Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe Classic
By Phil O'Keefe |
Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe Classic
A new acoustic-electric archtop for a new century
by Phil O'Keefe
Epiphone has a long history as one of the world's premier archtop guitar builders. Historically they were considered to be one of the most respected archtop brands, and in the middle of last century Epiphone models went head to head with guitars from other highly respected archtop builders like Gibson and D'Angelico. The new Masterbilt Century series was inspired by vintage Epiphone archtop models from the 1930s. For more on the story behind this series, be sure to check out this article right here on Harmony Central.
While archtops were the only all-acoustic guitars that could hang in there with any hope of being heard in a big band context, it wasn't long before guitarists started adding electric pickups to them. Because of that, the all-acoustic archtop's era of popularity was relatively short. However, Epiphone thinks that modern players will be very interested in what an acoustic archtop guitar has to offer them and have released a vintage-inspired line of archtop guitars for today's players. Let's take a look at the top of this new Century line, the De Luxe Classic.
What You Need To Know
- The De Luxe Classic is part of Epiphone's Masterbilt Century collection of vintage-inspired instruments. The lineup includes other archtops, including the Zenith and Zenith Classic, De Luxe, and Olympic models. Those vary primarily in the size of the body, as well as their sound hole design, with round hole and f-hole ("Classic") options being available for the Zenith and De Luxe models.
- The De Luxe Classic is the largest model in the Masterbilt Century collection. It is available in two finish colors - a vintage sunburst and a vintage natural, which is the color of the review unit I was sent to check out.
- The finish is a thin, electro-static applied urethane that Epiphone calls "aged gloss", and it has about 60% of the sheen of a full gloss finish. This gives it an aged quality visually; it's not distressed or a "relic", but it has a subtly subdued gloss look that harkens back to vintage archtops from days gone by.
- The De Luxe Classic has a solid spruce arched top with traditional longitudinal braces that contribute to the guitar's unique sound, just as on the vintage originals.
- The back and sides are laminated maple and feature a nice amount of flame. The body features three-layer binding on both the top and back, and the f-holes and headstock are left unbound.
- This is a BIG bodied guitar, with a 17" width across the lower bout, and measuring 21" long overall. The waist is 10.25" across and the upper bout is 12.6" in width.
- The solidly built Deluxe Classic weighs in at right about seven pounds.
- The Ebonoid bridge features a traditional floating bridge design that can be adjusted for height with two thumb screws. The saddle is compensated for improved intonation.
- The trapeze tailpiece has a satin nickel finish that nicely compliments the overall vintage visuals of the De Luxe Classic.
- The scale length is 25.5". The glued-in neck is a five-piece combination of hard maple and mahogany, and like the body it has a semi-gloss vintage inspired finish that adds subtly to the guitar's old-school vibe.
- The neck has a rounded C-shaped profile. Like the rest of this guitar, the neck is unapologetically big and stout, measuring 0.950" thick at the first fret, and 1.704" wide at the bone nut according to my digital calipers.
- The neck has a single layer bound ebony fingerboard and twenty medium-sized frets. It is inlayed with classy looking vintage-inspired notched diamond position markers. The neck meets the body at the 14th fret.
- The cream neck binding also has dot position markers on the side.
- The "dovewing" style headstock features fancy mother of pearl Epiphone and Masterbilt banner logos, with gold vines and a diagonal mother of pearl De Luxe logo situated between them.
- The tuning machines have a art-deco look to them like the ones found on vintage Epiphone archtops, with distinctive looking "marboloid crown" buttons and satin nickel gear housing covers with a stylized Epiphone E stamped into them. They are not mere recreations though; they have been improved with an 18:1 ratio for precise and stable tuning, and this guitar really does hold its tuning well.
- The De Luxe Classic, like all the guitars in the Century collection, is a true-acoustic electric that's equally at home being miked up acoustically in the studio and being plugged into your acoustic amp or ran direct to the board onstage. It isn't designed to be used as an electric guitar, athough you could probably modify one for that purpose (just as some jazz musicians did back in the 30s by installing a "floating" pickup) if you wanted to.
