My Big Fat Greek Jazz Box!

1951 Epiphone Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone

Ok...    So not exactly a "Greek" guitar per se, this unbelievably cool left handed guitar was made in the USA, and in New York City to be exact. The Epiphone brand was named after Epimanondas Stathopoulo, president of the company and one of the sons of the company founder, Anastasios Stathopoulo. Anastasios was a Greek immigrant and violin maker who came to America in the late 1800's.

From violins to banjos the company ultimately changed their emphasis to guitar making in the 1930's. This beauty was made in the "New York" Epiphone days, a year or two before Epiphone moved to Philadelphia and was bought by the Conn musical instrument company. After a brief return of ownership to the Stathopoulo family, the Epiphone company was ultimately purchased by the Chicago Musical Instrument company (CMI, which owned Gibson) in 1957. An interesting bit of information is that well before that a young Lester Polfus (aka Les Paul) began cutting up Epiphone guitars while experimenting in the Epiphone factory and in 1941 made what is believed to be the first solid body electric guitar. He affectionately referred to this prototype as the "log". Essentially an Epiphone guitar with a center block made from a railroad tie. I digress.

So what's with all the names? Well this particular model is an Emperor. The Zephyr distinction means it is electric. Vari-Tone is the model distinction for guitars equipped with the hip ultra modern push-button pickup selector on the lower bout. I have also seen this particular model with the additional distinction of "Regent" which indicates a cutaway in the Epiphone line. The inner label for this guitar however reads "Model: Zephyr Emperor Vari-tone".


The back view suggests a long happy life with some reasonably expected wear. Overall though this guitar is built so solid and is remarkably well intact for a 52 year old guitar. As with almost all old Epiphone guitars the celluloid binding shrinks and pulls away at the waist and cutaway.


 The attention to detail is quite remarkable as seen on the front and back views of the headstock. The script Epiphone logo and fern inlay was typical of the higher end models including the Emperor. The back view shows the Epiphone tuners also typical of the higher end models.



Speaking of detail there is a lot to see here. Pearl inlays with abalone "V" insert, as well as inlays running parallel to the strings adorn the fretboard. Also note the dots along the lower binding of the fret board. As with many lefty handed guitars with symmetrical headstocks, right handed necks were used and additional dots were added on the lefty topside.


The Bakelite knobs used for volume and tone are unique to Epiphone. Also unique is the "patent pending" Frequensator tailpiece and the "New York" pickups. The Epiphone vari-tone push-button pickup selector was clearly carried over to Guild guitars. This is a likely result of the many New York Epiphone factory workers that didn't move to Philadelphia and were happily picked up by Guild Guitar company in 1953.


Below left is an early 50's Epiphone advertisement touting the new, thrilling, sensational Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone on the cover. In the middle (and my favorite) is an old guitar ad from the late 1930's. What guitar advertisement is truly complete without a scantly clad woman playing a guitar? Pictured in this ad is a non-cutaway Epiphone Emperor. She's very pretty indeed. The woman isn't bad either. To the right is an ad for the Electar amp I had sitting in pieces in my basement.


Speaking of ads below is a recent Visa Signature print ad picturing a very cool Elvis Costello sporting a Epiphone Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone at the House of Blues. "Things to do while you're alive" the ad states as they proceed to list a bunch of stuff to do. They left one thing off...  # 20 play a guitar that is bigger than you.