The SUPER Pawn Shop Find 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer Review!

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The Epiphone Explorer 1999 Korina Natural Finish Review!

I’ve been looking for an older Epiphone Korina Explorer (natural finish, as opposed to ebony) for quite some time. I wanted the old generic tulip/keystone tuners, the “sandwich” body, the excellent medium-output “Epiphone” engraved gold-cover humbuckers, and a simple rosewood fingerboard. I found one the other day on one of the main Internet used guitar sites at a price that was very attractive. It looked like it had hardly been played! There were no chunks worn out of the first 7 frets from barre-chord hard strumming – as a matter of fact, they looked unplayed, still tall and rounded on the top.

Body shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Body shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sandwich wood is three-piece with one particularly nice-sized piece in the upper half of the body. The coloring and dyes used are very consistent and have that lovely “Old Gibson” golden yellow tint.

I wanted this guitar to do some experimenting with sound, with pulling the tuners, wiring, and pickups carefully out and preserving them for the future. (When I originally bought this guitar, I built it with this in mind: modding it with a very specific set of electronics, solder, tone cap, and some truly wonderful USA-made humbuckers… I’ve since changed my mind and have left it completely alone other than strap locks and 19:1 tuners. Read the “Sound” section below.)

Epiphone has re-released its Korina Explorer! It looks great and is a real bargain compared to the early Korean used ones.

When I saw this 1999 model, I jumped on it VERY quickly because it was un-damaged, mostly un-played, and un-modified. I am truly pleased to have this example in my library.

Pickups back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Pickups back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Quick Opinion:
The 1999 Korean-made Epiphone Korina Explorer is a great guitar. Its features and sound are fantastic, and it’s always a sure bet when you’d like to put on an Explorer at a low cost.

I’ve always found the Sandwich Epiphone Korina guitars (Firebird Studio, Explorer, SG, and Les Paul) to be a little funny to behold at first, as the front and back veneers always look so nice, with BRIGHT golden sides of much less dense and pretty Korina wood in the middle. Once you get past the visual edge between the veneer and the center wood, they’re really great instruments. The SG is the one that has the most striking veneer demarkation, as the veneer is only on the front-most part of the horns, with the cutaway being the sandwiched wood. C’est la vie.

Overall? The Epiphone Korina Explorer is a great bargain, a good-looking guitar, and a joy to play. The fretboards are especially nice and thick… The older, non-stickered but embossed pickups are really sweet – especially if you are looking for that Tar-Back sound (more on this in the “Sound” section of this review.”

If you buy your Epiphone Korina Explorer through this link, I get a small amount of funding to help me run and maintain this FREE to the public guitar review site!

Features:
Feature-wise, my Epiphone Korina Explorer is set up with pretty much a modern interpretation of the original Korina 1958 Explorer.
Gold hardware and pickup covers
Korina gold/yellow/amber body coating (nitrocellulose lacquer on the original, poly on the 1999 Epiphone)
White pickguard with pickup selector switch near the upper-treble-side horn/bout
Tulip/keystone tuning keys above the hockey-stick headstock
MOP Logo
Three controls, Bridge Volume-Neck Volume-Tone
Jack on the bottom of the lower bout edge
Slender control cavity cover on the back of the body
Glued-in set neck with the traditional Gibson bump on the base of the neck
Rosewood fretboard with dot inlays.

Pickups front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Pickups front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Here are the actual specs for my individual 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer (yours actually could vary, as parts sometimes get switched mid-year):
* Korina “Sandwich” body (Korina veneer on top and back, three pieces of Korina sandwiched in the middle.)
* Maple neck stained to look the same color tone as the body – a bright gold/yellow that’s very distinctive hearkening to the original ’58 Explorer
* Scarf joint set neck
* Old-school gold keystone non-branded tuners (good tuning radius, but not very reliable when down-tuning, even with lubricant in the nut)
* Great old Epiphone humbucker pickups – with the “Epiphone” engraved base plate, these are getting hard to find.
* Well-balanced rosewood thick fingerboard – buffed to a nice shine… even though the fretboard is not painted, it almost looks shiny enough to have been lacquered
* Traditional B/W/B three-ply pickguard
* Old-style Epiphone Korean electronics and soldering techniques
* Black plastic square jack plate
* Two volume control potentiometers and one master tone potentiometer all are inch-sized Asian pots
* Traditional black speed knobs with numbers
* A mechanical Switchcraft-style three-way toggle pickup selector, N-NB-B – very nice! Sturdy and largely make-then-break
* Nicely inlaid MOP Epiphone logo on the face of the headstock
* Dot inlays on the fingerboard from fret 3 on up as traditionally done (hard to tell if these are pearloid or MOP)
* Black plastic pickup rings
* Old-school Epiphone gold large-knob strap buttons, one on the top of the bass-side upper bout, one on the traditional back-face of the lower bout
* 24.75” Scale length
* Plastic molded nut (sturdy and of run-of-the-mill quality)
* 22 Medium-jumbo frets (these are actually a little different than the current 2016 Epiphone Korina Explorer, in a pleasant way. But not huge…
* Gold-plated Zamak pot-metal stop bar
* Gold-plated Tune-o-Matic bridge with adjustable saddles
* From my best guess with my limited tools, it appears to be about a 12″ radius fingerboard

Alternative Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Alternative Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

If you buy your Epiphone Korina Explorer through this link, I get a small amount of funding to help me run and maintain this FREE to the public guitar review site!

