Epiphone archtops

Compared with other leading manufacturers like Gibson or Martin, there seem to be more gaps and puzzles in the history of Epiphone instruments of the NY era – especially regarding production figures. Why is that? In fact, no Epiphone factory ledgers or other official production documents from the pre-1957 years are known to have survived. Therefore no reliable production numbers are available for any of the original Epiphone models. To this day, Epiphone’s serial number systems and the rationale behind them still bear some mysteries. The production year of an Epiphone instrument can be only approximately derived from its serial number.” (Wiedler, NY Epi Reg)

In 1931 Epiphone started the Masterbilt line-up with seven acoustic archtop models (see picture below). “All models were guaranteed for the life of the instrument.” see guarantee. Wiedler estimates that Epiphone produced over these years a total of about 27.000 acoustic archtops, of which now roughly 1700 six-string and some 80 four-string archtops are registered. Wiedler’s research so far suggests the following production years for the models:

Blackstone (1932-1949), Broadway (1931-1954), Byron (1949-1953), De Luxe (1931-1955), Devon (1949-1956), Emperor (1935-1955), Olympic (1932-1944), Ritz (1940-1944), Royal (1932-1933), Spartan (1934-1949),Triumph (1931-1955), Tudor (1934-1935), Zenith (1931-1954).

seven archtops

NOTE: Epiphone named their archtops Masterbilt. However, the Long Island labels read Masterbuilt.

For a brief introduction to the model names of the Masterbilt series, it is best to quote Epiphone historian Walter Carter :

In addition to the six-string Masterbilt archtop line, Epiphone offered as special order items six Tenor versions as companion instruments, which “can be had in Plectrum Guitar on order at no extra charge.” See : Masterbilt tenor guitars. The Tenor usually had a scale length of 23 inches, whereas the Plectrum had a scale length of 26 inches. Up until 1937 the tenors bore different names from their companions, but from 1937 on they carried the same name as their companion with the designation “tenor”. (Fisch & Fred, pp. 106-107). For more information on Tenor guitars in general see : Tenorguitar.com

By the mid 1930’s Epiphone also produced some archtop guitars under the brand names Howard (≠ Howard Roberts) and Sorrentino (≠ Sorrento). Aside from these two brands, there is also evidence of an Ideal and an Apollo. (Fisch & Fred, pp. 66-77)

Apollo sold in  the UK (courtesy www.guitarhq.com)

Catalog 1932 : Masterbilt quality statement            Catalog 1939 : A day at the factory

Britain players
Al Hendrick

Johnny Gomez

zachary epiphone