1938 Epiphone Electar Model M

The Electar Model M was Epiphone’s flagship lap steel in the 1930s, selling with a matching amplifier for $150. Although less expensive than the double-necked Rocco model, the M was Epiphone’s biggest-selling electric instrument of the decade. Its defining feature was the aluminum slab that covered the body and gave the instrument extra sustain; the slab-less Zephyr, which replaced the M in 1939, had noticeably shorter sustain. This slab was plated with nickel on the earliest examples, but Epiphone quickly changed to a black anodized coating with an art-deco pattern etched into the top.

Both the nickel and the first black instruments sported pickups with horseshoe magnets, but this was changed in 1937 to what Epiphone called their “Master Pickup”. The Master Pickup is historically notable: it was the first pickup to feature individually adjustable poles. Designed by Epiphone employee Herb Sunshine, it had slightly lower output than the horseshoe it replaced, which makes it somewhat less desirable to collectors today. Ironically, it tends to have excellent string balance even with the poles set flat – but it still spurred Gibson, National and other companies to create their own pole adjustment systems. Shortly before the pickup change, Epiphone also introduced a 2-knob EQ circuit to the Model M (on both the Hawaiian and Spanish guitars), with a bass roll-off next to the traditional treble roll-off knob.

In 1938, Epiphone produced two additional variations on the Model M. One had a light grey body and blue anodized top, plus white knobs to complete look. The other, pictured above, had the same grey body but a gold anodized top with black knobs. The gold version also featured a figured maple fretboard in contrast to the rosewood boards used on the other versions. Unfortunately for historians, the blue and gold Ms were only built in a year when Epiphone did not release a new catalog; no official literature shows or describes them or their prices. In fact, no Epiphone literature shows the Model M with the Master Pickup or the two-knob EQ. Instead, the next catalog (1939) shows the Zephyr, with the Model M consigned to history.

The blue and gold Ms are considerably rarer than the black versions. This example has survived in relatively clean condition, without the pick marks that frequently wear away at the anodizing. All the components are original, though the plastic bezel that was originally fitted around the pickup has cracked and warped; I removed it for the sake of appearance.