Neck Scarf Joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Neck Scarf Joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Playability
I love Gibson Explorers, Gibson Firebirds, and Gibson RD guitars. I like they way they feel, I like the full neck access, I like the way they look, and I like the way they sit on my leg when I’m seated and recording into the wee hours of the morning. Know that my review is written from that perspective.

I did end up replacing my original 1999 tulip/keystone gold tuners with more accurate and much finer Hipshot Locking Gold Inline tuners with the control plate on the back – this didn’t mod the original guitar at all, and the down-tune slippage of the original tuners is no longer an issue. I saved, of course, all the original parts :-).

The neck is a nice shape. It’s something between the bigger neck of a Firebird and the thicker neck of the original old-school Gibson Explorers. It’s not particularly flat anywhere, and the shape feels as though someone at the Korean Epiphone factory actually took the time to shape the neck blank for this particular neck. It’s easy, unobtrusive, and fits big hands and small. (Margaret is my neck tester for smaller-hand opinions, my hands are quite large in size, but slender in countenance.)

Epiphone has re-released its Korina Explorer! Take a look at zZounds’ Love it and play it guarantee!

It sits easily when you play sitting down, and the entire neck is a breeze to play thanks to the basic design of Explorers in general. It feels pretty balanced in this case, partly because the body is lighter than the mahogany that’s used in my traditional Gibson Explorers. For the Explorer geeks out there, it’s about the same balance and feel as my Ash 2003 Gibson Explorer Pro.

Neck-body set neck joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Neck-body set neck joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

When standing and on-strap, it’s fairly light as Z-shaped guitars go. Not as heavy as a Les Paul, not nearly as light as an SG or a Fender Tele. It’s comfortable enough for a set or for an entire gig. Nice!

The hard, close-grained rosewood fretboard has a neutral feel to it. The radius feels just about right, not quite as flat as a Fender Tele or Strat feels. It seems like a great piece of wood. It’s been on a neck hook for most of its 18 years of life (as of this writing), and the rosewood has held up fabulously. None of the frets are popped or sharpened, none of the feel of the neck is that cheap dry feel many older Asian-made guitars have. To its tribute, the rosewood was lovingly cured and prepared before it became a guitar fingerboard, and you can tell it. I gave it a light, quick coat of high-grade lemon oil and it actually didn’t look much different, but it felt a little more comfy on bends.

Beauty Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Beauty Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Sound
Sound is an absolute tour-de-force on this guitar. Take any two-humbucker stoptail guitar on the market under $500 with no mods and play it after playing this old Epiphone Explorer, and you’ll mostly go back to the Explorer every time, given the choice. Bear in mind that these pickups aren’t the “Super Crunch” super-duper-high-output kind. That’s the domain of some active pickups and even the newer Super Ceramic Gibson pickups. These pickups are about TONE. Gobs and loads and bucketfuls of medium-output tone. If you want more crunch, add an overdrive and/or a distortion pedal. If you want clean, articulate sound, go with these older Epiphone-embossed covered humbuckers.

Headstock front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Headstock front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

On clean, no hot tubes, no pedals, the sound is simple and full-bodied. The bass-mid-treble balance is fairly equal, with just a tad off the top on the treble. Once you put it through a good vacuum-tube preamp with something like 12AX7s, turn them up just enough to put some more volume and width in the sound: now you get major juicy sound that’s a benefit to old-rock and jazz leads. Push the tubes a bit so that when you dig in to the strings it growls a little and you’ve got classic rock.

Push the tubes hard with this guitar and you get strong well-balanced leads and high-definition rhythm chords and rhythm arpeggios. Nicely done! Similarly, if you throw a bunch of pedals at it (say, chorus, reverb, overdrive, and a little fuzz) you get a swishy sizzler that is still articulated in the EQ range. This is more reminiscent of the mid-late 70s Tar Back pickups than the current super-duper Super Ceramic 500t/496R combo of recent Explorers. If you like versatility, the stock pickups are perfect. If you want super-sizzle and crunchfests, find a pair of Gibson USA 500t/496R uncovered pickups and you’ll have your face grinning in no time.

I am not truly sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new 2017 Epiphone Korina Explorer doesn’t last too long. The last couple of times they were available, they were not around for really long periods of time.

Headstock back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Headstock back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

I think the only thing that caused me trouble about the sound is that the neck and nut were cut slightly too short… I could never get the intonation to be Jim-satisfactory. The plain strings all have a variance of about 8 cents sharp, even with the saddles pushed all the way to the rear of the bridge. Unfortunately, since these are metric/Asian-spec tails and bridges, studs and posts, the clever Schaller fine-tuning tail piece and the awesome Hipshot Tone-a-Matic bridge don’t fit this guitar. The only way to fix the guitar to its optimum intonation is to cut a nut (I like bone or fossilized bone) specifically for the specs of this individual guitar. I’ll probably do that in the near future. For now, I think, I’ll just practice with it tuned slightly flat on the plain strings and do a little on-the-fly intonation on most notes.

