The Hummingbird, Gibson’s iconic square-shouldered dreadnought, has been the stuff of dreams for over 50 years, showing up in the hands of everyone from Keith Richards to Sheryl Crow, and a new generation seems equally intent on making it a go-to. But with its distinctive flared pickguard—depicting a floral scene and a hovering hummingbird—the guitar, new or used, has remained a fairly pricey choice.
That’s what makes the new Epiphone Inspired by Gibson Hummingbird—part of a line that also includes versions of the classic J-45 and J-200, among other acoustics—so compelling. At press time, asking prices of 1960s Gibson examples on Reverb.com ranged from around $3,250 to $9,600. Gibson’s new flagship Historic 1960 Hummingbird will set you back five grand, while the Hummingbird Original goes for $3,849. The street price on Epiphone’s Inspired by Gibson Hummingbird? Just $799—and you get much of the vibe of its costlier Gibson counterparts, as I discovered when I put the guitar through its paces.
Inside the Details
The basic Hummingbird recipe, first cooked up in 1960, is not especially complex: solid Sitka spruce top; mahogany back, sides, and neck; and vibrant cherry sunburst or natural finish, all of which are identical on Epiphone’s new iteration of the Hummingbird. What’s different about the Epiphone Hummingbird? Not a lot. OK, the nut width is slightly slimmer than the original Gibson’s 1.72 inches, but only by a fraction, at 1.69. The Epiphone’s fretboard and bridge are made of Indian laurel, rather than rosewood, and, as would be expected, the guitar has a polyurethane finish, as opposed to nitrocellulose lacquer.
But the Epiphone retains many of the original Gibson details. You still have those iconic Hummingbird pickguard graphics and the awesome mother-of-pearl split parallelogram fretboard markers. You get the cool Epiphone Deluxe tuning machines with their press-in gold bushings and Kluson-style tulip pegs. Our review model sported the Aged Antique Natural finish, a lovely muted amber with a soft patina-like effect, and the instrument is also available in the equally attractive Aged Cherry Sunburst. But it’s not just another pretty six-string—the build quality on the Epi Hummingbird is excellent, with the bracing and interior tidy and tight. This is an all-solid-wood guitar and it feels like one.
Highly Playable and Fine-Sounding
Let’s talk sound and playability. While I can’t speak for every Epiphone that ships out, this one came well set-up from the factory, with a set of Gibson phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053), and played easily at virtually every position on the neck. Frankly, this was not my experience on previous iterations of the Epiphone Hummingbird before Gibson’s change of guard several years ago. There has clearly been a step-up in quality control across Gibson brands.
Cowboy chords on the Hummingbird rang true and full, with a nice coppery top and plenty of balanced bottom end. Double-stops and single-note flatpicking up the neck produced a sweet character as well. The neck just feels good: There’s plenty of room to move around, and there isn’t abundant string squeak for some reason, either. Even big bold barre chords, bashed out with a little muscle, sound great on the Hummingbird. And while certainly not as rich and round as on, say, a fine Lowden, fingerpicking in a folk, blues, or British Isles fashion speaks with a bold voice as well.
Given the instrument’s low price, it’s understandable that Epiphone outfitted the Hummingbird with Fishman’s ubiquitous Sonitone undersaddle piezo system, though I sure wish it could have come with one of the electronics company’s other excellent offerings. If you do a lot of live playing, you may want to explore other options, or consider sticking a boom mic in front of the guitar—the review model had a lot of good projection, and even the higher strings didn’t lose weight through a Rode NT1-A microphone in the studio.
A Song Machine
It’s easy to talk about aspects like specs and build quality, but then there’s that intangible with any acoustic guitar: is it a song machine? I wrote three or four new tunes within a day of receiving the Epiphone Inspired by Gibson Hummingbird; the pace has continued, and that tells me something important about the guitar.
It’s an instrument you’ll want to look at a whole lot—and, more significant, pick up and play often. By all means, go out and try a Gibson Hummingbird and then compare it to this fresh and lively Epiphone model. Don’t even think about the price at first; just ask yourself which one gets your creative juices flying like a bird. Then smile at how the Epiphone’s price tag lifts your feet off the floor just a little, too.
Body 14-fret square-shouldered dreadnought shape; solid Sitka spruce top with quartersawn spruce bracing; solid mahogany back and sides; reverse belly Indian laurel bridge with bone saddle; top and back multi-ply binding; tortoise pickguard with Hummingbird graphics; aged gloss finish (Cherry Sunburst or Antique Natural)
Neck 24.72″-scale mahogany neck with rounded C shape; glued-in tapered dovetail joint; dual-action truss rod;
20 medium jumbo frets; Indian laurel fretboard with 12.01″ radius and mother-of-pearl split parallelogram inlays; 1.69″ bone nut; Epiphone Deluxe tuners with gold press-in bushings
Other Fishman Sonitone electronics; Gibson phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053); optional EpiLite case ($90); left-handed available
Made in Indonesia
Price $799 street
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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.