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  1. #1

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    Since starting out in jazz I always wanted a golden era acoustic archtop, and the model I thought was the most beautiful was the 17" Epiphone De Luxe of the late thirties. I located one in Paris during the summer of 2020. Almost a done deal, but then COVID happened and I could not travel. This summer the prospective seller texted me, and after some hesitation I arranged to go. Actually not the seller: the wonderful Romain Vuillemin, without whom the deal would not have been possible. Check out his YouTube channels if you like swing and archtops!

    Acoustic Standards - YouTube

    Anyway, after a pretty nourished exchange of information I go to Paris and in the same afternoon get to try the 1938 Deluxe I was going for, a 1934 16" Deluxe also for sale, and some not-for-sale guitars (an early 30s 16" L-5, a later 17" L-5, a 1939 Emperor, a 1960s De Luxe cutaway, and a 1942 D'Angelico Excel). Even though the 1934 was a true tone beast, I chose the 1938. Even in such exalted company, it was the best archtop I've laid hands on (well… on par with the 16" L-5, '39 Emperor and D'Angelico… all so different … and far beyond any other archtop I had tried until that day).

    More in detail: the guitar is the best musical instrument I've ever played. It plays wonderful, sounds wonderful (both acoustically and electrically), and looks wonderful. The neck is a supremely comfortable big soft "V", straight as an arrow. The fretboard is also extremely comfortable, with a 1 11/16 nut. The sound is sweet and strong, with impressive note separation – almost lute-like, when you play above the end of the fretboard. There is an impressive evenness to the notes, and no dead spots, wolfs or buzzes all along the fretboard. A paragon of "quality". While playing it you don't have the impression that it's terribly loud – the '34 16" seemed louder. But as I was sitting in front of Romain playing both guitars I realised what an extraordinary projection and dynamic capabilities my '38 has: all that Romain would give it with his strong right hand, she would give back without ever getting shrill. Sitting close in front it was so loud. Last thing: it's surprisingly lightweight for such a big instrument.

    The Adjustable Rhythm Chief it came with is an interesting middle ground between my FHC and Rhythm Chief 1000: hotter than the 1000, but a little more refined than the FHC. I've had to learn how to dial it in with tone and volume – doesn't work like my others – but it has wonderful sounds in it. Indeed, unlike the FHC it works very well with (while responding differently to) all my main amps: black, brown and octal.

    Nerdy stuff:
    - as stated, the fundamentals are strong: a fantastic neck and a sound sonorous body devoid of any cracks or repairs. To me this is all that matters.
    - some appointments have been replaced (inlays – all but one I think; frequensator; most likely the body binding). We never discussed this but the frets seem far too pristine for an 83 yo guitar, I am thankful that the job was made so well and without ruining the binding. The bridge is (uncharacteristically) the original one.
    - It's an open question whether it's a refin. I have no horse in the race as I don't mean to ever part ways with this guitar so could not care less about its market value, but I'm of course intrigued. The only thing I'm positive about is that it's very old, well-worn finish. The owner, based on the idea that Epiphone introduced blondes only in '39, thinks that it was refinished right that year or shortly thereafter, after the owner realised he liked blonde guitars better. Nice theory. I'm not sure. Epiphone made blond an optional finish for its top models in '38 already, and as Romain pointed out to me the back is highly figured and would more naturally be used for a translucent finish than for sunburst. His '39 burst Emperor had considerably plainer wood. All in all, I'm inclined to think that it's a factory blonde.
    - she came with a very old and beat-up (but sound) case. I have no way to tell whether it's the original one: over 83 years so much can happen. It certainly is period, and it fits the guitar like a glove. Epiphone would introduce the € marking in cases only on the following year so it's absence is not relevant.
    - she's from when Epi Stathopoulo was still around the factory. For some reason this matters to me.

    I've been living symbiotically with her since acquiring her last Tuesday. I've played every day, had a rehearsal (wow), today full set-up, and first gig on the 30th. What a marvellous instrument.


    Dream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7799-jpgDream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7800-jpgDream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7801-jpgDream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7802-jpgDream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7804-jpgDream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-dscf7805-jpg
    Attached Images Attached Images Dream come true: 1938 Epi Deluxe-ytlumvuh-jpg 
    Last edited by radiofm74; 09-20-2021 at 02:59 AM.

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  3. #2

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    Congrats! That’s a beautiful DeLuxe, and Romain is a great guy to chat with about these old acoustic archtops. I have a ‘36 DeLuxe that’s an absolute delight, so I can very well imagine what yours must be like. Also, the RC1100 is hands down my favorite of the DeArmond floaters. Looks like you got a real keeper.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by ThatRhythmMan
    Congrats! That’s a beautiful DeLuxe, and Romain is a great guy to chat with about these old acoustic archtops. I have a ‘36 DeLuxe that’s an absolute delight, so I can very well imagine what yours must be like. Also, the RC1100 is hands down my favorite of the DeArmond floaters. Looks like you got a real keeper.
    Thanks! Very much my impression too

  5. #4

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    Wow. Impressive. The amp looks great too. Have fun!

