If you see Epiphone as merely a destination for players who are priced out by Gibson you need to reconsider.
Yes, you’ll get your Les Paul and SG fixes in the roster but there are also some interesting things going on that are distinct and, whisper it, more exciting than some of the product Gibson put out during the Juszkiewicz years.
The Lee Malia signature series was a case in point and, like those models’ well-considered pickup controls, the electronics here and their potential are just as big a story as anything else. Spoiler: we’re excited about this one.
The Gibson J-200 started life as the Super Jumbo before its current moniker stuck in 1955. It’s traditionally regarded as a strummer’s pal and in theory the larger size rewards players with a deeper bottom end. That’s certainly present and correct here, alongside the distinctive calling cards of J-200 heritage; the moustache bridge, decorative tortoiseshell-style pickguard and pearloid crown inlays. The rosewood ’board and bridge of old are now pau ferro, though.
Newcomers may be surprised by first impressions of its sound; it’s balanced rather than boomy, and that’s a very good thing because it gives chord work the fullness that made this model’s reputation.
It’s a strummer’s delight with the highs offering articulation and the low-mids and bass creating a warm foundation that sounds full and orchestrated. The slim 1960s D-shape profile feels like a good middle ground for most styles, but we think it’s rhythm work where this guitar’s voice truly shines.
All this is good, but what pushes the J-200 SCE into greatness for the price is the electro side. Most affordable electro-acoustics we’ve looked at in recent years favour low-key, streamlined systems, which can feel a little tacked-on. But this isn’t a low-key guitar...
German company Shadow supplies the eSonic-2 preamp with two pickups here; a traditional undersaddle piezo in the form of the NanoFlex and the NanoMag, located at the end of the fingerboard. There’s a mono output for both these sources or the option of using two outputs to separate them in stereo.
So far, so unusual. Add in a tuner, the ability to blend the two pickups as you wish on the fly with the onboard controls with separate EQ for each... well, it gets even more interesting and it’s a user-friendly layout to tweak.
The plugged-in sound really does this guitar justice - its NanoMag has the more bite at extremes but blended it’s a great mix of warmth and attack. This is the best plugged-in performance we’ve encountered on a sub-$/£500 electro-acoustic, and the whole package is frankly startling for the price.