As I write this update it is now the summer of 2012, six years has passed since purchasing our first Epiphone upright bass. When we purchased our 1941 Epiphone B-1 that I affectionately named “Gunner” in September of 2006, we had no idea what brand of bass it was…the bass spoke to me. I could not get it out of my mind. The bass was well used and had the correct character marks to prove it had been a workhorse for a real bass player. We purchased it not knowing its heritage or the research journey it would lead us on.
Once we had the bass in hand we needed to make a major neck repair do to a shipping miss-hap courtesy of Greyhound Bus. When the bass was repaired by my husband and made playable once again, my research and love of Epiphone basses began. Within a short period of time we figured out it was an Epiphone bass, even though it was missing the iconic brass and white enamel tail badge. It had the shadow of the badge and the three tiny pinholes where the badge had been anchored to the tail piece.
The features that I love about the Epiphone upright bass are the massive factory carved scroll, the medium thickness of the classic two piece neck (there are exceptions), the stylized FF holes and the enamel tail badge. These are the characteristics of an Epiphone that make identifying them un-mistakable in comparison to other American made plywood basses from this same time period, the early 1940 until the early 1960’s.
Once we unlocked the mystery of what brand of bass we had, I discovered very little information existed on the history of the Epiphone upright bass. If you own a Kay, American Standard or King plywood bass from the same era you can easily find two great websites that will give you history and guidance in identifying your bass. An Epiphone upright bass proved to be more of a challenge. I found a little bit of history about Epiphone mandolins, banjo’s and guitars with only a few references about their upright basses…not enough to satisfy my curiosity. So here is where our quest for more knowledge about Epiphone upright basses begins.
The information we have researched and gathered here on our website has come from three sources: the internet, a great book published in 1995 by Epiphone’s official historian, Walter Carter and our database collection project of vintage Epiphone basses. We have owned or played in person over 75 Epiphone’s or Gibson/Epiphone’s. In our quest to provide accurate and factual examples of the Epiphone upright bass we have acquired all five of the pre-war models. We can now offer pictures and accurate description of the B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4 and B-5 models. The database project has grown to a catalog over 280 basses or 8% of all the manufactured Epiphone and Gibson/Epiphone basses. We have gathered this information that we will openly share, but by no means do I consider this to be the “official” history of Epiphone upright basses. This quest was intended to be nothing more than to satisfy my curiosity…but the journey has become so much more.
Epaminondas “Epi” Anastasios Stathopoulo was born in 1893 and died in 1943 before the end of WWII. He inherited the family business in July of 1915 at the tender age of 22 years old when his father Anastasios died. In 1917 Epi gave the family business a new name “House of Stathopoulo” and continued the tradition of making mandolins. By 1924 times were changing with the great age of Jazz and Dixieland music, Epi expanded his business by adding banjos. The business was re-named again in 1928 to the Epiphone Banjo Company. The factory was located in the borough of Queens, in the old Favoran Factory in Long Island City.
The stock market crash on October 12, 1929 changed the direction of the business and Epi added the guitar to their musical instrument line up. Through out the 1930’s there was a well documented guitar war between Epiphone and Gibson and their battle for one-upsmanship in the market place. By 1935 the company name would be changed again to simply Epiphone Inc. and the factory was moved to Manhattan. In addition to moving the factory Epi added a show room where musicians would come to jam and hangout on Saturday afternoons.
In 1939 Gibson (a huge rival to Epiphone) introduced a family of violin instruments which included upright bass to which Epiphone only responded with an upright bass of their own. Epiphone introduced for the first time a line of five upright bass models in their January 1941 catalog of instruments. I have found examples of print advertisement from a 1940 Metronome magazine that shows the new Epiphone bass. These early print ads were before the complete B-1 through B-5 line up was established. According to Walter Carter’s book, both Epiphone and Gibson companies’ bass production would be curtailed by WWII, but Epiphone basses endured into the postwar period and would eventually be the attraction that prompted Gibson to buy out Epiphone in 1957.
