Epiphany Part III

They called this "sunburst" Royal Tan. It looks to me like they were trying to use up the old red dye that they discontinued because it faded. There's that awful Trem-o-Tone. The distance from the bridge to the tailpiece is too far causing the break angle to be really shallow. Go ahead, use it. I dare ya. This beauty belongs to my most loyal reader Roger B. who also has a stoptail 63 ES-355 that I covet badly.

There’s more to the Epiphone line than just the high end Sheraton. The E-360TD, better known as the Riviera was, essentially an ES-335 with different pickups. My very first semi-hollow guitar was an Epiphone Riviera. Actually, it wasn’t even mine, it belonged to my band’s bass player but I played it at every gig for at least a year. I’m pretty sure it was a 66-the neck was pretty slim and it had the standard trapeze tailpiece – not the earlier “frequensator”.  Gibson, once it acquired Epiphone in 1957, wanted to keep the Epiphone line somewhat distinct so as not compete with themselves, so, to distinguish the Riviera from the ES-335, they used the smaller mini humbuckers. There are also a lot of variations because it was Gibson’s intention to use up all the Epiphone parts and then continue to build the guitars using their own parts. So, you see frequensators in the early days and you might even see oval fret markers. Early on, the fret markers were changed to little parallelograms and they remained until Gibson shipped Epiphone production Asia and changed the line completely. They must have had a lot frequensator tailpieces tailpieces lying around because you see them well into the mid to late 60’s even though standard chrome Gibson trapezes show up with some regularity as well.  The finishes on the early ones were different as well. The sunburst in the early examples was a kind of faded red to yellow called “Royal Tan”. Red wasn’t available until 66. The more usual sunburst showed up around that time as well. Sometime around mid 64, I think, the headstock changed from the Gibson-like “short” version to the much reviled “long” version. It is kind of ugly and kind of dumb. The long headstock Riviera wouldn’t fit in the standard 335 case, so longer cases had to be added to accommodate it. Oops. Tuners were usually metal button Klusons, first in nickel and later chrome. Knobs and bridges were Gibson parts and followed approximately the same timeline for changes. The pickguard was distinctly different from the 335s and sported the “slash C” or “e” logo that remians on Epiphones today. The Riviera was available with the mostly useless “Trem-o-tone” tailpiece which has a very shallow break angle and a justifiable reputation for not staying in tune. It works better on the solid body Epis but not much. Of course, the mini humbuckers were there from the beginning-I’ve never seen NY pickups on a Riviera probably because they were used up before the line was introduced as a 62 model in late 61. Mini humbuckers can be really great pickups-I think they get maligned sometimes and I’ve found them to be pretty decent.  Body construction is identical to a 335 with the centerblock and laminate construction. Like a 335, the early ones have a solid maple block while the later ones have a notch cut to make installation of the wiring harness less of an effort. So, why are they so much cheaper than a comparable year ES-335? I think the biggest reason is the pickups. Given a choice of ’62’s, pretty much everyone would take the Gibson with PAFs and a stoptail. No stops available on Epiphones. But, once you hit ’65, the argument becomes a lot less compelling, while the price difference remains. You can find no issue mid to late 60’s Rivieras well under $4K. With an issue or two, you can be down in the $2500 range. That’s a lot of guitar for a reasonable price. You have to be able to deal with the narrow nut-just like you do on a mid 60’s 335 but an extra grand or two in your pocket might make that easier.

This looks like a 66 and its missing it's distinctive pickguard logo. I kind of like it in red (what a surprise). They must have had a lot of frequensators left over from the NY Epi era. Note also that the ears changed from rounded to pointy just like 335s.

Here's the same Riviera that's up top with the Trem-o-Tone removed and a frequensator added. Big improvement visually and, according Roger, the owner, big improvement in tone.

12 Responses to “Epiphany Part III”

  1. Ollie Pickering says:

    When I was looking fot my 355 I tried a 60’s Sheraton. Cherry and with the nice headstock. I kinda fell in love with it and would have had it in a second if it wasn’t for that awful trem-o-tone thing. Charlie is right, truly awful horrible trem, spoils some beautiful guitars. If it had a bigby on it I would have given up on 355’s in a second.. My family and I have had a number of old Epi’s and they are generally fantastic guitars. I’m so glad to see that you’re including em Charlie.

