Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500MCE NA Acoustic Guitar Review

Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500MCE NA Acoustic Guitar Review

The cutaway DR-500MCE comes with a Shadow NanoMag and eSonic 2 preamp at a street price of about $600.

Download Example 1
NanoMag - recorded direct using just the NanoMag pickup
Download Example 2
NanoFlex - recorded direct using just the NanoFlex pickup
Download Example 3
Blend - Both NanoMag and NanoFlex pickups with blend set in the middle recorded direct.
Download Example 4
Mic - Unamplified guitar, recorded with a Rode NT-1A
Download Example 5
Mic Blend - Mic'd guitar (right) and Blend (left)
All direct clips recorded through a Digidesign 003 preamp.
Though Epiphone has often been viewed as Gibson’s entry-level brand since coming under the company’s control in 1957, it has produced some first-class instruments. Vintage American electric and acoustic Epiphones are associated with artists from the Beatles to Tom Petty to Oasis. But even after the company shifted its focus to Asian production in the 1970s, Epiphone built a lot of rock-solid instruments—particularly acoustics—for working players with less dough to spend.

Epiphone’s Masterbilt series guitars are one of the most complete expressions of the bang-for-the-buck philosophy that’s now the backbone of Epiphone’s business. Masterbilts are some of the most reliably impressive instruments in the under-$1000, solid-wood acoustic market. They’re a great option for serious acoustic players who aren’t thrilled about toting their Collings or vintage Martin to bar gigs or dusty, sweltering festivals. And with the introduction of the cutaway DR-500MCE, which comes with a Shadow NanoMag and eSonic 2 preamp, Epiphone has built a dread that’s stage ready too—all at a street price of about $600.

Seasoned Look and Amplified Flexibility
The DR-500MCE is one of the best Epiphone acoustics we’ve encountered. Our review guitar was built around a solid Sitka spruce top with a beautiful, caramel-hued finish that lends a seasoned, vintage look. The solid mahogany back and sides are rich in color with brilliant golden striping. In another vintage touch, the one-piece mahogany neck is attached with hide glue and a classic dovetail joint, while the fretboard and bridge are cut from beautiful pieces of hard, smooth rosewood.

There are a lot of nice details on the DR-500MCE for such a reasonably priced guitar. Fretboard inlays are subtle little split diamonds that lend a touch of style, and the headstock is the funky offset (sometimes called a “haircut”) asymmetrical style, with a cool “stickpin” inlay in the ebony faceplate. The nickel tuners are Grover Sta-Tites—the little “lima bean” style with the open back. Saddle and nut are bone. And the fretboard, like the body, is bound in white to create an altogether sharp-looking, classy, and classic-looking package.

The eSonic preamp is mounted on the upper bout and includes tone controls for the soundhole-mounted NanoMag magnetic pickup and the undersaddle NanoFlex pickup as well as a slider for blending the two pickups, a Volume knob, and phase and tuner switches. It’s a simple and intuitive set of controls that are easy to read too.

The guitar also has two jacks—one delivers a blended signal from the pickups, the other splits them. This is a pretty cool feature—useful for stage or studio where you might want to send one signal to an amp and one directly to a board or second amp treated with different effects.

Flexible and Tonealicious
The Epiphone’s basically warm and bright tone prompted me to strum pretty aggressively right off the bat. The guitar responded with an open and shimmering voice resplendent with a lot of radiant, warm mahogany lows and a sweet midrange that’s typical of the mahogany and spruce tonewood recipe. And whether I played in standard or alternate tunings, chords and single notes rang with impressive harmonic detail. Shifting between flatpicking and fingerpicking highlighted the comfort of the slightly chunky, but fast satin-finished neck, as well as the flatpicking-friendly 1.72" spacing at the nut.

I explored the amplified personality of the Epiphone and its dual-source Shadow pickup system using my Baggs Core 1 amplifier. The first surprise came in my encounter with the undersaddle pickup. The NanoFlex is not built around a piezo pickup like most undersaddle systems. It’s a proprietary flexible sensing material that has integrated active electronics that pick up string vibration and top and body vibrations as well. You can really hear it, and it does add that extra dimension of realism and “guitariness” that magnetic and piezo pickups often lack.

The NanoMag (reviewed in the July 2009 Premier Guitar) proved a perfect companion to the Epiphone’s bright, warm voice—demonstrating great string-to-string balance, though in some cases the highs were a little bit brittle. But the most remarkable amplified sounds came from blending the two pickups. Mixed together, these two pickups capture the mahogany and spruce warmth of this guitar with remarkable accuracy without sacrificing any sparkle and shimmer.

The Verdict
Epiphone’s Masterbilt guitars typically offer impressive performance and value. But the DR-500MCE is doubly impressive for its versatility in both strictly acoustic and amplified environments. With gorgeous tone that only solid wood can deliver, plus excellent playability, the DR-500MCE is a worthy addition to any stage rig, either as a primary or backup instrument.

Buy if...
you are looking for a great playing and sounding all ’rounder that will take you from the front porch to the stage and the studio.
Skip if...
you want more onboard EQ control over your electronics.

Street $599 - Epiphone Musical Instruments -