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HNGD 1944 Epiphone Zenith archtop


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Just received it yesterday. I'll post pics and a preliminary report today.


VERY cool. I love these pre-gibson Epis. Don't forget a sound clip! Oh, btw, there was an ugly looking early applause on CL in my area.

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1944 Zenith, bought on ebay for $250. Walnut sides and back, probably laminated based on a quick peek inside and comparing grain pattern. I know some wartime Epis had a light opaque finish on the middle of the top because many were made with 3, 4, 5 pieces of spruce, but this one appears to have a pressed birch top. Not sure about the birch, could be anything... just not spruce!




Headstock. The truss rod adjusts under the fingerboard at the body. The tuners were replaced with cheesy imports a long time ago. It likely had open back strip tuners. I have no plans to ram Grovers in there but I will likely put something better than what's there simply for utility. I'll have to remove these and see what there is for screw holes before I decide. Note lack of ferrules, another wartime metal saving thing.






Wartime wooden cross brace:




The frets are funky, like they have a flatter radius than the fingerboard. Not comfy at all. It looks like the 3rd and 4th frets had popped up on the edges and were glued down, and there is the typical cowboy chord wear, so I will definitely do a refret here.




There is a slight gap at the heel, which bothers me. If the neck has shifted forward it is not obvious and there is no 'ski-slope' of the fingerboard extension. I do note that the rim has a slight convex shape right at the neck joint. If I had x-ray vision I bet the glue joint between the rims and the headblock has failed and maybe the dovetail has shifted a little. Often times they just squirted a puddle of hide glue into the dovetail and stuck the neck in there. If the glue softens from the heat, the neck will shift from string tension. My '40 Kay upright bass did that exact thing. So I have the dilemna of leaving this alone since it's stable, or removing and refitting the neck because it's just not right. I'm not going to make any snap decisions here.




Lovely wear and decades of "life".






I ordered an aftermarket 40s Epi style tortoise guard for it, no idea if it will fit but it's a good place to start and was only a $25 gamble. I've searched many pics of Zeniths and they had at least 2 or 3 distinctly different pickguard shapes and not in a predictable timeline pattern so I guess anything goes...


The playablity? Too soon to tell. The neck is not chunky at all and has a slight vee shape. The frets are horrible but will be dealt with. The truss rod works splendidly, responding nicely to a 1/8 turn or so. I believe with the new frets and also removing any irregularities in the board it has much potential.


The tone? It has a very dead set of D'Addario 12-56 on there right now, no telling how many years they've been on there. I can only verify D'Addarios because of the colored balls. They are clinically dead, flatlined. Thump. Thud. However what I have noticed, albeit in a cursory manner, is that this guitar has a very pleasant, warm thump. It's not that it's loud or bright or cutting or any other word used to describe an archtop, it just has a quick decay thump and an open, responsive voice. I have an '86 Heritage Golden Eagle that is thin and restrained by comparison. A carved spruce top vs a pressed birch top should be a no brainer.... but sorry folks, this one is warmly holding my hand while the Heritage says "hands off"!


I suspect I will use flatwounds.


It has the potential to be "my archtop" and that's something I've been looking for a long, long time.

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$250?! That is a steal! My wartime epi has a similar label and logo. I'll have to take a look at it again because I was under the impression that the back of mine was Cherry. I read somewhere that they used a lot of Cherry at that time instead of Mahogany. Funny thing is that the sides on mine look like Hog. You can tell a difference in the interior where the two meet. The back has a very different reddish hue.


The back on mine looks very similar to the back of your archtop. I'll see if I can get some pictures up later today for comparison. Walnut? Cherry? Who knows?

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Congrats - a very cool find. It is the perfect instrument if you have the urge to play some Ted Bogan-esque sock rhythm guitar.


While Epiphone stopped building flattops during the War due to the shortage of spruce they did continue turning out archtops. I have had both a wartime era production Zenith and Olympic in the house and both had birch tops. I could never figure out if they were carved or pressed tops. Laminate walnut bodies are found on many Epiphones.


Again - a really nice score.

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I have a 1936 sunburst Zenith. Walnut back, carved top...looks vary similar although the back of mine seems much darker. I also have a 1955~56 F79 with a maple back that has some resemblance to the reddish rough spots on yours in places. Just thought I'd point out in case those familiar with woods might consider whether the 1944 back could be maple.

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Last one of these I spotted was in a guitar shop in Bristol (UK). £1450 as I recall...and great, too.


I love these baby archtops. I had a Kalamazoo KG21 for a while which was really clanky, cantankerous and awesome.

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