Since the instrument was introduced, those who play the electric guitar have modified it to create new sounds and interesting effects. In the late 1940s and 1950s, amplifiers followed suit by including tremolo and reverb with controls mounted on the amp (later, on a footswitch).
Stompbox pedals followed in the ’60s, giving easy, portable access to various effects and sounds. The Epiphone Professional guitar and amp set utilized these same ideas, but with controls mounted directly on the guitar – an “innovation” used only on this model.
It’s not surprising that Epiphone was the brand to produce such an unusual model. The company changed hands several times over the years and evolved significantly throughout its history.
Epiphone was founded by Anastasios Stathapoulo – a builder of violins, lutes, and traditional Greek instruments who immigrated to New York City in 1903. After his death in 1915, his sons Epi, Orphie, and Frixo took charge and in ’17 introduced the House of Stathapoulo brand. In the ’20s, its focus shifted to recording banjos, and as a result it changed its name to Epiphone Banjo Corporation. As banjos fell out of fashion in the ’30s, the company was one of the few to successfully transition to the guitar business, and dropped “banjo” from its name in ’35.
Following the death of Orphie and the devastating effects of World War II, the company struggled and in ’57 was sold to Chicago Music Instrument Company (CMI), which also owned Gibson. Production was moved to a facility near Gibson’s factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1960, production was moved to the newly expanded factory at 225 Parsons Street. In the ’60s, the company extended its offerings to a line of instruments including flat-tops, archtops, electric solidbody and hollowbody guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and amplifiers.
Made from 1962 through ’66, the Professional combo was offered with an EA8P 35-watt amplifier with 15″ speaker or an EA7P 15-watt amp with 12″ speaker. Its tube complement included one GZ34 in the rectifier position, two 7591 power tubes, one 12AU7 phase inverter, and three 6EU7 preamp tubes. A multi-pin connector running into the back of the amp and into a side-mounted jack on the guitar connects the guitar to the amp’s effects, but there’s also a standard input on the top of the amp and 1/4″ jack on the top of the guitar that can be used to play without effects. The amp is controlled by the guitar and has only one knob – for standby, on/off, polarity.
The guitar has a semi-hollow body measuring 16″ wide with two rounded cutaways, white binding on the top and back edges, bound Brazilian-rosewood fingerboard with pearloid parallelogram inlays, unbound peghead with pearl Epiphone logo, a mini humbucking pickup, Tune-O-Matic bridge, and Frequensator tailpiece. It was offered in two transparent-stain finishes, Cherry Red or Mahogany. Its effects controls are mounted through the black, beveled-edge, laminated pickguard, and each is labeled upside-down to be readable by the player. On the bass side, the guitar has five Tonexpressor switches similar to the Caiola Custom model (introduced in ’63), an on/off switch for the tremolo, on/off for the reverb, knobs for the frequency and depth knobs of the tremolo, and one knob to control the level of reverb. Master Volume and master Tone knobs are mounted on the treble side of the guard.
Epiphone records indicate that fewer than 400 Professional sets were made (more than twice as many of the EA7P amps were produced than the larger EA8P).
While this is an interesting and rare model, it is not particularly valuable or collectible; vintage instruments are prized for their playability, sound, versatility, association with a well-known performer, and historical significance. Since builders are dependent upon the production and sale of new instruments, they typically make as many as they can sell. Thus, rarity in the vintage market can be an indication the maker found it difficult to sell an instrument when it was new. Prime examples include Gibson’s Flying V and Explorer, which floundered when they were introduced in 1958. Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standards also weren’t appreciated until years later. As a result of their initial low production numbers, those instruments are very scarce and valuable today. The Professional set is another example. While innovative in its ability to control its effects with switches and knobs on the guitar, it simply never caught on with players.
The public may have showed good judgment in rejecting the Professional, but both guitar and amp are now kitschy, interesting pieces regardless of practicality or value. While the guitar exhibits excellent workmanship and is visually interesting, there is very limited demand for a single-pickup, thin, double-cut hollowbody.
This article originally appeared in VG July 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.