Epiphany, Part 1

1959 Epiphone Sheraton just arrived and is a very, very cool guitar. Perhaps a little more dignified than you deserve. Sounds great. Plays great. Class ax.

When I was 13 or so, I really got into guitars. It was 1965 and local bands had gotten to be a very big thing. I, of course, was in one and we looked up to the high school kids with their “professional” guitars and big Fender amps. There was a pretty decent variety of guitars among the locals-mostly Jazzmasters and Strats. Harmonys were big with the younger kids and Gibsons were nowhere to be seen because they were just too expensive. One local player had a red Epiphone Crestwood-probably a 62 with the symmetrical cutaways and that guitar really appealed to me. It still does, perhaps for it’s unusual perfect symmetry (like another guitar I kind of like) or maybe because nobody else had one. Later, I had borrowed an Epi Wilshire from a friend and I recall my oldest brother Ben looking at the headstock and calling it an “Epiphany”. I didn’t know what it meant and he told me to go look it up, so I did: epiph·a·ny , i-ˈpi-fə-nē: 1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential  nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. OK, I didn’t think it quite fit at the time but now, 47 years later, I kind of do. The Sheraton I picked up today was a bit of an epiphany.  The Epiphone Company has a long and interesting history but that’s for another day. The era that I’m really interested in is the period from 1958, when Gibson acquired the defunct company through 1968 when they gave the name to their Asian import line. Epiphone was known mainly for their big hollow body jazz boxes and their upright basses. They never had a thinline semi in their line. It was only Gibson acquired Epiphone that the top of the line Sheraton and, much later,  the very 335 like Riviera came into being.

"I'll be back..." Oh, sorry, it's The Frequensator, not the Terminator.

Epiphone wasn’t seen as a lowline Gibson by the folks who were running the company at the beginning of Gibson’s stewardship. The early Kalamazoo Epiphones were excellent guitars and are still held in high regard. The solids have a, well, solid reputation. The semis take a bit of a back seat to the Gibsons mainly because of the pickups. But we’ll get to that. Today, I acquired a 59 Sheraton. There are only 46 of them which explains why you don’t see them very often. It’s closest to a mono 355 and yet it isn’t. The 355 is a bit of a “lady in red” or, to put it more simply, “a ten dollar floozy”. It’s a bit too tarted up in its red finish and ebony board and 7 ply bindings. It’s got a little too much bling and not enough class. Where the 355 is a bit of a streetwalker, the Sheraton is more like the ladies on “Downton Abbey”. Perhaps not the sexiest bunch but certainly the most elegant. The Sheraton is a very classy guitar. The two piece inlays are multi-hued abalone over mother of pearl. The neck is a five piece laminate. The smaller pickups are a more subtle kind of bling as opposed to the full size gold plated humbuckers on the 355. No Big ol’ Bigsby on this Sheraton. It has an elegantly understated trapeze with the unfortunate name,  “The Frequensator”. This Sheraton is a rare 59, one of only 46 made. It has the single coil “New York” pickups, leftovers from the Epi factory and the “New York” neck. Most 59’s I’ve seen have “carousel” knobs which look, not surprisingly, like a carousel tent. This one has reflectors which would make it a late 59 (or they were changed). The neck profile is Vee shaped and it’s huge. Bigger than a 59 335 and with an entirely different feel-more like a giant Telecaster or Strat from the vee era (56-57). The trapeze tailpiece makes it a bit more acoustic sounding and the pickups are a bit more mellow than the usual PAF you would find on the Gibsons of the era. I love this guitar. It plays wonderfully and has a beautiful harmonics. It is not as versatile as a humbucker equipped 335 but it makes some noises that even a 335 can’t make. The body shape is Mickey Mouse ear Gibson all the way but the body depth is noticeably thinner-like a 58-59 335. Crank it up and it will shout the blues and dial it back and it will be your jazzer (well, not the way I play). It won’t play surf. It won’t do rock and roll the way a 335 will. It just isn’t nasty enough. But then, neither are the ladies on “Downton Abbey.”


Check out these gorgeous inlays. No cheap plastic here. The colors are much more vibrant in real life.

9 Responses to “Epiphany, Part 1”

  1. Retreads says:

    Holy crap, Charlie! These are my favorite guitars in the world. Well, any short-headstock Sheraton or Riviera (though it’s mini-hums for me). I’ve never seen a ’59 Sheraton in person before, and it’s nice to hear that it plays so well. The reflector knobs make a lot of sense, IIRC, the white knobs were leftovers from Epi’s NY factory and probably just switched over when they ran out. Any comparison for those NY single coils to other single coils you’ve heard? I’ve only heard YouTube clips of those pickups, which are not much of a real demo whatsoever.


  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, congrats on your absolutely gorgeous early Sheraton! I had a blonde ’62 Sheraton that was fabulous and crazy rare but not as purty as your Sheraton. Something about those early sunburst finishes and the “New Yawk” pups! Looking forward to you featuring more early Epi thinlines on your site, perhaps a 1962 Riviera in Royal Tan finish with mini stickered PAFs? (smile!)

  3. OK Guitars says:

    We’ll do Rivieras next

  4. OK Guitars says:

    The pickups don’t sound like any pickup I can recall-maybe a little like a Gretsch DeArmond like the ones on an early 6120. They don’t sound like P90s to my ear and they don’t sound Strat like.

  5. RAB says:

    Thanks Charlie! Can’t wait!

  6. Tim G says:

    Hey, did you swap round the two pieces of the Frequensator there?

  7. OK Guitars says:

    Yes, the lower photo was taken when I first got the guitar and before I realized the Frequensator was backwards. The top photo is correct.

  8. Tim G says:

    Ah, I see. Is there a definite right/wrong way, then? Or can you have them however suits you? Another thing I’ve always wondered is if you need extra-long strings for the bottom three so that they reach the tuning pegs comfortably?

  9. OK Guitars says:

    There is a right way-long trapeze goes on the high strings and short on for the low strings. I’m sure there is some kind of science behind it but I don’t know what it is. Probably has to do with vibration frequencies or some such voodoo.

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