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You may have heard that Epiphone (acoustic electric) guitars are less expensive versions of the pricey Gibsons. To a certain point, you could argue that that is true, but Epiphone guitars are really fine instruments in their own right. Cheaper than Gibsons, yes, but still of very high quality.
Even those Epiphones under $300 which I’ll examine here are among the best “beginner” acoustic electric guitars you can find today. There are at least 5 models that you should be able to get in this price range.
If you’re in a hurry and want to quickly check the pricing and availability of these five at Amazon, you can click the links in the list below. They are listed in no particular order.
If you have time to discover more of the details of these Epiphone acoustic electric guitars, you can keep reading below as usual or click a link in the box just below to skip ahead to a specific part of the review.
Side By Side Comparison of the 5 Epiphones under $300
Let’s start with a table or two that shows you at a glance what’s the same and what’s different among these Epiphones. Later I’ll look a little closer at the details to help you decide which one is best for you.
|Model||Caballero||PRO-1 Ultra||AJ-210CE||Humming bird PRO||EL-00 PRO|
|Top||Select Mahogany||Solid Spruce||Select Spruce||Solid Spruce||Solid Spruce|
|Back||Select Mahogany||Select Mahogany||Select Mahogany||Select Mahogany||Select Mahogany|
|Neck Shape||1960s SlimTaper||EZ-Profile “D”||SlimTaper “D”||SlimTaper “D”||SlimTaper “D”|
|Scale Length (in.)||24.75||24.75||25.5||24.75||24.75|
|Finger board Radius (in.)||12||n/a||12||12||12|
|Nut Width (in.)||1.68||1.68||1.68||1.68||1.68|
|Electronics||Shadow Performer||Shadow Performer||Shadow Performer||Shadow Performer||Fishman Sonitone|
|Pickup||Shadow NanoFlex||Shadow NanoFlex||Shadow NanoFlex||Shadow NanoFlex||Fishman SoniCore|
|Frets||20 medium||20 JumboPRO||20 medium||20 medium||19 medium|
|Bridge||Reverse Belly||Reverse Belly||Reverse Belly||Reverse Belly||Straight|
The next table shows the preamp controls.
|Model||Caballero||PRO-1 Ultra||AJ-210CE||Humming bird PRO||EL-00 PRO|
|Tuner / Mute||Yes||Yes||Yes||n/a||n/a|
|Low Battery Indicator||Yes||Yes||Yes||n/a||n/a|
*n/a – In all cases above, the “n/a” means that I could not find if this particular control was available or not. The EL-00 has a “tone controls”, but I have not been able to verify exactly what this means.
When it comes to using these guitars as electronic instruments, the pickups can make a big difference. You can see from the table above that all but the EL-00 use the Shadow NanoFlex pickup. The EL-00 uses Fishman products.
It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s that one can sound different than the other, and it depends what sound you are looking for. To decide which one you like better, you’ll have to try to get your hands on each – a Shadow and a Fishman – and listen for yourself.
Epiphone Limited Edition “1964” Caballero
The original Caballero was an acoustic only instrument.
Here is a good demonstration of what the new version of this guitar can do.
Here’s a very brief history of that guitar from Epiphone.
“The Epiphone Caballero was one of the first new “modern” acoustic guitars designed and built at Epiphone’s new home in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the late 50s when it joined forces with Gibson Brands.”
The Caballero was produced for about a decade and eventually morphed into the FT-130. The instrument we have in this Limited Edition version is now an acoustic electric guitar that mimics the original, at least, acoustically.
Epiphone claims that “the Caballero’s small body belies a powerful, full toned ‘singer’s guitar’ that has a punchy midrange that’s perfect for both recording and for stage.”
You also get Guitar User’s Manual, Shadow Preamp Manual, Truss Rod Wrench, and a set of D’Addario® strings (12, 16, 25, 34, 41, 53).
Epiphone PRO-1 Ultra
Epiphone has a “Collection” of PRO-1 guitars. The PRO-1 Ultra is an acoustic electric that is one of several models in that collection. All models in the PRO-1 group have the following features.
To reduce hand fatigue, Epiphone designed what they call the EZ-Profile neck. This particular rounding is supposed to make it easier to finger the chords. My only question is this: If this makes chording easier, why don’t they design all guitars this way?
JumboPRO frets also help with chording by making it easier for the strings to contact the frets. These frets are taller and wider than others. Again, why not do this on all guitars?
