Building off of the popularity of their banjos in the 1920s, as well as lessons learned from a brief experiment in the guitar realm with their smaller Recording models, Epiphone released their Masterbilt series of guitars in 1931. Guitar body size was king in the ’30s, and these models were produced to compete with Gibson’s Master Model range, further fanning the flames of rivalry between Epiphone and Gibson. Over the next few years, the two companies continually modified their lines in an attempt to outdo each other in the guitar size and volume game. In 1935, Epiphone pulled their trump card and released the Emperor archtop. At 18 1/2" wide, the Emperor reigned supreme, finally solidifying Epiphone’s position as one of the world’s most popular guitar manufacturers.

The 1953 Zephyr Emperor Regent (also known as the Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone) seen here is a stunning example of the next round of innovations Epiphone made, this time in the electric guitar market. In Epiphone-lingo of the time, “Zephyr” and “Regent” denoted an electric model and a cutaway, respectively. This guitar features three original New York pickups—some models came with three DeArmond pickups— and the 6-button switching system allows all possible pickup combinations, save all three together. The original Bakelite pickup mounts and carousel control knobs are in great shape, and the Frequensator tailpiece is still holding strong, a rare sight for such an old example. With a flame spruce top, 7-ply body binding, bound rosewood fretboard, and pearl block inlays, one can see why the Emperor was Epiphone’s top model before the company merged with Gibson in 1957.

Thanks to Greg Mayo at Greg’s Guitars for listing this guitar on Gear Search. Whether you’re looking for a vintage jazz box or the latest shred machine, there’s a great chance you’ll find it at Gear Search. More than 47,000 pieces of gear are listed, including some of the rarest gear in the world.

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