With all three guitar-playing Beatles using Casinos at the band’s dazzling creative peak, the model’s hall-of-fame status has long been assured. That said, like many feedback-prone hollowbody designs and its close cousin the Gibson ES-330, the Casino’s popularity waned considerably in the 1970s and 80s when hair was long and stacks were loud and high.
- READ MORE: The history of the Epiphone Casino
These days, of course, stage volumes in most live venues are more conservative than ever before and, for a new breed of guitarists, the lion’s share of public performances take place via social media. This makes hollowbody guitars more viable today than they have been at almost any time since the Epiphone Casino first rolled out of Kalamazoo in 1961. Then again, if you ask Casino players such as Gary Clark Jr, Barrie Cadogan or Teenage Fanclub’s Raymond McGinley, they’ll probably tell you that struggling to tame a hollowbody on the edge of feedback is all part of the fun, likewise battling with the Casino’s 16th fret neck join.
Rather than aiming for a specific model year, the USA Collection Casino is something of a greatest hits compilation of desirable features. The Vintage Sunburst version comes with black plastic dogear pickup covers but our review model, in sumptuous Royal Tan gloss nitrocellulose with contrasting walnut-stained back and sides, comes with nickel covers. Visually, it’s reminiscent of Paul Weller’s famous guitar, which must be one of the best-looking Casinos of all.
The pickups under those nickel covers are Gibson USA P-90s. Just like the Gibson Original Collection ES-335 and ES-345 we reviewed recently – and which were built on the same Nashville production line – the wiring harness here has been wired by hand and features Orange Drop tone capacitors. The mahogany neck has the earlier short headstock design, while the body is constructed from three-ply maple/poplar/maple laminates with quartersawn spruce bracing and no centre block.
Before we plug in, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that the guitar’s acrylic parallelogram inlays have been flipped horizontally when compared to the vintage design. This was intended as a subtle way to make this incarnation of Epiphone Casino visually distinct from others in the catalogue.
The fingerboard binding is slightly thicker than we’d like and the ‘board edges would be more welcoming if they were rolled but we soon forget all about that as the Casino’s rounded C neck profile is just about perfect. Acoustically, there’s a pleasing balance and longer sustain than some examples of its type, and when amplified this translates into the kind of addictive white-knuckle ride that Casino and ES-330 devotees live for. The lack of height adjustment means that the pickups are set relatively low but there’s still plenty of power and chime, and all the complexity that can make Gibson’s humbucker-loaded semis sound a little safe and pedestrian in comparison.
The neck pickup dominates proceedings slightly but a few turns on each of the bridge pickup’s pole screws helps redress the balance and only increases the nasal midrange honk that P-90 fans adore. Though the Casino is famed for pop jangle – and with good reason – one of its other great strengths is vintage soul and funk. Both the middle and neck positions provide a seriously infectious platform for choppy Curtis Mayfield and Leo Nocentelli-style grooves, and the neck pickup offers plenty of character for dynamic blues and jazz too.
In a shootout with our 1969 ES-330 (a long-neck model with a Bigsby) the Casino sounds clearer, with more air but less midrange snarl. To some extent we’re comparing apples and oranges as the Gibson’s vibrato tailpiece, shimmed bridge pickup and 19th fret neck join make it a slightly different proposition. However, the modern guitar is no less expressive than the vintage instrument, and the Casino arguably offers greater versatility thanks to its upper-harmonic presence and more hi-fi tonality. Depending on context, then, the old ones aren’t always the best.
- PRICE £2,399 (inc hard case)
- DESCRIPTION Hollowbody double-cutaway electric guitar, made in USA
- BUILD 3-ply maple/poplar/maple body with quartersawn spruce bracing and single-ply cream binding. Solid mahogany neck with bound 12” radius Indian rosewood fingerboard, acrylic parallelogram markers, 22 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech nut
- HARDWARE Nickel ABR-1 bridge and trapeze tailpiece, Grover vintage-style tuners
- ELECTRONICS 2x Gibson USA P-90 Dogear pickups, 2x volume, 2x tone
- SCALE LENGTH 24.75″/629mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.7mm at nut, 53.1mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 22.1mm at first fret, 24.3mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.4mm at nut, 51.2mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 6.3lb/2.8kg
- LEFT-HANDERS Yes
- FINISH Royal Tan gloss nitrocellulose (as reviewed), Vintage Sunburst
- CONTACT epiphone.com