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Mike H

Did Epiphone cheap out on the electronics in the Century Archtops?

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I absolutely love the Century Zenith Archtop I got a month or so ago. It's insanely easy playing, it sounds like nothing I've heard before, and it's damn pretty! It's hard to put it down.

 

That said, the electronics are probably the worst I've ever heard in an acoustic/electric guitar. Either the Shadow Nanoflex HD undersaddle pickup is a piece of cr*p or it just doesn't play well with the eSonic HD preamp (preamps are easy, so I'm leaning toward the pickup as the weak link). Either way, it's hard to believe that Epiphone let this beast out of the door the way it is (I'm assuming they're all like this).

 

It's important to note that this is the second unit I've had in the past month with the same problem, leading me to believe that this is 'normal'. The first was sent back to the dealer with other issues, also related to the electronics - flaky volume control, uneven output across the strings, and very low output level. After waiting three weeks with no ETA for replacement parts from Gibson/Epiphone, the dealer agreed to replace the guitar with a new unit (actually, he offered to replace it immediately but, since I had the original PLEK'd, I was willing to wait for that one to be repaired. After three weeks, he offered to PLEK the replacement, so we're good on that point).

 

The replacement is in much better shape, electronics-wise, but the output level is still very low. I can deal with that. The piezo quack, on the other hand, is the most hideous I've ever heard! It's shrill, trebly, and, dare I say, painful! Even with the tone control turned all the way down, the string noise from incidental sliding overwhelms everything else. And it hurts my ears! It's simply not usable without a pedal to squelch the incessant screech, and, even then, is nothing to get excited about.

 

I'm not inclined to pay upwards of 30% of the price of the guitar for upgraded electronics, but I'm not sure what other option I have. Can anyone recommend a suitable replacement for the Nanoflex pickup and/or the eSonic preamp? Perhaps a microphonic pickup of some sort? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

 

As I said, I love this guitar, so I'm not letting it go. I just want it to sound more like it does in the promotional videos Epiphone shamelessly put on YouTube.

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I've had mine almost a year and just plugged it into an amp for the first time (other than to test it) yesterday. I was impressed how close the amplified sound was to the purely acoustic sound, and that I could easily warm it up with either the sound hole tone control or the amp's. I was playing clean through a class A amp with the tone controls relatively flat, and just a touch of reverb.

 

Red 333

Edited by Red 333

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I have to turn my amp’s treble down and the bass up, but then my Olympic sounds great. I leave the amp’s midrange in the center. Guess that’s why amp’s have treble and bass controls...to compensate for things such as this. Note: I put the guitar’s controls all in the center, relying on my amp for the adjustments. With the amp adjustments, I’m happy. FYI, I also use a gain pedal (LTMF’s pedal, I think it’s called. It only cost $40 at Sam Ash.). With the gain pedal, the guitar’s pickup being potentially underpowered goes away. Imported Epi’s seem to always have a bit underpowered pickups. A gain pedal resolves that.

 

Just my experience. Mine’s a great instrument.

 

QM aka Jazzman Jeff

Edited by QuestionMark

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I’ve had mine for two weeks.  The high e string was barely audible when plugged in and I thought maybe because of the quacky distortion like sound coming from the PA at my last gig that the battery was going out.  I replaced the battery with an Energizer battery first and no signal so I then replaced with a Durecell battery still no signal.  Needless to say I’m disappointed with the guitar.  Even if it gets fixed I would not recommend gigging with this guitar unless you bring a back up.  I’m tempted just to get a floating pickup installed.  Disappointed because the guitar looks great and I love the neck.  

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I just purchased a Masterbilt Century Deluxe Classic. I haven't experienced any electronic issues — from first time I plugged in at the store, into a small Fender acoustic amp, I was immediately taken with its warm tones, and very good string balance /clarity, from low bass to treble .  No quacky-ness, no funky static, no feedback. Plays great, too, with a fantastic neck. Maybe I was lucky, but I doubt it, since overall I find the guitar to have great playability, craftsmanship, and tone —  for the price, it's just very well built.  It sounds great through my Acoustic A-1000 amp, so it's a keeper for me.  My only slight disappointment was the color:  judging from the photos on various product websites, the "vintage natural" finish appeared to me to be a blonde/natural finish. I had to order the guitar online, and when I got it unboxed I was surprised to see the finish is much darker, more of a caramel or tobacco color.  Anybody else have notes on the color? 

It's OK, though. I like the guitar so much that I don't plan on returning or exchanging it.   

Edited by PaulS

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@PaulSA bit over a year into it and I still love the guitar.  After lots of experimenting with my channel on the Church's PA, I found I can quiet down the shrillness and the excruciating string squeal if I crank up the head amp gain on the PA to not quite maximum (other guitar channels are at about 50%) and keep the volume on the guitar's internal preamp at about 50%.  Tone control on the guitar is all the way down.  Plugged into my Boss Acoustic Singer Live, if I kill the tweeter and set the treble at about 25%, it sounds very nice - again, the volume on the guitar is at 50% and the tone control is turned all the way down.  High E string is still very quiet.