The January 1941 Epiphone catalog was 46 pages and introduced the new line of Epiphone basses. There were five basses listed:
B-1 bass $105.00
B-2 bass $125.00
B-3 bass $150.00
B-4 bass $175.00
B-5 bass $250.00
The Epiphone Company was in a great period of expansion and innovation. The only force powerful enough to stop their progress was the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. According to history, all makers dropped what they were doing to join the war time effort. Epiphone had suspended their guitar production to make aileron parts for aircraft. However, the company emerged from the war with a different face…the man whose name was on every musical instrument had died during the war. Epi passed on June 6, 1943 at the age of 50 from leukemia; his passing changed the fate of the company and was the first blow to the decline of the Epiphone Empire…in his sister Elly’s words, “Epi was the brains”. After Epi’s death the company was managed by his two younger brothers Orphie and Frixo. When the war ended in 1945 Epiphone renewed its battle with Gibson, however Gibson never resumed making upright basses and Epiphone again held strong with its upright bass making prowess.
The 1946 Epiphone catalog showed this line up of basses with a notion that many items were not yet back into production after WWII. These were noted by three asterisks with this explanation: “prices to be furnished when production is resumed.”
B-3 $190.00 west of the Rockies $199.00
B-4 $235.00 blonde or colored, west of the Rockies $243.00
B-5 $325.00 blonde or regular, west of the Rockies $333.00
In early 1949 Frixo resigned from the company and relocated to Gloucester, OH where he intended to manufacture upright basses under his own label. Frixo tried and failed with his upright bass business. He could not purchase the large widths of fine spruce veneer needed for upright bass making. Apparently “someone” wanted to make it tough for him to build upright basses. I was told by Paul Fox that Frixo was the real bass luthier at the Epiphone Company. Frixo died in 1957 at the age of 52. During my research I have found two examples (possibly a third one) of a Frixo upright bass that was signed with Frixo’s company label from November 1949 and July 1950. I have made contact with both owners and have detailed pictures of both basses. They appear to be clones of the Epiphone B-4 blonde bass with slightly different details. All three known Frixo basses currently reside in Ohio. Additionally, Paul Fox has provided a Christmas card from December 1949 that shows Frixo’s daughter, Barbara holding a Frixo upright bass. The bass in the Christmas photo appears to be a different bass then the two labeled Frixo bass I have in pictures. If there are a few basses that were made by Frixo they will be a unique part of the Epiphone family legend and I would like to know more about them.
After Frixo left the Epiphone Company in 1949 Orphie sought help from the C.G. Conn Company based in Elkhart, Indiana. Conn’s relationship went back to the 1920’s when Continental distributed Epiphone Recording banjos. Orphie granted distribution rights in some territories to Continental and some degree of control. Orphie did retain ownership of Epiphone but the exact financial arrangement was never known. Mounting pressure to unionize prompted Conn to move the Epiphone manufacturing from Manhattan to Philadelphia in 1953. Many of Epiphone craftsmen refused to move from New York and they remained to become the backbone of the newly formed Guild Company in New York. The few skilled workers in Philadelphia plant referred to the less skilled workers as butchers. Without skilled craftsmen and without a dynamic personality in the leadership position, Epiphone was fast becoming a ghost company.
By the mid fifties, Epiphone guitars had deteriorated and proved no competition for Gibson. The only area that Epiphone remained competitive was their upright basses, an arena where Gibson had no market presence. Both companies had built basses before WWII but Gibson had not resumed production after the war. Epiphone had resumed production and their basses were still among the most highly respected basses made in America.
The 1954 Epiphone catalog showed this line up of basses:
B-4 bass $340/$310
B-5 bass $395/375
In 1957 Orphie contacted Gibson stating he had to sell out…all he had left was his upright bass business. Though the negotiations were secret, the communications showed by April 18th, 1957 the deal was done. Ward Arbanas would head up the Epiphone division at Gibson. He was sent to New York to pack up the remaining basses and John Huis was in Philadelphia to check out the production molds. The deal was to include 35 basses, 17 of which were finished and had been shipped to Kalamazoo. There were an additional 15 basses in New York which were mostly unfinished parts. The remaining three basses were “recalled” from an Epiphone dealer in Denver, Colorado.
Orphie was asking $20,000 for everything. Gibson paid the asking price and on May 10th, 1957 this oddly worded announcement was made: “Epiphone, Inc. of Kalamazoo, Michigan announces the acquisition of the business of Epiphone, Inc. of New York.” This marked the end of an 80 year era; the Stathopoulo family was out of the music business.
