The Epiphone Emperor Regent is an interesting anachronism. It's one of the most unique guitars in the sub-1000 dollar range of jazz boxes. It's roots go back to the late 30's and 40's style archtops, and it's electronics date from the late 50's. The Regent reflects that latter era.
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In the 50's, Epiphone was a fierce competitor against Gibson. It's marketing approach was to provide solid top acoustic archtops, and laminated topped electrics at a lower price than the competition. To this day, those guitars are generally well regarded, especially the acoustics, and fetch high prices on the auction market.
In addition, the company maintains a fair amount of independence. It introduces models that don't always mimic the Gibson consumer product line, such as this one. It's a matter of record that Les Paul worked on his first electric guitar in the Epiphone factory, not Gibson's.
In 1957, Gibson bought out Epiphone, used up it's American parts supply, and then shifted production to Japan. In modern times, Epi's are now made in Korea, in most cases by the Samick Factories. That includes this model.
Now, it's a common slam on Epiphone, and many other brands that all Korean guitars are just cookie cutter units that have different brand names slapped on the headstock. That's an oversimplication. Each guitar is made to different specs, and the Regent is like no other guitar in it's class. Also the Koreans have gotten better and better to the point where a lot of production is now shifting to China. The Regent is a well made guitar.
The first thing that I felt when I first saw a Regent was the overwhelming desire to own one. I promptly (perhaps rashly) traded three guitars to get it.
The Regent is a attractive recreation of a 50's jazzbox, made a bit thinner for better comfort with a gorgeous vintage finish. The acoustic tone was quiet, but pure and jazz-like, and I just knew it would be a keeper. It's pure lines and simplicity of design made all the other jazz guitars in it's class seem garish.
The fundamentals are sound. Maple neck, back and sides, with a select spruce top. A floating mini-humbucker is mounted on the neck so that the sound wasn't compromised by cutting into the body. The neck is a longer scale type, like most jazzboxes, and has a very attractive and distinctive trapezoid inlay.
This uncompromising attitude extends to the pickups. The volume and tone knobs are small, and mounted on the pickguard. Technically, you could replace it with a standard non-electric type, remove the pickup, and have an old fashioned archtop that looks a heck of a lot like an old Gibson.
The only thing I questioned was the use of the traditional frequensator tail, which may have been used back then, but still has the same flaws. The bass strings need to be longer to fit (which luckily some brands do). Also, the bridge is fragile, and can break at the right angle bend at the tail. To make matters worse, it generally can only be "fixed" by complete replacement.
I should be fair and note that the intention is to improve the bass response since the strings go over a rosewood bridge (which I like, it gives the guitar more roundness of tone, but you do sacrifice some intonation).
The pickup is the only weak link. Now, in historical context, these pickups weren't intended to amplify like a Les Paul pickup. The idea was to complement the acoustic sound with a little extra boost at low gain, and in that respect, the pickup does fine.
However, we don't live in an age where all music is performed in small clubs or rooms. The average jazzer might want a little more juice, yet keep that acoustic quality. The pickup did well enough, but went "electric" in higher gain settings, and in particular, made the treble sound a bit harsh without use of the tone knob.
Now, you can go in two directions at this point. You can go more electric and put a stronger, warmer humbucker in and make it sound more like a 60's jazzbox. In my case, I put in a Seymour Duncan manufactured Benedetto floater that mounted on the pickguard, and emphasized the acoustic flavor.
Which was a great choice for me. I already have jazzboxes coming out of my ears for the more electric stuff, so I wanted this one to bring back the era of Django (who briefly did use an acoustic Epi) and Johnny Smith, and it did so in breathtaking fashion.
The sound you get is an acoustic tone that's smooth and crystal clear, and each note is pure sounding and "round" no matter how it's picked. Each chord is clean. You can hear every note, so it's also a great comping/rhythm guitar. Also the pickup allows you to use phosphorous or bronze strings also.
It's hard to praise a guitar like this without sounding like I'm gushing, but it does bring out that kind of emotional reaction. If you're into this style of jazz, of course. That's an important point. If you want to sound like Wes, this isn't the guitar.
However, where the guitar ended up offers the ultimate proof of how good, and attractive this 700.00 guitar is.
A year ago, at a jam, a guitar player heard it, and offered me a 1974 Fender Telecaster for it on the spot. Not being a fool, I took the deal. A week later, he emailed and thanked me. He told me he "was totally stoked about the guitar" and was totally happy about the deal.
But to this day, you would think that someone who got a rare Telecaster worth two or three times what I traded for it would feel great. Instead, oddly enough, I'm the one who feels a little remorse over the deal. Especially as it's been hard to find another one in my area.
It's that kind of guitar.
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