Gibson’s L-body guitars are among the company’s most famous, even if the nomenclature used for these models never fails to confuse. Gibson’s small L-bodies are essentially what we would call a 00, and in Gibson’s world, the “double oh” designation refers to its relative level of glitz, rather than it’s size. What’s important in the context of this review is that Epiphone, in keeping with its tradition of offering affordable versions of Gibsons, has introduced the EL-00 Pro—a very affordable take on the iconic L-00—and it’s one of the real steals in our small-body roundup.
Epiphone’s EL-00 Pro is about as handsome as a guitar could be—beautifully proportioned, but distinct with a dramatic waist taper that sets it apart visually from other acoustics of this size. With a deep and nicely executed tobacco burst finish on the solid spruce top, the Epiphone pulls off the trick of looking way more expensive than it is. Grover 14:1 ratio tuners add an up-market feel and offer real tuning stability. (Impressively, the guitar was more-or-less in tune after coming halfway across the country.)
Playability and intonation are both exceptional and pronouncedly better than what you typically see at this price. It’s also one of those guitars where the dimensions feel just about ideal, especially if you’re more likely to have been picking a Telecaster all day. Given these dimensions, switching back and forth between acoustic and electric just feels more natural.
The Gibson L-00 and its cousins the L-1 and Nick Lucas model were always favored by blues hounds and folkies, and the Epiphone version captures much of the barking, husky sonic appeal that grabbed the ears of everyone from Robert Johnson to Bob Dylan.
The primary difference between the Epiphone and one of its forebears is a pronounced high-mid sheen. Hard strummers will probably find the EL-00 too brash in the midrange, and really attacking the guitar with a flatpick generates some of the strident high-mid blur that can belie an inexpensive guitar’s pedigree—this definitely isn’t the guitar you’ll want to use to capture your version of “Pinball Wizard.” That doesn’t mean that the strong high-mid tendencies in the Epiphone’s DNA are a liability, however. In fact, when properly applied, they can be a real strength onstage and in the studio.
That high-end definition doesn’t come in quite as handy in the country-blues settings you’d most likely associate with a Gibson 00, which is bound to disappoint anyone hoping to get instant Dylan for 300 bucks. But fingerstyle phrasings that gain articulation from more high-mid melodic content—think British folk fingerstylists—are a natural fit for the Epiphone’s strengths. The high end has a crystalline, glassy, bell-like quality. Notes are concise and defined, but resonate nicely. And you get a very surprising amount of sustain that enhances slow, lingering finger vibrato and legato work. Offering enhanced low-end horsepower, hybrid or thumb-picking techniques work well also, as long as you don’t thump too aggressively. And with the right touch, you can generate that husky, bluesy quality alongside the clear, ringing, and resonant trebles to create a very balanced voice for recording.
The onboard Fishman Sonitone undersaddle pickup doesn’t exactly enhance any particular merits of the EL-00. In fact, the guitar’s limitations in hard strumming situations are compounded if you’re using the guitar with a PA or amp. But in the light fingerstyle and folk-oriented applications where an unplugged EL-00 Pro shines best, the electronics work well enough to communicate the guitar’s ample charms—particularly given the price of the whole package.
Watch our video demo:
Read the rest of the reviews in the roundup: