Vintage Guitar Magazine: The Beatles’ Casinos

Beatles Boarder

John Lennon with his Epiphone Casino in December, 1968, on the set of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus.”

Of all the guitars the Beatles made famous, the only one that John, Paul and George had in common was the Epiphone Casino. Each owned a Casino and used it for countless recordings and performances.

Paul McCartney was the first Beatle to acquire a Casino. Influenced to purchase it by his friend, blues musician John Mayall, McCartney said, “You’d go back to his place and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say, ‘Just check this out.’ 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.” Mayall recalls the late-night record sessions. “I showed him my hollowbody guitar that I’d bought when I was in the army in Japan in 1955. 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.”

The Epiphone Casino ES-230TD that McCartney purchased at the end of ’64 has an early-style Gibson-design headstock rather than Epiphone’s later hourglass-shaped headstock. Photographs taken in December of ’64, during rehearsals for the Beatles’ Christmas performances at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, show Paul playing a new Epiphone Casino still strung right-handed. Another picture shows McCartney and Harrison examining the right-handed Casino, evidently discussing how they would alter the guitar so the left-handed McCartney could use it.

McCartney’s sunburst Casino has serial number 84075, and according to Gibson’s records shipped November 1, 1962. McCartney altered it for playing left-handed, turning the guitar upside down, re-stringing it, and modifying the bridge for correct intonation. A strap button was added to now-inverted upper treble bout. McCartney used his Casino extensively in the studio with The Beatles, including the memorable lead-guitar break on “Ticket To Ride.” He also used it throughout his solo career, and still owns the guitar.

Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s Epiphone Casinos.

In the spring of ’66, during recording sessions for Revolver, John Lennon and George Harrison decided to join the Casino club. The most obvious difference between these two virtually identical guitars was Harrison’s had a Bigsby vibrato, while Lennon’s had the standard Epiphone “trapeze” tail. Lennon’s was unusual in that it had a small black ring mounted around its pickup selector switch. Both had the more common Epiphone-style headstock and were fitted with gold-colored Volume and Tone knobs.

The first time Lennon and Harrison performed with their almost-matching Casinos was when The Beatles made an appearance on the popular British TV show “Top Of The Pops.” On June 16, 1966, they entered BBC’s London studios to mime both sides of their new single, “Rain” and “Paperback Writer.”

As the group started its ’66 tour of Germany, Japan, and the U.S., Lennon and Harrison chose the Casinos as their main instruments for the tour.

By ’67, The Beatles embarked on the sessions that would produce their masterpiece album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Present and used throughout were all three Casinos. And it was during these sessions that Lennon painted his by spraying a white or grey outline on back of the body and neck.

In early ’68, The Beatles headed to Rishikesh, India, to study transcendental meditation with The Maharishi and friends, including Donovan Leitch. There, Donovan convinced the trio to sand the finish off their instruments, telling them how a guitar sounds better without a heavy finish. After returning to London, during sessions for the self-titled “white album,” Lennon and Harrison sanded their Casinos. Lennon primarily played his newly stripped Casino for the sessions. Harrison said that once they’d removed the finish, they became much better guitars. “I think that works on a lot of guitars,” he explained. “If you take the paint and varnish off and get the bare wood, it seems to sort of breathe.” With the completion of the white album, promo clips were filmed for the single “Revolution”/“Hey Jude.” The clips showed Lennon using his natural Casino.

On December 11, 1968, Lennon appeared as a special guest for the filming of The Rolling Stones’ television special, “Rock ’n’ Roll Circus,” which included a memorable performance by the supergroup Dirty Mac, whose members included Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richards on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Lennon playing his Casino. Dirty Mac’s legendary performance of “Yer Blues” was one of the show’s highlights.

Lennon continued to use his Casino during the Beatles’ “Get Back”/“Let It Be” filming and recording sessions. On January 30, 1969, filming climaxed with The Beatles’ celebrated performance on the rooftop of their Apple Corps office building, in London. It was the last public performance given by The Beatles as a band and was documented by a slew of film cameras and still photographers – and an 8-track tape recorder rolling in the Apple basement studio. Lennon played his Casino.

The last studio effort found the Beatles back at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, where they recorded their swan song, Abbey Road. “The End” was intended to be the last song on Abbey Road, and gives the listener an all-too-brief glimpse of a great three-way guitar duel. McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon, in that order, each take a two-bar solo, cycling around three times. McCartney used his Casino, Harrison’s work is pure wailing Gibson Les Paul, and Lennon makes an aggressive, distorted howl with his Casino.