  2. Chris W. says:

    Charlie, great info. I’ve never looked into the Epi’s as much as I should have. So the post-1960 Sheraton and Riviera are basically the same guitar but with different trim features (like a 335 and a mono 355)? And both of these are built off the 335 template (semihollow). I sort of have the bug now.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    There is a pretty big range of equipment. I think the mini hums probably are a bit more versatile but I think the Epi neck is spectacular. If you find a slightly later one with the vee neck and the mini hums, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. The NY pickups are great sounding but a little a lo fi.

  4. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for this feature on the Epi Riviera model and for posting a picture of my “baby!” I do love this geet-tar! IMHO, the early, short headstock Riviera and Sheraton models are really something special from all perspectives; sound, playability and looks! They are also as rare as hen’s teeth; apparently only 40 Rivs were made in 1962 and 56 in 1963! Those who haven’t played an Epi with mini-PAF or early patent number pups are missing a tonal treat! BTW I just installed the correct original nickel Frequensator tailpiece on the Riv (the proper holes in the rim were already there!) and it plays, sounds and looks much nicer. Weighs about 10 oz less too, a plus for this Boomer git-slinger!

  5. OK Guitars says:

    You can always remove the Trem-o-Tone and put on a Bigsby or a stop (or a frequensator). These aren’t as expensive (or as collectible)as the same year Gibson. So, a bit of modification won’t lower the value as much and will make it a better player. It’s kind of the same thing with a big neck 65 335-if you take off the trap and properly locate a stoptail, you don’t devalue it appreciably and you make it easier to sell since that’s what everybody wants.

  6. rob says:

    I’m a sucker for the tones from the early Epi mini-humbuckers. I’ve had and still have some cheap Korean Epi semi’s and hollows and the best stock pickups of any of them were the neck mini in an Alleykat– a heavy hollowed out semi with a neck mini and a bridge full size. A few years before my father died, we were talking about the old guitars awhile after he gave me his 355 and he said that in the late ’50’s, he had a tour of the Epiphone factory in NYC with the owner who was trying to sell it due to financial difficulties. My father had just sold his steel factory and was looking for another project. How cool it would have been if he’d bought it and saved a stash of NOS guitars like the ones pictured here. Ah, what could have been.

  7. CW says:

    I have a big neck ’64 Riviera in Royal Tan and it’s one of my favorite guitars. Hands-down my favorite player – even above my other vintage ES-335s. The mini hums are super versatile pickups, great tone.

    I actually prefer the long headstock too – maybe a nod to The Beatles? In any case, it’s a stunning guitar, nice rich color (similar to a faded LP Burst shading), frequensator tailpiece, all nickel hardware – these are some of the best deals in vintage Gibson “golden era” guitars, made by the same factory, same people, same materials. You can find big neck ’63-’65 models for less than $5k, and that’s less than half even the cheapest 3x5s from the same period.

  8. OK Guitars says:

    You don’t get an argument from me. These are really under appreciated and deserve a second look when they come up for sale.

  9. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for posting the photo of my ’62 Riviera showing the just-installed Frequensator tailpiece. Vintage hounds need not cringe! The tailpiece is the correct, early 1960’s nickel part and this guitar was not harmed during it’s installation! The two requisite mounting holes were already there in the rim. Happily too, the plate of the Frequensator also covers the 4 old holes from the vibrato tailpiece! The guitar has lots more sustain now not being dampened by the very heavy Tremotone!

  10. Jonne says:

    I also happen to like Epi’s long headstock and frequensator tailpiece – I think they’re essential part of Epiphone look (and sound). But I was wondering about the age/type of frequensators – you mentioned they were Epi’s old stock parts used by Gibson but there are 2 different types. All older ones what I’ve seen (and clearly New York made) have a longer v-style attachement to the body but all later Gibson age Epis has it shorter like blunt cut. I always thought they had to be Gibson made but maybe Epiphone did change the design just before Gibson bought them.

  11. OK Guitars says:

    Not sure about the Frequensators. I don’t see very many and would have to do some research.

  12. RAB says:

    I think what Jonne is referring to is the shape of the “hinge”, the part of the Frequensator tailpiece that screws to the guitar body rim. On the old NY Epiphones that part tapered down to a point. That was fine where all the tailpieces were used on fat body Jazz guitars. However the tailpiece hinge had to be modified when used on thinline models such as our subject matter here deu to the thinner body thickness. So, the jazz box hinge had a point and 3 mounting screws, the hinge used on thinlines had a “blunt” shape at the bottom of the hinge and 2 mounting screws. Another bit of Epiphone trivia is the early Gibson-era Frequensators said “Frequensator” and “Patent Pend.” on the top side of the hinge. This imprinting went away circa late 1965-early 1966 also about when chrome replaced nickel plating…Fun stuff!

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