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Epiphone Broadway - L5 Conversion A Tale of Guitar Obsession

#1 User is offline   Parabar 

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Posted 09 July 2018 - 09:49 AM

I've commented here previously on my love affair with big hollow body guitars. From the time I first heard Moby Grape and the Sons of Champlin, there was something compelling about that sound, whether played clean and mellow or pushing into overdrive. In high school, there were two guys who I played with frequently --- one had his father's Gibson ES-5 (blonde with three P-90's), the other had a Gibson ES-125 (deep body, no cutaway, one P-90). My first electric was a similar ES-125 from 1969 or so, with a cherry sunburst top and walnut-stained back and sides. Later I sold the ES-125 and got a blonde ES-175 that satisfied my tonal cravings at the time.

As I got more into jazz (Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Larry Coryell, et al), I found myself lusting after the mighty Gibson L-5 CES. Both its Venetian (rounded) and Florentine (pointed) cutaway versions seemed to possess mystical properties of aesthetic beauty. Something about the proportions, contours, appointments (not to mention the tone!!) was just RIGHT, and it became my "Holy Grail" guitar.

But with a list price in the stratosphere, and even used ones going for WAYYYYY over my budget, plus the fact that my guitar skills were still nowhere close to justifying such an expensive instrument, I figured it would always be out of reach.

Fast forward to the early 2000's, when I started getting back into guitar playing and had enough income to indulge my guitar habit a bit. There were a number of affordable big-bodied jazzboxes available --- the Samick Greg Bennet LaSalle in several pickup configurations, Washburn, and older models from Matsumoku --- Lyle, Ventura, etc. The one that captured my fancy, though was the Epiphone Broadway, which had the most pleasing proportions to my eye. The main aesthetic drawback for me was the Frequensator tailpiece, which I found both homely and inconvenient, as many strings weren't long enough for the reach from the short tailpiece to the "D" tuner.

I had an opportunity to try a few in local stores, and was even able to play one next to a real L-5 in one store. To my astonishment, in my hands they sounded damn close. Certainly close enough to satisfy my ears. And so the hunt began. Eventually I found a used 1997 Peerless-made sunburst Broadway on eBay for $500 and snagged it. It arrived in a hardshell case that actually had "L5" written on it, which I figure was done in a store's stockroom for easy identification, but I took it as a good omen.

It was gorgeous, played beautifully, and I decided it was a keeper, but that I had to give it a proper makeover. First up was replacing the black pickup selector with a white one, then the black-and-chrome knobs with gold bell knobs. The tailpiece was my main priority, but they rarely showed up online, and were often pricey. I made a trip to Subway Guitars in Berkeley and told the owner (the legendary Fatdog) what I was looking for, and he pulled out a catalog, and there it was. An L-5 style tailpiece for around a hundred bucks. Only Fatdog refused to sell it to me. Something about it being "too decadent." He wanted me to order a much cheaper (but ordinary) tailpiece of the sort he used on his custom guitar builds. I left.

Sometime later, I found a high quality Japanese L5 style tailpiece on eBay (probably from one of the Matsumoku models), along with a gold Tune-O-Matic bridge, and when I installed them, the tone of the guitar got even better. More definition, more crispness, but no loss of that fat, warm mellow tone I loved.

The only remaining thing that I could actually change was the pickguard. The fretboard end on a Broadway is flat, and I wasn't about to try to re-shape it into the L-5's curved bracket shape. The bridge base was plain rosewood, and I could have tried to find one with ornamental inlays like the L5, but somehow that didn't seem important. Eventually I did find an Allparts bound pickguard intended for an acoustic archtop, with no pickup cutouts. I tried taking it to a local TAP Plastics store to see if they could do the pickup routs, but they said no. Meanwhile, lots of other things in life took priority, so I didn't think much more about it until recently.

Then I remembered that there's a fellow on one of the other guitar forums I frequent who makes custom pickguards, and who has a reputation for doing really good work. I contacted him and he agreed to do the deed, so I sent him the pickguard blank with a cardboard template and a paper tracing, and a few days later it came back with the pickup routs done, and even the mounting holes drilled. It fit perfectly, and my Epi Broadway now looks as good as it sounds. Between this, my Elitist Broadway (with a deeper body solid spruce top and hella flamed maple back and sides), my Epi Emperor Regent and D'Angelico EXL-1, I have as close to an L-5 as I'll ever need --- and all four together cost substantially less than one Gibson.

