Dream-come-true NGD: 1938 Epi Deluxe

Discussion in 'Epiphone Guitars' started by RadioFM74, Sep 18, 2021.

  1. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1adDSRvflBig4IFgYSebpQ

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

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

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

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

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

    DSCF7799.jpeg DSCF7800.jpeg DSCF7801.jpeg DSCF7802.jpeg DSCF7804.jpeg DSCF7806.jpeg
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2021
  2. Fred Garvin

    Fred Garvin Member

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    Congrats! Would really REALLY like to see a video of you playing it, with well mic'd sound....????
     
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  3. soulman969

    soulman969 Well-Known Member

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    Damn......what a classic.

    Not to be rude but what does a guitar like that sell for? Just a ballpark figure or price range is good enough.
     
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  4. Supersonic

    Supersonic Well-Known Member

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    That's not just a guitar, that's history. I love that you're playing it and not storing it away. Beautiful instrument.
     
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  5. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    Thank you Fred, will do! Not immediately because I have a little too much on my hands, but will do. While you're waiting, here's something I recorded during quarantine with that amp, a different archtop (a Loar with a DeArmond FHC), and a friend who overdubbed the bass track:


    And one without the bass:
     
  6. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    Golden Era Epiphones sell for substantially less than their Gibson counterparts (and I like them better… shhh…). Important variables: the model, the level of originality and overalll conditions, and any accessories (especially pickups and cases).

    A late 30s De Luxe in excellent conditions (though not museum-grade) like mine, with a case that might be its original one and a top-shelf pickup like a DeA 1100, could cost you anywhere from 6000 to 7/8000$. I will not disclose the price of mine but I'll say that I bought well, and that although it's the priciest instrument I've ever bought it's worth every dime. Emperors are in the same price category more or less, perhaps they cost a little more. There is a beautiful De Luxe sold "naked" (no PU, no pickguard, but with case) in Colorado and they're asking a little less than 5000: https://www.picknparlor.com/archtop-guitars/epiphone-deluxe . If I lived in the states and wanted a guitar like that I'd call.

    The "Best Buy" in the line, in my view, is the Triumph. They had the same overall specs as the 17" De Luxe, with less choice woods and appointments but still a beautiful pro grade arhctop. And you can find pre-war specimens hovering in the 2000$/3000$ bracket.

    Hope this helps!
     
  7. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    You're right! It's a piece of history and I consider myself her keeper!
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2021
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  8. Space1999

    Space1999 Well-Known Member

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    How fortunate we are that you posted this! It is so beautiful. And the story of your journey was exciting.

    Thank you so much for this.:)

    Pat
     
  9. Darkness

    Darkness Active Member

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    I would be terrified to have that in my possession and would probably play it while wearing white gloves. Thats an amazing guitar, thanks for sharing.
     
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  10. Paruwi

    Paruwi Kraut-Rocker

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    111mask_jawdrop.png
     
  11. Cozmik Cowboy

    Cozmik Cowboy Well-Known Member

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    I second Pete's comment!

    What an amazing score; congratulations (and much envy).
     
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  12. IGRocker

    IGRocker Well-Known Member

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    The works of art that rolled out of the House of Stathopoulo are incredible. I’ve only played one pre-war, but it was a fantastic instrument. Great buy, and enjoy it!
     
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  13. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    Alongside the venerable L-5 and marvellous D'Angelicos, 1930s and 1940s Epiphones are the most beautiful guitars ever made in terms of both sound and aesthetics. George Van Eps could hardly get it wrong ;D
     
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  14. harpman54

    harpman54 New Member

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  15. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    Bucky Pizzarelli had a thing for old Epiphone DeLuxes. They were his favorites along with a faithful DeAngelico and his 7-string guitars (Gretsch, then Benedetto). He started out on one (exhibit #1) and in his later years acquired a '38 blonde that is close kin to mine (less than 100 serial # younger, but with a swapped-out tailpiece from a couple years prior; exhibit #2 … the expression of pure joy in the picture always moves me).

    I discovered days ago that the '38 was the guitar he used exclusively for the record "5 for Freddie". If you'd like to know how a '38 Deluxe sounds acoustically, this is the best document I know. Needless say, the playing is wonderful and a bona fide textbook of rhythm 4/bar and chord melody: https://open.spotify.com/album/5vWYhdWeIbRBOwhXYKAW2P

    Hope you enjoy a little good-natured swing!

    Bucky Pizzarelli 46 AD Vaughn Monroe Deluxe.jpg 1938 Epiphone De Luxe 14074_0 Bucky Pizzarelli and my Luxe sister.jpg
     
  16. Cozmik Cowboy

    Cozmik Cowboy Well-Known Member

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    That smile is almost as good as this one Duane! upload_2021-9-25_11-3-38.png
    (Couldn't find it without the top of his head cut off, but the smile does extend to his eyes.)
    Saw a vid once where Les Paul introduces "Bucky Pizzeria".
     
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  17. Mike M

    Mike M Member

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    HOLY WOW, just gorgeous.
     
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  18. Fred Garvin

    Fred Garvin Member

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    Gold plated guitar strings?? Wow!!
     
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  19. Raiyn

    Raiyn Well-Known Member

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  20. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Member

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    Ha! Never tried those. Bronze, Monel or Nickel are good enough for me...
     
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