Gibson’s Mat Koehler says he rates this guitar among the most “beautiful designs ever to come out of Kalamazoo” – and it’s an Epiphone

Gibson’s Mat Koehler says he rates this guitar among the most “beautiful designs ever to come out of Kalamazoo” – and it’s an Epiphone

Epiphone celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and, to document the occasion, Gibson’s VP of Product Mat Koehler has spoken to Guitarist magazine about the brand’s history. 

In recent decades, Epiphone has become best known for producing lower cost builds for parent company Gibson, but it has a proud tradition of original guitar design – one that actually predates Gibson. 

In Koehler’s interview he’s also asked to pick some of the brands “unsung or misunderstood” models and settles on one of Epiphone’s rarest acoustic guitars, singling out the Excellente for particular praise.

“On the acoustic side, one of the more beautiful designs ever to come out of Kalamazoo was the Excellente acoustic,” says Koehler. 

“It was just super, super cool, [and] was clearly positioned as the pinnacle flat-top that Gibson made, with Brazilian rosewood, back and sides, beautiful eagle inlay on the pickguard and lots of mother-of-pearl, and they only made I think 120, maybe 140 maximum in the ’60s.”

While Koehler estimates the original production Epiphone Excellente acoustics will set you back “five figures” in 2023, he says the modern Masterbilt edition also remains somewhat underrated amongst the brand’s line-up.

“Our reissue today is arguably better than those and it comes in at a thousand bucks,” Koehler tells Guitarist. “The ones we make today are really top-notch, and I’d put them up against anything.” 

It must be noted, of course, that as a Gibson employee Koehler is not entirely unbiased in his opinions, but he maintains that he has put his own money where his mouth is, in that respect. “I own one, I play one,” says Koehler. “So that’s definitely a personal favorite of mine.”

Elsewhere, the Gibson VP notes that he believes the most commonly misunderstood model in the Epiphone line-up is another acoustic: the Texan. He attributes its ongoing popularity to Paul McCartney (who famously used it on Yesterday), but says people often assume it’s a poor cousin to the J-45, rather than an original design.

“I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions there is about an Epiphone guitar: people assume the Texan is Epiphone’s version of a J-45,” says Koehler. “But it’s long-scale, so it’s a completely different animal. It really has its own vocality, has its own kind of sustain and how the notes ping… so the scale length difference on the Texan really sets it apart.” 

Again, Koehler notes his experience on this one is very much firsthand: “I own a Texan as well,” he admits. “So I’m practicing what I preach here!”

For more on Epiphone’s 150th Anniversary, including interviews with Epiphone devotees Jared James Nichols and Emily Wolfe, pick up issue 502 of Guitarist

And, while we’re on its big birthday celebrations, check out Epiphone’s limited edition 150th Anniversary guitars – all of which are based on the brand’s original designs.

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