The Epiphone Company is a musical instrument manufacturer founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos. Before being bought out by Gibson in the late 1950s, Epiphone was Gibson's main rival in the archtop market. Their professional archtops, including the Emperor, Deluxe, Broadway and Triumph, rivaled (and some contend surpassed) those of Gibson. Aside from their guitars, Epiphone also made bass guitars, banjos, and other stringed instruments. However, the company's weakness in the aftermath of World War II allowed Gibson to absorb it.
The name "Epiphone" is a combination of proprietor Epaminondas Stathopoulo's nickname "Epi" and "phone", Greek for "sound".
The history of Epiphone dates to the 1870s, in Izmir), Ottoman Empire, where Greek founder Anastasios Stathopoulos made his own fiddles, lutes, and Lioutos. Stathopoulos moved to the United States of America in 1903, and continued to make his original instruments, as well as mandolins, from Long Island City in Queens, New York. Anastasios died in 1915, and his son, Epaminondas, took over. After two years, the company was known as The House Of Stathopoulos. Just after the end of World War I, the company started to make banjos. The company produced its Recording Line of Banjos in 1924, and, four years later, took on the name of the "Epiphone Banjo Company". They produced their first guitars in 1928. Epi Stathopoulos died in 1943. Control of the company went to his brothers, Orphie and Frixo. Unfortunately, they were not as capable owners as Epi. In 1951, a four month long strike forced a relocation of Epiphone from New York to Philadelphia. The company was bought out by their main rival, Gibson in 1957.
In the early 1970s, Epiphone began to manufacture instruments in Japan. From the 1980s, Epiphones were manufactured mainly in Korea but also in Japan by contractors licensed by Gibson. One of these contractors was Samick, which also built instruments under license for other brands and in its own name. Thus, a Korean-era solidbody Epiphone would have been built under license. The brand was primarily used to issue less expensive versions of classic Gibson models, in a manner similar to that of the Squier brand by Fender. These Epiphones were sometimes built with different tonewoods from the original Gibson versions, which often resulted in the instruments bearing a visual and ergonomic similarity to the Gibson originals but having a slightly different tone. For example, bodies of the G-400 SG copy were made with either mahogany or alder body, depending on the availability of the wood.
Unique Epiphone models, including the Emperor, Zephyr, Riviera and Sheraton, are built to higher quality standards than the company's "Gibson copy" line. Epiphone also produces a range of higher quality instruments under the "Elitist Series" moniker, which are built in Japan. The "Masterbilt" acoustics are manufactured in Qingdao.
According to several forum entries, current Epiphone serial numbers give the following information:
Example: U8034853 U = Unsung, 8 = 1998, 03 = March, 4853 = manufacturing number.
At least one model, the Epiphone Spirit, was manufactured in the USA during the early 1980s in the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI. USA produced Epiphones of this era bear standard Gibson serialization and include the "Made in USA" stamp on the back of the headstock. Headstocks of US models also use the Gibson headstock shape.
Epiphone also manufactures its own line of amplifiers.
Gibson produced Epiphone amplifiers in the 1960s which were basically copies or variations of Gibson and Fender amplifiers. These amplifiers were of a tube design and some had reverb and tremolo. Gibson decided to launch a new line of Epiphone amplifiers in 2005 with many different models including the "So Cal", "Blues Custom" and the Epiphone Valve Junior.
In recent years Epiphone introduced a series of acoustic guitars named Masterbilt after a line of guitars of the 1930s. Today's Masterbilt guitars are manufactured in China.
This series was discontinued in 2008.