1953 Epiphone Zephyr Deluxe Regent

Strange as it may seem today, electric guitars walked the earth for roughly two full decades before the idea of multiple pickups caught on. As far as I can determine, National holds the title for both the first instrument to feature multiple pickups (the New Yorker lap steel, 1935) and the first Spanish-style guitar to have them (the Sonora, 1940). These pioneering instruments featured blend controls and unusual wiring schemes, and it wasn’t until the turn of the 1950s that the now-standard 3-way switch started to catch on.

Gibson began offering guitars with two pickups in 1948, when the ES-300 and ES-350 were both available with the option of second a pickup near the bridge. Their arch-rival, Epiphone, followed suit a year later by offering a second pickup on its Zephyr Deluxe Regent. Epiphone’s 3-way slider switch may have offered slightly less tonal variation than the ES-350’s two volume knobs, but the switch offered players something that the Gibson didn’t: the ability to quickly switch between pickups. This allowed rhythm players to change from deep rhythm tones on the neck to cutting lead tones on the bridge without losing time turning two knobs in opposite directions. It took Gibson another three years to realize that players preferred a quick switching system, and they installed a toggle switch on the ES-350 in 1952.

By that time, any superiority that Epiphone experienced in sales was rapidly beginning to fade. The company’s pickups were not as highly regarded as Gibson’s, though their acoustic archtops remained at the top of many players’ lists. The company suffered a great loss of leadership when its president, Epi Stathopuolo, died in 1944, and it never truly regained its bearings. Labor problems in the early 1950s further exacerbated the problem, which lead Epiphone to move production from New York to Philadelphia in 1953. While many of the former New York workers kept the spirit alive at the new Guild brand, Epiphone’s quality began to suffer noticeably after the move to Philadelphia. The company effectively ceased production in the last couple of years until Gibson purchased it in 1957 and re-started production in Kalamazoo.

Still, there are plenty of gems to be found from the early and mid-1950s – this particular guitar is one of the finest guitars from its time that I’ve had the pleasure to play. (Then again, for a guitar that sold for $400 at the time, it better be). The laminated-maple body is 17 3/8” across, smaller than the Emperor electric but easier to get your arm around. It sports two Tone Spectrum pickups (unofficially referred to as “New York” pickups) which have an unusually thick and bassy tone. These have a reputation for being thin and shrill; certainly these two can be pretty bright, but they are actually highly variable and some are much fuller. The neck has a full C-shaped profile and plays easily.

The guitar has undergone some restoration, mainly a neck reset. There has been some minor repair to the binding near the heel, but the guitar does not suffer from the crumbling binding that is so common to Epiphones of the period. The worst deterioration of plastic is in the pickguard, but even that is not heavily warped. The guitar is entirely original except for the end pin; even the original case is ragged but still functional.

 

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