The PRO-1 Ultra has a scale length (the distance from nut to bridge saddle) that, according to Epiphone, is shorter (at 24.75 inches) than that of most guitars. That said, only the AJ-210CE in the group of guitars discussed here has a longer scale length (25.5 inches). With this setup, the strings are under less tension, so once more, you should have less trouble creating chords.
PRO-Ease lubrication on the strings and fingerboard gives you smoother action when switching from chord to chord or note to note. It also produces less string noise as your fingers slide up and down the neck.
All PRO-1 guitars come with Epiphone Ultra-Light strings. The idea here is that lighter strings are easier to play. There are pros and cons here. If you consider lighter strings a con, you can easily swap these out for a set of your favorite strings instead.
The final PRO-1 specific feature is a dual-action truss rod that lets you adjust the neck in both directions, should you ever find it necessary to do so. It’s very possible that the neck will be setup just right from the factory and that you will never want to move it forward or backward, but it’s nice to know that you can if you want to.
This video is just the acoustic version, but I wanted to show you one from Dawsons so it would be easier to compare to the other videos. You can easily find videos of the Ultra elsewhere.
The neck joint on the PRO-1 Ultra is listed only as “glued-in”. If you prefer a more solid connection than this, you’ll have to look to another model.
Epiphone includes a humidifier (packet?) that protects your guitar from the dryest of atmospheric conditions. Most of the time, simply keeping your instrument in its case should be enough to keep all the pieces in place. If you live in an arid climate though, this may not be sufficient.
If you’re just getting started on guitar, you will appreciate the inclusion of the Beginner’s Guide to Guitar, a booklet by Craig Anderton. You might also like to take advantage of online lessons from eMedia.
You get a choice of several colors for your PRO-1 Ultra. Select from Blueburst, Ebony, Natural, Vintage Sunburst, and Wine Red.
Epiphone AJ-210CE Outfit
The “AJ” in the name of this guitar stands for “Advanced Jumbo”. Note that the price on this model can vary significantly.
There’s not a lot to add about the AJ-210CE acoustic electric other than what is in the table above and that you can see in the picture here. It only comes in this “natural” color.
Here’s another video demo from Dawsons.co.uk. (I am not affiliated with that site.)
In addition to the neck being glued in, Epiphone also describes it as a “set neck” which means that it also is joined either by a mortise and tenon or a dovetail joint. Epiphone doesn’t specify which.
The AJ-210CE comes withD’Addario Phosphor strings ranging from size 12 through 53. You also get a hard case to store your guitar in.
Epiphone Hummingbird PRO
This version of the Hummingbird recalls the legendary country / rock edition of the 1960s. It adds a preamps and pickup system to turn it into an acoustic electric model.
This is what the Hummingbird sounds like.
Here is a little history of the Hummingbird from Epiphone.
“First introduced in 1960, the square shouldered Hummingbird quickly became a classic thanks to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who used a Hummingbird for rhythm on early Stones hits like Satisfaction, Play With Fire, and Under My Thumb. There are also many classic photographs of Richards using a Hummingbird on sessions for Exile on Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup, and Sticky Fingers.”
Even today, this classic is used by Noel Gallagher, Sheryl Crow, and Kid Rock as a rhythm guitar. Adding the electric capabilities gives you an even greater range of possibilities for use.
Epiphone kept the traditional Hummingbird artwork on the imitation tortoise pickguard. If you play acoustically, will anyone notice whether you have an original or this new model?
Epiphone EL-00 PRO
And here’s a little history of the EL-00 PRO.
“The Epiphone EL-00 PRO Acoustic/Electric guitar is a direct descendent of Epiphone’s original line of flattops going back to the golden age of acoustic guitars in the 1930s. The smaller ‘parlor’ or ‘blues box’ style acoustic guitar is favored by blues players of all eras for its compressed, woody tonal quality, short scale, and comfortable weight which makes it ideal for fingerpicking or the bark of a bottle neck slide.”
One more video from Dawsons. Note that he disagrees with the scale length mentioned above, which is from the Epiphone site.
This neck joint does have a dovetail connection in addition to the gluing. I like joints that have more than just glue. They seem more solid.
As noted in the table above, the EL-00 only has 19 frets. If you need that 20th fret, you’ll have to look at another model.
The tortoise shell style pickguard features the vintage metal “E” (for Epiphone). The only color available is “Vintage Sunburst”.
As with several other Epiphone models, you get D’Addario Phosphor strings (12 through 53).
For the price, I think you would be pleased to own any of these models. Check them out in person, if you can. Then…