Hands-On Review:Epiphone Limited Edition Hummingbird Artist and EJ-200 Artist
Highly playable, reasonably priced flattop classics
By Dan Day
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
Each of the guitars in my modest collection has a role to play. I have a dependable workhorse guitar that goes to gigs, a great-sounding instrument for the recording studio, a compact travel guitar, a lavishly appointed diva that only makes appearances at special occasions, and finally, my guitar for the rest of my playing situations such as parties and informal jams, the backyard patio, or a spur-of-the-moment songwriting session. Epiphone has two excellent candidates for such an all-purpose guitar: the Limited Edition Hummingbird Artist and Limited Edition EJ-200 Artist. Each Artist is a no-frills version of a classic Gibson flattop.
The Epiphone Hummingbird Artist is a square-shouldered dreadnought based on the Hummingbird that Gibson introduced in the 1960s. When I received my sample guitar, I noticed cosmetic differences compared to the standard Epiphone Hummingbird. The Artist model has a sculpted tortoiseshell pickguard in place of the painted hummingbird design, vintage-style tulip tuners swapped for chrome, and rather than a bright heritage cherry finish, the Artist has a faded cherry finish that suggests an old friend—an instrument that’s been well-used and well-loved over the years. The classy Hummingbird spirit remains with its subdued, confident beauty exemplified by the neck, front, and back body binding and split parallel fingerboard inlays.
This dreadnought’s sound starts with the select spruce top that generates the volume—the bulk of the sound—and then interacts with the mahogany back and sides to generate its tonal character. Mahogany takes the sound of the spruce top and emphasizes the upper mids and trebles to produce a wide-open, airy sound. The rich, full, balanced tone is great for strummed or arpeggiated chords with any style of song and is perfect for flatpicking leads in country, folk, blues, and rock-and-roll. Its sound projects well in a mix of other stringed instruments and even holds its own with drums.
To begin my test drive, I picked a trio of acoustic rock favorites: Led Zeppelin’s "Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You," The Rolling Stones version of "Love In Vain," and Pink Floyd’s "Wish You Were Here." The Hummingbird Artist sung out clear and precise notes on strummed chords and arpeggios, with especially firm and well-defined bass notes. For "Babe," the ample fretboard gave me plenty of room to add grace notes with my pinky, such as the first-string G note and second-string D on the Am chord, while the 7th position strummed open-voiced chords—from "the Spanish bit" as Jimmy Page calls it—were chimey and percussive. Single-note fills and runs were tight and crisp.
Epiphone Limited Edition EJ-200 Artist
Also based on a revered Gibson flattop—the J-200—the EJ-200 Artist is a super jumbo with a toned-down look compared to the standard Epiphone EJ-200. The decorative pickguard, moustache bridge, and gold hardware have been replaced with understated and just-as-effective components. My sample was super-clean looking with nary a mark or blemish to spoil its natural-finish beauty.
Like some other players I’ve shied away from the larger jumbo body style because of its ample lower bout, however, with its pinched waist, the EJ-200 turned out to be quite comfortable. Though both guitars I auditioned have solid spruce tops, when compared to the Hummingbird, the EJ-200 has a more rounded, subdued sound. Where the mahogany back and sides of the Hummingbird dreadnought result in a balanced tonality, the maple back and sides of the jumbo create a crisp, clear, extra-deep resonance, and a slightly tighter, focused low end. In fact, I spent quite some time simply strumming an open D chord just to revel in its full, ringing resonance.
Famous players who’ve recorded with the Gibson J-200 include Elvis, George Harrison, and Pete Townshend, so I tried a song by each of them on the EJ-200. Starting with "The King," I really laid into his rhythm guitar part on "Mystery Train" letting the natural compression of the guitar’s construction keep the those big open chords controlled and focused while imparting enough of the requisite Sun Records friskiness that even Elvis would have approved. The EJ-200 did a superb job of supporting my voice on George’s "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with its smooth tone and midrange emphasis that were well modulated without becoming overbearing.
Just as Eddie Van Halen’s "Eruption" is a rite of passage for neck tapping, Pete Townshend’s "Pinball Wizard" is a an exercise in extreme acoustic rhythm guitar. The EJ-200’s balanced tone and compression admirably supported the most vigorous strum punishment of suspended bar chords from the 2nd fret F# up to the 10th fret D chord.
The final bar
Considering the price of these two guitars, Pete Townshend’s lyrics come to mind: "I call it a bargain." Each offer solid craftsmanship, great sound from good woods including a solid spruce top, and versatile playability at a reasonable price. They’re too pretty to call a "beater" or "beach" guitar, and they make an excellent choice for an all-purpose, go-anywhere, everyday guitar.