We are not going to return to the Gibson/Epiphone discussion. We have covered that in many other reviews.
Suffice to say that now Epiphone has the license to produce ‘clones’ of Gibson guitars. Which they do in our opinion, very well. They are, therefore, a cost-effective way of going someway to owning a Gibson. Without having to splash out many, many times the Epiphone price.
It hasn’t always been this way, of course. And, there have been times when they were competing with each other, that Epiphone actually produced the better guitar than its Gibson counterpart. The Epiphone Casino is a good example. Which was a far better instrument than its rival at the time the Gibson 330.
Today Epiphone do what they do in producing ‘clones,’ not going to use the word ‘copies,’ of the Gibsons.
Epiphone though in our opinion is still a guitar manufacturer in its own right. And a company that produces some very good instruments. And, we have reviewed some excellent guitars that they have produced and continue to produce.
Gibson, though over the years, has produced some absolute icons of the modern music world. The Les Paul, in all its various options, the SG and the 335, classic guitars.
There aren’t many guitar players who have not heard of the Gibson J-200 flat top. It holds legendary status and quite rightly so. Arriving in between the world wars it redefined the tones that big acoustic guitars made.
‘Old flat top’ or ‘the King of the flat tops’ has been the favored choice in studios and on stages all around the world for some great musicians. But, one who never got round to acquiring his, was John Lennon. Maybe the line in ‘Come Together’ had something to do with that, rather than the usual explanation of being about Chuck Berry.
So, we are going to look at the Epiphone EJ-200SCE. Which is as you have probably guessed by now, is the Epiphone version of this icon.
The Epiphone Acoustic EJ-200
At first sight, this is a monster of a guitar. Built in the same frame as the Gibson it is truly memorable for its size alone. It might be considered the jewel in the crown of Epiphone acoustic guitars.
Those who are familiar with the Gibson will immediately notice though that the Epiphone has a single cutaway. Which the Gibson does not have. We have heard players say that if only it had had the cutaway. Others have replied it would have altered the sound.
Whichever camp you fall into, the Epiphone has the cutaway, and it gives full access to the fingerboard.
Look closely, and you will see that it has also features a pickup and preamp, but more of that later.
Same rich sunburst body, the iconic scratchplate, the decor on the bridge and fingerboard markings all giving it ‘the look.’
It is a stunning looking guitar and particularly well made despite the ‘but its made in Asia’ comments. Some of the best guitars around at the moment are made in Asia. It’s probably about time people accepted that.
So, let’s take a closer look at its construction. To see if it is a crafted instrument or something just thrown together…
The EJ-200 has a jumbo body. That is to say, that it is like a Dreadnought, just bigger, Bigger, and louder.
The back and the sides are made of hard maple and the top from one piece of selected Sitka spruce. Spruce, of course, is renowned for its qualities in guitar manufacture but the real beauty of this wood is that it matures with age. The older it gets, the better it will sound.
Maple as well is regarded as quality wood and preferred in some quarters to the usual mahogany woods often used.
Inside the body, the construction is scalloped, giving good sound projection and stability. The pickguard will be recognizable to J200 fans with its traditional graphic design. A nice white with black binding finishes the job.
You look around it and see quality workmanship. Thrown together it certainly has not been.
The neck is made from select maple and is what they call a SlimTaper. It is in the 60s ‘D’ shape design.
The fingerboard is made from Pau Ferro. For various reasons we are not going to go into here, Rosewood as a usable wood is disappearing faster than tickets to see a Beatles reunion in 1975. This is a great shame because for guitar makers this was a prized wood and the search has been on for a replacement.
Pau Ferro, or Santo’s rosewood as it is sometimes called, has been tried and found to be a good replacement. Fender has also started using it as a replacement for the ever depleting rosewood.
The neck itself is 25.5 inches and carries 20 frets and has Crown fretboard inlays. It has a two-way adjustable truss rod.
The hardware used is of high quality. Grover Rotomatic tuners in an extravagant gold plating dominate the black headstock with the Epiphone name and crown motif.
