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The Epiphone Journey


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After buying a Fernandes Dragonfly of some sort (they did a lousy job of IDing their models early on) I purchased Rocksmith and liked the guitar but didn't love it. it had it's flaws electronically but overall I liked the look and feel of it. In the sound department though it needed a little work.

Mind you I hadn't touched a guitar since I was 15 yrs old and I'm now 58. I tried the books but couldn't read music, happened on some early tabs but had trouble with focusing for more than 30 minutes on anything. It was an ugly evolution that ended in frustration. My first guitar was an acoustic Gagliardi who I doubt is even in business anymore. My mother bought it for me from a music store about 10 miles form where we lived. I loved and hated it. A) It was acoustic, not what I really wanted. B) The cost of an electric package was so far out of reach back then in the late 70's for even a cheapo setup it was out of our price range. So the Gagliardi was purchased for about $100 and a few picks were thrown in. No case, no polishing cloth, just the guitar and picks.

That has long since disappeared and even though it was my first, I wasn't sorry to see it go.

Fast forward to 2017. I stopped in one of the few last remaining mom & pop stores in the same town and was given a deal I couldn't refuse. $200 for a Fernandes Dragonfly X with a setup, a couple of cables and a cleaning package. Brought it home and within a few days settled on Rocksmith Remastered as my learning tool. I had hoped over the course of time and with some therapy added in over the years I could better focus. It wasn't easy going but I managed. One of the pickups occasionally shorted out and the volume and pot knobs definitely need replacing. I didn't care though and plugged ahead regardless. 

After a few months the things that didn't bother me so much about the shortfalls of that guitar did finally start eating at me. Well it looked to me like it was time for another and better guitar. I drove about 30 miles to North Wilmington, Delaware to the closest Guitar Center. I am not opposed to the big box stores as I think you always get a better selection of instruments AND accessories but whenever possible I give my money to the mom& pop stores first unless they don't have what I need. 

I found a used guitar that I wanted after about 45 minutes of looking and playing. A 2017 Epiphone Les Paul Cherry burst finish with a cream white pickguard. Wouldn't you know it, it was on hold until around Christmas due to GC's pawn policy. Understanding that and not getting upset I returned it to the wall. Right next to it was the exact same year and model sans the pickguard. Having played now for a little bit the pickguard to me was purely aesthetic and unnecessary for my playing. This one also had a little more of the red outside spray which I actually liked better too but I completely overlooked on first glance. I grabbed it looking to make sure it wasn't on any time hold and made a beeline to the counter. I'd found it, the one that I wish I could have had when I was 15. 

Their in-store tech was on hand so I got him to do a fairly quick setup on it, found a strap I liked and a case that sort of fit. Les Paul cases aren't the most popular in GC's inventory apparently?

Took a while to get home but used in my Rocksmith and instantly felt the difference. It was heavier (by a lot) had a much deeper growling sound when used with my 10 watt BlackStar amp.  And as far as feel goes it was a little larger body of course but felt more comfortable to play. I knew ahead of time weight is an issue with any Les Paul since most are solid body with perhaps a little bit of chambering? 

In the mid 1980's Gibson had produced a Irish Green Les Paul with Gold Hardware that I saw in a local music store but at $3,000 plus it was out of my price range being married now, buying a house and a child on the way. All I could do was lust after it, heavily!

This Epi was my Les Paul. Did it wear the Gibson logo? Not! But it was a very good guitar and the longer I thought about it the tougher it became for me to justify paying the Gibson price. I know they're a little better build and better hardware and electronics but that extra $2500 for a Gibby just didn't make sense. Initially I had gone in with a plan to get a Gibson Les Paul, they had they exact one I wanted in stock but at $3600 it just ate at me. I had the money now, being divorced and now living in an apartment with a much better job. I still couldn't justify pulling the trigger though. Instead what I would up with was my Epi Les Paul Standard Pro, a used but in great shape Roland Blue Cube Stage 60W amp, 6 boss pedals, a case (one for the guitar and another for the pedals), a couple of sets of strings, strap and a few cables. And still had money leftover in my pocket. 

It was love at first feel! No doubt about it. Yeah I read a lot of bashes from different people on a few forums and websites but it didn't change my mind or deter me from keeping it AND making it better! Part of the upgrades were out of spite for the haters admittedly! I did a ton of reading and research while enjoying the LP in it's stock form. I knew the improvements would make it sound, feel and play even better. First up on anyone's list should be replacing the nut. That's where 3/4 of peoples tuning issues lie, not their tuners! Let's go with a Tusq XL, it's a teflon hybrid nut with a lot of really good reviews. Then came some fret work, it wasn't terrible but you can always feel those spots that just didn't get enough attention at the factory. Next came the electronics. I saw that so-so quality electronics usually failed you at the worst possible moment and my Epi had push/pull pots which I was in no way a fan of. Let's go with a 50's custom wired pot set and better quality switch and input. Then came what I think made all the difference in the world. 
Researching pickups is a minefield at best. So many choices, so many sounds and even more opinions than there are players. This was not going to be any easy feat!

