While I’m on the subject of archtops, let me introduce you to the Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor. Archtop guitars usually fetch a pretty hefty price. I was glad to see Epiphone fill a market niche back in the Nineties with some affordable models that were very high quality instruments. The Joe Pass is an ornate guitar compared to the Godin previously reviewed—lots of inlay, multi-ply binding, gold hardware, and Joe Pass’ signature embossed in the pick guard. It’s not a guitar for a player who thinks “enough is enough and too much is vulgar.” It’s over the top on decoration.
The guitar has a laminated spruce top with laminated maple back and sides, which have some flame to them. The guitar came in a few classic finishes: natural, antique sunburst, cherry sunburst, black, and red. This is a small-body archtop with a 16” lower bout. Unlike acoustic archtops which are designed to be played in a jazz orchestra, the smaller body is not a downside. In fact, it’s more comfortable to hold and play. The neck and body on this guitar sit just right and the balance is good.
The electronics are basic and they do a good job delivering dark tones and snappy ones. Two pickups add functionality and you can get jazzy tones to rockabilly as you might wish. The neck on these guitars are really nice, not too meaty but substantial. The fret finishing is great. Put a set of flat wounds on there and the guitar feels fast and seemingly effortless to play.