1956 Epiphone FT-79

Epiphone introduced its first guitars in the late 1920s, both flat-top and archtop models that were very much products of their time (old-fashioned by modern standards). The company’s focus remained on banjos until 1931, when it announced the arrival of the Masterbuilt line of archtop guitars. While several of the Masterbuilt models would become staples of the Epiphone line (and of the archtop market in general) for the next few decades, the company’s flat-top designs were left as afterthoughts. Not until Gibson acquired the brand would Epiphone produce flat-top acoustics in large numbers.

The first modern-style Epiphone flat-top guitars, which appeared in the early 1930s, were partially derivative of Martin and Gibson designs without explicitly copying them. The larger Epiphone models had dreadnaught bodies with slightly more rounded contours than their competitors. Around 1949 these were altered to a shape somewhere in between a dreadnought and a jumbo: a 16” lower bout but a waist and upper bout closer in shape to an OM. Like most Epiphone acoustics, they featured a long 25.5” scale to maximize volume. At the same time this body shape was introduced, Epiphone also began fitting its larger flat tops with what they called a “tone back”: a laminated, arched back designed to increase projection.

The mainstays of the Epiphone flat-top line were the FT-110 and FT-79, which both featured the aforementioned body but differed in cosmetics. The FT-79 was a relatively plain instrument while the FT-110 featured figured woods, a bound fretboard, a fancier rosette and different fret markers. To further accentuate the difference, around 1955 the FT-79’s fret markers were downgraded from parallelograms to simple dots. As Epiphone’s production was beginning to falter around that time and would completely shut down by around 1957, examples with dot markers are relatively rare.

Despite an overall drop in quality control around the time it was built, my guitar remains a superb instrument. The original binding had to be replaced, though Epiphones with rotten celluloid can be found dating back to the 1930s. The neck has been reset and there appears to be some overspray around the edges to cover finish damage during rebinding, but the guitar is easy to play and there are no structural problems. The guitar is very loud, with a brighter voice than any Gibson or Martin of the time but still retaining a strong and punchy bass. It does well when fingerpicked, but it really shines when strummed hard.