There is a myth I heard that disgruntled Epiphone employee’s destroyed the Epiphone bass molds…but according to Walter Carter's book, in March 1958 (almost a year after the manufacturing was moved to Kalamazoo), the Conn woodwind factory in New Berlin, NY gave employees any remaining Epiphone guitar parts and then torched the rest of the parts in a bonfire behind the factory. This may have been the catalyst for that myth.
Curiously in August 2008 an eBay auction advertised the original bass molds from the Gibson Kalamazoo warehouse. If the molds listed on e-bay were authentic, they would have been the early Gibson cello molds from the 1930’s and most likely a later version of the Gibson/Epiphone Kalamazoo molds. The new owner of the molds relayed this to me by e-mail “and now I am going to be the proud owner of THE ORIGINAL mold, templates, arching forms for tops and backs, and inside mold for the original Epiphone bass! The seller got them out of the Gibson building about 15 years ago when he stumbled upon a hidden loft/storage area/ crawl space above the men's room”. I am going to assume these molds are the originals as the history all fits together. The very same molds have now been parceled out and resold again on eBay in March 2010.
Upright basses were the reason Gibson bought Epiphone, but it turned out to be no easy task to manufacture these fine basses. In May of 1957, Gibson announced it's planned to have basses available in the very near future. There was no room at the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo so Gibson rented a building less then 12 blocks away. The fall of 1957 came and went with no new basses. Bass production was supposed to be easy with no new models to develop. According to John Huis, “We built very few basses. We just weren’t equipped for them. The Epi equipment, they didn’t have anything in what you would call real good equipment. I think they had gotten rid of it before we got a hold of it.” Ward Arbanas was put in charge of the Epiphone division, and he was first optimistic about bass production, suggesting in a memo dated December 20, 1957 that they should add a line of cello’s (Gibson’s own prewar cello forms were apparently still intact). On February 13, 1958 Arbanas brought bad news from the bass production line. The rented building was not climate controlled and abrupt changes in temperature and humidity had caused the finish on the “Epi” basses to check or crack. According to John Huis the real cause was: “We rented the space and then the guy turned off the heat over the weekend.” Every single bass, even the ones Gibson had bought in a finished state, had to be stripped and refinished. Furthermore, when the basses finally did hit the market they listed for 25% higher then comparable models offered by Kay, $345 for the Epi B-4 verse $275 for the Kay C-1.
Gibson’s first Epiphone bass flier from 1958 had this one page description:
Epiphone Bass Viols…world’s most honored name in basses
B5 Natural $475
B5 Shaded $400
The model description was as follows:
Model B5…the Artist
A superb instrument for the exacting artist who requires the very finest. Of the most choice woods…straight-grain spruce arch top, select curly maple full arched back and sides, finest maple neck, natural Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and rock maple tailpiece. Hand polishing brings out the beautiful flame of the wood. Exquisite hand inlaid triple purfling ornaments top and back. Gold plated, full plate engraved machine heads. Adjustable end pin. Famous George Van Eps adjustable bridge, sloping shoulders, narrow fingerboard. In shaded (rich Cremona brown) or natural finish. Three quarter size only.
The NAMM show in July 1958 held at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago would be the resurrection of the Epiphone brand. The splash created by the new Epiphone guitars seems to obscure Epi’s reason for being…their upright basses. The new line included three basses: the B-5 Artist model, the B-4 Professional model and the new BV Studio model.
By 1961, with Epiphone guitar sales growing steadily, Gibson abandoned upright basses altogether. The last cataloged upright basses were shown in 1963.
The 1961 Epiphone catalog showed this line up of basses:
B5N bass $495/$425
B4B bass $375/$345
BV bass $299.50
The Epiphone upright bass had come to the end line and no basses were produced or advertised by Gibson/Epiphone after 1964.
The following characteristics description of the Epiphone bass models is taken from my personal observations and not part of, or listed in any of the Epiphone or Gibson/Epiphone brochures.
These are my personal observations:
All Epiphone and Gibson/Epiphone basses were the same Gamba shape. To my knowledge Epiphone never made a maestro (violin shaped) bass.