  6. #5

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    ...Wow again ! Congrats and play it in good health !

    The guitar itself, and then the amp make the back story as good as a story should be.

    But then you add 'Paris', and the story becomes magic, and one to tell your grandchildren.......

    Good for you !!!

  7. #6

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    What a gear, have fun :-)

  8. #7

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    Very beautiful, Congratulations!

  9. #8

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    Gorgeous!

  10. #9

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    Va va voom!

  11. #10

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    What an awesome pair, keepers for good!

  12. #11

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    Oh wow. Stunning!

  13. #12

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    Stunning acquisition! Congrats! You’re right to take it to the gig. These guitars were meant to be played. Best.

  14. #13

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    Congrats! May she inspire your playing for many years to come. It sounds like that guitar has found the right home. Kismet!

  15. #14

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    Congratulations on a wonderful guitar!

  16. #15

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    Just magnificent! Congratulations, and play it in good health!

  17. #16

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    Congratulations! The vintage Epiphone's are amazing. A true work of art. The lines, curves, deco, wood, tone, feel, etc., are sublime. It doesn't get much better, in my opinion.

    Here is a great resource for vintage Epiphones if you haven't discovered it yet:
    NY Epi Reg - The Unofficial New York Epiphone Registry

    I have a '36 Emperor that I love.

    Enjoy!

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by skykomishone
    Congratulations! The vintage Epiphone's are amazing. A true work of art. The lines, curves, deco, wood, tone, feel, etc., are sublime. It doesn't get much better, in my opinion.

    Here is a great resource for vintage Epiphones if you haven't discovered it yet:
    NY Epi Reg - The Unofficial New York Epiphone Registry

    I have a '36 Emperor that I love.

    Enjoy!
    Congrats on the Emperor! Felix Wiedler, the creator of the Unofficial Registry, has helped me in the quest and I am extremely thankful to him. Both for the awesome site and his kindness in assisting me.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by radiofm74
    Congrats on the Emperor! Felix Wiedler, the creator of the Unofficial Registry, has helped me in the quest and I am extremely thankful to him. Both for the awesome site and his kindness in assisting me.
    Thank you!
    Felix Wiedler is great, exceptionally helpful, and a gentleman! I believe he goes by the name 'Masterbuilt' on the forum.

  20. #19

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    Yeah, nice work.

    One thing to consider if you're interested in answering the "factory natural" question... natural Epiphones often came with a lighter wood bridge bass (I don't recall exactly what wood it was). So, if you've got a bridge with the serial number in it, and it's rosewood, then I'm guessing it might not be factory.

    If it were me, I'd be interested in the answer, but I'd be stoked with the guitar no matter what the answer is. As long as the refin was done well, i.e. not too heavy, and it's got lots of age on it, then you're good. Besides the quality of the finish, the only other thing that bugs me are overtly anachronistic refins - like early 30's 16" guitars in natural - and yours is totally consistent with a guitar from the following year, so it's a non-issue.

    Really good choice.

    Also, from my experience, there's nothing as beneficial as being able to A/B test a variety of archtops against each other in the same setting. When I picked out my 1932 L-5 at Norm's, they happened to have, like, 20-30 high grade vintage acoustic archtops in stock (including several other 16" L-5's), and it really made feel comfortable that I was picking the right guitar. That you were able to compare this Deluxe to a 16" one, plus the other brands/models, lets you know that you're making the right choice. And although it's still good to try other guitars whenever you can, never underestimate the effect the sound of the room you're in can make in your perception of the sound. There are two stores in LA that I think of as having an overtly bad or good sound - and even the same guitar sounds drastically different in them. So whenever I try a guitar at the one with the bad sound, I'm never impressed with any guitar... at least until I bring one of my own and can set my baseline expectations with it. And I've found guitars that sounded amazing at the store that has a good room sound, only to find that when I compared it to my own guitar at same time, that it just sounds "ok".

  21. #20

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    So true, Jonathan. Nothing like playing through a dozen prospective guitars, narrowing the field, then having another player behind a curtain go through the few you've filtered out while you listen. Then you go behind the curtain and have your friend listen while you play them. Kinda like a blind wine tasting. Then, comparing notes before deciding. I've had that experience buying a guitar from a respected luthier in Argentina, with my son. I'll never forget it, and the guitar is really special!

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by campusfive
    Yeah, nice work.

