Epiphone Limited Edition EJ-160E Acoustic Electric Guitar
By Russ Loeffler |
Expert Review: Epiphone Limited Edition EJ-160E Acoustic Electric Guitar
A Great Take on an Iconic Guitar
By Russ Loeffler
John Lennon was not the only artist to play the Gibson J-160 (George and John received their first JE-160’s on the same day). However, for many Beatles fans (and gear heads) the J-160E is one of the most iconic guitars associated with John Lennon. Many players covet the Gibson J-160E, but the near-$2,000 price tag is beyond their reach.
This is where the Epiphone Limited Edition EJ-160E comes in. The EJ-160E is a full-size Dreadnought with Gibson-style tuners and the classic Gibson Top Hat style volume and tone controls. The stacked P-100 humbucking pickup above the sound hole completes the guitar's historic look. The headstock and logo on the pickguard remind you that the guitar is an Epiphone, and the EJ-160E delivers all of this at an amazingly low street price of $400.
Construction and Finish
The EJ-160 comes in vintage sunburst or natural finishes; my review unit model was natural gloss. The guitar woods include a solid spruce top, mahogany body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fret board. The vintage-style trapezoid inlays on the fretboard, imitation tortoise pickguard, and classic bindings on the top and neck give the guitar an authentic 60s look and feel. The fit and finish on the guitar were nearly flawless - the only issue I could find was a very slight dimpling of the neck binding where the neck meets the body. Ironically, the one item that needed to be fixed was the Epiphone “e” logo on the pickguard because it was almost falling off. I tightened it down with a small dot of super glue.
The guitar seemed to be almost in tune right out of the case (the case is optional), speaking to the quality of the setup job. My initial impression of the acoustic tone was that it seemed bright for a Dreadnought. The body is a full Dreadnought with some taper at the upper bout from the neck (1960’s Slim Taper D-profile body), but it felt smaller. I held it up to a Martin D28 and outside of the upper body taper, confirmed it's a full Dreadnought. A quick consultation with a tuner confirmed the tuning was almost a full step above standard pitch (so much for pitch perfect hearing!). After bringing the tuning back down to standard pitch, there was a slight buzzing in the E and A strings. I adjusted the neck with a less than a full rotation of the truss rod to eliminate the buzzing. These adjustments brought the guitar back into the dreadnought range of tones. However, even after adjusting the tuning, the guitar did not have the projection and bass response that I would expect. The guitar seemed “tight,” so I employed the old trick of hanging the guitar on the wall and subjecting it to a heavy dose of sound from some PA speakers for several hours to "age" it. The guitar did open up and, like many Gibson acoustics whose tone becomes sweeter with age, continued to improve with more playing.
Let's Plug In!
This guitar is truly an acoustic electric, but in different way from the now-ubiquitous acoustic-electric format with under the saddle (or below the top) pickups and volume/tone knobs on the guitar's side. The electric guitar volume and tone knobs tuners give the guitar its iconic look, but initially it didn't seem quite “right." That feeling went away after playing for just a couple of minutes, and I soon felt like I had been playing this guitar for many years. Reaching to the volume and tone knobs with my right hand felt very natural, and the D-shaped neck was comfortable once I'd adjusted the action. The tones were well-balanced with the exception of missing some of the lower tones, as expected from a Dreadnought guitar, and is not something you'd expect to find in a $400 guitar. Overall, the string definition wile strumming was articulate and clear. The guitar stood up to heavy strumming very well, and did not compress as I would have expected from a guitar in this price range. Single-note lines and fingerpicking tones were also nice and clear, but with slightly less volume than similarly-priced Dreadnoughts.
Where the guitar really gets interesting and the sound comes alive is when you plug it in. I evaluated the EJ-160 through four different amplification systems: an acoustic guitar amp, directly into a PA, and also a couple of guitar amps. The guitar played well through all of these systems with very little feedback, even at high volumes. The sound was very much “acoustic” in each of the amplification scenarios. I experimented with some overdrive settings on the amps, and also played through different overdrive pedals. The guitar managed to avoid feedback fairly well at high gain settings, and I was able to control the feedback easily by muting the strings. The tone control proved to be very valuable when moving from acoustic amps and PAs to electric guitar amps; I favored the tone control in the 7 to 10 range when playing into acoustic amps and the PA, while moving the tone control down to the 3 to 7 range worked well with electric guitar amps.
Overall, the guitar's build quality is terrific for the price. The look of the guitar is classic and more than handsome. It sounds good acoustically or plugged in, and has a versatility that merits some time experimenting with different amplification systems, including combinations of the pickup and microphones. This is also a stage-worthy instrument, especially if you want to cover some Beatles songs. If you’re thinking about getting one just to hang on the wall as part of your Beatlemania collection, you would be making a big mistake because this guitar needs to be played and heard.
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Epiphone Limited Edition EJ-160e Acoustic-Electric Guitar ($665.00 MSRP, $349.00 "street")
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Russ Loeffler is a contributing editor to Harmony Central who covers trade shows and live events when he is not fine-tuning his guitar chops. He is also a gear head with a passion for good music, great tones, and music that is much easier to listen to than it is to play.