Throughout its 57-year history, Epiphone has introduced models that have become classics in their own right. And when it comes to acoustic steel-string flattops, the Texan is its most important contribution.
Introduced in 1959, the Texan used Gibson’s round-shoulder dreadnought body design and a 25.5-inch scale, making it more like Gibson’s Advanced Jumbo (which wasn’t in production at the time) than the more common J-45. The guitar’s ultra-narrow 1 5/8-inch nut width gave it a unique feel, and the appearance, with parallelogram inlays in the fingerboard and distinctive headstock and pickguard shapes, was different from any comparable Gibson.
Epiphone Texans found their way into the hands of discerning players, including Paul McCartney, who used one to write and record “Yesterday,” and British fingerstyle pioneer Wizz Jones, who continues to play his 1960s Texan today. Epiphone stopped its original run of Texans in 1970, but the company has released reissues over the years. The most recent is the somewhat awkwardly named Inspired by “1964” Texan, which I had a chance to check out.
Yesterday & Today
The Texan turned out to be a fun guitar to play. Most will appreciate that Epiphone used a slightly wider neck width (1 11/16 inches at the nut) than specified for the vintage Texan. The company calls the neck shape 1960s SlimTaper; it has a half-round, relatively shallow profile.
How could I not launch into “Yesterday” while holding an Epiphone Texan? Since the song includes F and Bb chords in first position (that is, if you’re playing in standard tuning rather than the low tuning, down a whole step, that McCartney used), it’s an ideal test for determining a guitar’s playability. The Texan passed with flying colors—the action at the nut was adjusted beautifully, and the neck was straight with just a touch of relief, making first-position workouts easy. The guitar had a touch of the thumpy, dry quality inherent in most slope-shoulder dreadnoughts, but, likely due to the long scale, it had a bit more zing and sustain than a typical J-45.
Overall, the guitar had more of a Martin sound, with great clarity and projection. When I played “Yesterday,” the Texan had a lush, but strong, voice with a gentleness well suited to supporting the vocal melody.
Epiphone has long used Shadow electronics in its guitars, and this model ships with Shadow’s Sonic Nanoflex system. As its name implies, the German pickup manufacturer’s Sonic Nanoflex system combines its acclaimed Nanoflex undersaddle pickup with its Sonic preamp, unobtrusively mounted inside the soundhole. Powered by a pair of CR 2032 batteries (which are easily accessible without loosening the strings), the Sonic preamp includes controls for volume, bass, and treble.
Plugged into an AER Compact 60 amp, the guitar sounded natural right from the start. The Nanoflex is a sensitive pickup, transmitting a fairly high degree of body resonance in addition to picking up the strings’ vibrations at the saddle. At higher volume, this meant that I had to roll off the bass to avoid feedback, resulting in a sound that was a bit brighter than the guitar’s natural voice. But overall, the system sounded great and was easy to use, and it doesn’t distract from the guitar’s vintage-style appearance.
Epiphone clearly takes the Texan’s pedigree seriously. A glance at the large tortoiseshell-colored pickguard, featuring the stylized Epiphone E, as well as the pearl fretboard inlays, reverse-belly bridge, and curvy headstock, leaves no doubt about what the guitar is modeled on.
The Texan is constructed with a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back, and laminated mahogany sides, all of which appear to be of high quality, although the top grain of the guitar I played was significantly wider toward the outside edge than in the center. The fretboard and bridge are made of rosewood—the bridge is so dark I initially thought it was ebony.
The guitar’s craftsmanship was quite solid all around, but a few finish issues served as reminders that this model is offered at a bargain price. There was significant finish buildup around the neck joint and fingerboard extension areas, and it looked like some of the vintage-style yellowing toner used on the top had seeped into the open grain ends around the soundhole perimeter, resulting in an uneven orange ring around the inside edge. The guitar’s fretwork was exceptional, and the vintage-style Kluson Deluxe tuners worked well.
The Epiphone Inspired by “1964” Texan is a cool guitar, and it’s hard to imagine getting more value for a street price of around $400. The instrument has vintage looks, classic Texan sound, great playability, and easy-to-use electronics.
If you’re in the market for a full-sounding large-body guitar, give this Texan a try.
BODY: Slope shoulder dreadnought body; solid spruce top; gloss finish; solid mahogany back; laminated mahogany sides; X-bracing.
NECK: Mahogany neck with dovetail joint; 25.5-inch scale; 1 11/16-inch nut width; 2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle; Kluson Deluxe tuners
OTHER: Shadow Sonic Nanoflex electronics
PRICE: $399 street