- The pickup is an under-saddle Shadow NanoFlex™ HD model, and the wiring runs through the floating bridge and the arched top near the treble side of the bridge.
- The preamp is a eSonic™ HD. The output jack is near the rear strap button, and is positioned slightly towards the rear of the guitar, helping to keep it out of the way and slightly less visible to the audience. The jack includes a switch for the preamp, so make sure you unplug when you're not using it to maximixe battery life.
- Speaking of battery life, it's rated at no less than 350 hours of "on" time.
- Also built into the same housing as the output jack is the battery compartment, which takes a standard 9V alkaline.
- While looking at the De Luxe Classic's clean lines and uncluttered body might understandably lead you to think there are no controls, you'd be mistaken. Hidden inside the center of the treble f-hole are rotary volume and tone controls. The tone control is active.
- I was expecting these controls to be difficult to access and use, but I was very surprised by how easy it is to adjust them. I found that the fastest way to get to them is to follow the vintage style faux tortoiseshell pickguard to the end, and my finger drops down directly into the center of the f-hole from there, exactly where the controls are located.
- The setup of the De Luxe Classic was solid right out of the box with good intonation, smooth frets without a trace of sharp edges, and nice low action. The De Luxe Classic comes equipped with Cleartone 12-53 gauge strings.
- An optional case (Epiphone Century Collection De Luxe hard case Part# 940-DELCS / UPC 711106700229) is available and is a highly recommended purchase to go along with this guitar.
- Because of the De Luxe Classic's floating bridge, care should be taken when restringing it. Ideally you should remove and replace the strings one at a time so that tension is retained on the bridge to help keep it in position. As with any instrument (and there are many) that uses a floating bridge, if you knock it out of position, you'll need to re-intonate the guitar by re-adjusting the bridge to the correct location. See the Epiphone floating bridge video below for more information.
- The neck's traditional rounded C-shape will go over great with people who prefer a neck with some meat on it, but while the shape is generally comfortable, it may be a bit stout for some players with smaller hands or who prefer a thinner neck profile.
Archtops only had a very brief time in the spotlight as purely "acoustic" guitars before electricity took over; even today, nearly every guitarist you ask will probably associate the term with electric guitars for jazz musicians. That rather narrow view is understandable but unfortunate because the archtop design really does have a lot to offer as a strictly acoustic instrument. The Epiphone Masterbilt Century series takes advantage of this beautifully. The De Luxe Classic is the top of the line model from that collection, with a large bodied sound that is big, bright and punchy, and that has bass and sustain aplenty. While it's not intended as a "electric" guitar, it does have a very cool amplified acoustic sound, and the hidden onboard controls help keep the visuals traditional (and very retro-cool) while still being surprisingly easy to use. The De Luxe Classic also has good feedback resistance compared to many flat top guitars.
Because of its size and solid spruce arched top, this guitar sounds huge, with a loud and commanding voice. While the stoutness of the neck may turn off some players, others will love its meaty profile. This guitar loves to be played hard, and the harder you play it, the louder and bigger it gets, without the compression that often limits the output of traditional flat-topped guitars. The projection is simply outstanding. Five minutes with this guitar and you'll know exactly why big archtops were so popular in the pre-electric big band days. That ability to cut through the mix can be equally appreciated in a world music, folk or bluegrass context when you're playing with loud acoustic instruments like drums, fiddles and banjos too. If you're looking for an alternative to the same flat top acoustic guitars that nearly everybody else has used since last century, and want something that has retro appeal that will stand out onstage and that has a different, unique and very cool sound, then you owe it to yourself to try a De Luxe Classic. It's a new archtop for the new century, and one very cool way to sound great while standing out from the crowd. - HC -
Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe Classic ($1,499.00 MSRP, $899.00 "street")
Epiphone's product web page
You can purchase the Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe Classic from:
If you'd like to discuss the Epiphone Century De Luxe Classic, be sure to check out this thread in the Harmony Central Acoustic Guitar forum.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.