It all really does look the part.
The nut and saddle are made of a synthetic bone. As per the Gibson, it has a bridge, made again from Pau Ferro, with that familiar mustache shaped decoration in pearl inlay.
Epiphone score a winner in this area using German engineering with the Shadow designed eSonic2 preamp system boasting not one but two pickups.
Under the bridge is a low impedance Shadow nano flex which with its great creation of resonances picks up the real sound of the guitar from deep within the body. And, at the end of the fretboard is a Shadow NanoMag which carries a three magnet system to enhance the frequencies.
You might expect to find Piezo pickups, but the Shadow’s work beautifully and really do sound better. The preamp controls carry much to be admired.
There is an EQ for each pickup giving you bass and treble adjustments, volume control and a phase inversion toggle.
The two signals from the pickups can be blended together using a sliding control or split and routed to separate amplifiers or to a mixing board.
Quality and top class sound creation.
Yes. To add the final flourish an onboard tuner.
The preamp and active pickups operate from a Lithium 2032 battery giving long life.
So, having established the quality of the build and the materials. Decided that it really looks the part and that the electrics are great, let’s move on to the serious stuff.
How Does The Epiphone EJ-200CE Play?
If you are new to the big Jumbo guitars, then the sheer size of them can be daunting.
The size is there, of course, but the design of the neck makes you feel immediately comfortable. The action is surprisingly light and easy, and the tapered neck sits comfortably. The design affords the opportunity for a variety of styles, including fingerpicking.
We wouldn’t say by any stretch of the imagination that it is a beginners guitar. But you certainly do not have to be a virtuoso to get the best out of this.
It is well balanced, seated or standing, and we have to admit that the cutaway does give it an extra playability. (Apologies Don and Phil) that is not there without it.
So, it plays fine, no issues, nice neck, but all of this is of no value if the last criteria aren’t met.
What Does The Epiphone EJ-200CE Sound Like?
Let us get one thing out of the way before we start; It does not sound like a four thousand dollar Gibson J-200.
How Could It? It Can’t.
But it does have a wonderfully warm and balanced sound with a great tone. A huge bottom end as you would imagine being a Jumbo and crisp at the top. And it is loud, very loud. You won’t need to plug this in to make yourself heard at a small function, or even out on the street if that’s your thing.
It’s not built to sit at home, it’s built in the best traditions of the Gibson, to get up on stage and let go and with this, you can.
With such a deep, resonant sound with no fret buzz and the tones ringing around the enormous sound hole, it sounds like a guitar that is going to cost an awful lot more.
Then, Of Course, You Have The Electrics…
The sound delivered by the two Shadow pickups is staggering. You expect there to be a difference in the balance of sound with acoustic-electric guitars when they are ‘turned on,’ but there is hardly a difference at all.
It’s just like listening to the acoustic version only very loud.
Good isn’t the word.
Would We Buy The Epiphone EJ-200CE?
No brainer, of course, we would!
It is just a very good guitar at an amazingly low price. It’s well made using good materials, has quality hardware and superb electrics. We are actually struggling to find something to criticize.
Above these issues, though, is the fact that it is so easy and comfortable to play. You don’t often find that with a Jumbo guitar. And, the sound is just so good.
It is set at a price that most could afford. Isn’t that one of the reasons for Epiphone’s existence?
So we go back to the opening statement in the “how does it sound ‘section. This is not supposed to be a comparison between the two guitars. That is irrelevant.
As we said earlier, Epiphone is a guitar manufacturing company in their own right and a very good one. The fact that they produce Gibson guitars under license at a lower price should not detract from that.
The Gibson does have better hardware, not by much, and better construction materials and of course it does carry the Gibson name. And very importantly, it sounds like the iconic guitar we all know and respect.
The Gibson is 7-8 times more expensive than the Epiphone.
Only you can answer that one. But, we most definitely do not think so. It is better, but nowhere near 7-8 times better!
And, at the end of the day, does it really matter?
Just enjoy your Epiphone EJ-200CE, a great guitar.