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Epiphone Les Paul History

The Epiphone story stretches back nearly a century and a half, to around 1873, far across the mighty Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. It began when the family of Anastasios Stathopoulo left Greece for Smyrna, a city on the coast of Turkey. Upon settling in the bustling seaport, 12-year old Anastasios' father, Kostantinos, established himself as a lumber merchant. As Kostantinos traveled throughout Europe on business, Anastasios would accompany him, learning about various tonewoods along the way.

Soon, the Stathopoulo family opened a shop in Smyrna where they sold and repaired lutes, violins, and bouzoukis. By the late 1800s, Anastasios had established his reputation as a talented luthier, such that he was capable of starting his own instrument factory. Around this time, he also married and had five children. His first son, Epaminondas, was born in 1893.

Though skilled in his craft, the high taxes imposed on Greek immigrants under the Ottoman Empire caused Anastasios and his family to immigrate to the United States. He was 40 years old when they arrived in New York.

Public records from 1904 reveal Anastasios lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side, an area populated with many other Greek and Italian immigrants. His instrument manufacture and retail business continued on this side of the Atlantic. In 1909, he filed for his first and only patent for an Italian style bowl back mandolin.

Meanwhile, his eldest son Epaminondas, or Epi as he was known, was easily assimilating to American life. He attended Columbia University and graduated with honors. Not long after, while living with his family above their shop at 247 West 42nd Street, Epi started helping out the family business.

And it's a good thing he did.

When Epi was only 22, his father Anastasio passed away. Epi was now tasked with running the business himself. He immediately went to work on innovating and building within the burgeoning musical instrument market. He changed the company's instrument label to read "The House of Stathopoulo" and was granted his first patent for a banjo tone ring and rim construction. By the time Epi's mother passed in 1923, he had already solidified his capabilities as a designer, inventor, and business owner.

Going forward Epi would grow the business by removing mandolins and stocking more popular banjo models, acquiring the Farovan Company instrument plant on Long Island, and incorporating under the new name "Epiphone," referencing his own name and the Greek word for sound.

In 1928, Epiphone introduced their first line of acoustic guitars. Their motivation was to compete with what was believed to be Epiphone's greatest rival--Gibson. Fortune would intertwine these two companies, as they continued to compete over the next 30 or so years.

By the mid-'30s, one of the famed guitarists of the era, Les Paul, was showcasing his talents at the Epiphone location in New York City, jamming as people listened out on the sidewalk. Ironically, he also spent many late nights working on his own guitar design in Epiphone's factory, which would later be made into a signature model by none other than Gibson.

Though Epiphone had experienced moments of success in their rivalry with Gibson, by the 1950s, they could no longer effectively compete. They were acquired by Gibson in 1957, ushering in a new era of partnership and progress for both brands.

Epiphone Les Paul Features

Epiphone Les Pauls are not a far cry from their Gibson counterparts. Initially, Epiphone Les Pauls were given to dealers who were keen to win a hotly contested Gibson contract, to first see how they could sell. The product was still considered "Gibson quality."

Today, Epiphone Les Paul guitars are commonly made from mahogany like their Gibson counterparts, with just a few models cut from okoume or poplar. Many have a maple tops, either veneer or fully carved, some specifically made of flame or quilt maple. Aside from certain double-cutaway models, all feature the traditional Les Paul single-cut design, endlessly imitated since its inception.

The neck of an Epiphone Les Paul is also mahogany. It is most commonly set-in to the body, as Les Pauls famously are, though you can find the occasional bolt-on model. Most Epiphone Les Pauls have a high-quality rosewood fingerboard, and some are made with pau ferro.

Though the type of pickup may vary, most Epiphone Les Pauls have two humbuckers and a three-way switch. They're likely to be Epiphone pickups, though select models might feature Gibson USA or EMG active pickup sets. A few Epiphone Les Pauls have P-90's, staying true to their Gibson doppelgangers. Epiphone Les Pauls either have two or four control knobs, with a few modern models sporting push/pull knobs for coil-splitting or phase switching.

A Les Paul for Everybody

There are many, many models of Epiphone Les Pauls out there. Epiphone manufactures all of the archetypal Les Paul models that Gibson has and then some more of their own.

Take the Les Paul Standard for example. Touted as the most popular electric guitar of all time, Epiphone brings the Les Paul Standard to a price that’s feasible for most. The tried-and-true Les Paul mahogany body sports a maple veneer top. The mahogany neck is cut into 1960s slim taper "D" profile and capped with a pau ferro fretboard. The Standard comes complete with dual Epiphone alnico Classic humbuckers.

If modern electronics are more your thing, the Les Paul Custom PRO has dual ProBucker pickups, wired with coil-splitting and phase switching capability. Much like its Gibson counterpart, the Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO has an elevated look and excellent build. It's got a fully bound mahogany body with maple veneer, slim taper "D" neck with satin finish, and gold hardware.

By contrast, the Les Paul Special models from Epiphone give players a simpler, more attainable Les Paul option. The material used is of a slightly lower quality and the look is a bit stripped down.

The Les Paul Studio was introduced in the early '80s. As its name suggests, it was made for studio musicians, offering a simplified aesthetic with strong Les Paul tone. Epiphone also offers a more bare-bones version of the Studio called the Les Paul Studio LT. Additionally, the Goth Les Paul Studio is one of the coolest Epiphone has to offer. It's got classic Les Paul features like a mahogany body paired with set mahogany neck, finished in pitch black satin with black hardware. It also has black open-coil alnico Classic pickups.

Famous Epiphone Les Paul Players

Not only are there plenty of prominent Epiphone Les Paul players out there, but Epiphone has a number of signature artist models—and trust us, these are guys who can play. Artists such as Peter Frampton, Tommy Thayer of KISS, Slash, and Zakk Wylde have all had their names on an Epiphone Les Paul.

As a longstanding Epiphone shredder, Matt Heafy of Trivium has a signature Les Paul Custom. He designed it with a 1960s slim taper "D" neck, EMG active pickups, and 22 medium jumbo frets.  It's also offered in a "Snofall" version, which is finished completely in an alpine white gloss. Both of Matt Heafy's signature designs are available as 7-strings.

Jared James Nichols 'Old Glory' Les Paul Custom is a unique design from one of Epiphone's newest signature artists. This model mimics the custom design Jared James Nichols created himself. Based on a 1955 Les Paul Custom, it sports a one-of-a-kind "Blues Power" cover plate, Grover Rotomatic 18:1 ratio tuners, and a single P-90 pickup.

Why an Epiphone Les Paul

If you're in the market for a Les Paul, but are not ready to fork over the cash for a Gibson, Epiphone has you covered. As a company under the Gibson umbrella for well over 60 years, Epiphone Les Pauls are as authentic and playable as Gibson's.

Have additional questions? Need help figuring out which Epiphone Les Paul is right for you? Feel free to give us a call at 1-800-472-6274, or chat with us online, to speak to one our experts today. They would happy to speak with you and point you in the right direction of the exact guitar you are looking for.

Epiphone Les Paul Buyers Guide