Alt.rock chops-meister Dave Navarro, known for his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, has thrashed on many a solidbody electric over the years, but he’s also well respected as an acoustic player. Last year he teamed up with Epiphone, and the outcome is a signature electro.
The guitar is a regular Venetian-cutaway dreadnought, but the adornments evidently reflect his own leanings. The scratchplate pays a vague nod to Gibson’s Hummingbird, but instead of that appealing flutterer we see threatening crows alighting on a leafless tree.
Then there’s the pearl hexagram markers up the ebony fingerboard: a symbol that has many associations, from Hinduism, heraldry, theosophy to occultism… take your pick. In recognition of his four-time stints – including currently – with Jane’s Addiction, who have a new album due for release in August, the word ‘Jane’ is etched into the truss rod cover.
Under the lustrous lacquer is a body comprising a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and laminated sides. The neck is said to be one-piece mahogany, though it’s impossible to visually verify this, given the solid black paintwork. Body, neck and headstock are all treated to white binding, the top adding wide, eight-ply black/white purfling strips.
The soundhole rosette is inlaid with abalone, while the moustachio’d rosewood bridge borrows from Gibson’s jumbo design. A second strap button at the heel is standard issue, we’re pleased to see.
At 44mm across the nut, the 649mm-scale neck is a little wider than average, allied to a moderate-depth profile that is fashioned to a flat-backed C with a touch of a D along the shoulders.
It presents a slick, accessible feel, our sample’s fret dressing and set-up are very good, and a full 55mm string spacing at the bridge caters comfortably for various picking styles.
Epiphone has chosen a Shadow-made eSonic system with a Nanoflex undersaddle transducer with multi-layer sensors of an undefined nature that detect vibrations from the body as well as the strings.
It’s said to produce results akin to a condenser mic mixed with an undersaddle pickup. The eSonic preamp, powered by two 3V lithium cells located under a slide-off panel, offers two-band, centre-notched EQ plus a Dynamics slider, along with phase reverse and an auto-chromatic tuner that mutes the system when activated.
The LEDs are tiny and not exactly eye-grabbing, but the tuner works efficiently and accurately, which is the main thing, and it can also be used acoustically.
First strums are, frankly, disappointing. The wound strings sound dull, even if they look fairly new, and the delivery is inert and characterless. Fortunately the strings, not the guitar itself, are the culprit, and a change does the trick.
What we now hear is a reasonably robust dreadnought with good articulation and sustain, even if the overall tone is more sprightly than warm. More richness in the low end wouldn’t go amiss, though the top-to-bottom balance is well judged and even.
Plugged in, two things impress: first, the output balance across the strings is spot-on; second, even with the EQ flat and Dynamics at its minimum (presumably ‘off’) setting, the sound has a pleasing hi-fi-like clarity that is instantly usable, supported by low-end warmth and a gentle high-end sparkle in equal measure.
There’s a reasonable amount of gain on tap and the volume control is linear in its operation, rather than everything coming at once. Tinker with the bass and treble bands and you’ll discover plenty of range, and though having the latter at maximum is definitely overdoing it, the timbre is super-sparkling rather than harsh.
The one aspect of the system that isn’t wholly convincing is Dynamics. It appears to work like a variable Shape control, progressively but very subtly boosting the deep lows and the high highs. There may also be a very small element of midrange dipping, but the jury’s out on that one. Actually, therein lies the paradoxical rub.
This system already has the mids firmly tamed, to the extent that – short of resorting to tweaking the amp’s EQ – we’d like the overall sound to be a little more mid-generous than it is. It conveys a sense of being too scooped, and one wonders whether, instead, a regular midrange cut/boost control wouldn’t have been just as handy, arguably more so.
Signature guitars have their pros and cons. Makers want to attract fans of the artist, and Dave Navarro has plenty of admirers who might be tempted to give this Epiphone a whirl.
The downside is that many of us prefer instruments that reflect our own aspirations, personality and tastes, not somebody else’s.
Still, if you like your dreads black and can dig the moody aesthetic, it’s a well-made electro that does a very respectable job at a reasonable price.