Quality, Fit and Finish
With the exception of how Sandwich Epiphone bodies look when you first see them, the fit and finish is top notch. There is a hard gleam to the finish on all Korina and maple surfaces, the fretboard was laid in with a great deal of care, and the neck joint is fairly close to how its American-made cousins are put together.

Control cavity detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Control cavity detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Comparing this individual to the modern, Chinese-made 1958 Explorer Epiphone reissue, the quality of the Korean guitar is awesome. The new ones are also nicely done, so you would have to play individuals to decide which one suits you and is put together in a way that pleases you. I’m an old guy, so I love the old pickups more than the hotter new ones, and I like the feel of the Korean neck vs the Chinese neck.

I love this guitar in its new version, too. Although the new ones are made in China, it appears the fit and finish is pretty outstanding for the money! Snag one of these before they also go into the history books along with the 1999 Korina Epiphone Explorer.

Wishes and Wants
This has been out of production for quite some time, so I don’t want to really talk about what I would do different. That said, it would have been nice to not have a hollow plastic nut. The brand new series of 1958 Reissue Epiphone Korina Explorers (2016 year) is about as nice, but the pickups could be improved a bit… and I prefer the white pick guard (a personal thing, yes).

Beauty Front face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Beauty Front face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

The SUPERBIRD! Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” First Review!

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The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa “Treasure” Firebird First Impressions Review!
Buy one if you can find one! You’ll be GLAD you did!

Some of my very first words to you are to get one if you have ever wanted a Firebird I at a price that’s much less than the beautiful Gibson Custom Shop Firebird 1s. Snag it NOW.

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Body Front

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Body Front

I am a big “z-shape” guitar player. I love my Strats, Teles, LPs, SGs, and Vs, but my heart has a special BRIGHT AND LOUD place for Explorers and Firebirds! (Well, and offset Fenders, too, folks 🙂 ) It’s no surprise to those who know me that I’m constantly looking for a different sound, a different feel, a different tonal diversity. The first place I look is with Explorers and Firebirds. This past 7 years, Firebirds tend to not get sold after a while, unlike so many of my other much-loved-but-sacrificed-to-recording-pursuit guitars. In other words, when I get my hands on a great Firebird, I KEEP it for a long time. I still have quite a few very different Firebirds.

If this review seems to be a great gush of wonder over this guitar, you’re reading it right. Only a few guitars or basses have made me this happy in the decades I’ve been making music. So, take a deep breath and read on. there’s SO much to say that I might have to write a second review down the road after I’ve had “Joe’s Treasure” for a good while.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Headstock Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Headstock Back

Quick Opinion:
My Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is a keeper. It is extremely well made, it is super sonorous, and is a real pleasure with which to play or record or jam.

I’ve written a LOT of reviews. I have played and/or recorded with literally thousands of instruments over the past 4 1/2 decades (used to be a Band Director \m/ !) Once in a while I come across a guitar that makes me wish I could stand on a stage somewhere and show it to the world with great enthusiasm – even though I’m not currently an endorsed artist or an instrument-brand affiliate or dealer. I just get pumped when I find something awesome!

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is just such a guitar. Let’s look at why I am so happy with mine that I might actually buy a second one such as the Polymist version. Let’s look at features, quality, sound and more…

JIm Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Heastock Front

JIm Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Headstock Front

As I said a bit before. If you want a simple and awesome Firebird I, you currently have to buy a vintage one or a multi-thousand-dollar Gibson Custom Shop Firebird I. I’d love one, but honestly it is pretty far out of my budget. Now? I’ve got a GREAT Firebird I guitar at a very small price!

Features:
Here’s the quick-and-dirty feature list (with notes from me about my particular EJBTFI).
* Neck Joint: Thru-Neck (not the faux neck through that were actually glued in on the old Epi Firebird VII guitars)
* Neck Material: Mahogany/Walnut; 9-piece laminated (I counted. Yep!)
* Body Wing Material: Mahogany (both my Treasure Firebird I’s wings are one piece of mahogany, no glue hogs)
* Body Shape: Reverse Firebird
* Neck Shape: 1960’s Rounded-C (this is a delightful neck! If you like Firebird necks, this is a little plumper, but easier to grip for bends! It’s delicious for those that love a gentle round shape on the back of the neck. Mine has no flat areas or flat spots.)
* Truss Rod: Adjustable; Dual-Action (You adjust it behind the truss rod cover.)
* Truss Rod Cover: 1-layer; Black; Epiphone logo in Gold
* Scale Length: 24.75″
* Fingerboard Material: Rosewood with Dot Inlays (My rosewood fingerboard is shiny and nicely polished or buffed. It feels heavenly like a nice Rickenbacker fingerboard, without the lacquer… NICE)
* Nut: Ivory PVC (yes, plastic)
* Headstock: Original Firebird beveled (This looks great – black and brown, on the sunburst. The Polymist is all one color except the truss rod cover.)
* Bridge Pickup: Epiphone ProBucker FB720 (WOWWOWWOWWOWWOW More on this later in the review.)
* Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone (two knobs, no switch of any kind)
* Knobs: Gold Top Hats with metal inserts and pointers (I generally like speed knobs, but these are easy to turn)
* Fingerboard Radius: 14″ (nice and curvy for those who run up and down the neck a lot)
* Pickguard (3-Layer); White/Black/White with Vintage Firebird logo (my logo feels painted on. My Gibson Firebirds tend to be hot-stamped with the Firebird Logo.)
* Frets: 22 medium-jumbo (Just right. easy to bend, easy to fret, NICELY polished on my Joe Treasure.)
* Bridge/Tailpiece: Adjustable Wrap-around Lightning Bar (Mine needed adjustment, but is better than my Gibson M2’s wrap-around… These let you adjust the whole bar back and forth at each end… Makes intonating easier.)
* Nut Width: 1-11/16″
* Hardware: Nickel (I like chrome too and gold, but my heart belongs to old-fashioned wear-showing nickel.)
* Output Jack: Epiphone Heavy-Duty 1/4″
* Machine Heads: Kluson Reissue Firebird/Banjo Tuners; 12:1 ratio (14.6:1 wind rate) (YES! This was a HUGE thing for me. I really LIKE Steinbergers, but LOVE the new renditions of the Kluson brand Banjo Tuners! I bought a couple of sets and back-graded a couple of my Steinberger-tuner Firebirds to have the big Klusons! Just like the Firebirds I got to play in the 70s.)
* Strap Buttons: These are big buttons to hold on to a strap very nicely. The upper strap button is on the back of the neck/body area instead of on the upper bout as some Epiphone Firebirds have had.)
* Includes: Hand-Signed Certificate of Authenticity, Custom Deluxe Gig bag with JB artwork (I LOVE the Joe Bonamassa gig bag Firebird logo!

