May 2013 marks the 56th anniversary of the merger of Epiphone and the Gibson family of instruments, forming one of the most successful and innovative musical instrument companies in history.
For the first half of the 20th Century, Epiphone was a leader in manufacturing a wide range of instruments including guitars, banjos, mandolins and archtop jazz guitars. During this time, Epiphone's greatest rival was Gibson, a rivalry that carried on through several music eras including early Vaudeville, big band jazz, western swing, and rhythm and blues. On May 10, 1957, Gibson President Ted McCarty – a longtime fan of Epiphone – purchased the company along with its tooling, parts inventory, copyrights, and designs from the last surviving members of the Stathopoulo family, who were retiring from the music business.
"The merging of Gibson and Epiphone in May 1957 turned out to be one of the landmark events in pop culture history," said Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg. "It paved the way for innovations that are still part of our lives today. It's hard to imagine John Lee Hooker, The Beatles, Nirvana, Oasis, or dozens of other artists without their Epiphones. Just as it is hard to imagine Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or John Lennon's "Revolution" without that distinctive Epiphone tone."
Founded in 1873 by the Stathopoulo family, Epiphone's first great era began in the 1920s under the guiding hand of Epi Stathopoulo, its innovative and charismatic president and the oldest son of founder Anastasios Stathopoulo, who emigrated to the U.S. from Greece with his family. From the early '20s through the beginning of World War II, Epiphone was a leader in manufacturing and selling mandolins, banjos, archtop guitars, and acoustic guitars as well as upright basses, Hawaiian lap steels, guitar amplifiers, and an early version of the pedal steel--instruments that are now highly sought-after in the vintage market. Epi was also close friends with the great musicians of the day, including Les Paul, who held regular jam sessions in the Epiphone show room in Manhattan and used the factory to manufacture prototypes of his own innovative solid body guitar design.
After the death of Epi Stathopoulo in 1943, the surviving Stathopoulo brothers, Orphie and Frixo, tried to keep the company going, but the loss of Epi's leadership (Epi himself held several design patents) along with the advent of rock and roll and increased competition, inspired the brothers to consider retiring from the business.
"Originally, Gibson's Ted McCarty was interested in purchasing Epiphone's upright bass line for Gibson," said Jim Rosenberg. "But the Stathopoulo family instead offered McCarty the entire company. Les Paul helped bring the two sides together because Les always loved Epiphone and he didn't want to see it go under. Les always said, 'Epiphone made a good guitar'. And they always kept Gibson on their toes."
Once Epiphone relocated to Gibson's factory located in Kalamazoo, MI, the instrument line was redesigned and throughout the late 50s and 60s, a revitalized Epiphone produced one historic model after another. Nearly every instrument from Epiphone's Kalamazoo-era was embraced by the top artists of the '60s including the Casino (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks), the Rivoli bass (Jimmy Page), the Sheraton (John Lee Hooker), the Bard 12-string acoustic (Roy Orbison), the Texan acoustic (Paul McCartney), the Riviera (Otis Rush), and the Wilshire (Johnny Winter).
Over the last decade, Epiphone has reached heights unimagined in Epi Stathopoulo's lifetime. Today from its state-of-the art headquarters in Nashville, TN, Epiphone is once again a world leader in designing and manufacturing affordable professional instruments with an artist list that includes legends Paul McCartney, Slash, B.B. King, Duke Robillard, Jack Casady, Paul Simon, and Paul Weller along with the top contemporary artists of our time like Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Robb Flynn of Machine Head, Tommy Thayer of KISS, Radiohead, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama Shakes, Brendon Small, and Zakk Wylde.
"Together with Gibson, Epiphone continues to make history and fulfill Epi's wish to make world class instruments affordable and available around the world," said Jim Rosenberg. "Epiphone is still the House of Stathopoulo. We're designers. We're innovators. We're players. And we're mavericks. And we're passionate about everything we do."
Throughout 2013, Epiphone is celebrating its 140th Anniversary with new models, artist events, and limited releases.
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