Weeks and weeks went by and everyday I went back and forth. Brands, models, special wiring.....it was daunting. After looking for what would be the most versatile (for me) and get the tone I wanted I settled on Seymour Duncan Seth Lovers. I do band photos in a few Wilmington bars as a hobby and a favor to the bands and one night in particular I had heard a tone that grabbed my by the cajones and just wouldn't get out of my head. That was when I talked to the guitarist who happened to be playing a Gibson Les Paul and he told me his ONLY upgrade were the Seth Lovers. That was it, I had to have those pickups, nothing else would do! And with the particular type of wiring I already had these would be the hand in the glove fit! 
A little more research after breaking a few strings and I also decided I had to try a roller bridge. Headed over to Stew Mac and found what I was looking for. Some of that thought process was science, the rest was just common sense. 

Having all this work done was beyond me at the time. I knew if I tried it would have likely been a disaster in the making. This one was mine! It had to be perfect. 
Took it to a local luthier that someone recommended to me. We talked about what my expectations were, he showed me some of the guitars he was currently working on and a few he's just finished. I felt confident I had the right expert! He told me at that time that if I wanted parts he could order them and get exactly what I wanted instead of me delivering a box of upgrade parts to him lol. That made sense but this was the first go at a makeover so lesson learned.

The money I had leftover and with a little more cash thrown in bought the parts paid for the work for what it would have cost me for the Gibson version, and I had a lot of extras to show for it in the end.

When he called me to tell me it was finished I dropped everything and rushed to see it. He plugged it in after I got there and played it a little and then handed it to me. To say that there was an entirely different sound now would be an injustice. It was sooooooooo much better. Everything about it was what I had hoped for. Great deep bass sound, incredibly screaming highs and a mid-range that I can say I've only head from a Gibson. Chuck (luthier) had done it! He even admitted he loved the sound of it.

A few months later I went to a jam session with a friend from work who wanted to put together a band. I told him I'd love to sit in but had no intentions yet of being in a band but that playing with other more skilled musicians would be a benefit to me. We played a couple of songs and I had to learn a few chords I didn't know but it went well. I was tasked with part of a solo and while it wasn't perfect it was pretty damn good at the time. The bassist kept watching me so I thought maybe I wasn't performing up to par as much as I'd hoped I would? I was plugged into an Orange 15w amp that I had to turn down a couple of times and tweak a bit. I wasn't use to a tube amp as I exclusively play through solid state amps so that took a few minutes to get used to. 

When we were finished the bass player walked over and said "Damn that's an Epiphone, for real?" I told him I'd had some work done to it and basically redid everything except the wood. He asked to try it out and wound up noodling for almost an hour. He remarked how good the sustain and the feel was and that he's played a lot of Gibson's that didn't quite sound like this. He then told me about his guitar collection, WOW! It would take me at least 2 lifetimes to match what he has and has had. We talked for a little more and found out he uses the same luthier lol. I showed and explained all of the upgrades and he complimented me on my choice of parts and visioning it all. Then he floored me. "Anytime you decide you are tired of it and want something else, be sure I have first dibs on this!" 
I didn't know what to say and was actually dumbfounded to say the least. I told him the chances of me ever selling this one were highly unlikely. He said he's heard that and said it before himself but if the time ever comes he wants the first call. 

Is it a Gibson? Nope, well in a sense yes but it doesn't carry anywhere near the resale value. To me it doesn't matter though. If I get too old to play (impossible) or I croak it's getting handed down to my son. He doesn't play per say but he did have an Ibanez GIO that I had bought for him that wound up being lost at some point so maybe this will just be evolution of deja vu?

The only change I've made to it was adding a set of D'Addario Locking Auto Tuners which by the way I am slowly adding to all of my guitars (9). The most practical improvement though was by far the roller bridge. I was breaking string(s) every 3-4 months. Now the strings lose their tone before I have to change them. The first set I tried after getting it back from the luthier lasted 8 months of daily playing and tuning E - Eb mostly. They didn't break though and to be honest even after that long there wasn't a lot of diminish in the tone of the strings, I just thought it was time to change them for practicality. While some have argued about tone loss, sustain and tuning with a roller bridge I've explained to them what they've heard "others" say, which is mostly where it comes from, is just bunk or BS! In fact I'll be adding a roller bridge soon to my Gretsch G5420t hopefully this week if I have time. 
I basically did the same upgrades to my $150 Squier Tele, albeit different pickups but stayed with Seymour Duncan's. My guitar teacher, who also happened to be a friend beforehand, was strictly into classical music, Yngwei and neo metal said he's impressed with the sound of mine and is now for the first time considering getting a Tele, something he said had always been at the very bottom of his bucket list hahaha. 

I know a lot of people who go through guitars like socks and underwear but resale value isn't a consideration on my ownership list. If you have the desire and patience you can turn that $100-$200 guitar into a righteous axe if you're willing to invest in it. I am very fortunate to live where I do and to have some disposable income for things such as this but that's not everyone else's situation and I realize that. However, all the changes add up overtime even if you don't realize it. A $10-$12 nut for example along with a knife or chisel and some glue can make all of the difference in the world. There are enough how to videos on YouTube and Stew Mac it's hard to make an excuse if you're determined. 

My love and interest of music has been a 4 decade journey that I thought I'd never achieve, ever! And while I'm still not anywhere near as skilled as I would like to be yet  (are we ever?), where I am versus where I was is a tremendous leap forward. If this comes across as preachy in anyway shape or form I apologize. I just believe there is still so much untapped talent out there and music for many of us is life changing not just entertaining although it is that too. I think there is one great song in all of us, whether we discover it or not that's the challenge. 

Long winded post and I'm sorry but just thought it might give someone that extra umph to reach a little deeper into themselves. Plus it's a free book, kinda lol. 



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