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Happy experience with the Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II Pro


InSalinity
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I have owned an Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II Pro now for maybe 6 weeks now. It's my first Epiphone (I also own a wonderful Gretsch 5435 chambered solid body with bigsby), so I thought I might leave a review here of my experience with the JPII Pro for others that might be considering this guitar or something similar.

I started learning guitar about 3 years ago, and with some commitment over the past 18 months. I would say I'm no longer a beginner but a novice nudging into intermediate. I can play bar chords reliably, make a reasonable fist of changes, know some tunes and progressions, and enjoy the theory and the fretboard. Some time ago I became very interested in the warm but articulate sounds of some jazz guitarists, soon I was playing 7th, 6th, 9th and other chords in various jazz progressions and learning my jazz theory. However, while the clean sound from the filtertrons on my Gretsch are stellar, I found no way to tame the sparkle and warm the tone without muddying the sound. Neck pickup selected with tone wound down was just not great for what I had in mind. With that I started considering various jazz oriented hollowbody options. I love the look of the various Gretsch g5120 style options, but I know their sound and I did not need something in a broadly similar tone category to what I had. The more jazz box style Gretsch G100CE is hard to come by here, and more than I wanted to spend. I identified the Ibanez AG95QA as the guitar for me in my price range. Reviews sounded hopeful and the guitar to my eyes is stunning with that dark quilted top and gold hardware. They are a rare beast in Australia but I tracked one down at a Sydney shop and asked them to unbox it so I could go in and try it. 

I liked the sound of it and it looked wonderful, but it felt cramped to my hands and I was not really getting along with it as I had hoped. Disappointed at my response to that guitar, I looked to the wall and spotted the JP II Pro. I knew about this guitar as I had seen them online and read a couple reviews, but I really did not know much about Epiphone at the time and did not give them their due. However, I had read that this was a good value and sound guitar for jazz with some nice features at the price point. I asked for it and plugged it in.

I was surprised, the JPII Pro was more than I expected. This (quite large) Epiphone sounded great to me, more so playing it was quite a bit easier than my Gretsch or the Ibanez. I think the nut width may be wider and the neck profile somewhat different. Split coil option did not figure in my decision criteria, but having the option to do so if I wanted was a nice bonus feature. I also tried the Broadway, but that was now uncomfortably large for me to play and did not seem as well equipped. I have to admit, I'm not one for the yellow sunburst so I struggled each time I looked toward the Ibanez, but in the end I let my ears and head rule and committed the extra $$ to the JP II Pro. The strings on the guitar were foul (it's a late '19 build, so I'm figuring it had been hanging on their wall for 6 months with the original 10 gauge d'addario strings it came with, round wounds but manky), I had the store put some Chromes in 12 on them and give it a clean up and away I went. Happy.

Two or three days later at home, the guitar had developed a first fret buzz on the high E and B strings. I wondered about the 12s and whether the extra tension along with the change in environment had caused the neck to move - but also the neck relief in general and the action (which I had not checked as I assumed the store would have these set about right - classic clueless mistake on my part). I checked the action first and it was at 0.4mm at the 12th fret. I was pretty sure that is crazy low for a guitar like this - but was concerned also about my string choice. I changed the strings to some flat wound Thomastik 11s while adjusting 12th fret action to 2.3mm at the high and low E strings. Buzzing gone. Great. 

Now only a booming low E string that had developed with the new strings on the neck pickup, probably due to the height change to the pickup with the change in action. Sigh. A little research and an email to the Gibson/Epiphone service guys (they were super quick to reply - thanks!!) and I had the stock settings for pickup heights which are not mentioned in their manual. Made the adjustment, fiddled a bit more and the boom was gone, and a nice even volume across the strings.

I did not adjust neck relief as it looked good to me, and I really don't want to mess around with the truss rod. Though, at some point I will take it to have the set-up checked by a local luthier. For now it sounds great to my ears and I am having no trouble playing it.

All that done and I have to say, the tone is lovely. Neck pick up, volume at about 7 and tone around 3 and I get lovely clear but warm jazzy bell like chimes - just what I had in mind. Roll the tone up towards ten and it becomes very chimy indeed. Add the bridge pickup to the mix and the tonal potential with these probucker pickups is making me very happy. Bridge only is fine, but to be honest the Gretsch filtertrons simply do the twangy sparkle sound much much better everywhere and that is not what I bought this guitar for. With that said I do like to occasionally pop up the bridge volume pot while I have both pickups selected to split the bridge coil and get something more like a fender jaguar sound for some Johnny Marr style riffs. So now I am almost exclusively playing the JP II, it feels good and is great for not only the jazz tunes and some bossa, but does a great job as I hack around some of my favourite Smiths tunes too! Love it.

It is a  full hollow archtop, albeit the arch on the soundboard is subtle. Played unplugged with the Thomastic strings it has a lovely clear, round and warm sound. Sure, not as loud as my daughter's Taylor, but perfect for no hassle practices or just playing quietly somewhere. I like the unplugged sound a lot, particularly when played finger style.

According to the SN it's an Indonesian build with the graphtec nubone nut and probucker pickups with split coil function on both volume knobs. The finish is flawless, and although as I mentioned I am not a huge fan of yellow sunburst, this looks lovely. The maple figured sides and back have some nice depth to them. Inlays all look great on the neck and headstock and the 5 layer binding all around is a treat. The gold hardware is well done and after 6 weeks and about 120 hours of playing still shiny (my genuine American B5 bigsby that I put onto the Gretsch started to show significant wear to the finish after maybe 20 hours of playing). The gloss finish to the body is holding up very well - sure I am careful, but so far no signs of rubbing, scratches or dulling. I particularly like the Grover 18:1 tuners on this, which compared to the tuners on my Gretsch are quite a bit smoother and more accurate to tune. The guitar with these Thomastik strings holds tune very well after the strings have had a little stretch.

