Epiphone proudly celebrates a remarkable event in our history, boasting 75 years of amplifier production. We are now the oldest amplifier company in the world currently in production, and to celebrate we’re giving you a look at our incredible history in the amplifier business. Every three weeks, we’ll give you another chapter. Here’s Part 1. Enjoy! Click here for part 2.
When Epiphone entered the electric guitar market in 1935, we also launched a new series of amplifiers under the Electar name and consequently set the benchmark for others to follow. Electar was a name invented by Herb Sunshine, an Epiphone employee who played an integral role in the development of various electronics for the company. Herb made contact with a young Nat Daniel in 1934 and employed him to design the first Electar models. The amplifiers were aimed at the New York dance bands and were produced in both AC and DC versions to accommodate lower Manhattan’s dual electric system at that time. Epiphone moved to its new location at 142 West 14th, New York, NY for the 1935 launch.
Many of the first amps were built for the lap steel market such as the Electar model, seen to the right, with an Electar Hawaiian guitar. The chassis was housed in a black leatherette cabinet that was supplied by a suitcase manufacturer and featured hinged, detachable front and back covers to protect the tube circuitry and the 8” speaker. The bottom-mounted chassis was equipped with an on/off switch, fuse, AC-DC control and two input jacks. The tone and volume were meant to be controlled from the instrument directly.
As the popularity of the amplifier grew, so did the options and choices available to the player. The Model C and Model M added tone and volume controls as well as 10” and 12” speakers.
1936 saw the Super AC-DC featuring the stylistic E logo. The cab was covered with Keratol, a vinyl like finish material, and had “Detacho” back and front panels. This Electar amp was rated at 30 watts with a 12” speaker. The catalogue stated, “This amplifier is custom built and is the ultimate for AC-DC operation. The tremendous volume is sufficient to fill the largest hall and is used in large orchestras.” The Special, introduced in ’37 is quickly followed by the Coronet and the Century.
As the electric guitar took over on the bandstand, the Century became a favored amp among guitarists. An extremely striking furniture grade cabinet that employed figured maple came complete with a metal handle located on the top. With rear mounted controls, it was perfect for orchestra work where the guitarist placed the amp in front of his music stand.
The Century, with its elegant good looks, became an instant success for Epiphone and could be seen on stages around the world. Players such as Al Hendrickson of the Artie Shaw Band, Lloyd Gillson with Sammy Kaye, Harold Aloma with the Tommy Dorsey Band, Al Caiolaand George Van Eps, Father of the 7 string guitar, were all endorsing the Century.
Next in the lineup was the Zephyr. Introduced in 1939, this amp featured an angled back so that better projection could be achieved. At 22 ½” tall, the Zephyr was tailored to fit into the existing look that dance bands were using at that time. The controls had now been moved to the top of the amp making it far more convenient for the player to make adjustments to the dials. The back panel was cut with slots to allow rear speaker dispersion and better ventilation for the tubes. A higher powered Dreadnaught version of the Zephyr was also available.
The most famous player to use an Epiphone amplifier would have to be Django Reinhardt, seen below. This photo, taken from rare film footage, shows Django playing a natural Epiphone Zephyr through an Electar Zephyr Dreadnaught. During his only trip to the United States in 1946, Django acquired the Dreadnaught while visiting the Epiphone factory at West 14th Street in New York City. Reinhardt’s immortal works are well known, but it is his electric recordings created towards the end of his life which are the rarest. As the premier Gypsy Jazz guitarist, Django has influenced players throughout the world with his blistering technique and haunting melodies. Chet Atkins, Joe Pass, BB King, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery all site Reinhardt as a major influence.
Log back into Gibson.com on June 19 for the second installment of 75 Years of Great Tone.