Posted by: kubiakl | January 25, 2009

The One On The Side

I’ve already written a post about my Epiphone Masterbilt acoustic and how much I love it.

But there’s another Epiphone on the side.  My blonde Dot.

Christmas ’07 (well, most past Christmases actually) I received a Guitar Center gift card.  I know, some people are dead set against giving gift cards at Christmas, but it makes it easy for my cousins to shop for me.  We draw names so only one person has to buy me a gift.  Since that person sees me about once a year it would be tough for them to just choose something out of the blue, so (because there are Guitar Centers everywhere) it makes Christmas shopping simple and allows me to get something useful.

I held on to that gift card because I wasn’t making any major purchases, just strings and picks.  When my birthday rolled around several months later some fellow teachers pooled together and got me (you guessed it) – a gift card to Guitar Center.  A few days later the mail held another surprise – a Guitar Center gift card FROM Guitar Center.  Occasionally they send them out to idiots (read: me) who spend too much there.  It’s nice of them to take pity on the gear-obsessed.  Say what you like about GC, they know how to work their clientele.

This had to be a sign.  I meditated on the possibilities – what would be the best thing to buy?  I looked over my amp/pedal situation and saw that it was good.  Next came the acoustics – my Masterbilt, a Washburn, and my Resonator.  All good there.  So I turned my attention to my electric guitar…

And realized that something was missing.

My Fender American Standard Strat has been with me since I got serious about playing guitar.  There was a period where I also owned a Les Paul copy (EKO brand, some Italian company) but it got sold because I wasn’t satisfied with the feel and never played it.  Since then every electric note has been from my Stratocaster.

It was time to try something new.  After exhaustive searching, reading, and playing, I decided I wanted a humbucker equipped guitar.  Nothing too expensive – no Gibson for me.  At first I thought an Epiphone Les Paul would be the one.  There was a nice vintage sunburst standard LP that felt good in my hands.  Then I saw an Ibanez hollow body, the AG75 from their Artcore series:

ibanez-ag75

Wow.  Everything sounded so good.  Warm tone, a butter smooth neck, a real responsive feeling from the strings.  I tried to put it down but couldn’t.  It was just too much fun.

Then I tried to play something in the upper frets.  Problem.  See, hollow bodied guitars have a large heel at the neck that extends out to the fifteenth fret or so.  That means your hand can’t grip the neck and play a note on the 17th fret easily.

I was crushed.  I needed that upper fret access.  The Ibanez and I were like Romeo and Juliet – it just wasn’t in the stars.

As I hung my head and went to put the Ibanez back on the wall I passed by the Epiphones again.  The Les Paul still looked nice… but the thrill was gone.  Taking it home would be doing it a disservice.  It would always be Second Choice.

Then this came into my vision:

epiphone-dot

Epiphone’s answer to the classic Gibson ES-335, the Dot.

Apprehensively I took it off the wall.  Would it give me the lively tone that had made me fall for the Ibanez?  I knew enough to know that it was a semi-hollow body, which meant that instead of the large acoustic chamber the hollow body possessed it was thinner with a block of wood running down the middle.  The key feature was the double cutaway – full upper fret access.

I started playing around unplugged and was shocked.  No, it didn’t have the large acoustic tone that the hollow body gave, but it had a unique sound all it’s own.  Plugging into a small tube amp showed me how nice the humbuckers were.  My only concern was the bridge pickup – it had a slightly tinny sound with the tone control rolled up to ten, but rolling it down to four really cleaned it up.  The action was set just how I like; low enough to play yet high enough to be able to dig in to the strings.

In short there was nothing I could find that I really didn’t like.  But it wasn’t time to pull the trigger on that purchase yet – I was concerned that this was a rebound, that I was grasping at the first thing to come along since the Ibanez broke my heart.  Back to the apartment for some research.

Reviews were generally positive – no, it wasn’t a Gibson, but it was a solid guitar in its own right.  Some people recommended changing the pickups (especially the bridge) and others said to replace most of the hardware.  A few elitists said they wouldn’t buy anything but the Gibson version… but I didn’t have the money to be an elitist.  The Gibsons were easily five or six times the cost of the Epiphone.

Back at Guitar Center I pulled it off the wall again… and the magic held.  Just as a test I tried out a few other guitars, even a few Gibsons for comparison.  All of them were amazing guitars but the Dot kept calling my name.  From my experience with buying my Masterbilt I knew that when something called to me like the Dot did it meant I should own it.

It’s been with me for seven months now.  The magic still hasn’t worn off – no, it won’t supplant my Strat, but turned out to be the perfect second guitar for me.  The drummer I play with (who plays guitar himself) has been impressed.  One time he just zoned out in the middle of a song and stopped playing.  When I stopped to ask him what happened he just said, “Dude… the tone is SO good.”

There are some ugrades I’m considering but overall I’m very satisfied with the guitar as is.  A Seymour Duncan JB for the bridge pickup sits on my coffee table waiting for me to undertake the installation process.  To be honest I’m a little daunted – there isn’t a control plate for clear access to the electronics so installing it may be a complicated process.  We’ll see.  A better nut (maybe Tusq) seems like a great idea as well as some new tuners – there’s nothing wrong with the stock Grovers but some Klusons would make it look a little better.

I can’t promise that the Epiphone Dot is right for you, but if you’re looking for a new guitar to be excited about you should give it a test drive.

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