2011-06-10

New Guitar Project: Epiphone Casino

Several months ago I started listening to Grant Green. This is something I should have done 20 years ago. Green plays brilliant jazz guitar with a beautiful bright tone. After a bit of research I found out his sound came from a Gibson ES300 which is a full hollow-body, thinline guitar equipped with a pair of P90 pickups.

Since I started playing guitar back in the 90s I've been torn between the single-coil sound of a Fender Stratocaster (SRV, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, etc...) and the meaty overdriven humbucker "PAF"s used by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers. The P90 sits between the two in its sound profile. They can be thicker and meaty, more like a humbucker, or made to sound closer to a single strat pickup.

The ES300 with its hollow-body goodness and P90s carries a sticker-shock inducing price tag of at least $2500. Then I looked at the Epiphones. In 1957, Gibson's parent company bought Epiphone and began to produce guitars modeled after Gibson originals. The first of which was the Casino which was based on the ES300. Production of the Casinos and other Epiphone models moved to Asia in the 70's, starting with Japan, then Korea and now most are made in China.

I found a 2008 Chinese-made model complete with case on e-bay for about $550, so I snatched it up and have been pleasantly surprised with the craftsmanship and solidness of the instrument. Not having a vintage instrument opens up the possibilities. I can modify my Chinese-made Casino and not care one bit about the original setup or parts. Everything is an upgrade. The wooden guitar itself, the tuners and fretboard are all excellent. Where the Chinese models fall short is the electronics.

First mod: I ordered a new wiring harness which includes all the controls, plug and pickup switch. I'm hoping to get that installed soon. The pickups sound fine for now, but I may eventually order a set from Loller. For now, I plan on spraying some appliance epoxy paint on the factory pickup covers to give them the classic ES300 look. Even though the original Casinos and even some ES300s came with chrome covers, I much prefer the look of the black.

To complete the wiring harness upgrade, I ordered a set of black knobs to replace the gold set that came with the guitar, as well as an amber-colored switch cover (see pic 2  below).

Later I'll order a black pickguard (see pic) to replace the stock white which I have removed in the meantime.

Pic 1, Original Epiphone Casino - Factory Setup
Pic 2, Gibson ES300 - where I'm headed with the mods
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