B-1 model was first officially introduced in January 1941 (though production began in 1940) according to the Epiphone catalog it was their entry level bass. This bass has shown up twelve times so far in my database. All examples are dark brown in color, have one single black pin stripe and no outer rib linings. The top appears to be laminated maple (not spruce), the sides and back are a plain maple and show little or no signs of flaming. Since these basses are some of the earliest models some have lost their tail badge and can not be identified. Of the B-1’s that still have the tail badge, some have been stamped with a B1 model and others have no model number on the badge at all. All the B-1s have the serial number stamped under the scroll on the E side. The lowest serial number B-1 in my database is #257 and the highest number is #696. I have no B-1’s cataloged after #696 and it appears as if this model stopped production with the onset of WWII (end of 1941 beginning of 1942) and did not reappear when production resumed in 1946.
B-2 model was also introduced in January 1941 (though production began in 1940) and was the next model above the B-1. This bass shows up six times in my database. All examples of this bass are dark brown with a lighter “X” pattern sunburst. The B-2 has a fine double black pin stripe very similar to that of a Kay bass. This bass does have the outer rib lining. The top of the bass appears to be a fine grained laminated spruce with a lightly flamed maple side and back. On three examples the tail badge is intact and die stamped as a B-2 model. The B-2 has the serial number die stamped under the scroll on the E side. It appears as if this model stopped production with the onset of WWII (end of 1941 beginning of 1942) and did not reappear when production resumed in 1946.
B-3 model was also introduced in January 1941 (though production began in 1940) and was the next model above the B-2. This bass shows up fourteen times in my database. In two examples one is a blonde with a whitish milky over spray #267 and the other #325 is a reddish/orange/brown finish with no sunburst pattern. The B-3’s have real black/white/black inlaid purfling around the body of the bass on the front and back. What is the one most distinguishable characteristics of a B-3 is the purfling on the back of the bass goes up into the button of the heel and follows the circular outer shape. B-3’s do not have a loop, nor are the stripes painted. The B-3’s are unique and the only Epiphone bass with this small but subtle detail. This bass does have the outer rib lining. The top of the bass appears to be a fine grained laminated spruce with a lightly flamed maple side and back. Both of these basses mentioned above have their tail badges but neither is die stamped with the model number. The B-3's have the serial number die stamped under the scroll on the E side. It appears as if this model stopped production with the onset of WWII (end of 1941 beginning of 1942) and did not reappear when production resumed in 1946.
B-4 model was also introduced in January 1941 (though production began in 1940) and was the next model above the B-3. This bass shows up seventy four times in my database under the Epiphone years and twenty times in the Gibson/Epiphone years. The blonde B-4 is the predominate model bass in my database. The first number cataloged is #159 and the last Epiphone B-4 is #3187 (note several basses submitted for cataloging are incomplete). The B-4’s have real black/white/black inlaid purfling around the body of the bass on both the front and back. The B-4’s had a purfling inlaid loop on the back of the bass up until bass #1100. Sometime after this serial number Epiphone discontinued the loop on the B-4’s and used the loop exclusively on the B-5 models. This model does have the outer rib lining. The top of the bass appears to be a fine grained laminated spruce with a both highly flamed and lightly flamed maple side and back. The earlier models seem to have a high degree of flamed woods then the later models. The lack of the loop on the back and less flamed woods in the later models could have been signals to the decline of the Epiphone upright bass empire. The early
B-4's have the serial number die stamped under the scroll on the E side; the last serial number in the database to have this placement is #1710. The later models have the serial number stamped on the end of the fingerboard. The first B-4 to show up at the end of the fingerboard is #1776. It appears as if this model resumed production after WWII and continued in production until 1963 when Gibson ceased manufacturing basses.
B-5 model was also introduced in January 1941 (though production began in 1940) and was the next model above the B-4 and Epiphone’s highest grade and most ornate bass. This bass shows up fourty times in my database under the Epiphone years and eighteen times in the Gibson/Epiphone years. The blonde B-5 examples out number the B-5 sunburst/shaded basses. The first B-5 number cataloged in my database is #157, on #286 the serial number has been oddly die stamped on the G side under the scroll. The last B-5 die stamped under the scroll is #1652. The next B-5 to appear is #1736 and that serial number is die stamped on the end of the fingerboard. All B-5’s have real black/white/black inlaid purfling around the body of the bass on both the front and back. The purfling was black/white/black during the Epiphone years and then switched to white/black/white purfling during the Gibson/Epiphone era. All B-5’s had a purfling inlaid loop on the back of the bass and the tuners were engraved with a grapevine motif. This model does have the outer rib lining. This was Epiphone’s top of the line bass and appears to be a fine grained laminated spruce top with a highly flamed maple side and back. The tail piece was usually highly flamed maple and stained to match the bass. It appears as if this model resumed production after WWII and continued in production until 1963 when Gibson ceased manufacturing basses.
