| May 27, 2023 |

A History of the Epiphone Casino

The long and winding road of a rock maverick

The Epiphone Casino might be the House of Stathopoulo’s most iconic instrument thanks to its association with The Beatles. These two guitars—the Gibson J-160E and the Epiphone Casino—are legendary instruments heard on many Fab Four sessions.

But over the last decade, thanks to a diverse group of artists like Gary Clark Jr., Radiohead, Paul Weller, and Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs, the Epiphone Casino has transcended its Beatle connection and become a must-have for any player’s collection.

Though the Casino, first released in 1961, was essentially Epiphone’s version of the Gibson ES-330, the Gibson version never caught on with fans. Whether it was the era or the number of instruments produced, the Casino—a full hollowbody with two P-90s (another Kalamazoo invention)—was destined to be considered an Epiphone classic. By design or by accident, it’s perfect, just the way it is.

In 1961, the Epiphone & Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was one of the premier instrument factories in the world, and the Casino was merely another instrument in a series of “Thinline” electrics first introduced in the late 50s that helped announce a new era for Epiphone after it became part of Gibson. 

The idea of a Thinline electric with the look of an archtop was not much of a departure for Epiphone because the company had established a stellar reputation as an excellent archtop builder. Most of the original Thinline series, like the Sheraton and the ES-335, featured a mahogany center block on which the pickups were mounted; the Casino held the distinction of being a true hollowbody. It was also less expensive than other Gibson Thinline models, which caught the attention of young rockers like Garry Tallent, future bassist of the E Street Band.

“Epiphones were great guitars back then and affordable,” recalled Tallent. “Even today, whenever I go to a guitar show, if I see an Epiphone electric or acoustic that’s in great shape, I get it. They always sound perfect.”

As for just who originated the Thinline series, that remains somewhat of a mystery. “There were other companies at the time like National who were making something similar,” said Walter Carter, who published The Epiphone Guitar Book, a history of Epiphone, in 2013. “If it were Ted McCarty’s idea, he certainly would have taken credit for it (laughs). But the Casino’s popularity, in particular, had mostly to do with The Beatles. It was and is a great guitar for rock and roll with a different sound.”

On page 97, Carter elaborates:

“John Lennon’s influence on popular culture went far beyond music, beyond his membership in The Beatles and, beginning in the late 60s, his activism for world peace, to extend from clothing and hairstyles to social consciousness. At the height of The Beatles’ popularity, Lennon and his bandmates Paul McCartney and George Harrison had bought Epiphone Casinos. Lennon’s eventually became the most famous of the three after he stripped the finish down to bare wood in 1968. It was his main guitar during the recording of The Beatles (aka The White Album), and it was frequently seen in the background in his 1972 film Imagine.”

Epiphone re-created the original (1961) Casino in 2011 with the same 16″ wide body made of 5-layer maple/birch and a 24-¾” scale mahogany SlimTaper™ neck with a rosewood fingerboard attached using the traditional mortise and tenon neck joint. The 50th anniversary Casino also featured black Gibson USA P-90 pickups and a slightly modified Tremotone tremolo that works much better than the original. Epiphone’s 50th Anniversary Casino (a favorite touring guitar for Gary Clark Jr.) also featured 16 frets clear of the body and came in a Sunburst or Royal Tan finish.

Over the next few years, small changes were made to the Casino. Epiphone moved away from the “bullet” logo in 1962 to the pearloid-inlaid Epiphone script logo that remains today. When Paul McCartney purchased his Casino in 1964, and John Lennon and George Harrison purchased theirs before the Revolver tour in 1966, fingerboard inlays changed from dot to parallelogram inlays, and the tortoise shell pickguard changed to white. Pickup covers, which were nickel from 1963-1964, changed to chrome.

The Beatles’ discovery of the Casino came just before Christmas in 1964. McCartney told Vintage Guitar that he was inspired to buy a guitar that could “feedback” after spending an evening listening to records at John Mayall’s house. “You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say, ‘Just check this out,’” said McCartney. “He’d go over to his [tape] deck, and for hours blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton . . . he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from. He gave me a little evening’s education. I was turned on after that, and [bought] an Epiphone.”

John Mayall probably played McCartney cuts by B.B. King as well as razor-sharp 45s on Cobra Records by Magic Sam and Otis Rush, both regular Epiphone players. “I showed him (McCartney) my hollowbody guitar that I’d bought when I was in the army in Japan in 1955,” Mayall told Vintage Guitar.

“When people get together and listen to records, they talk about all kinds of things related to the music, so obviously, we must have touched upon the instruments, and it struck home. He got a hollowbody after to get that tone.”