JIm Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" FB720 Pickup Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” FB720 Pickup Back

I want to store my Treasure Firebird I with other guitars in hard cases, so I went ahead and bought an Epiphone case for it. (Opens a new window.))

I have the traditional brown sunburst finish on my Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird. As of this writing, zZounds has them in stock! Snag one before they are gone. Really!

So the features are awesome compared to many $799 (Street) guitars. That said, I see LOTS of $799 guitars that not only don’t have gig bags, but they don’t have NICE gig bags and hand-signed certificates in them!

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Body Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Body Back

Let’s look at a few of my favorite features:
* I love the Kluson Banjo Tuners. These look like perfect reissues – and tune and feel JUST like my Gibson Firebird V’s tuners. These were a MAJOR selling point for me, as I like the way the feel, the way they look and the fact that they bring back awesome memories from my childhood when I got to play priceless Firebirds back in the 70s.
* The Neck-through construction. SOUNDS fantastic! It has sustain for days and feels ALIVE in your hands compared to my older glued-in Epiphone Firebird necks or Gibson Firebird Studio necks. It just feels like a zillion (yes, folks, that’s $1,000,000+googleplex of zeroes!) bucks! Honestly. The neck is one of the MAIN features of this guitar. Looks and sound aside.
* The quality is fabulous. I like nitrocellulose lacquer better than poly paint: that said, this finish feels fabulous. It’s nice and smooth and looks like a perfect job was done at the factory.
* The pickup is old-school wired. it has a braided two-conductor wire just like my old Gibson Firebirds. The wiring is super-simple, and there’s not a lot to get in the way of this very special FB720 pickup’s sound.
* The gig bag is really nice: It’s a real plus and I’m keeping mine as long as I own this Firebird.
* I’m impressed with the signed certificate. I can’t tell if it is signed with ink by the two folks on the card, but it looks quite real to me.
* One more feature that really tipped me over the edge: the headstock construction looks JUST LIKE my Gibson Firebird V.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Cavity Shot

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Cavity Shot

If you buy your Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I through this link, I get a small amount of funding to help me run and maintain this FREE to the public guitar review site!

Playability
This is the easiest-to-play Epiphone Firebird I’ve ever owned (I’ve owned LOTS). The neck is a nice balance between a Firebird 60s neck and an Explorer 70s neck. Just enough round, just thick enough, just slippery enough to make me forget about the neck (a VERY good thing). The weight is bit lighter than my neck-through Gibson Firebirds, and is actually a little better balanced than my Firebird V, Firebird 7, and Firebird VII. With the BIG headstock and the Klusons, it does lean towards the neck a bit: with that said, it IS a Firebird!

The way the pickup sits and the controls are located are just fine. I don’t end up picking on top of the pickup so much as I do with my Firebird VII and my Firebird 7. The volume control and tone are just where they are supposed to be, but require a big hand move to do a volume swell or adjustment. Bear in mind, though, that this is not different than old Firebird I guitars. So this isn’t a problem per-SE… I’m just indicating that it feels a bit far. However, since I’ve started using a Morley volume pedal, this isn’t much of a problem any more on my far-control guitars.

The tummy-cut is awesome and feels just like it is supposed to. The body rests nicely on me whether I am standing with a strap or sitting without a strap. The rest of the guitar feels just like a Firebird. If you close your eyes, it would be largely hard to tell it is not one of my Gibsons.

I love the fingerboard radius (14”) and the smooth and shiny genuine rosewood fingerboard. Overall, when I’m fretting or bending strings, the fingerboard feels non-existent (a good thing).

