Introduced in 1931, the Epiphone Masterbilt Deluxe was the most ornate and powerful archtop guitar of its day. The extravagant pearl inlay of the Deluxe made its rival, the Gibson L-5, look positively drab by contrast. But the secret weapon of Epi's top-of-the line guitar was its uniquely penetrating voice, a result of a dramatic technical innovation. While Gibson stuck with the short scale neck of the Loar era L-5 for over a decade, Epi championed the modern long scale 25 1/2" fingerboard, giving its guitars the projection required to cut through the horn sections of the emerging big band era.
A rare transitional model, this guitar is one of the first to feature the iconic tree-of-life peghead inlay, which became the signature of both the Deluxe and Emperor models. (This earliest version of the pattern features a floral stem with five branches, rather than the four used on later models.) It also sports the short-lived block Epiphone logo, a feature seen only in part of this model year. Finally, this distinctive guitar would also be one of the last to feature the three piece segmented f-holes, 'rope' style body binding, and the asymmetrical headstock, all as seen only on the earliest examples of the model.
As befits its top-drawer status, the guitar is sumptuously endowed with rare birdseye maple, handsomely bookmatched across the back. Well maintained, the instrument shows only light playwear on the top, and a solid maple neck bearing the smooth thumbwear of a pro-played instrument. The soundboard finish is all original, and now faded with pale green highlights, typical of the earliest Epi finishes. The finish on the back and sides has been professionally replaced in the correct original color scheme, a replacement ebony fingerboard installed with fresh vintage correct fretwork, and a single short crack near the back centerseam soundly resealed.
The neck has smooth low action over a recent high-precision setup, and a dead straight fingerboard with a comfortable 10" radius. The neck has a medium C profile, remarkably contemporary for a prewar instrument, fine and solid in the hand. Remarkably, the bound cream bakelite pickguard has survived in excellent condition, as has the lightweight original gold trapeze tailpiece. Notably well balanced and easy to play, the 16 1/2" body sits handily in the lap, and at a phenomenal 5lb 3oz. the instrument is more than a pound lighter than many L-5 models. With a finely graduated soundboard vigorously played-in over many decades, the voice is exceptionally clear and open, with bell-like projection and brilliance: a true acoustic cannon.
A rare and spectacular performer, with playability to rival the finest contemporary instruments, and the sumptuous tone only eight decades can convey. They didn't call it the Deluxe for nothing: one only, call now.
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