Recording feedback was already a part of The Beatles’ sound at this point with the release of “I Feel Fine,” which was recorded in October 1964 and was inspired by John’s J-160E feeding back against an amp. The Epiphone could produce feedback too, but thanks to the smaller body size, a guitarist could more easily control the tone and “howl” of the feedback by turning the Casino away from an amp or “playing” the feedback with the guitar’s volume and tone controls.

McCartney still brings out his original 1963 Epiphone (shipped from Kalamazoo, Michigan, on November 1, 1963) in concert for “Paperback Writer” and select cuts from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Radiohead Producer Nigel Godrich, whose pal Thom Yorke plays a 1965 Casino, singled out McCartney’s Casino as his favorite guitar while producing Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. “If I had to choose one electric guitar,” said McCartney, “it would be this.”

McCartney’s Casino, or ES-230TD, featured an early Gibson-style headstock that would be changed to the classic Epiphone “hourglass” headstock by the time George and John bought their Casinos (George’s, like Paul’s, featured a Bigsby tremolo). 

The Archtop That Launched the British Invasions Is Back in the USA

Now made in the USA for the first time in over 50 years! Since its introduction in 1961, the Epiphone Casino™ has been the choice of countless musicians, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Ray Davies, Dave Davies, and Paul Weller. The new Casino from the USA Epiphone Collection features a classic maple and poplar body with a Royal Tan nitrocellulose lacquer finish or a Vintage Sunburst nitrocellulose lacquer finish. The USA Collection Epiphone Casino also features hand-wired electronics with Orange Drop® capacitors and Gibson USA P-90 Dogear single-coil pickups. Featuring Gibson Strings.

Most Casinos made from the mid-60s to the end of the decade were Sunburst, though Cherry was an optional finish after 1967. Critically acclaimed Nashville pop artist Tristen plays one of those rare 1967 model Cherry Casinos in concert. A few rare custom colored Casinos show up from time to time, including one in Silver Fox that is Brian Ray’s favorite guitar. “It’s black with ‘TV’ yellow grain showing through the finish—a kind of translucent black. I’ve never seen another one like it,” Ray told Epiphone. “I dare you to find one like it. You’ll find a Riviera, but you won’t find a Casino. They’re so rare. People need to know the whole history of Epiphone. It didn’t just start with The Beatles. Epiphone is awesome, and the world needs to know about it.”

In the heyday of the British Invasion, the Casino was also in the stable of Keith Richards, and Brian Jones can be seen playing one on the cover of the reissue EP of Got Live If You Want It! There are also tv clips of The Hollies, The Kinks, and The Moody Blues using their Casinos on shows like Ready, Steady, Go!

The Casino was discontinued throughout the 70s, and when Epiphone got back into action in the 90s, both vintage and new Casinos enjoyed a renaissance, thanks to Paul Weller and his 1966 Casino, Lenny Kravitz, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, U2’s the Edge, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs, Matthew Sweet, instrumentalist William Tyler, and of course, Dwight Yoakam who carried the flag for the Casino for years before designing his Dwight Trash Signature model.

“I always loved the aesthetics of the Casino. There’s something about the white pickguard as well as the sound . . . I really fell in love with it,” said Yoakam.

P-90s are key to the Casino’s canny combination of chime and grit. The P-90 is a touch-sensitive pickup by nature and is perfect for both lead and rhythm sounds. P-90s carry more “weight” sonically than the typical single coil pickup and have the effect of sounding especially “electric” when combined with the Casino body. Listen to Beatles tracks like “Paperback Writer” and “She Said, She Said” to hear how nuanced a basic chord can sound when played with a Casino.

Gary Clark Jr. is probably today’s most outspoken and visible Casino fan. Since signing to Warner Brothers, Clark has been seen with a standard Casino, an Elitist, and a ‘61 50th anniversary model. And now, Clark has his own Limited Edition Gary Clark Jr. Blak & Blu Casino featuring Gibson USA P-90 pickups.

“I had my eyeballs on Casinos for a while until I finally got one,” Clark told Epiphone. They’re all so amazing. ‘Blak and Blu’ with a Bigsby! They’re a dream.” 

Even if The Beatles had not discovered the Casino, the list of fans would still include virtually every major pop, country, blues, and rock artist of the last 50 years. “It’s really a perfect electric guitar,” said former Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg, “it can be clean, it can be gnarly, and it sounds terrific at low volume and feeding back. And it’s a lot like Epiphone, too. A bit of a maverick.”