I was, like many guitarists, excited when the news came out that Epiphone was going to reissue an ES-175 copy. The Gibson version is one of those guitars that are priced so high that people will eagerly look at a copy (like Les Pauls, etc), particularly if it's made by Epiphone.
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I remember earlier in the year, talking to someone who worked at a local guitar store about those guitars. He had tried it out at the NAMM show and seemed critical about the new guitar. His verdict was that it was essentially a Blues Zephyr (which is a copy of an old single pickup ES-175) that sounded "pretty thin" and that the Ibanez jazz line was much better.
I appreciated his candid opinion, but since the store had most of the Ibanez line on sale that week and he tried to get me to buy one, it was more than possible that his view was tainted. Since he was a friend of sorts, I prefer to believe his conflict of interest was unintentional.
Nonetheless, when I did finally get to examine one recently (and had studied the specs), it was obvious that the new ES-175 copy was essentially a two pickup Blues Zephyr. Epiphone did keep the price down at only 500.00 (that's really cheap for this type of guitar), and with a nicer finish. However, it is a limited edition, so it's nice price is offset by what will it's rarity in a year or two.
Except for the shape, the two guitars could hardly be more different. The Gibson version has undergone many changes, but it's constants are a laminated body that's predominantly maple, mohogany neck, and for most of it's history, '57 humbuckers (although PAF's and others have been used), and that famous sharp cutaway.
The Epiphone has a laminated maple top, mohogany sides and back, and a maple neck. It's pickups are their version of the '57 classics, and the tailpiece is actually like the original that is no longer in use. It is a real looker. I also like the Epiphone headstock for it's vintage cool and better string routing, and the standard use of Grovers.
The pickups are a bit thin sounding (as is the Blues Zephyr's stock P/U), and the maple neck does make the sound brighter and sharper. Both now use metal piece adjustable bridges mounted on wood, which brightens the sound further but increases sustain.
You can go both ways on the issue of sustain. The sustain is gained at the expense of a warmer tone, and fast jazz runs become more difficult to phrase as the notes won't decay fast enough. That decay was important mainly because bending notes isn't a common technique in jazz.
Not that a Wes Montgomery couldn't do it, but not bending was one way jazzers differentiated themselves from the blues and rock crowd. The modern bridges are geared more towards modern tastes, and the idea that many of the buyers will be using it for blues and rock also. It's not a bad compromise.
I've seen some opinion on the internet that simply turning down the tone knob a bit will fix the overly bright sound, but that's only partially true.
Although changing out the pickups is a common upgrade, many don't also upgrade the tone pot at the same time. As a result, the pickup tone can be degraded. Epiphone tone pots aren't as good as Gibson's, and have a tendency to go muddy as opposed to darkening the sound. It might have been better for Epi to use the extra hundred in price to use a real Gibson pickup and electronics and create a 500.00 one pickup archtop that would have blown away the competition in this price class.
To an untrained ear, the Epi's brightness may not be noticable, especially at high volume. Most jazz guitarists (unless you're George Thorogood or Ted Nugent, who use ES-175's) play in clean mode, and the sharper, colder tone is harder to eliminate. You can offset this a bit with a tube amp, but those are expensive.
I should add, if you want to go rock and blues with this guitar, then it's more than good enough to do that if the feedback is managed well.
One can't judge this new guitar as an elite model. It's exactly what Epiphone says it is, a low cost version of an ES-175 made to be more accessible to the average buyer. In that respect, the company has succeeded. The original Gibson was intended to be just that also, but has most emphatically lost it's way and become a luxury model.
The tone of this guitar in stock condition can be managed via amp and fingers (technique) to sound pretty good. Upgrade the neck pickup with a warmer one and it'll become a noticably finer archtop. I know this because my Blues Zephyr was transformed into a fine jazz machine by a simple upgrade of the pickup to a Seymour Duncan Seth Love (a PAF type) and installing a Gibson tone pot. It didn't go into Wes Montgomery territory, but one could go the Kenny Burrell route. It got a warm bluesy jazz tone, with a nice acoustic flavor.
This guitar, like it's close relative, the Zephyr, has a surprisingly good and woody acoustic archtop tone. One of the best in that price range. Add a Benedetto or Bartolini humbucker and it would be a fine Johnny Smith style (smooth acoustic) jazz guitar.
Many decades ago, Gibson turned the jazz world on it's head by coming out with a laminated archtop that reduced feedback and was priced at a fraction of the cost of contemporary jazz guitars. It quickly became a classic.
Epiphone has come out with a version of the ES-175 that is cheap enough that it's easily upgradable to a finer jazz guitar, and with that company's generally high level of quality. It won't change the jazz world, but it looks more like the classic 175 than the current Gibson does, and is more in the original spirit of the guitar.
Looks like the child is indeed the father to the man...
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Weight: Light, but has some presence
Sound Quality: Bright