I’ve long been a sucker for hollow or semi-hollow basses. Something about the f-holes and resonance of a partly suspended top draws me in like a siren. In the quest for semi-hollow nirvana, I’ve tried many a bass, starting with a Japanese import in the ‘70s when those things were new and popular, riding the McCartney-esque wave to fame, fortune—or more realistically, garages and basements, and eventually, closets—all across the land. The magic semi-hollow formula has yet to be found, but I’m always game for another attempt.
When I first heard about the Epiphone Zenith, I just had to get my hands on one. Once more, it offered something new, something I hadn’t yet tried. In particular, the Zenith sports a pair of Shadow pickups—one a magnetic on the edge of the fingerboard, the other tucked under the bridge saddle. Not exactly a piezo, but heading in that direction. It has sleek lines and a single-cutaway body. The rosewood bridge with a vintage Epiphone badge is classy, too.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My review model is a fretted version (fretless is also available) with an understated transparent black finish. The first thing I noticed about the Zenith’s construction was the neck. It felt Gibson-like—rounded and a little chunky. Rather than the typical two-piece maple, this neck was a five-piece sandwich of maple and walnut, a classy look with an antique satin finish. This is a design choice usually reserved for higher-end basses, and was a pleasant surprise. Typically, this type of neck is thru-body, but the Zenith’s bolts on with five recessed screws and no neck plate.
The Zenith’s mahogany body is more chambered than semi-hollow. Knocking my knuckles around the flame-maple top, I determined that the chambers seem to stop not far from the edge of the f-hole areas. Little of the top actually floats over open air, so there’s not much acoustic character imparted to the sound.
The Zenith weighed in a little heavy, right at 10 pounds. However, the weight helped the guitar’s balance, which is often askew in basses of this type. Similarly, my experience has found that the neck of a semi-hollow tends to hang out a little extra, creating an uncomfortable reach. Not so with the Zenith. Its acoustic-style bridge strings through the body, providing noticeably more sustain than a typical bolt-on bridge.
The tortoise-bound body edges and f-holes added a touch of class, blending nicely with the transparent black finish. Unfortunately, the binding around the lower f-hole was marred with a whitish haze on its edge, and looking inside, the body cutout had been only roughed out and then painted over. These defects don’t show from three feet away, are not expected in a quality instrument.
The setup on my review bass was good, with the nut cut to a playable level. Usually, off-the-rack basses have a higher nut than is necessary, but that wasn’t the case here. The 21 medium-jumbo frets were well-crowned. The action came with only slight neck relief and measured a little over 3/32” at the octave, bringing good playability. This isn’t a fast-feeling neck, but one that brings confidence for a solid bass foundation.