Overall, I’d say that it’s EXTREMELY hard to put down and stop playing. Playability? Superb.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Cavity Shot With Body

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Cavity Shot With Body

Sound
One of the strong points of the Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is its sound. It sounds SUPERB. If you’d like to get an idea what it sounds like before you buy one, listen to Joe play one here (opens a new window). You can read more factory specs on the Epiphone JB Treasure page, too.

The single-pickup configuration, the simple controls and big potentiometers are awesome. The neck-through sustain and body’s sympathetic vibe are superb. I can’t say enough about this new pickup. I LOVE it! And paired with the body and neck-through, the sound just makes you giddy through a Fender amp, a VOX, a Marshall or even a small solid-state beginner’s amp.

Quality, Fit and Finish
I’ve owned a great many Epiphone guitars and basses over the years since Gibson bought Epi’s company and started making clones of the Gibson USA greats. When I first started recording, the only LPs, SGs, Explorers or Firebirds I could afford were used Epiphones.

That said, of all the Epiphones I have ever owned or played, my sunburst Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is the best-built, best-finished, and best overall Epiphone I have EVER owned or played. Bar none.

The paint finish is smooth and doesn’t have any smudges or spooges anywhere. The wood joints are perfect and the paint on the joints is nicely finished. The edge of the fingerboard is nicely clear-coated with the neck and the fingers don’t detect any line between the two. Like my non-bound Gibson Explorer fingerboards, the feel is completely smooth and easy.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" FB720 Pickup Front

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” FB720 Pickup Front

The soldering is quite well done, and there’s even a little slack in the capacitor’s wiring. If you want a professional to change the capacitor, it can be done very easily without actually damaging much of the potentiometer solder joints, if any. The jack is solid, and has a nice positive feel to it.

The tuners and hardware are nicely applied and are quite straight. The bridge is not adjusted like I would want, and the guitar came from the factory with some mild intonation problems: but these problems were easily resolved with the included allen wrench and a nice Peterson strobe tuner (you can buy one on your phone or desktop, too!). I really haven’t found too many guitars that come from the factory already intonated. I don’t know why this is so common, but there it is. My Firebird I wasn’t an exception. That’s pretty much the only issue I had.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Full Body Front Shot

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Full Body Front Shot

The sunburst paint is remarkably nicely done. On many Asian guitars, sunbursts tend to have a very “spray can hard edge” look to them. In my case, my Firebird I is very nicely faded from black to clear. Nice!

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" 9-ply Neck Detail

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” 9-ply Neck Detail

The 9-ply composition of the neck is extremely well done. The thicknesses of the woods is very consistent and very nicely paired. The look and grain of the mahogany is nice looking, if a little less dense than I’m used to on my Gibson USA guitars – but FAR better than most Asian-built mahogany guitars I’ve owned and/or played.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Neck-Thru Neck Joint

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Neck-Thru Neck Joint

Over all, Id say that the Quality is easily among the best Epiphone guitar I’ve ever had in my hands.

The interesting poly mist finish available on the Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird. As of this writing, zZounds has them in stock! Snag one before they are gone. Really!

Wishes and Wants
Honestly, just a couple.
* Dear Epiphone, PLEASE make a Firebird V variant constructed JUST like this, but with four controls, a stop bar + TOM bridge, and two of these FB720 pickups. PLEASE!
* For all the wonderful components in this great guitar, the cap is a little disappointing.  Please consider an Orange Drop Sprague capacitor: the included film-based capacitor is OK, but ODs aren’t that much more in bulk… this would actually be a good selling feature.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Knobs and Pointers

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Knobs and Pointers

The Awesome Green Machine Gibson M2 Citron Review: Mod One!

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Part One: The Awesome Amazon Exclusive Gibson M2 (Les Paul Shape) MOD ONE (Not Rogue One 🙂 ) Review!

Looking for the pictures and don’t want to read Jim’s wanderings: scroll down. I’ve put them in one convenient section!

Update: Gibson now has a product page for the M2 here!

I’ve really enjoyed playing my new Gibson M2. it’s a nice evolution to the Melody Maker type of guitars. It’s really quite nice, and is affordable. I wrote a review of it here My first-look Gibson M2 review.

One of the reasons I bought the M2 is because it has an easy, almost Fender-like means of changing out your sound. The neck is fixed, which is actually nice for sustain, but otherwise, it works like most Fenders: you can change the pickups and electronics very easily – even without re-stringing the guitar.

So what’s this review about? This one is the first of two I’d like to write: “What does the Gibson M2 look like under the covers – what can you do with it?”

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. They do have the nicer and better-sounding Gibson Firebird Zero!

Quick Opinion:
I found it super-easy to change out my sound with my Gibson M2. The on-pickguard electronics and top-routed cavities make it very easy to switch things out and easy to even put in a battery if you’d like to go active.

Everything about the Gibson M2 from the non-electronic parts is wonderful and well worth the price alone. The woods, the fit and finish, and the overall features of the body and hardware are really great, even at the low entry price. The electronics are average to excellent for the price range. In fact, the overall makeup of the electronics is as good or better than $900 (street price) guitars made in Asia.

The pickups, pots, jack, capacitor, and wires look almost like those included in Epiphone instruments. The switch is the very nice and extremely sturdy leaf-contact three-way toggle that looks a lot like Switchcraft’s switch and is extremely similar to those found in nice Epiphones. In replacing or modding this guitar, the switch is a keeper. In addition, the jack is pretty good, although a real Switchcraft 1/4” jack is a safer bet if you are going to actively play the guitar – particularly standing up and moving around.

