Hands-On Review:A Cut Above- Epiphone Elitist Series.


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by Eric Kirklan


It's rare that I get to review a guitar-let alone an entire line of instruments-that astounds me. Which is why I'm so excited about Epiphone's Elitist Series. Crafted in the same factory where Gretsch guitars are made, these Japanese-made beauties are designed to fill the niche between high-dollar Gibsons and standard Epiphones. They do so with select tone woods, top-end components and details that befit more-expensive instruments.

Elitist Sheraton
What is immediately striking about the Elitist Sheraton is its ornate beauty and high level of design detail. The laminated maple top is framed in cream binding and has a vintage sunburst finish that fades from a dark tobacco brown to a transparent nicotine amber. The 24-karat gold Tune-O-Matic bridge, stop tailpiece and covered Gibson Mini-Humbuckers meld beautifully with the body's aged yellow hues, and the dark tortoise pickguard complements the deep brown laminated maple back and sides. Fittingly, the controls-a three-way toggle and separate gold dust-colored volume and tone knobs for each pickup-are elegantly simple and unobtrusive.

The one-piece African mahogany set neck has a 24.75-inch scale, a 1.68-inch nut and a medium-wide flattened-C shape that eases long stretches and gives the feeling of good string separation. The 22-fret rosewood board is cut on a 12-inch radius and set off by acrylic block and triangle inlays. On the bound headstock, imperial-style 24-karat gold Grover tuners and mother-of-pearl flowers on a deep black background create an Asian motif. The three cream accent lines that frame the body's perimeter become two lines along the fretboard's length and then a single accent line along the headstock's binding. It's another of the fine touches that make the Elitist Sheraton so covetable.

Played through my '67 Deluxe with a Two Rock cable, the Elitist Sheraton displayed the same high-mid focus that it did when it was played acoustically. Still, the mini 'buckers added enough bottom and treble smoothness to preclude the need for heavy-gauge strings. While I spent the most time reveling in the neck pickup's heavy overtones, I found that rolling the tone and volume down slightly with the bridge 'bucker produced a better balance of attack and roundness.

Elitist Casino
My all-maple-laminate Elitist Casino came in a delectable natural finish with soft cream binding that drew light to its graceful lines. Its nickel hardware includes small skirt-style strap buttons, Grover tuners and a Tune-O-Matic bridge saddle with a trapeze-style tailpiece.

The Casino's one-piece dark African mahogany neck is a logical extension of the body's understated perfection, with contrasting woods that create the look of a fine piece of Mediterranean furniture. And the bound 12-inch-radius fretboard was one of the darkest and tightest-grained slabs of rosewood that I've ever encountered. Like the Sheraton, it features a 24.75-inch scale and 1.68-inch nut, but the Casino's neck feels less wide and more manageable for small hands. While not quite a C shape, its soft-rounded carve provides outstanding comfort. Parallelogram inlays draw the eye back to the stunning body and the two direct-mounted P-90 pickups. These two crunch-happy quackers feature angled covers that replicate the plane created by Gibson's pickup rings.

With all that maple on the body, you might expect this guitar to be thin and toppy. Not so! The tone is open, lively and natural, and has stunning clarity and volume. The Casino's acoustic response is so immediate that notes erupt from the fretboard, and the body effortlessly delivers dramatic lows and highs. Players capable of precise timing and tidy fretwork will enjoy an impressive level of definition.

Plugged into my Deluxe and a Peavey Classic 50, the Casino displayed a scintillating zing, courtesy of its P-90s, and near-perfect acoustic tone. This Epiphone is one of the finer-sounding guitars I've been privileged to play in recent years. With pure tone, nanosecond response and a suave exterior, the Elitist Casino is a timeless piece that defines modern elegance.

Elitist Les Paul Custom
Les Paul models cover every price range imaginable, but it's often unclear what makes one better than another. All points considered, this Elitist edition guitar sets the standard.

As with all Elitist Epiphones, the LP Custom is made with premium woods and excellent construction methods-the guitar felt absolutely seamless. The double-bound body is made from two pieces of African mahogany, with a bright cap of book-matched maple. The 24-karat gold hardware includes a Tune-O-Matic bridge, skirted strap buttons and large Grover tuners. Two 24-karat gold-covered humbuckers made by Gibson especially for the Elitist Series generate the magnetic amplification for this exemplary Les Paul. Control comes via a standard three-way toggle and individual volume and tone pots.

The beefy 24.75-inch scale neck is made from a single piece of African mahogany and features a rosewood board with a 1.68-inch nut, a 12-inch radius, block inlays and full binding. The 22 frets were impeccably installed with a flat plane and no hint of sharp edges.

Our test guitar was heavy but sounded as a Les Paul should, with a chunky, resonant low-end, a round midrange and a clear top end. Played through my JMP-1 Marshall rig, the Elitist LP Custom turned in a great performance. The bass sizzled, scales were clean and the highs were balanced and present. Even with heavy doses of distortion, it always maintained a classic-type crunch.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The Elitist Sheraton has a subdued character that's ideal for dimensional chords and pleasant fills. It would be ideal as a backing instrument and as a lead instrument in settings where it doesn't have to compete with cutting tones from instruments such as horns. The Elitist Casino, with its clarity and high level of responsiveness, will satisfy precision players who demand well-defined low and high tones. As for the beautifully built Elitist Les Paul Custom, don't be surprised if it knocks your dream Les Paul back to second place.

 

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