Scroll- Epiphone’s have a big, beautiful, factory hand carved scroll that stands out from all the other American made plywood basses being made during this same time. The scrolls are massive and very distinctive. The early examples are larger in width and the turnings of the scroll are more bold and pronounced then the later years. I observed this by having the opportunity to line up several very early models with a few late model Epiphone’s and one early model Gibson/Epiphone. You can see theses slight difference in the scrolls on close examination and comparison.
Tuners- So far all Epiphone basses appear to have used Kluson tuners. The word Kluson is stamped on the outside of the early models with five fine art deco lines as decoration. The later models appear to be Kluson tuners but are not stamped with the name Kluson. Tuners have been bright brass, chrome, nickel and dark nickel plated. The B-5 tuners are engraved with a grapevine and leaf motif and the words Epiphone B-5. The tuners will have either New York or Kalamazoo engraved depending on if it was manufactured by Epiphone in New York /Philadelphia or Gibson/Epiphone in Michigan.
I was recently contacted by Ray Noguera’s Musical Engraving. Ray took over the workshop and all the engraving templates for Jerry Brownstein’s who has passed away. Jerry was a master engraver, friend and teacher to Ray. Jerry’s engraving skills spanned over 60 years. Jerry was the master engraver for the Epiphone tuner plates used on the high end Epiphone B-5 model upright bass. The engraved tuner plates were made for the New York and Kalamazoo basses. Jerry engraved hundreds of sets of these machines. Ray found the prints of this job in one of the many cigar boxes full of patterns and prints in Jerry's shop.
Jerry’s long list of customers included, Selmer Martin, Conn, Powell, Haynes and Buffet. He had also engraved for Tiffany Cartier, Michael c Fina, James Robinson, London Jewelers Harry Winston. He has engraved Millions of Dollars of Jewelry and silverware. He has also engraved The Americas cup, The Stanley Cup, US open trophies, The Winston cup and many more.
Nut- There are varying examples of nuts but the most common seems to be a rosewood nut with a step up design…meaning the nut did not taper across the fingerboard at a smooth angle but had a 90 degree angle from the string edge down toward the fingerboard.
Neck- Most all Epiphone basses were made with a two piece neck which allowed the scroll to be wider and the neck meatier than a Kay bass. However there are exceptions to this rule. Bass neck #1430 was made from one solid piece of highly flamed maple. Bass neck #165 was a three piece neck made with a 1/8” ebony stringer down the center of the neck that continued into the peg box and scroll. Bass neck #833 has a five piece neck of light/dark/light/dark/light of highly flamed maple. This five piece neck carriers into the peg box and scroll…this is the only example I have seen of this ambitious effort by Epiphone.
Fingerboard- So far all Epiphone basses appear to have a rosewood fingerboard. I was under the impression the B-5’s were to have had ebony boards but this has not proven to be accurate. The grade and color of the rosewood seems to vary with the rosewood becoming a lighter color and the fingerboard is more narrow in width later years.
FF Holes- There is not a lot to be said about the Epiphone FF holes other than they are large and very stylistic. Once you know what they look like, you can not mistake them for anything other than an Epiphone. The shape of the FF holes was more subdued in the earliest basses and then becomes more pronounced and wider in the later years. Typically the center notches are wide and sweeping; they are not tiny nicks like a Kay or American Standard bass. All I can say is study them closely and…you will know them when you see them.
Bridge- While most vintage upright basses have had the bridge replaced over the years, I now own an original 1958 Gibson/Epiphone B-5 with the original adjustable George Van Eps Bridge. George Van Eps work closely with the Epiphone Company and patented the first adjustable bridges in 1946. Van Eps was a master jazz guitar player and iconoclastic inventor, designing a seven-string guitar in the late 1930s that adds an extra bass string. He died in 1998 after a long history of musical contributions.
