Ca. 1930 Epiphone S-3

While Epiphone built flat-top acoustic guitars throughout its history, they never constituted a major part of the company’s production until after it was purchased by Gibson. Epiphone flat-tops from the ‘20s through the ‘50s are built to similarly high standards as their archtop brethren, but they remain relatively obscure due to their low visibility. The earliest examples are particularly rare because the company had limited overall output; the Recording series of the late 1920s have achieved some popularity due to their unconventional shapes, but the Seville series remain so obscure that many vintage guitar aficionados are unaware of their existence.

Such is the mystery surrounding the Seville models that nobody is quite sure when they were introduced or discontinued, though it appears likely that they were only built for a year or two in 1930-1. There were five models built, numbered 0 to 4, and each was offered in concert and auditorium size. Tenor and plectrum models were also catalogued, though their Florentine body shape clearly derives from the Recording series. While the Seville name was probably chosen to emphasize that these guitars were built for Spanish-style playing, the numbered models were available set up for Hawaiian playing. Surprisingly, most of the surviving examples are of the Model 4, the most expensive of the range.  I have found a couple of Model 0s and one other Model 3, but no model 1s or 2s. Like the Recording series, the Seville models appear to have changed in appearance several times over their short production span, but not enough information exists to put the various iterations in chronological order.

Models 3 and 4 sported an unusual feature that was also used on the Recording series: a laminated, arched back. (In the days before the nomenclature was standardized, the Epiphone catalog referred to it as “swelled”). This arched back would remain a fixture of Epiphone flat-tops until the Gibson period, by which point the former Epiphone craftsmen had passed the design on to their new employers at Guild and United Guitars. Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Seville series, however, is the bridge design: an oversized pin block supporting a floating saddle. It appears that Epiphone was trying to combine features from Gibson archtops with a flat-top design that would appeal to more traditionally-minded players. The floating saddle, the arched back and the snakehead headstock all seemed like nods to Gibson designs of the mid 1920s.

But, if the Seville’s design features were innovative, the quality of construction was top-notch. This was reflected in the price: the S-3 listed for $75 – the same as a Martin 0-28 or a Gibson L-2. While this one has developed a couple of top cracks over the years and the top has been oversprayed, it remains in solid overall condition. The X-braced spruce top and maple back give it a surprising amount of volume and bass for a concert-sized guitar. It has the feel and sound of a high-end instrument, but its unconventional features hark back more to the House of Stathopoulo than the Masterbilt series of the 1930s.