Archive for August, 2022

Epiphany II

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Here’s an early Riviera that belongs to my friend Roger in California. This is the Royal Tan finish. I believe this is a 62.

Next up would have to be the Riviera. Rivieras, like the Sheratons, were made in Kalamazoo by the same craftspeople on the same line and with the same materials as ES-335’s. Introduced in 1962 (three years after the Sheraton), the Riviera was, essentially a 335 with mini humbuckers, a “Frequensator” tailpiece or, optionally, the dreaded “Trem-O-Tone” vibrato tailpiece. A Riviera is very close to a 335 tonewise but nowhere near a 335 in terms of separating you from your money. A 62 ES-335, in the current market, is a $30,000 guitar. A 62 Riviera, while somewhat hard to find, will cost you a third to half of that. A collector grade 66 ES-335 might cost you $10,000. The same year Riviera might cost you a little more than half that. So, why would I spend the extra money for a 335?

Mini humbuckers and full size humbuckers are not the same. Minis tend to be a little more focussed but they also tend to have a little lower output and a bit less lower mids and bottom. Don’t confuse the standard mini hums with Firebird mini hums. Both are excellent pickups but they aren’t identical. But that’s another post. I think the more relevant discussion is whether a Gibson built 60’s Epiphone is going to appreciate or hold its value as well as a 335. After all, you are just the caretaker of your guitar. You will eventually sell it and if one is a better investment than the other, then that should be a factor. Because I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know if American Epiphones will ever become as collectible as Fenders and Gibsons. To muddy the waters even more, look at the Epiphone Casino vs the Gibson 330. The Casino, because of the Beatle connection, is the better investment. I don’t think a Riviera will ever surpass the 335 as an investment piece.

That said, it’s still a remarkable value. I’ll make another comparison…a 68 Les Paul goldtop is a wonderful guitar. Many were converted to humbuckers and, in that configuration, they are very popular and the value is barely reduced unless it’s a serious collector grade example. That’s because so many people want one configured that way but nobody wants to do the conversion for fear it will hurt the value. Do it to refin or one with some issues and you’ll be safe. I think the same goes for a Riviera. I’m not a huge fan of mini hums but given that the Riviera is essentially a dirt cheap 335, maybe converting one to full size humbuckers (again don’t do it to a collector grade example) isn’t a terrible idea. One point worth making is that nearly all Rivieras have a 1 9/16″ nut. That’s pretty narrow for a lot of players (including me). Not impossible to get comfortable with but I find it a bit cramped for my stubby little fingers.

Look for one with a Frequensator tailpiece or a Bigsby. The “Trem-o-Tone” vibrato is trouble. It simply won’t stay in tune. It looks sort of cool but if you get one, keeps your mitts off it if you want to finish the song in tune. Rivieras were mostly sunburst or red. There was a color called Royal Tan which is a very light sunburst and another called Royal Olive which is a greenburst and not terribly attractive if you ask me. I’ve only seen one in Royal Olive. I had a factory blonde on last year that was pretty nice as well. Remember the American made Rivieras only go to 1969. Prices for most are under $10K. Early ones (short headstock) will be more as will unusual colors. Look for the grey with blue lining case. That’s the one most of them came in.

Here’s a 66 Riviera in factory blonde with a Bigsby. A blonde 335 will require a mortgage. This was under $15K. Nice fat neck too, just a little narrow at the nut for me. This is the usual 60’s Epiphone case.


Thursday, August 4th, 2022

These are crazy rare (only about a dozen made in 59 and 60). It’s an Epiphone Sheraton in blonde with NY single coils. One of my favorite guitars ever. Too bad I sold the two that I’ve had.

Didja ever notice how every time you write the word “Epiphone”, the spell check changes it to Epiphany? It’s really annoying and I wish it would stop. That said, this post is about Epiphones. Sheratons to be more precise. With prices of Golden Era 335’s (58-64) out of reach for so many and 345’s and 355’s getting there as well, it’s time to reassess what you are spending your money on. The same folks who made those wonderful Gibsons made Epiphones as well from 1958 until 1969 or so. Not just the same company but the same craftspeople on the same line in the same plant with the same wood.

The Sheraton is, essentially, a mono ES-355 with a few changes. Sheratons went through a lot of changes from the debut year of 1959 until the end of the American era in 1969. The first iteration had single coil “NY” pickups left over from Epiphone from when it was a different corporation. They are excellent pickups but not particularly loud or powerful. I really like them but they aren’t for everybody. Fidelity is excellent but they won’t drive your amp into saturated distortion heaven. They lasted until early 60 when they were replaced by Gibsons own mini humbuckers. The minis are a bit like a full size humbucker with manners. The DCR is usually in the lower 7K range and the tone is somewhat more balanced. They are rarely muddy at the neck and rarely overly bright at the bridge. There are PAF minis as well as patent number minis on 59 to 69 Sheratons. Nice pickups.

Up until 62, Sheratons had 5 piece necks with Grover tuners. The 59-early 61’s had a wonderful V profile. Mid 61 and later had a slim C profile. This is the short headstock. The long headstock started in 64. You know what that looks like. They still use it today.

The neck profile went through some changes as well. The first Sheratons (59 through early 61) used the five piece V profile short headstock neck left over from pre Gibson times and they are wonderful. My favorite neck of all time. A V profile can be very deep but there is virtually no shoulder making it a joy for players with smaller hands (like me). It feels slim and fat at the same time. The next neck iteration still had the short headstock and some were five piece (some were one piece) but the V profile was gone. These necks were wide (1 11/16″) at the nut but fairly slim front to back. Not as slim as a 61 335 but more like a 62 or 63. The long Epi headstock that is still there today showed up in 64. 64’s and most 65’s still had the wide nut (and even a few 66’s) but they were quite slim (.80″ or so at the first fret). From 66 until the end of the USA run, the nut went to 1 9/16″ and the profile was generally the same as 66-69 335’s. Fingerboard is Brazilian until 66 or so. Inlays are very attractive MOP with abalone triangle inserts.

Finally, the one thing I don’t like about Sheratons…the tailpiece choices. The Frequensator is a two piece trapeze that is OK but I would prefer a stop tail. Bigsbys are not common but they are a huge upgrade from the absolutely awful “Trem-O-Tone”. The Trem-O-Tone is perhaps the worst vibrato tailpiece ever designed. They simply don’t work well and they don’t stay in tune. I’ve had sideways Vibrolas that work way better than one of these. Avoid it if you can. Change it if you can’t and keep your hands off it if you have to have it.

This is the Trem-O-Tone vibrato tailpiece. The best use of this is on somebody else’s guitar.

You can still get an early Sheraton for under $20K. I sold a V neck 59 with mini hums last month for $16K. With mono 355’s pushing over $30K, that’s a steal. You want to go to town for cheap? Buy a Sheraton with issues. Rout for full size humbuckers (Throbaks are my favorites) and add a stop tail. Instant 335 at less than half the price. I’d put that up against any new Gibson 335 in a heartbeat.

61 and 62 Sheratons. Both with mini hums and Frequensator tailpieces. Most players would be happient with this iteration of the Sheraton.