Sound Post Patch- Epiphone’s do have a sound post patch; it is on the top plate of the bass and difficult to see. Most likely you can feel them with your finger through the F hole on the G side. The patches are square to rectangular in shape and range from approximately 3”x 4” to 4”x 4” and 1/16” to 1/8” thick. Very early model Epiphone may not have a sound post patch as very early model Kay basses had no sound post patch as well. A Kay bass sound post patch is a round disk mounted on the inside back of the bass.
Tops- The very early Epiphone’s appear to have three ply tops and have a reputation of being a bit “mushy” but quick to respond while being acoustically loud. On the later 1950 models the tops are more thick and sturdy. I recommended using a lighter tension or gut string on the early models to prevent caving the top of the bass. I have seen no examples of warped Epiphone necks, only sunken tops…my observation is the necks can with stand the tension but the three ply top can not.
Tailpiece- The tailpieces vary from black painted or ebonized on the more entry level basses to highly flamed rock maple or even birds eye maple on the high end B-5 models. The B-4 and B-5 models had tailpieces stained or sunburst colored to match the bass but still transparent enough to showcase the highly flamed wood.
Tail Badge- The iconic Epiphone tail badge was made of stamped brass with white enameled inlay. The tail badge was often die stamped with the model number of the bass; however, there are examples with no model number. Some of this may be explained by Epiphone using the same badge on the headstock of their guitars during the 1940’s. If the tail badge became lost on an upright bass…and this could happen easily as it is held in place by three small brass pins…a replacement badge could be salvaged from a guitar as a replacement. This is still happening today, on a rare occasion you can find an Epiphone badge at an old music store or on eBay.
End Pin- There were several different types of endpins. The common end pin was a black painted knob with an adjustable rod. There was also a fixed end pin of two different lengths. The fixed end pin post looked like a turned table leg with a rubber tip. I have seen one example on a B-5 of a high flamed maple that was stained to match the tailpiece. There has been one example of an aluminum nut that tightens around the end pin knob with a tapered aluminum rod. This example is on a pre-war bass and may have been experimental as I have seen no other early examples of this factory installed end pin.
Epiphone SERIAL NUMBERS:
This is by far is the most difficult task in my research, associating serial numbers with a year of manufacture dates. I am now further along with the collection of history from actual first owners or family members that have documented history about the timeline when basses were purchased. I will now take a stab at associating serial numbers with a year of manufacturing; however this still remains an educated guess and not the gospel.
Placement of serial numbers- I have discovered three main locations for serial numbers on an Epiphone or Gibson/Epiphone bass. It seems the same die stamp numbers were used through out the life time of manufacturing. The type font, character height and positioning of the serial numbers is pretty consistent. There have been a few exceptions; the very early Epiphone prototype (#103, #106, #115 #122 and #125) basses had the numbers stamped on the bottom of the bass vertically with the seam. There is three early example (#149, #157 and #159) of the serial number being stamped on the peg box right below the tuner plate on the E side. The very late model Gibson/Epiphone’s may have had an interior paper label in addition to the stamped serial number parallel to the saddle at the bottom of the bass.
1. The early production Epiphone’s have the serial number die stamped on the E side of the bass just below the peg box. Most often you can feel the numbers stamped into the wood before you can see the numbers. You need to look up (almost stand on your head) to see it on the bottom of the peg box on the E-string side between the scroll and the beginning of the neck, next to the nut. There have been a few exceptions where the serial number was stamped on the G side of the bass…so far this opposite location has not shown to be anything unique or notable.
2. The next location for a serial number is on the end of the fingerboard. Again you can feel it before you can see it. One person suggested rubbing chalk into the number to aid in revealing the serial number. This worked pretty well, but in this case the serial number had been double stamped and the numbers barely made sense. If the fingerboard has been replaced, the serial number is forever lost. To my knowledge Epiphone did not write serial numbers inside their bass like Kay, American Standard or King Bass.
3. The final location for a serial number is the bottom of the bass parallel with the saddle. This location for a die stamped serial number seems to indicate the bass was manufactured by Gibson/Epiphone in Kalamazoo, because the numbers reset to new low serial numbers. There have been a few models that have an oval paper label or a robin egg blue tape labeled from Kalamazoo on the inside of the bass.