The Amazon page lists the pickups as “Gibson ProBuckers.” It is likely they are some type of slightly-different humbuckers (from Epiphone ProBuckers). Looking at the pictures in this write-up as compared to pictures on the Internet (of Epiphone ProBuckers), there are key differences in the appearance. In addition, the weight of the pickups is a little different: the Gibson M2’s pickups feel slightly lighter than my older Epiphone Les Paul’s ProBuckers. This might be due to something very simple like differences in magnet weight or differences in potting/not potting… Overall, the pickups are great for an entry-level humbucker.

It’s a great guitar. If you’re not a modder like me, it is a SOLID value and a great little lightweight USA-made guitar that has a street value of about twice the actual purchase price.

What’s under the covers with the new Gibson M2?
When one takes the time to closely examine the non-electronic parts of the guitar, the materials, workmanship, and the assembly are excellent. The low-gloss finish is smoother and more comfortable than a matte or satin finish. The neck finish is nice, and the shape is good for a variety of hands, particularly the hands of beginning guitarists. The routing is clean and very well executed.

The tuners are new to anything I’ve seen with Gibson or Epiphone: they’re sealed tuners that have mount/stability pegs on them to go into holes on the back side of the headstock to keep them from turning. This is similar to the way some Taylor and Fender tuners are mounted on the headstock. As with the Gibson Firebird Zero, the tuners have a fairly wide ratio of wheel-to-machine-shaft turns. They look the same as those on my Gibson Firebird Zero: but with a catch – the tuners on the Firebird Zero are much smoother and require less effort than those on my M2. It might be a one-off issue, but my M2’s tuners feel a lot less refined and are actually harder to turn than most of the small-button tuners I’ve used. Overall, it gets to tuning pretty well, but just isn’t as fantastic as my Firebird Zero’s tuners.

I thought this would be a good place to post pictures of the electronics inside my M2. These are un-changed from the factory and are pre-modification: I thought it might be useful to share them with the world so some of the burning questions about pickups and wiring can be put to rest :-).

Pictures and captions!

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Neck pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Neck pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock front view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock front view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock and tunders back view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock and tunders back view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Bridge pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Bridge pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: alternative back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: alternative back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long front guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long front guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Maker's Stamp macro view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Maker’s Stamp macro view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed, pic 2. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed, pic 2. Photograph by VividPeace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. They do have the colorful and sonorous Gibson Firebird Zero!

What’s on tap for what I’m going to do to mod mine?
I’m leaving the body, pickguard, and tuners alone on my M2. They’re just fine and nicely done. What’s on my agenda to mod the M2 is to switch to either Bournes low-effort pots, a Switchcraft jack, better wires, a nice PIO (paper in oil) capacitor, and some type of pickup upgrade. I’ll be using the existing switch and pickup trim rings/springs.

I’m still debating which pickup work to do. I have a killer pair of matched Seymour Duncan Blackouts (series 1, gold covers), and I have a really nice non-matched pair of Seymour Duncan pickups in which I’ve switched the magnets to Alnico 3 (neck) and Alnico 4 (bridge). A third choice might be a pair of odd-fellow DiMarzio humbucker from my parts drawers that have nice output and can be nicely split with some Bournes push-pull DPDT pots I’ve picked up.

If I go with the Seymour Duncan Blackouts, I’ll be using the factory pots, jack, and wiring plus a nice PIO capacitor. With my one-off Seymour passives or the DiMarzios, I’ll be using some of the really nicely matched and assembled pots and jack from my goodies box. Since the DiMarzios are four conductor pickups, I’ll split them for sure, one pickup per knob.

In all cases, the slick-finished black hat knobs are not easy for my hands to grip or to do swells with a pinky while playing. I generally switch to either knurled dome knobs or speed knobs to make things a lot easier for my playing style. (Suffice it to say I have a couple of bags of genuine Gibson hat knobs. 🙂 )

If I can get time to write a post-modification review, I’ll post it here with pics!

Why Mod my Gibson M2?
I wanted the M2 for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I wanted to see what Gibson was doing, how well it was being done, and to see what sonic possibilities there might be found with a very low-cost instrument. The other (strong) reason I wanted an M2 was to use it as an easy-change recording mule: nice bright body; lightweight; and a snap to change out the pickups and wiring.

If I were a beginner, or if I were recommending a guitar to one of my students, I would recommend the M2 based on its merits, not on its mod-ability: it’s a great guitar on its own.

Note that I’m saving the original wiring of my M2, because it uses the connectors found in the Gibson Quick-connect system. I have several sets of different Gibson (and Seymour and Dimarzio) pickups with Gibson Quickconnect connectors on them, so I might reverse the mods and just use QC-capable pickups in my mule.

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. Here’s the Firebird Zero: they back what they sell and the people are the nicest in the business!

Stay tuned. I’ll finish my mods and post pictures and a short review as soon as work and life permits.

