A 1951 Epiphone Broadway in mostly original condition. Manufactured until 1957, the Broadway is considered “third-best” in the Masterbilt series of archtops.
I noticed you haven’t discussed any Epiphone archtops in your column before, and I think most readers would agree that Epiphone made some great archtops prior to getting bought by Gibson. I have an Epiphone Broadway with a serial number 610XX. It’s all original, except for the strap button and the neck binding, but it does have some missing finish on the back and neck. Can you tell me a little about this guitar and what it’s worth today?
Cam in Salem, Oregon
With a 17 3/8" wide body, these large Epiphones are considered to be some of the best production-model archtops ever built.
You’re right. I haven’t covered an Epiphone archtop before, so I’m glad you wrote! As you probably know, Epiphone’s roots go back to 1873, when Anastasios Stathopoulo began building instruments in Greece. The family moved to New York in 1903, and when “The House of Stathopoulo” was incorporated in 1923, they immediately announced that “the new policy of business and all interest will be devoted to the production of banjos, tenor banjos, banjo mandolins, banjo guitars, and banjo ukuleles under the registered trademark name of ‘Epiphone.’” The instruments from their elegant Recording line of tenor banjos are considered to be among the finest ever made. And they were joined in the late 1920s by a full line of Recording series guitars. In 1928, the company’s name was changed to The Epiphone Banjo Company.
The Masterbilt series of guitars was introduced in 1931, marking Epiphone’s entrance into the production of carved archtop guitars—based on violin construction principles. At the time of their introduction, the instruments in the Masterbilt series represented the most complete selection of f-hole guitars available from any instrument maker in the world (including Gibson). By 1935, the company was simply known as “Epiphone, Inc.,” and has primarily been a guitar manufacturer ever since.
The Broadway was one of the original guitars in the Masterbilt series. And in terms of appointments, it is generally considered to be the “third-best” Epiphone archtop, behind the top-of-the-line Emperor (introduced in 1935) and the De Luxe. That said, the short-lived Tudor (produced between 1933 and 1936) is also considered to be a higher-level instrument than the Broadway.
Based on the serial number, your guitar is a later version of the Broadway that was produced in 1951. Features of your guitar include a spruce top, curly maple back and sides, a 3-piece maple/mahogany neck, a 20-fret bound-rosewood fretboard, and pearl-block inlays. Other features include the bound headstock with a “center dip” and single flower inlay, a bound-tortoiseshell pickguard, a rosewood-based bridge, and the famous Frequensator tailpiece.
Like many guitars from this era, the Broadway went through a number of changes over the years. It started out with a 16 3/8"-wide body, but was widened substantially to 17 3/8" by 1936. The biggest change was in 1939, the year Epiphone switched from American walnut to curly maple for the back and sides. It should be noted that 1951 was the first year for the single flower inlay on the headstock, which replaced the vine design. The new (and less radical) f-holes were introduced in 1951 as well, and the Broadway remained in Epiphone’s product line through 1957 when Gibson bought the company. Though this marked the end of production for the acoustic Broadway, Gibson actually produced an electric version until 1970, the year all Epiphone production moved overseas.
Your Broadway has a decent amount of wear from what appears to be normal playing. But it is mostly in all original condition, which is very important. The binding probably dried up and cracked on the neck, which is why it had to be replaced. And chances are the strap button simply broke. With everything else intact including the tuners, pickguard, and bridge, this is a good example of a mostly original-condition guitar with slight wear. Based on the overall condition and original equipment still remaining, it is currently valued between $2,000 and $2,500.
Many collectors consider the large-body Epiphones manufactured between 1937 and 1957 to be some of the best factorybuilt archtops ever produced. And you simply don’t find many of them in this original condition. This is definitely a treasure you’ll want to hold on to!
Zachary R. Fjestad is author of Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers. For more information, visit bluebookinc.com or email Zach at firstname.lastname@example.org.