    One thing to consider if you're interested in answering the "factory natural" question... natural Epiphones often came with a lighter wood bridge bass (I don't recall exactly what wood it was). So, if you've got a bridge with the serial number in it, and it's rosewood, then I'm guessing it might not be factory.

    If it were me, I'd be interested in the answer, but I'd be stoked with the guitar no matter what the answer is. As long as the refin was done well, i.e. not too heavy, and it's got lots of age on it, then you're good. Besides the quality of the finish, the only other thing that bugs me are overtly anachronistic refins - like early 30's 16" guitars in natural - and yours is totally consistent with a guitar from the following year, so it's a non-issue.

    Really good choice.

    Also, from my experience, there's nothing as beneficial as being able to A/B test a variety of archtops against each other in the same setting. When I picked out my 1932 L-5 at Norm's, they happened to have, like, 20-30 high grade vintage acoustic archtops in stock (including several other 16" L-5's), and it really made feel comfortable that I was picking the right guitar. That you were able to compare this Deluxe to a 16" one, plus the other brands/models, lets you know that you're making the right choice. And although it's still good to try other guitars whenever you can, never underestimate the effect the sound of the room you're in can make in your perception of the sound. There are two stores in LA that I think of as having an overtly bad or good sound - and even the same guitar sounds drastically different in them. So whenever I try a guitar at the one with the bad sound, I'm never impressed with any guitar... at least until I bring one of my own and can set my baseline expectations with it. And I've found guitars that sounded amazing at the store that has a good room sound, only to find that when I compared it to my own guitar at same time, that it just sounds "ok".
    Hey Jonathan, good to read from you!

    I am crazy about the guitar – its neck, voice, looks, outstanding quality in every respect. I get it about rooms. So far, this one sounded stellar wherever I played it: at his place, at my place in Switzerland, in the rehearsal room, at my place here in Italy. To fully appreciate you need a wall in front because it really projects forward. I am perhaps a little less head-over-heels about the pickup, but I have yet much to learn about it. It can sound wonderful, but takes more dialing in than my other DeArmonds and unless I pick carefully it sounds more edgy. I may want to test my trusty FHC and my RC1000 in its place eventually, but for now I'm ok. If I dial it in and pick carefully, it sounds pretty darn great. If anyone has tips about RC1100s, I'm all ears of course.

    Trying so many top-tier archtops in one afternoon – after having had access to them in homeopathic doses over the past few years – was intoxicating. It did validate my choice – this one was "home" in a way that no other was and my #1 choice – but it also stoked the lust. Top-tier 16" sound very different and complementary to 17", don't they? I know in my heart I'll hunt one down sometime – a 16" Deluxe just like the amazing '32 you had, or a 16" Broadway, Triumph or Spartan. But I am in no hurry. This one is my #1 and my big band guitar, my sole focus is on playing it.

    As to the finish – I will be just as happy either way: she looks gorgeous in blonde, whether factory or no, and I'm never going to sell so value is no longer a consideration. My curiosity is scientific (and sentimental): no objects fascinate me as much as golden era Epiphones, and I want to know as much as possible about this one.

    My elements so far:
    - the ex-owner, a wonderful and amiable old gentleman from Paris far above exaggerating the merits of his wares, was very upfront in his view that it's a refin. But he made me observe that the finish looks to be as old as the guitar itself, and suggested it was a factory refin made right after Epi blondes came out in catalogues. With the guitar in hand, it's a credible theory. To my eyes, the finish seems as old as the guitar itself or close enough as no matter.
    - the back of the guitar is highly figured maple as you see above. In pic or in person, I've seen more blondes than burst Epis with a back like that – although admittedly my sample is small and there were sunbursts with very figured maple in the high-end.
    - the bridge seems to be rosewood and the ex-owner was positive it was the original based on serial number. Haven't bothered to look and then have to replace the bridge all over again, but I believe him. I did not know Epiphone tended to use lighter wood on blondes – I'll check that too.

    All in all, I'll probably never know, and it does not matter too much. I know it's not a museum piece (inlays etc) and am ok with that. I only aspire to become worthier of her as a guitarist – it sure motivated me to play a lot these last days!

    PS: your post reminded me of the latest Campus Five record… listening right now! What a joy!

  23. #22

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    Posts like these make me happy to occasionally browse the forum. Radiofm, congratulations on the new ax. You already had some great archtops but this one takes the cake. What a beautiful looking (and I'm sure sounding) instrument. It really does not get much better than a 1930s Epiphone.

  24. #23

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    Also, epiphone cloud inlays are the coolest inlays there are.

  25. #24

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    That's basically my dream guitar too. Congratulations - it's absolutely stunning!

  26. #25
    Thanks a lot friends!