Here's some pics of the completed makeover: Posted Image
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#2 User is offline   tweed2 

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Posted 09 July 2018 - 12:38 PM

Beautiful. Love those big box guitars. It's been about two years since I sold my Zephyr Blues deluxe, and I miss it. Keep thinking about getting something similar, you posting those pictures, isn't helping fight that....
J P Patches Pal
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#3 User is offline   bobouz 

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Posted 09 July 2018 - 01:25 PM

Thanks for sharing a fun story. It's a great feeling to get an instrument put together the way you envision it could be. Very satisfying when it's finally all the way there!
> Gibsons: '22 "A" Mandolin / '66 ES 125T / '66 Epi FT-45n Cortez (B-25) / '90 Tennessean
'00 J-100 Xtra / '02 J-45 Rosewood / '02 SG Faded-moon / '09 ES 339 / '10 ES 330L
'11 ES 335-P90s / '12 ES 330 VOS / '12 LP Special / '12 J-185
'13 LG2-AE / '13 Midtown Kalamazoo / '14 J-15 / '15 J-50 CS
> Epiphones: '00 AIUSA-John Lee Hooker 1964 Sheraton / '05 McCartney 1964 Texan (Terada)
'09 Elitist 1965 Casino / > Ibanez: '81 M-340 / > Breedlove: '10 American Series OO Mandolin
> Guilds: '73 F-30R / '74 F-40 / '76 G-37 / '92 D-6 / '94 JF-30 / '97 Starfire / '14 Savoy A-150b
> Martins: '00 OOO-16 / '01 Custom Rosewood Dreadnought
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#4 User is offline   Sleeko 

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Posted 14 July 2018 - 12:45 PM

Wonderful story. We have similar tastes in guitars. I remember looking through guitar catalogs in the late '90's trying to decide on a model. Liked the Epiphone, Washburn, Cort and Aria. I remember the Emperor was my first choice but the first thing I planned to do was change out the Frequensator as I thought it looked odd. I later saw a video of someone playing an Emperor and noticed when in the playing position, the Frequensator looked rather neat. Sort of like two trains racing across the guitar top with one slightly ahead of the other. I liked the look from there on. I noticed you didn't change out the one on your Elitist Broadway and am curious if you plan on changing it out in the future?
Also was curious how the D'Angelico compared to your Epi's. You have an Emperor as well no? A group shot of all of them would be the icing on the cake. LoL. Best of luck with the new addition!

This post has been edited by Sleeko: 14 July 2018 - 01:05 PM

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#5 User is offline   Parabar 

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Posted 14 July 2018 - 02:05 PM

Thanks, Sleeko. The D'Angelico's floating Kent Armstrong pickup has a lower output than the Emperor Regent's minibucker, so it doesn't overdrive the amp as readily, but has a wonderfully clear, articulate clean sound. It came with D'Angelico's zinc strings which sounded tinny and brittle to my ears, so I put some GHS flatwounds on it and now it sounds wonderful. I don't plan to mess with the Elitist Broadway any further (already replaced the white carousel knobs with gold bell knobs), because I love everything about it, and somehow the Frequensator looks better on an Emperor Regent than on a sunburst Broadway.

Don't know when I'll have a chance to take an updated group shot with the Broadway's new pickguard and the D'Angelico, so here's a group shot of my "cellos" and some of the D'Angelico. That's a Ventura Barney Kessel copy and a Carlo Robelli (made by Peerless) ES-500 in the group shot.
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This post has been edited by Parabar: 14 July 2018 - 02:07 PM

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#6 User is offline   Red 333 

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Posted 15 July 2018 - 12:58 PM

Beautiful collection!

Red 333
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#7 User is offline   Sleeko 

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Posted 15 July 2018 - 03:42 PM

View PostParabar, on 14 July 2018 - 02:05 PM, said:

Thanks, Sleeko. The D'Angelico's floating Kent Armstrong pickup has a lower output than the Emperor Regent's minibucker, so it doesn't overdrive the amp as readily, but has a wonderfully clear, articulate clean sound. It came with D'Angelico's zinc strings which sounded tinny and brittle to my ears, so I put some GHS flatwounds on it and now it sounds wonderful. I don't plan to mess with the Elitist Broadway any further (already replaced the white carousel knobs with gold bell knobs), because I love everything about it, and somehow the Frequensator looks better on an Emperor Regent than on a sunburst Broadway.

Don't know when I'll have a chance to take an updated group shot with the Broadway's new pickguard and the D'Angelico, so here's a group shot of my "cellos" and some of the D'Angelico. That's a Ventura Barney Kessel copy and a Carlo Robelli (made by Peerless) ES-500 in the group shot.
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How cool and thank you for the effort! Here's my current lineup.

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#8 User is offline   Parabar 

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Posted 16 July 2018 - 10:15 AM

View PostSleeko, on 15 July 2018 - 03:42 PM, said:

How cool and thank you for the effort! Here's my current lineup.