John, Paul, and George would continue to use their Casinos on numerous solo projects and recordings. McCartney still uses his, even referring to it as his favorite electric. “If I had to choose one electric guitar, it would be this,” he said.


Andy Babiuk is the author of Beatles Gear, which was recently released in a newly revised edition. He is also author of The Story of Paul Bigsby: Father of the Modern Electric Solidbody Guitar and with Greg Prevost is preparing Stones Gear, a history of the equipment used by the Rolling Stones. He can be reached at andy@tonebendermusic.com.


’66 Epiphone Casino

By George Gruhn & Walter Carter

1966  Epiphone Casino

In the Epiphone line of the 1960s, the Casino occupied middle ground. In appearance as well as electronics it ranked well below the semi-hollow Sheraton and Riviera or the solidbody Crestwood Custom. But thanks to the Beatles, it is probably the best-known of all Gibson-made Epi models.

Like most of the Epiphone line of the ’60s, the Casino bore little resemblance to the Epiphones of a decade earlier, much less the ’30s archtops on which the company had built its reputation (be sure to read the feature on the Epi harp guitar in this issue).

With roots in Greece and Turkey, Epiphone was founded as the House of Stathopoulo in the early 1900s. Epaminondas “Epi” Stathopoulo, one of the founder’s three sons, led the company to a prominent position in the tenor-banjo market of the ’20s (an era in which Gibson struggled to develop a competitive banjo model). Epi had the foresight to recognize the rising popularity of the guitar in the late ’20s and, in particular, the role the archtop guitar – an instrument invented by and produced almost exclusively by Gibson – would play in popular music of the coming years.

In 1931, Epiphone attacked Gibson’s dominance with a line of archtops called Masterbilt, playing on the notoriety of Gibson’s L-5 “Master Model.” Gibson responded with more and larger models, and Epi countered with an even larger model. The competition extended to the electric line, where in 1937 Epiphone introduced a pickup with individually adjustable pole pieces, and Gibson followed suit in 1940.

During the production hiatus for World War II, Epi Stathopoulo died of leukemia, and when guitar production resumed after the war, the company struggled. Its six-pushbutton pickup selector system on the three-pickup Emperor was an arguable improvement over the six knobs Gibson used on its three-pickup ES-5, but in most areas of the market, Epiphone lagged behind Gibson. Epi’s brothers were unable to bring the company back to its pre-war prominence, and in ’57 they sold Epiphone to the Chicago Musical Instrument Company, Gibson’s parent.

Ted McCarty, general manager of Gibson, viewed Epiphone as an opportunity for Gibson to expand its dealer network while maintaining territorial exclusivity for existing Gibson dealers. McCarty continued some of Epiphone’s archtop models in the new lineup, and other Epi features, such as multi-ply necks and metal-covered single-coil pickups, also provided continuity between the old Epis and the Gibson Epis. However, most models in the Gibson-made line were completely new.

Gibson had been making thinline electric guitars since 1955 (the Stathopoulos had never introduced a thinline Epiphone), and Gibson introduced the thinline double-cutaway, semi-hollow ES-335 in 1958. Almost concurrently, a similar (and fancier) model appeared in the Epi line – the Sheraton. A year later, Gibson introduced a stepped-down model with the same body shape but with a fully hollow body and single-coil pickups, called the ES-330. In ’61, a model similar to the Gibson ES-330 showed up in the Epiphone line as the Casino.

Structurally, the Casino was the same as the ES-330, with a thinline, double-cutaway hollow body. Functionally, too, it was the same guitar, with one or two “dog-ear” P-90 pickups (with black covers), a Tune-O-Matic bridge, and a trapeze tailpiece. A vibrato was optional. Cosmetically, both models had single-ply binding on the top, back, and fingerboard, pearl dot fingerboard inlays, and an inlaid peghead logo with no other ornamental peghead inlay. The Casino was offered in sunburst or Royal Tan finish while the ES-330 was offered in sunburst or natural.

When Gibson upgraded the ES-330 in ’62 with chrome-plated pickup covers and small block fingerboard inlays, the Casino was also upgraded to chrome-plated pickup covers and single-parallelogram inlays (a pattern not standard on any Gibson).