So, yes, I am very happy with it. Value for my level of proficiency is perfect. Perhaps if I had another 10 years of jazzing under my belt I would be seeking something else, but then again, quite possibly not. I want to note that the Ibanez was very nicely finished with a nice tone and beautifully built - I am sure this Ibanez would be an excellent option for many - just not the guitar for my hands.

Gripes; two - one small, and one to do with the shop. First, I preferred the pots on the Ibanez - these had a more damp feel and were not easily changed by swiping past them. The Epiphone pots by comparison feel very free - smooth, but free - easy to change tone unintentionally. I'm also a little uncertain about the split coil on the bridge pickup - I sometimes lose quite bit of volume while playing, but I am wondering if that is more to do with my technique or the setup. I'll keep an ear open for this and may need to get it looked at.

The shop issue, well, I struggle to understand why some shops can't be bothered to check the setup on the guitars before they hand it over. Or for that matter while it is hanging on their wall. Surely a guitar with a rubbish setup is going to struggle to sell if it feels bad to play? I paid in the vicinity of AUD$1200  for the guitar, and granted that is not an expensive guitar by comparison - it is at the level where I might expect things to be more or less right from the shop. The Gretsch I bought at a different shop at half the price, and I have to say the set up was perfect to me from the get go - lucky, perhaps, or maybe just a better run shop with more care. I don't put the issue I had with the JPII Pro down to Epiphone at all - it's squarely at the shop to have it set basically right for people to try.

So for those wondering about the Joe Pass II Pro - it is indeed a lovely, well made guitar with excellent quality features and lovely sound at a good price. Certainly worth the time to give it an audition.

Patrick

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Edited by InSalinity
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Nice story, and that's a beauty.

About Shops and Setups..  you know, everyone will require a different sort of setup.  This really has to do with each players touch, hand strength, technique.

So it's fair to assume that the shop would just take the guitars, as they arrive from their distributors, and put them out on display.  

Shops that have setup guys will usually handle a setup for customers, and often times, for a new purchase, they wont charge you.  The big variable here is how good are the shops techs?  While some shops cna have some very knowledgeable techs working there, others may not.  So here, it's a crap shot.

The best bet if you are not comfy doing this yourself, is to get a guy who is setup to do this and only this. (Repairs, Setups etc).  here you may need to ask around a bit, talk to players who have guitars that have needed setups, and who do they use. 

A full setup in the US runs anywhere from 50 to 80 bucks, depending on what is needed.  If they right guy is doing it, I will tell ya, it makes all the difference in the world.

 

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Thanks.

I totally appreciate your comments regards shops and setups, and agree entirely.

This was one of the larger Sydney shops, with a workshop. I should have asked for a setup to get going but was pressed for time . As you say however, knowing if they will take care during the setup and are any good is another thing again.

To be frank, I would not normally have ventured into this particular shop as it is on the other side of town, however it was the only place that had the guitar I was originally after.  Fortunately we do have a luthier close by who I will be visiting once I can get myself to split from the instrument for more than a day!

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On 5/25/2020 at 12:30 AM, InSalinity said:

Thanks.

I totally appreciate your comments regards shops and setups, and agree entirely.

This was one of the larger Sydney shops, with a workshop. I should have asked for a setup to get going but was pressed for time . As you say however, knowing if they will take care during the setup and are any good is another thing again.

To be frank, I would not normally have ventured into this particular shop as it is on the other side of town, however it was the only place that had the guitar I was originally after.  Fortunately we do have a luthier close by who I will be visiting once I can get myself to split from the instrument for more than a day!

sounds like a plan!  I'd opt for a tech who does this on his own rather than someone who works in a store.  These "private" guys are usually quite a bit more dedicated to making you happy.

good luck!

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  • 11 months later...

Insalinity,

Enjoy your new JP Jazz-box. May I suggest you google Bill Tyers to see how a vintage "Pre Joe Pass" Epi sounds like.  You may not ever need to buy another archtop jazz box again. Sadly he passed away in 2020. But he sure knew how to produce that sought after sound. It was one of his many videos that sold me on my purchase. His style was mainly finger-picking, he seldom did any flat picking. That could possibly be the reason for the rich tones he could produce. And if you look closely at his vids, you'll notice that his pickup select is set for the neck pickup the majority of the time. But of course that pickup selection will also be based on the tune being played.

Since I have been studying and playing classical guitar since the 70s. I figured this just might be the axe I need to learn and play jazz riffs.

I bought my JPII Pro in 2019 for a big chain music store. I purchased mine online and had it shipped since the nearest store was 60 mile away. I had done my research prior to buying it and based on all the specs and stats and comparing it to five other similar priced hollow bodies I choose Epiphone and am glad I did. Mine too was an Indonesia make. And I'll be honest I was a little leery of buying sight unseen/un-played, I had heard so many not so good stories about the detail to construction coming out of none US shops. But  I took a chance and I was pleasantly surprised to the quality and detail that was put into it. I of course immediately took it to a luthier friend I have who sets all my guitars actions. He is an authorized Gibson and Martin repair luthier. He also of course builds his own. I was happy to find that he could find no faults. He made sure that it was put together soundly and no fret buzz to be had all along the neck. He even commented on how clean and smooth and finished the frets were.  I purchased the all natural finish model, for it's clean look.  What surprised me was to learn for reason only Gibson knows, they discontinued making them. I was lucky to get mine with the Epiphone case for under $700 US, shipping was included. And it only cost me an additional $150 to have my luthier friend give it a clean bill of health.

 

Edited by Always Learning
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  • 8 months later...

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