At the mention of an original ’60s Epiphone Casino, some guitarists will immediately think Beatles, Stones, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller… But this is not that model. This Casino has the same feel, but a different sound, on account of it featuring a single, centrally-mounted pickup, rather than a neck/bridge pickup combo. These single-pickup versions don’t command the ‘fetch me a chair’ prices of the twin-pickup jobs, but they still don’t come cheap, and this one is a real delight.
Made in the Gibson factory to a very high standard, this instrument reeks quality and is a right stunner to look at. The finish is a faded cherry sunburst, which now looks spectacularly golden, evoking thoughts of famous 1959 Les Paul Standards. There’s something about the way these old Gibson sunbursts fade to orangey-gold, which is almost magical. Condition is extremely good, and all parts are original. The lacquer’s cracked enough to confirm the guitar’s age and heritage, but not enough to interfere with the effect of that sensational finish.
The Casino has a hollow body with no solid block – so it’s very light, and whilst it’s not very loud acoustically, it’s got a lovely sweet sound and can be used unplugged for accompaniment when writing songs. As an acoustic alone this beauty has given me loads of pleasure. Plug it in, and you get the full kick of a single, metal-cased, vintage Gibson P90, and it’s an absolute belter of a pickup. Extremely warm, perfectly balanced for tonal range, and very best friends with a good valve amp. The bottom end is awesome for a middle position pickup. There’s a volume control, a tone control, and that’s it. But you really don’t need anything else.
Looking at the guitar you may be tempted to think: “Well I couldn’t do much with that”, but once you start to play it you realise it covers more styles than you imagined. It’s not gonna be the choice of heavy metal players, but it fits well into jazz, country, 1970s rock, etc. Whereas some guitars just sound wrong in domains where you wouldn’t expect to find them, this one sounds absolutely right, and actually very refreshing, since it stamps its own personality onto whatever it does. But of course where the one-pickup Casino really excels is in the genre of blues. You can take the work of BB King, Chuck Berry, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even Hendrix, play it on this guitar, and it sounds like it was made for the job. Different from the original sounds, but no less exciting. If you use an amp at home for practice at relatively low volume, this type of guitar can be immensely inspiring to create with. With an amp set at ‘home’ volume, the acoustic sound from the guitar’s ‘f’ holes blends with the amplified sound to give a fantastic pseudo-stereo effect. You can just play one chord and it sounds brilliant.
Without a solid block inside the body, this instrument suffers more from hard-to-control feedback at high gain than a Gibson ES335. So the Clapton Cream-style thing can be a bit touch and go if you’re not careful. However, playing cleaner blues on a single-pickup Epiphone Casino is an unforgettable experience.
If you have any tendencies towards the classic American roots musics, I reckon you’d be immediately smitten with one of these. This one is precisely what vintage guitars are meant to be about. Stunning looks; organic, woody tone. It’ll bring out the best in your playing, but may well bring out the worst in your nature. When I first picked it up in the shop I instantly became selfish, possessive, and I immediately dropped into “I’ll do anything to get the money” mode. I haven’t quite adopted a “don’t even look at it!” stance, but if the guitar gets any more orangey and golden than it already is, I may just have to consider it.