Lovely family! Tell us about the Guild --- X-150, right? How does it compare to the Emperor Regent?
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#9 User is offline   Sleeko 

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Posted 16 July 2018 - 03:42 PM

View PostParabar, on 16 July 2018 - 10:15 AM, said:

Lovely family! Tell us about the Guild --- X-150, right? How does it compare to the Emperor Regent?


Thank you Parabar. The Guild is very comfortable to play. Generously deep cutaway, 16" lower bout snugs right into place, made in Corona. Surprisingly loud unplugged, all laminated maple though the Emperor has that acoustic zing when plugged in. The guild has a brighter tone plugged in.
Workmanship on the Guild is perfect. Everything lines up, inlays are set perfect, finish (poly) is flawless. It has that early '40s Epiphone look to the sunburst and the shape of the f holes is the prettiest of the bunch. Pure elegance. Although Guilds least expensive model, it certainly never reminds you of that fact.

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#10 User is offline   bobouz 

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 12:04 PM

Beautiful guitars, one and all!

Another fan of Guilds here, mostly on the acoustic side.

But I do have a sunburst Westerly-made 1997 Starfire III hollowbody, that someone turned into a II by swapping out the Guildsby for the II's harp tailpiece. Lovely guitar, with stock Seymour Duncans, made by SD for Fender (apparently only in '97, from what I've read).

Also have a 2014 A-150b (before Fender's sale of Guild to Cordoba), with a solid spruce top & X-braced, as well as a floating DeArmond pickup. Very nice tone, plugged or unplugged.

Fun stuff!
> Gibsons: '22 "A" Mandolin / '66 ES 125T / '66 Epi FT-45n Cortez (B-25) / '90 Tennessean
'00 J-100 Xtra / '02 J-45 Rosewood / '02 SG Faded-moon / '09 ES 339 / '10 ES 330L
'11 ES 335-P90s / '12 ES 330 VOS / '12 LP Special / '12 J-185
'13 LG2-AE / '13 Midtown Kalamazoo / '14 J-15 / '15 J-50 CS
> Epiphones: '00 AIUSA-John Lee Hooker 1964 Sheraton / '05 McCartney 1964 Texan (Terada)
'09 Elitist 1965 Casino / > Ibanez: '81 M-340 / > Breedlove: '10 American Series OO Mandolin
> Guilds: '73 F-30R / '74 F-40 / '76 G-37 / '92 D-6 / '94 JF-30 / '97 Starfire / '14 Savoy A-150b
> Martins: '00 OOO-16 / '01 Custom Rosewood Dreadnought
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#11 User is offline   Sleeko 

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Posted 21 July 2018 - 06:49 PM

Thank you Bobouz, appreciate that. Have a pic or more to share? [thumbup]
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#12 User is offline   bobouz 

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 02:01 AM

View PostSleeko, on 21 July 2018 - 06:49 PM, said:

Thank you Bobouz, appreciate that. Have a pic or more to share? [thumbup]

Sorry Sleeko, posting pics here seems too cumbersome, and I'm inherently lazy about anything that gets the least bit difficult re computers! On the other hand, I did somehow manage to learn how to email pics.

Let me add that, in particular, I've admired your Epi Byrdland for quite some time now. I should have bought one new when they were going for $1999 (and probably could have tacked on a 15% discount). I did eventually scratch the 23.5" scale itch with a Gibson Midtown Kalamazoo. Not as lovely overall as your Byrdland, but the neck alone is well worth the price of admission!
> Gibsons: '22 "A" Mandolin / '66 ES 125T / '66 Epi FT-45n Cortez (B-25) / '90 Tennessean
'00 J-100 Xtra / '02 J-45 Rosewood / '02 SG Faded-moon / '09 ES 339 / '10 ES 330L
'11 ES 335-P90s / '12 ES 330 VOS / '12 LP Special / '12 J-185
'13 LG2-AE / '13 Midtown Kalamazoo / '14 J-15 / '15 J-50 CS
> Epiphones: '00 AIUSA-John Lee Hooker 1964 Sheraton / '05 McCartney 1964 Texan (Terada)
'09 Elitist 1965 Casino / > Ibanez: '81 M-340 / > Breedlove: '10 American Series OO Mandolin
> Guilds: '73 F-30R / '74 F-40 / '76 G-37 / '92 D-6 / '94 JF-30 / '97 Starfire / '14 Savoy A-150b
> Martins: '00 OOO-16 / '01 Custom Rosewood Dreadnought
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#13 User is offline   crust 

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Posted 01 August 2018 - 05:53 PM

View PostSleeko, on 15 July 2018 - 03:42 PM, said:

How cool and thank you for the effort! Here's my current lineup.

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this is why I love photograph's of everyone's guitarsPosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
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#14 User is offline   Sleeko 

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Posted 01 August 2018 - 07:06 PM

[thumbup] [thumbup] [thumbup]
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