Acoustic Guitar Review: Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente Offers Modern Take on a Vintage Rarity

The Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente guitar is like a time machine—take a good look at it and you might think you’ve been transported back about 50 or so years.

The Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente is like a time machine—take a good look at it and you might think you’ve been transported back about 50 or so years. That throwback feeling is exactly what Epiphone set out to inspire with this new addition to the Masterbilt series, a tribute to one of the company’s long-lost acoustic models.

Back in 1963, Epiphone introduced the Excellente, a square-shouldered dreadnought with a lot of pizzazz, as its top-of-the-line acoustic. Intended to pair well with rhinestones and cowboy boots, the Excellente was no down-market Gibson—as were some Epiphones of the day—but was a unique offering that was well-suited to make its presence known on a stage.

Between 1963 and 1969, Epiphone sold only 139 units of the Excellente before discontinuing it. But seen in the hands of Loretta Lynn and on the covers of albums by singer Sonny James, this super fancy guitar has long been a curiosity among guitar players and collectors. The model saw a couple of reissues in the 1990s (one by Epiphone and the other by the Gibson Custom Shop) and now the Masterbilt line continues that process.

Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente acoustic guitar front

Capturing the Original Aesthetic

The new Masterbilt Excellente recreates the visual flair of the original, starting with its thick, oversized pickguard, which features an ornate color engraving of an eagle landing on a branch, a nod to Gibson’s Hummingbird and Dove steel-strings (as well as the electric Firebird guitar and Thunderbird bass). The shape of the pickguard nicely complements the guitar’s uniquely curved ebony bridge.


The maple neck features a series of cloud-shaped inlays on an ebony fretboard, and the large headstock sports a block inlay with clouds on the top and bottom and gold-plated waffleback tuners. While the original had Brazilian rosewood back and sides, the Masterbilt model replaces the rosewood with solid ovangkol, and the vintage feel of the solid Sitka spruce top is assisted by an antique natural aged finish.

Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente acoustic guitar back

Heavy Guitar, Mellow Tone

When I picked up the Excellente, I was immediately surprised by the weight. It has a considerable heft, more in line with a neck-heavy 1970s-era model than a ’60s Gibson, and I found it took a little effort to negotiate balancing the guitar on my lap.

The Excellente’s 25.31-inch scale-length neck, with its C-shaped profile and 1.69-inch nut, made it easy to find my way around the jumbo frets. For a dreadnought, though, I found it hard to get a big sound and my review model felt somewhat stiff and quiet. In the ’60s, Sonny James requested Epiphone use a thin pickguard on his Excellente because he was concerned that the guitar’s thick pickguard would impede the resonance of the instrument. Playing the guitar, I wondered if James was onto something with his idea.

The Excellente fared better once I grabbed a light pick and strummed some breezy chord progressions. The instrument’s mellow voicing has a warm sound when strummed, and I found this kind of playing to be its strength. If you’ve booked a recording session to track some late-’60s-style folk rock or accompany a singer-songwriter who worships ’70s AM hits, you’ll probably want to bring the Excellente along. And if you’re taking it to the stage, you’ll be prepared: The guitar comes standard with a Fishman Sonicore undersaddle pickup, featuring  discretely mounted Sonitone preamp volume and tone controls, so you get some modern amenities without disrupting the old-school aesthetic.


Epiphone Masterbilt Excellente acoustic guitar side

The Verdict

Getting my hands on the Masterbilt Excellente helped satiate my curiosity about a guitar I’d only seen in photos. Having never played an original example, I can’t make a direct comparison, but it sounds nice and will make just about anyone strumming it look cool. For a modern take on a vintage rarity, the Masterbilt Excellente accurately copies the look of the original while feeling like a reliable modern instrument.


BODY 14-fret, square-shouldered dreadnought; solid Sitka spruce top with solid ovangkol back and sides; ivory and black 6-ply (top) and 4-ply (back) binding; antique natural aged finish; Historic Excellente pickguard

NECK 25.31″-scale maple neck with five-piece walnut-and-maple center stripe; 1.69″ bone nut; 20-fret ebony fingerboard with Excellente cloud inlays and 12th-fret block inlay; gold-plated waffleback tuners


OTHER Fishman Sonicore pickup with Fishman Sonitone preamp; Gibson Phosphor Bronze strings (.012–.053); optional hard or soft case

MADE IN Indonesia

PRICE $899 street

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Nick Millevoi
Nick Millevoi

Nick Millevoi is a guitarist, composer, educator, and writer from Philadelphia.

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  1. I was excited when I found my local small lakeside town had procured me a Masterbuilt Excellente after calling two weeks prior to see if they could get one! I was told there were just 30 coming into all of Canada this round!!

    With tax I paid a hefty $2,000 CDN!! OUCH! That was $1,700 before tax.
    Today they’re selling for $1,800 before tax just 6 months after I bought mine.

    When I got it I was…underwhelmed! The guitar is really heavy and although it is a true beauty with top quality workmanship and materials the tone is lightweight! I was expecting a boomer! I was expecting more bottom and middle out of this huge body and so I’m looking to sell it already, or trade it for a mint used Epiphone Inspired Hummingbird 12 string along with a used Seagull S6 or Seagull Maritime, which I sold to buy the Excellente! The Maritime was an awesome guitar as is the S6 which I’ve played but haven’t owned one.

    I should have no trouble trading even as whoever does that deal with come out on top a couple of hundred CDN bucks.

    I was also a wee bit disappointed that a $2,000 guitar didn’t come with a case!
    So, after deciding to get back into live performances after many years away, I decided to go unplugged with a couple of other players who can also sing. a keyboard and violin/cello with a couple of female backup vocalists for some filthy killer classic rock in my era – 60- 70s mainly with some great 50s and maybe a couple of 80s thrown in. The peeps are hungry for it these days!!

    Anyway, overall the Excellente is a really high quality guitar that looks awesome, in the end for my personal taste the tone let it down.

    Jack ~'()’~