Epiphone Howard Roberts Arch Top Acoustic/Electric Guitar (1966)

Epiphone  Howard Roberts Arch Top Acoustic/Electric Guitar  (1966)
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Item # 11632
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Epiphone Howard Roberts Model Arch Top Acoustic/Electric Guitar (1966), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 408834, natural top, dark back and sides finish, laminated maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

The Epiphone Howard Roberts Model is one of the more obscure and interesting products of the brand's Kalamazoo era, a souvenir of CMI/Gibson/Epiphone courting of prominent jazz artists of the era with signature guitars. Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessell and (on a slightly different plane) Trini Lopez were given Gibson branded models, while Al Caiola and Howard Roberts had their names associated with Epiphone. Roberts was a prominent artist at the time, and in many ways his signature design was the most original of the bunch.

Introduced in later 1964, The Epiphone "HR" models were offered in Standard and Custom variations, both built on an arched 16" wide Florentine cutaway body with an oval soundhole. This unusual (for the 1960s) feature was a throwback to the 1910s and '20s L-4 model, and gave the guitars a totally distinctive look and sound. The body used the same dimensions as a 1950-60s L-4C, but those were F-hole models. Original Epiphone HR models were also unusual in having a solid carved spruce top, while subsequent Gibson versions used all-laminate construction. This gives this version a noticeably superior acoustic voice to any reissues. The instrument was electrified with the recently-introduced Johnny Smith floating pickup, itself a variation of the fairly new Epiphone mini-humbucker.

This guitar is technically the HR-NE version, signifying it is the "Standard' model with a natural finished top over walnut back and sides ("N") with the pickup installed ("E"). The natural top is triple bound, the back single bound. This is a dedicated electric; while the pickup is floating, the controls are built into the top. The mahogany neck has a slim round profile topped with a bound rosewood fingerboard, inlaid with notched blocks in pearl. The elongated Epiphone headstock mounts Kluson "waffleback" tuners with metal buttons, not often seen in the '60s.

The very rare Custom model was fancier all around, and there was also a more common sunburst variant. This natural top version listed for $455 (plus case) in 1966, which qualified as a midline price point. Howard Roberts models were built in limited quantities between 1964 and 1969, with less than 350 of all variations shipped; only 90 were this natural top variant. This interesting Kalamazoo-built rarity shows some wear but remains a unique, great playing and sounding guitar unlike any other.
Overall length is 41 7/8 in. (106.4 cm.), 16 1/8 in. (41 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 5/8 in. (41 mm.).

This guitar shows some general wear but nothing too serious, and remains original and unaltered with no notable repairs. The finish shows checking overall with a collection of dings, dents and scrapes most heavily to the top. There is a deep "case lid" dent on the top off the upper bass bout and numerous smaller dings; the back and sides are somewhat cleaner. The back of the neck has some wear including feelable dings and chips with some finish flaked off in the lower positions, and there are typical chips and dings to the headstock edges.

The guitar looks to have been refretted some time ago with wire similar to the original and shows some very minor subsequent wear. All hardware is original; the "E" epsilon logo has fallen off the pickguard, which has curled down a bit and a strap button has been added to the heel. Much of the original special "Howard Roberts" label has flaked away but the serial number is legible on the headstock. This is a fine sounding and playing guitar, a fairly rare find with a unique sound and presence. Overall Very Good + Condition.