Introduced in 1958, the Epiphone Crestwood Custom arrived at a time when solidbody electrics were still princes to the hollowbody kings. And while the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Les Paul Junior were fast gaining traction in the popular opinion of players, the field was still wide open. Along with its lower-priced cousins, the Coronet and Wilshire, the Crestwood stylistically riffed on the Telecaster and Les Paul Junior.
Though the Crestwood never established itself among the solidbody elite, it was embraced by American garage rockers and became famously associated with Wayne Kramer of the MC5. Epiphone recently reissued the Crestwood as a part of its 1962 collection (which also includes 1962-inspired variants of the Sheraton and Sorrento), and it’s a solidbody that proves versatile and individual in terms of tone and style.
Players are bound to notice that the Crestwood is extremely light, and the double cutaway means great upper-fret access. The guitar features two mini-humbuckers, each with volume and tone controls, and a toggle switch. Epiphone identifies the neck as a ’60s slim taper shape, but it felt wider and thinner than the neck profile commonly associated with that description. Because the body is so light, the slimmer neck could be an effort to keep the guitar from being too neck heavy. Otherwise, the fretboard radius is great for bending, and you can bend deeply without ever fretting out.
Epiphone’s Tremotone vibrato system—in this case a more stable and Bigsby-like version of the original—is certainly one of the guitar’s highlights. It has a very smooth action, it’s sensitive and responsive, and it offers an adjustable arm that can be locked in one of three positions. Players accustomed to Bigsbys will find the bounce of the spring familiar. The system is not taut like a Fender tremolo, nor is it as finicky as a Maestro Vibrola. In fact, it’s an exceptionally functional and musical tremolo that’s surprisingly stable, in terms of tuning. You can employ it for everything from subtle shimmer to Neil Young pitch-bending madness. You shouldn’t expect to do any heavy metal dive-bomb stunts on this bridge, but with the arm fully depressed, you can go as low as two whole-steps below the tuned pitch of the low E string. When you come back up, you may be surprised at how little the tuning is thrown out of whack. You won’t be moving on to the next tune without a tune up, but heavy tremolo work doesn’t invite pitch disaster either.
The decorative rosewood tailpiece adds to the visual appeal, and the clear Lucite pick-guard is also a unique decorative touch. The cherry-red stain and clear finish is immaculately applied, without any hint of flecking or bubbling. The unusual oval inlays on the fretboard are seated flawlessly without obvious gaps. Frets are very well seated, and the edge filing is great, but they could have been a little smoother if they were polished once more, by hand. The nut is not seated entirely flush, making the guitar feel a little more assembly line than handmade, and if this were a master-built custom shop piece, I would be disappointed. But for the price, these issues are really very minor.
Further scrutiny reveals a few minor workmanship issues. The pickguard is not completely flush and seems to be bowing—perhaps because it was cut slightly oversize. Additionally, the "E" emblem is a sticker that appears to be peeling off.
Tones to Spare
The Crestwood’s alnico mini-humbuckers open the door to a wide range of tones from chimey to barking. And measuring pickup impedance yielded a surprising result: The pickups have a tremendous discrepancy in output. The bridge pickup comes in at 10k and the neck at 6.5k. I did a little research and found that the original Crestwoods employed this mismatched technique as well, and on this newer version the pickups offer tremendous versatility. While not as rich in overtones as a PAF on a standard Les Paul, the bridge pickup has plenty of punch, and when I really opened the volume and tone up, it conjured everything from Pete Townshend's mid-period Who sounds to Malcolm Young riffage.
Playing through either a Top Hat King Royale or blackface Fender Bassman, I had to be careful not to dial in too much treble when working with the bridge pickup. And there is a slight harshness in the top-end output. The neck pickup is round and mellow, however, providing strong, pronounced clean tones with jazzy warmth.
But the guitar really shines with both pickups engaged. The attack of the bridge pickup, coupled with the subdued roundness of the neck pickup, produces the kind of chime players would expect from a Fender or even a Rickenbacker. These tones are well suited for early alt-rock and power-pop jangle, à la REM, Big Star, and even alt-country. And while the Crestwood may not be equipped for heavy metal or jazz, you would be hard pressed to find a rock, pop, country, or blues situation where this guitar would not shine. It’s particularly adept at indie jangle and mid-gain classic-rock chording.
Epiphone’s Crestwood is well built, has a wide variety of rocking-to-mellow tones, and revives a mid-20th-century design that’s still refreshingly individual. The sweet and musical New York mini-humbuckers are an underrated and underutilized pickup, and indeed, this guitar can do just about anything a P-90 equipped SG or Junior can do, but with a certain underdog charm.
I was also thoroughly impressed with the stability of the bridge. The Tremotone is not a poor man's Bigsby, but rather a very effective vibrato that, when coupled with the fully intonation-adjustable ABR-style bridge, is surprisingly stable. If your aim is to stand out in terms of style and sound, the Crestwood’s combination of value, retro tones, and playability makes it worth a serious look.