Epiphany II

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.

7 Responses to “Epiphany II”

  1. Collin says:

    It’s a bit of a stretch to say that nearly all Rivieras have a 1-9/16″ nut width. I’ve had three of them in the past year that had either the full 1-11/16″ or 1-5/8″ width (two ’64s and an early ’65). But production did ramp up once the skinny neck era began.

    These are wonderful guitars and still a bargain, I’d really hate to see any of these converted to full size humbuckers when there are plenty of reissues and vintage 335s around. The Riviera isn’t a consolation prize for those who can’t afford a 335, they are a great instrument exactly how they left the factory.

    Gibson never positioned the Epiphone brand as a budget line until overseas production started in 1969. It’s a textbook example of a company torpedoing one of its brands, and it will never recover from that. To many collectors (except for the Casino), the Epiphone will always live in the shadow of its Gibson equivalent and that’s largely because consumers equate Epiphone with lower quality. Back then, it was the same guitar in terms of build quality.

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for featuring my ‘62 Riviera E360TD! It’s all original in near mint condition with the original gray, blue lined hardshell case. The Royal Tan finish is so light it almost looks blonde in certain light. It plays and sounds great with its stickered mini-PAFs. Yes folks, the same sticker as on the full size ‘buckers! The neck profile is fairly slim (0.78” IIRC) in depth but the full 1 11/16” width so it is a nice handful. The pickups are hot for minis, around 7.2 k ohms. Gibson only made around 40 Rivieras per year in 1962-63. This is the 3rd short headstock Riv I’ve owned and the nicest of the 3, best, Roger

  3. RAB says:

    As Collin and Charlie have noted, the Kalamazoo built Epiphones are fully equal in quality to their Gibson brethren. Same wood, equal hardware, same craftsmen, same assembly line! My understanding (albeit just based on hearsay) is a Epiphone dealership would be offered to music stores in towns where a Gibson dealership was already in place…

  4. RAB says:

    Anyone else got a Classic Year Sheraton or Riviera? Let’s see ‘em!

  5. RAB says:

    Must be some other Epi thinline fans out there?!

  6. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Happy to report that the ’67 Sheraton I just got looks, sounds and plays great. I was a bit apprehensive getting into the “slim neck” era but I have to say that the neck is extremely comfortable. It’s actually just a hair under 1-10/16, so only about 1/16 shy of the “golden era” nut widths and barely 1/32″ short of the neck I had on a transitional ’65 ES-335 I used to own.

    While it’s only .80″ deep at the first fret, it feels very comfortable (I have smallish hands)–the width and string spacing doesn’t feel cramped at all–and it has full shoulders, filling out to a 2″ width and 1″ depth at the 12th fret. Meaty and comfortable. I love the stop tailpiece set up, the pickups sound great–almost exactly as you described the mini-hums to behave, Charlie–and the guitar has great natural sustain, both amplified and acoustically. While I’ve almost pulled the trigger on a couple of Rivieras in the past, I wasn’t shopping for an Epiphone in 2022 until I read these posts. Thanks again, Charlie–you steered me right!

  7. RAB says:

    Nelson, great news about your Riviera! The pickups in my ‘62 are really hot! Best, RAB

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)