The Gibson M2 S-Series: USA-made Les Paul-Shaped Sonic Demon! Beginner’s Paradise

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

The Gibson M2 S-Series: USA-made Les Paul-Shaped Sonic Demon!!
Perfect for Beginners and Pros, Modders, and Gigging Bands On A Budget

Update: I’ve written a second review with lots of pictures of the inside and outside of my M2.

Update: Gibson now has a product page for the M2 here!

I was fortunate this past Christmas holiday: my wonderful spouse bought me a Gibson! I had been eyeballing the Amazon-exclusive M2 Electric Guitar since they were available on the Amazon site. I was particularly enamored with the Citron Green. Having played my Gibson Firebird Zero for a while now (with my awesome Gibson 57A3 pickups plugged in to the quick-connect system after I took pictures, modded the Zero, and started recording!), I’m very happy with the S-Series. This green monster is wonderful at about 2/3 the price (on sale) of the Firebird Zero, with very few compromises.

I’ve actually kept my eye out for another Amazon sale. I’m hoping to grab a blue, gray, or red one!

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2, since it is an Amazon exclusive. But you can still get the Firebird Zero S2-Series Guitar here!

Quick Opinion:
The Gibson M2 S Series LP-shaped guitar is a wonder of simple engineering, USA handmade goodness, and a perfect student’s instrument! I can’t express enough the fact that this guitar sounds, plays, feels, and IS better than pretty much every Asian-made beginner’s guitar on the market – at any base-model price.

It comes in lots of colors, including an almost PeptoPink, it’s easily available, and Amazon backs up their exclusive Gibsons with their usual easy-return customer service. You can try one out with the knowledge that it is backed by a pro-customer-service company. You can see the specs and buy the M2 here at Amazon.com (opens new window).

Features:
The new Gibson M2 electric guitar is huge on features for such a low-end guitar, is made in America, and is the absolute pinnacle of well-made very basic entry-level guitars. You would be hard-pressed to find a nicer and better-playing guitar in this price range with a gig bag, much less one made in the USA. I do see that many Poly-Painted Epiphones are nicer in features and glossy finishes: but the Epiphones still don’t have that American touch to them.

– Series: S Series
– Body Style: Les Paul in general shape, like an LP Melody maker or a thin LP Special. VERY Light! Very well balanced
– Back: Solid poplar
– Neck: One piece solid maple with satin nitro finish
– Neck profile: Slim taper (this is similar to the 60s neck shape on many SGs and Firebirds – but it feels narrower in some way. Each one I’ve played is typical Gibson: hand-hewn and a little different from guitar to guitar.
– Fingerboard: One piece solid rosewood – this is a nice feature for this price point
– Scale length: 24.75 – just as most Gibsons are…
– Number of frets: 22
– Nut: Tektoid – mine are nicely cut and required no work. Nice job on this one Gibson!
– Inlay: Acrylic dots
– Bridge: Adjustable wraparound – this guitar’s cost has a savings by not including the stop tail and its studs.
– Knobs: Black top hats – these are the traditional “student” Gibson knobs. They’re slippery to me, so I usually replace them with knurls or speed knobs.
– Tuners: Mini-buttons – these are a surprise hit! These are a cost savings over Grovers – and the ratio is actually really nice!
– Plating: Chrome
– Neck pickup: Gibson Pro Bucker Rhythm
– Bridge pickup: Gibson Pro Bucker Lead
– Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone, 1 toggle switch (the toggle is the traditional 3-way: neck-neck and bridge-bridge)
– Case: S Series padded gig bag
I know that the M2 isn’t available outside Amazon, but there are other affordable Gibson S Series electric guitars out there at my favorite online retailer: zZounds.com.

Several nice features to point out:
* The paint finish is lacquer, and has a nice smooth feel to it. It’s a bit more satin than the Firebird Zero lacquer, and you can see and feel lots of Poplar grain with your eyes and fingers. It’s interesting: you can see the beautiful waves of Poplar grain on the top and the back of my M2. It’s attractive, actually. The guitar feels right at home when I play it.
* The neck is a nice semi-satin. It doesn’t grab at the player’s skin when palms get sweaty: and it still feels much smoother than most maple necks on inexpensive guitars.
* The electronics are loosely based on the Gibson Quick Connect system. The pickups can be easily switched with others that have the five-pin Quick Connect fitting. A VERY easy upgrade if you ever want BurstBuckers, maybe some 57s, or something screamin’ like some Gibson Dirty Fingers humbuckers or a Gibson 500T Super Ceramic!
* All the non-pickup electronics are attached to the pickguard: to work on them, you don’t even have to pull the strings. The pickguard is completely unfettered when the guitar is strung.
* The controls are simple: one volume, one tone, and a three-way. The jack is front-panel, easy-to-use and will accept an L-connector guitar cable.
* The tuners! WOW. I’m still blown away. Just as nice as the Firebird Zero, just 3+3 instead of inline. My first thought when I saw the pictures was “I’ll find some Klusons or Grovers and replace those: they look maybe too cheap.” I WAS WRONG. They’re high-ratio (maybe 18:1 or 19:1?), very smooth, and work really very well!
* The M2 has a new take on a Melody-Maker-like headstock: it’s thin, without the added wood to give the wide sweeping book-top headstock, but it still looks like Gibson.
* I’ll say it again: it comes with a simply nice gig bag. You rarely get a gig bag with entry-level instruments below $500.