Manufacture dates- If the history is correct as documented in Walter Carter’s book, it states Epiphone rival Gibson introduced upright basses into their line of instruments in 1939. Epiphone responded in their January 1941 catalog with a line of five new bass models. This would make some of the first basses for Epiphone to design, prototype and manufacture during the year of 1940. It would stand to reason some of the very first basses to come off the Epiphone line would have been during 1939 and I will start my dating process with this “line in the sand”. I have actual first hand, one-owner Epiphone bass history provided to me on bass #493 (stamped under the scroll on E side) which stated the bass was purchased in the spring of 1941 in Cincinnati, OH while the young man was looking for a college. He purchased his bass “Big Joe” during his cross country travels only to return home later and join the war effort. This tells me bass numbers 1- ~500 would have been made during 1940-1941. I had a B-2 show up in the database; its number is #715. This now pushes the “line in the sand” for pre-war serial numbers to ~700. If after the bombing of Pearl Harbor bass production stopped for a period of time, there is no way to know how much inventory there was to “sell through” until bass production resumed.
Again, according to Walter’s book, Epiphone guitar production resumed at the end of the war in 1945. If bass production resumed at this same time and the 1946 Epiphone catalog show the B-1, B-2 and B-3 were dropped from the upright bass line up, and by this time Epi himself had passed away in 1943. At this time no
B-1, B-2 or B-3’s appear in the database after bass #715.
My next “line in the sand” occurs with bass #1430 (stamped under the scroll on E side) where I have first hand family information as to when the bass was purchased. This bass is a beautiful, pristine condition blonde B-5 with highly flamed maple and a solid, one piece neck. This bass was purchased brand new in 1950-1951 in Los Angels, CA and remained with the family members until it was sold and brought to the east coast. This bass upon closer inspection had hand written, in pencil on the back side of the blonde tailpiece “Convention”. I wonder if this bass has been made with all the finest wood and sent to the west coast for an instrument convention. It may have been used at an Epiphone vendor booth for display…that is only an assumption on my part and there is no family history to support this theory.
I now have 5% of the existing basses cataloged with two established date lines, three consistent locations for serial numbers and only few B-1, B-2 or B-3’s in the database. What can be established is bass production begun sometime during late 1939. Bass production seemed to be halted during the war (1942-1945) and then resumed sometime in 1945 or so history says. Epiphone clearly sold their business to Gibson in April of 1957 with no basses being produced from Gibson until July of 1958. Gibson/Epiphone manufactured approximately 1035 (bass #1035 is the highest Gibson/Epiphone recorded in my database) from 1958 until 1964 when they ceased the manufacturing of the Gibson/Epiphone upright line of basses. There is no way to know how many of the 1035 basses were from pre-manufactured Epiphone basses or the remaining stock of bass parts.
In my estimation Epiphone manufactured approximately 3,100 upright basses from mid 1940 until early 1957. Gibson/Epiphone manufactured approximately 1000 upright basses from mid 1958 until the end of production in 1964. I feel there were approximately 4,100 upright basses made over a twenty year span.
My research has made it more clear to the significance of three different locations of the serial numbers on the Epiphone basses. I once thought the two different placements (under the scroll verse the end of the fingerboard) were pre-war and post-war but the serial numbers and dates don’t seem to support this theory. My current theory is the serial numbers under the scroll were New York made Epiphone. The serial numbers on the end of the fingerboard as attributed to the C.G. Conn Company moving the Epiphone manufacturing from Manhattan to Philadelphia in 1953. The serial numbers on the bottom of the bass parallel with the saddle indicate a Gibson/Epiphone manufactured in Kalamazoo Michigan.
*Epiphone Production Serial Numbers:
#103 late 1939 Prototype, no tail badge with decal at button
#106 late 1939 Prototype, with tail badge stamped "4" and decal at button
#115 late 1939 B-3 prototype, no tail badge
#122 early 1940 B-2 prototype, no tail badge
#125 early 1940 B-3 prototype, no tail badge
#149 mid 1940 B-3 serial number on side of the peg box with tail badge
#165 mid 1940 B-4, beginning of standardized production with tail badge
#165 - #715 Mid 1940 up to late 1941 manufactured in Manhattan, NY
Early 1942 through 1945 production may have been halted for WW2
#716 - #1710 Early 1946 up to 1951 manufactured in Manhattan, NY
Possible Epiphone strike during 1952-1953 in New York
#1714 - #3187 1953 up to late 1956 manufactured in Philadelphia, PA
#152 - # 1035 July 1958 up to 1964 manufactured in Kalamazoo, MI