I'm considering installing an LR Baggs Element Active System VTC.  I hear lots of good things about it, notably its lack of quack (I tend to obsess over the specific issue I'm having when looking for a replacement/upgrade for pretty much anything).  As a bonus, it looks like I can use the existing battery holder/jack mount so it'll be a pretty invisible upgrade (plus I won't have to mess with the battery bag).  It also has a soundhole mounted volume/tone control, so it'll be a functional equivalent of the original design.  We'll see.

That said, there are a few other issues with the guitar that are disappointing, but not game enders.  Cosmetically, the fingerboard binding is a mess!  Tool marks all over the place.  I had to sand down a few spots, not because they were painful, but simply because they became distracting (and maddening!).  Also, I had a problem with the case that Epiphone recommends for this guitar.  It wasn't deep enough at the bridge.  The constant downward pressure caused the bridge to slowly lose height which required me to raise it numerous times to get rid of the constantly returning fret buzz.  It's now near the limit of its travel.  A taller bridge saddle is my next step.  Once I figured out what was going on, I returned the second case to the dealer and started carrying it around in a Fender gig bag.  The problem went away.  A shame, really, as I really liked the look of the Epiphone 'Century' branded case.  Gibson's Customer Service pretty much scratched their heads and said they'd never heard of that problem before, and have a nice day.  Shopping for aftermarket cases can be a drag, given the hideously limited inventory at local guitar stores. 

Yes, this is definitely a keeper, despite its flaws.

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Just purchased a new Zenith Classic and the serial number indicates that it was made in 2016. But my concern is that the nanoflex pickup is not installed correctly . The hole for the piezo was drilled on the treble side (high e string) so the pickup is backwards according to the instructions for similar piezo pickups. Plugged in, it sounds way too loud on the bass strings and barely any sound from the high e string. Can't seem to find anything about this. Did they really install the pickup backwards in the bridge?

Edited by Nrogm
spelling error

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10 hours ago, Nrogm said:

Just purchased a new Zenith Classic and the serial number indicates that it was made in 2016. But my concern is that the nanoflex pickup is not installed correctly . The hole for the piezo was drilled on the treble side (high e string) so the pickup is backwards according to the instructions for similar piezo pickups. Plugged in, it sounds way too loud on the bass strings and barely any sound from the high e string. Can't seem to find anything about this. Did they really install the pickup backwards in the bridge?

Did you check that the controls in the lower F hole are set right?  I know on my Masterbuilt Century Olympic I keep the controls in the F hole in the center and make all adjustments on my amp.  I have to turn the treble way down and the bass way up on my amp, keeping the midrange in the middle.  Keep in mind these things are amplified Acoustic archtops, not anything like solid body electrics.  They are basically just mic’ing the acoustic sound of the archtop.  And, because they are total hollow bodies, the feedback needs to be controlled through the tone dials.  And, it’s hollow body archtop feedback, not like flat top or solid body feedback.  One of the reasons semi-hollow body archtops came about as well as solidbodies.  If you play around with the guitar’s F hole wheel controls and your amp’s settings, you should be able to find the guitar’s sweet spot and then just remember the controls’ setting for all time use.  That’s what I do with mine.  They can be great hollow body acoustics and hollow body electrics once you get all the controls to find their sweet spot.  But. being a 30s reissue, the electric sound’s controls may need to be in some unusual settings compared to other guitars.  

 

QM aka “ Jazzman” Jeff

Edited by QuestionMark

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@QuestionMark, Hard to tell the position of the volume control, as there's no detent as there is with the tone.  Nevertheless, I've found the only way I can play amplified, either through the PA at Church or through my Boss Acoustic Singer Live is to turn the tone control all the way down on the guitar and the volume somewhere below half, then increase the head amp gain on the mixer to a 'normal' volume, fine tuning it at the guitar as needed.  That mixer channel is assigned to me, as it's way too hot for the other guitars in the ensemble.  With the Boss amp, I need to turn off the tweeter, set the treble to 9:00, mid-range at 12:00, bass at about 2:00.  I've used other acoustics with a piezo undersaddle pickup through the same PA and amp everything sounded great.  This problem is definitely unique to this guitar.

I still haven't upgraded the electronics, as it's manageable, given the limited use.  The best tone I've gotten, by far, was through a mic a few months ago.  But that has its own set of problems, not the least of which being a lack of mobility.

Edited by Mike H

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I agree, the problem is definitely unique to these guitars.  But, also as you said, its manageable.    In my case, I just remember the unusual settings (or what to tell a soundman for his controls) and all works out well.  Otherwise, its really a great acoustic guitar with a unique sound and feel.

QM aka "Jazzman" Jeff

 

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12 hours ago, QuestionMark said:

Otherwise, its really a great acoustic guitar with a unique sound and feel.

Amen to that!

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