fitting-out Epiphone's new state-of-the-art showroom and training hall.
Has Dr. Epiphone had to overcome resistance? Buying a guitar is such a personal choice and here comes a man in a lab coat with a very persuasive pitch!
Yes, I have! I've talked to a lot of people all over the world. But I could never have done what I have if we didn't have the absolute best guitars in the world for the money and at any price. (Seems to be somewhat redundant - for the money and at any price? I like at any price.) Well, actually many brands have mascots these days, from restaurants, to insurance companies, so people identify with that. But the difference with Dr. Epiphone is that I'm not some random actor Epiphone hired. I work here. In fact, most people here at Epiphone play guitar, have played or still play in successful bands or are musically inclined. I doubt Ronald McDonald has ever worked the drive-thru or those Clydesdales can tell you how many calories their products contain. Music is about enjoyment, so I've found that most music lovers and musicians are fun people. Even if they don't speak English, people still smile and laugh and pick up an Epiphone and give it a strum. Music is, after all, the universal language.
Tell us what a typical day is like for Dr. Epiphone.
There is no typical day for Dr. Epiphone. Honestly, one day I'm in Houston talking about our Masterbilts at Fuller's Guitars and the next I'm in a huge airport in some other part of the world wondering which one little item that I always seem to forget to pack is.
I would imagine part of your job is not just about putting on a show but also getting into the nitty gritty of stocking, delivering, and receiving ideas. What do you hear from dealers about our instruments and the industry in general?
As Richard Akers of R&D attested in his interview, ideas come from everywhere, and I do receive great feedback when in the field that I'm happy to pass on to our team in Nashville. Sometimes dealers and customers get us thinking about a particular thing that we find a way to make better. Epiphone has for most of its history contributed to the development of the industry as a whole and is doing so right now. Few brands can really claim that.
How much do you travel over the course of a year?
Each year is a little different due to various factors, but my record year was 2010 when I went to 27 different countries, (5 repeat countries), and 3 states. There were only 2 months of that year I did not travel.
This year I will visit at least one foreign country every month and usually one other U.S. city or state. I usually have "handlers" of some sort, whether area reps for our company or from our distributors around the world. Occasionally, our own James Kim will travel with me and take care of the business side of things for me while I do my thing for the store staff and customers. I can get around on my own fairly well, but it's nice to have help, especially when I not only have to contend with a different language but also when people are driving on different sides of the road.
A few years ago, I suddenly started understanding other languages, first by reading and then by listening and speaking some. This weird little knack is especially handy for reading signs in airports, and menus. Let me tell you, being able to read a menu in more than a dozen languages is very beneficial. Had I known that I'd been traveling this much later in life, I would have actually studied foreign languages when I was younger and had way more free time. So study up, kids! You never know!
So you must enjoy traveling...
I enjoy being in different places and having and making new friends all over the world-- and making a difference in people's lives. It can be absolutely exhausting and going back and forth over the international dateline six times in a month is brutal. When you are on the other side of the planet, you are away from your friends and family, your entire personal life. Several other folks here at Epiphone also make the sacrifice like Marty and even the big guy, Dave Berryman, making regular trips to our factories, suppliers and distributors to ensure things are running smoothly. That said, Epiphone is a global brand, with fans all over the world, and we wouldn’t--and couldn't--impact the world as well if we didn't go there.
Where do you think Dr. Epiphone has made the most impact?
Since my Dr. Epiphone activities are geared more towards in-person events, clinics and appearances, I would think that our greatest impact has been with the people around the world with whom I have the privilege of making personal contact. I love helping people figure out what their first guitar will be or to actually want to get a guitar and learn to play it. That can be a huge day in someone's life. And to impart the need to start on a quality instrument that will assist you in learning and encourage you instead of cheap or inferior instruments that make things much more difficult, if not impossible. After all, you don't run a marathon in flip-flops.
When did you begin to feel that Epiphone's message of quality was really starting to break through?
In the last few years, it has become evident that not necessarily our message of quality has become more prominent, but that our reputation for quality has proliferated. Yes, there are still a lot of people out there that don't know how awesome Epiphone is these days and so as long as there are, yours truly will be coming to see them.
If you do see my presentation, you will hear us talk about the legendary Les Paul and how he built the first solid-body electric guitar at Epiphone New York factory with our parts in 1941. In my 2003 Epiphone interview with him, Les told me that he "swears by Epiphone" guitars. Today, more and more people consider Epiphone a premium brand.
Where is Epiphone headed next?
Always getting better and giving our customers the best artistic tools possible.
That's something we've been doing for 140 years, and we're rockin' now more than ever. For instance, Kent Allen, our creative director, somehow manages to come out with an even better Epiphone catalog every year, full of Don Mitchell's gorgeous photography. This year's Epiphone catalog is sublime. In a web-centric world, our printed catalog is in more demand than ever, jam-packed full of yummy Epiphone eye-candy and info.
Is there a particular incident that stands out for you where Dr. Epiphone made a difference for a customer or a dealer?
There have been many over the years. I've seen music stores become more successful and more useful to their communities by throwing inferior products out the door and offering more Epiphone to their customers. There are some really bad guitars out in the world that can only do harm and waste your money. We're happy to help folks steer clear and find the best instrument they can buy for their hard-earned dollars, yen, pounds, euros, rubles, crowns, zloty, and pesos.
One very gratifying thing that's developed in the last year or so is when I have the occasion to teach an absolute beginner at one of my events how to play guitar. I half-jokingly refer to myself as an "expert beginner," and as my karate sensei teaches, you must always consider yourself a student at everything. No one is really ever an expert. I greatly enjoy getting someone over the mental hurdles and helping them learn their first chords and then to see their faces light up when they realize that they can do it!
It's possible to take someone from knowing nothing about guitar to playing 3 chords and playing songs and making music in about 20-30 minutes. It can be a life-changing encounter, and who knows, maybe that person will be a music legend someday. This has got to be the coolest thing I've been a part of lately.
Me too, to me. I didn' feel like I just read an article, I feel enriched and delighted that Epiphone puts so much passion in their guitars, like we , musicians , put in to our playing.
Thanks for the great read !!!!