One of the biggest names in American guitar history is Epiphone, but few people realise the company was first established in Turkey by the Greek Stathopoulo family in the late 1880s! With many Greek nationals being persecuted in Turkey around that time, the family emigrated to New York at the turn of the century where they set up a mandolin-making company. Mandolins were hugely popular around this time, with many mandolin orchestras touring the USA, and the Epiphone company provided well made, affordable instruments to musicians.
By the end of World War I, the popularity of mandolins was waning as the banjo became a favourite, and so the company changed its name to the Epiphone Banjo Company. The company enjoyed a decade of banjo-making until the Great Depression of the 1930s hit and the instrument of choice became the acoustic guitar. Epiphone went head to head with Gibson, with both companies competing to make the most affordable, the most desirable, the best sounding and the largest body acoustic guitars, with some of the classic models of this time becoming collectors' items of today.
After World War II, Epiphone Guitars was losing out to the huge grip on the market held by Gibson, and although Epiphone was still manufacturing and selling thousands of guitars, in 1957 Orphie Stathopoulo sold Epiphone Guitars to Gibson Guitars for $20,000. Instead of shutting down the brand, Gibson continued to make guitars under the Epiphone name, and in many cases near-identical guitars were produced under both brands. For instance, the Epiphone Casino model, as famously used by Keith Richards and John Lennon in the 1960’s, was virtually the same as the Gibson ES-330, but both guitars continued to be made.
As time moved on, the Epiphone guitar range was not selling as well as the Gibson models and by the end of the 1970s, manufacture of the Epiphone guitar range had ceased in Kalamazoo and had moved to Japan, before moving again from Japan to Korea in 1983. Three years later, Gibson Guitars was bought by a new company, headed by Henry Juskiewicz, who decided to expand the Epiphone range with the specific intention of offering cheaper versions of the USA-made Gibson guitars. Around the same time, an important licensing agreement was signed between Gibson and Les Paul that allowed Epiphone guitars to be made with the Les Paul name on them.
Today, the Epiphone range of guitars continues to offer musicians an affordable way of experiencing the Gibson guitar sound and feel, and the wide range of Epiphone models includes acoustics, electro-acoustics, solid-body electrics, deep-body jazz-style electrics, basses, semi-solid electrics as well as the occasional banjo and mandolin. Orphie Stathopoulo would be pleased!
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