If you’re thinking about hard shell cases, it fits great in a traditional Gibson or Epiphone Les Paul hard case. it fits in my Gibson LP cases, my Epiphone LP case, my SKB LP case, and even some old-fashioned cheap rectangular cases.

This Epiphone case fits the M2 just fine. The M2 is thin, so it isn’t quite as “clamped down” as it would be with a thicker LP shape…

Playability
This guitar is nicely balanced. it is thin and light – so much so that when you put it on a strap, it is almost non-fatiguing when you stand and play for hours. If you are a young player with small hands and a petite body, this guitar feels right at home and won’t make you topple over like a traditional weight LP Standard or Traditional. It’s perfect for comfy jamming.

Similar to the Gibson Firebird Zero, I like the finish. It feels good when you’re playing the guitar. The M2 is more satin than the Zero, but it is FAR better than the flat-black guitars that proliferate in the entry-level guitar market. With most non-gloss guitars, fingerprints and funky patches crop up on the first day you play them. With the M2, it looks like the finish has just enough natural gloss to wear in nicely and make a breathable instrument in its old age.

Gibsons Galore Gather Gleefully and Graciously with Goodness at my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Sound
To reiterate what I said in my Gibson Firebird Zero review (opens a new window), I’ve played (literally) thousands of 2-humbucker electric guitars in my 5+ decade life. Some were $100 new, some were $7000 new. Lots in between. The sound of an electric guitar is partly subjective and partly objective. “How you play it and through what device(s) you play it really change things.”

I think this next part of the Firebird Zero review works just fine for the M2, too, so here’s a short excerpt paste:

For me, the best two measures are: Absolutely clean straight circuit with no effects and no pushing the pre-amp; and a good tube pre-amp running just hard enough to make the sound just a touch growly or fat-jazzy to really feel the body of the sound. Of course, other types of play are important, such as rock, jazz, metal, new age, pedals and such, but the first two of these are the most telling of all.

A good pickup is what you need it to be. Need that SRV sound? Scooped pickup EQ and overdrive is the best way to see if you like the pickups. Need that Tony Iommi sound? Good balance with very clean highs and crushing miss with balanced lows… Need that Dwayne Allman or Derek Trucks sound? Good balance on the three main EQs with emphasis on tight highs and very tight lows…

Me? I like a balanced pickup with all three main EQs about equal. I want the pickup to clean up for jazzy or mellow passages, and I want it to have crystal clarity when I overdrive it or run it through several effects pedals. I also want the bass sounds to be very present and clean: no mud. Miss? I like them to be present in the harmonics and not scooped out or enhanced.

These pickups are different than the Firebird Zero pickups in their makeup, their thickness (sound), and their EQ. They’re a bit drier, have a bit more honk in the bridge, and reflect the thin small body and the maple neck pretty accurately. They are just that, accurate. They’re not overwhelming, they’re not bad, just accurate. These aren’t high-output metal pickups that will pop to top off your Mesa, but they drive a nice tube amp in a very respectable way.

However: Compared to pretty much every bargain pickup on the market in sub-$500 guitars, these are awesome. They sound much cleaner and more refined than the average super-cheap double-black humbucker out there in the entry-level guitar market.They do clean up pretty well and can do good old heavy metal just fine. If you want to chug-a-lug some grinding country or throw down on some hard rock, they do a decent job. They’re head and shoulders above almost everything in their price/type class. I like them much better than the low-quality humbucker pups in pretty much every intro-level HH guitar I’ve owned or played. That said, remember: these are entry-level pickups.

Besides, they are fun and easy to replace if want to get a black one and Get Your Tony Iommi going with some Gibson signature pickups or some Seymour Distortions (OK, or your DiMarzio Super 2s, EMGs, etc). Actually, plugging in a Gibson 500T Super Ceramic in the bridge gives a face-blowing metal sound. NICE!

Fit and Finish
Just like my Gibson Firebird Zero, my wild and crazy-looking Citron Green M2 came well-painted and nicely strung. In the case of my M2, however, the Green Bean Machine Christmas M2 was much better in its setup and playability right out of the box. Interestingly, it comes in the same really nice shipping box as a top-level high-end Les Paul like a Standard, Custom, or Traditional. I liked the new plastic fret protector that’s inserted between the frets and the strings for shipment – it’s a great and inexpensive way to prevent shipping crushes causing string indents. It’s nice enough to keep and put back every time you put your guitar in the gig bag or case.

My lovely from-my-super-awesome-wife gift M2 came MUCH better intonated than my Firebird Zero. it was either a good match from the parts bin, or the set up tech really spent time adjusting things. I only had to move the three plain-string saddles (kind of typical to find intonation issues on a low-end guitar. It did well for a wrap-around bridge guitar when it was properly intonated using one of my Peterson strobe tuners).

Last request on this review. I pay for my site myself, write all the materials, and take most of the pictures myself. It really helps if you visit zZounds with this link and buy your gear. I don’t get credit for anything when other pages see my cookie and offer a cookie of their own. Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Wishes and Wants
I do wish that other vendors offered versions of the M2, or maybe even just colors. I like Amazon, truly: and I do like the idea of competition and multiple sourcing.