Epiphone Genesis: History, myths and truths

Epiphone Genesis: History, myths and truths
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Epiphone Genesis: history, myths and truths of a guitar that although at the time of its launch it was not a hit, over the years it has become a cult guitar for lovers of the brand.

By Intruder

Epiphone and its origins

As we all know today, Epiphone is Gibson’s second brand and the quality of its instruments is much lower than those of the classic American firm, but this was not always the case. Epiphone was a top company and main competitor to Gibson on Archtop guitars.

In 1957, the company was bought by Gibson. Although the current line is “entry-level” to mid-range, even today the “Epiphone” logo preserves the mystique of yesteryear in some of its models, and the Genesis is one of them, with a very particular history.

Jim Walker, the father of the Genesis

The “Geni” was designed by Jim Walker, who was a young builder for the “boutique” Hamer brand.

Hamer, appeared on the scene in the mid-70’s, standing out for the superlative quality of its instruments, compared to the new series of the big brands (Gibson and Fender) who had become large mass production factories, and part from the legendary quality had fallen. Fender was going through what we know today as the “CBS Era” and Gibson was immersed in the “Norlin Era.”

Historic context

By the mid-1970s the Les Paul had lost ground in sales and was seen by many guitarists as an “old fashioned” guitar.

Hamer instead gained notoriety for its quality, building guitars in a completely handmade, its exclusive clientele were renowned musicians, such as the guitarists of Jetro Tull, The Police, Cheap Trick or Gary himself Moore. It can be said that Hamer was the driver of the business model “Custom Shop” later replicated by both Gibson and Fender.

In 1977 Gibson hires Jim Walker, right-hand man to Hamer’s main luthier, John Montgomery, and puts him in the position of Marketing Director for Gibson Guitar Corporation and Head of Design for the Epiphone Division, which had been losing sales since they had moved its production to Japan in the early 70’s.

Walker’s mission was clear, to reposition Epiphone and compete and defeat the Japanese replicas that were invading the American market today known as “Lawsuits” (Greco, Burny, Tokai, Aria, Ibanez, etc.). These replicas of American guitars of the highest quality and that in their highest series were similar to the original ones made by the Americans, but with a much more competitive price. That way, they were not only stealing market from Gibson, but also from Epiphone. Today these old Japanese guitars are highly collectible for their historical value and constructive quality.

The birth of the Epiphone Genesis

This is how the Epiphone Genesis project was born as a new “beginning” for the Epiphone brand and hence its name.

Epiphone Genesis 1980, made in Taiwan
Epiphone Genesis 1980, made in Taiwan

The objective was to build a Quality, Powerful and Versatile guitar that is the new Flagship of the Epiphone brand to compete hand-in-hand with the Japanese replicas of the Les Paul. The idea was to give the American consumer a quality guitar similar to a Gibson LP but at half the Price so that they would lean towards a classic American brand and not a Japanese Les Paul replica.

Precisely the design of the Genesis is a “reinterpretation” of the “LP”, but with slight modifications to make it more versatile, comfortable and modern, to somehow “upgrade” it and thus beat the Japanese.

First production in Japan

Although the first prototype was built by Jim Walker in John Montgomery’s basement, the entire Design process was overseen by Bruce Bolen, Gibson’s Chief Designer, and the idea was always to give the Genesis a personality of its own. This prototype was rendered by Gibson engineers at the Kalamazoo Plant and the drawings sent to Japan.

The first units were built in Japan in 1979 by Shiro Arai (Aria). At that time Epiphone had its production line in the now renowned Matsumoku plant.

Epiphone Genesis 1979, made in Japan
Epiphone Genesis 1979, made in Japan

Later, by mass production it was made in Taiwan in the factory of the famous Pearl Drums firm. At the end of 1979, the Japanese battery giant opened the largest and most modern plant in Asia with state-of-the-art technology brought entirely from Japan, where the famous Pearl Export battery series would later be built.

Guitar Features

The Epiphone Genesis is a guitar of excellent build and sound quality, and boasts extraordinary sustain. This is used for the most diverse styles, from Jazz, through any Rock style, to Extreme Metal. It is a guitar that has a deep Low-End, that is, good low frequencies.

Les Paul vs Genesis
Gibson Les Paul vs Epiphone

Highlights in its design are the very deep “Double Cutway”, which facilitates access to the high frets, ideal for soloing, which means an improvement to the classic design of the Les Paul, and it also has a “Single Coil” switch that converts the Humbuckers in “simple” giving it a crystal clear and clean sound, something that at that time was an innovation that even Gibsons did not present, and that means greater versatility.

It came with the renowned vintage style Tune-o-Matic ABR-1 bridge, which comes bolted directly to the cabinet, just like the early Gibsons.

It’s a guitar heavy, like the Gibson LPs of the time around 5kg, it has Gotoh plugs and hardware and the pickups were produced by Maxxon, firm who in those days also made mics for the Ibanez Artist and the Yamaha SG.

The neck has a profile similar to the LP 59 on the Japanese versions (1979) and more “60s” style on the mass production versions made by Epiphone at the Pearl Drums Plant in Taiwan, during 1980 and 1981. 

Demo of a Custom 1979 MIJ (Made in Japan):

Models and qualities

The Series had three models: Standard, Deluxe and Custom.

Epiphone Genesis Standard

It is the base model of the line. Simple binding on the top, dots inlays.

Epiphone Genesis Deluxe

It is the intermediate model. Single binding on the fingerboard and headstock / headstock, double valance / binding on the front and back of the body and trapezoidal markers in mother of pearl.

Epiphone Genesis Custom 

Top of the range model. Triple Binding -7 layers- on the top of the body, Double Binding -5 layers- on the back of the body and on the headstock and single binding (3 layers) on the fingerboard and frets crowned by hand with “Nibs”. In the storage compartment, the rectangular “Golden Abalone” Mother-of-Pearl Block markers stand out.

All three models in the Genesis line: Standard Deluxe and Custom.
The three models of the Genesis line

Geni finishes

The Epiphone Genesis came in three colors: Sunburst, Cherry and Black there were 3 official versions of Sunburst. Sunburst, Cherry Sunburst and Darksunburst tobacco. 

There are a very few Red Sunburst units, which are believed to possibly be some of the first prototypes made in Japan since that color never officially entered production.

Short production period

Unfortunately this beautiful guitar was only made for 3 years: 1979-1981. 

In 1983, due to the famous “yen crisis”, the Yen / Dollar ratio changed drastically and its production became extremely expensive and had to be discontinued.

This crisis also ended with the “Golden Age of Japanese Copies”, “Lawsuits” (1978/1982). Slowly, the mass production of brands like Burny, Greco, Aria etc., were falling as they could not sustain the low prices and high quality.

Geni News and Reissue

Today the Epiphone Genesis is a guitar highly valued for its performance, sound, quality of construction and materials, and its legendary sustain. For this reason, in 2013 Epiphone released a Limited Reissue of only 500 units, but of course, nowhere near the quality of the old Epiphone Genesis “Vintage” from the late 70’s.

2013 Epiphone Genesis Reissue Deluxe Pro
2013 Epiphone Genesis “Reissue” Deluxe Pro

For more information, head over to Epiphone.

Related Articles: Gibson Les Paul vs Epiphone Les Paul: features and differences.

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