Gibson designed the Epiphone line to have prices slightly below the equivalent Gibsons, but the only significant difference between the standard Casino and the ES-330 was the brand name. In ’63, Gibson apparently valued the Gibson brand at $15 more than Epiphone. The two-pickup Casino listed that year for $275 and the sunburst ES-330 was $290 (Cherry finish, which had replaced natural, was $305).

Despite the lower prestige of the Epiphone name, the Casino actually topped its Gibson counterpart slightly when it came to the vibrato. The Epiphone vibrato had an anchor bar with a graduated diameter to compensate for the different string diameters. The result was a more consistent pitch change across the strings. Whether the improvement was noticeable to the ears of listeners is arguable, but the Epi-style unit at least had the appearance of an improvement over the simple U-shaped spring design of the Gibson “Maestro” unit, and the Epi unit was not offered on any Gibson model. In fact, the 1963 catalog did not offer any kind of vibrato as an option on the ES-330, while the vibrato-equipped Casino remained a catalog model.

The relative merits of the Casino and the ES-330 – and most other Epis and Gibsons models, for that matter – became irrelevant when Casinos appeared in the hands of the Beatles. Paul McCartney bought a sunburst in 1964, and John Lennon and George Harrison each bought sunbursts in ’65. In ’67, Harrison played his Casino equipped with a Bigsby on a video for “Hello Goodbye,” and Lennon played his on a TV broadcast of “All You Need Is Love.” By September ’68, when the group appeared on the BBC show “Top of the Pops,” Lennon had scraped the finish off his Casino, and Harrison did the same to his shortly thereafter. Lennon played this now-natural Casino on the Beatles’ final appearance together on January 30, 1969, on the rooftop of the Apple building.

If the Beatles had any influence at all on Epiphone sales, it was too little, too late. Through the ’60s, Epiphone sold more than 6,700 Casinos – more than double the sales of any other model – but that was not enough to save it. By the end of ’69, Gibson had scrapped the entire Epiphone line and replaced it with a new line imported from Japan. By the time the Beatles’ rooftop performance was seen by the public in the film documentary Let It Be, it was May 1970, and nothing in the Epiphone line resembled a Casino.

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April 2014: Win an Epiphone Casino signed by Gary Clark Jr. on Epiphone.com

Win an Epiphone Casino signed by Gary Clark Jr.

This month, Epiphone is offering fans around the world the chance to win an iconic Epiphone Casino signed by Gary Clark Jr.

For over 50 years, the Epiphone Casino has powered every great era of pop music from the British Invasion to BritPop. And now, the Casino is once again making history in the hands of Texas troubadour and GRAMMY winner Gary Clark Jr.

The Casino Revolution Stars Here!
The Epiphone Casino still has the same classic look, sound, and features that have made it the go-to guitar for two generations of Epi artists like Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Paul Weller, and now Gary Clark, Jr.  Featuring a 5-play maple top, back, and sides with basswood bracing, a mahogany neck with a classic SlimTaper™ “D” profile, and a glued-in neck joint joining the body at the 16th fret, just like vintage models from the ‘60s.

Today’s Casinos also incorporate Epiphone’s famous Alnico P-90T and P-90R Dogear pickups for that perfect combination of chime and growl. Widely known as the king of single coil pickups, these lean and mean P-90’s offer a stellar combination of high output and biting treble response. The world-famous Epiphone Casino is a jazz guitar, a rock guitar, a blues guitar, and everything in between.  Enter today to win a signed Epiphone Casino by Gary Clark Jr!

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Guitar Aficionado review – Epiphone Elitist 1965 Casino

Epiphone

The Epiphone and Gibson companies were fierce rivals in the Thirties, constantly trying to outdo each other’s designs. But with the death of its dynamic leader, Epi Stathopoulo, in 1943, Epiphone’s reputation for quality and innovation began to slide. In 1957, the East Coast–based company finally threw in the towel and sold its bass line, and the right to manufacture under the Epiphone name, to Gibson.

Subsequently, when Epiphone’s bass supplies arrived at Gibson’s factories in Michigan, the company encountered a fortuitous bonus: full provisions for a line of guitars. So Gibson, which tightly controlled the distribution of its instruments to avoid competition between local dealers, came up with a smart workaround: it slapped the Epiphone logo and ornamentation on what were essentially Gibson models and used them to provide stock to retailers previously denied Gibson products.

The Casino is a prime example of a Gibson in Epiphone’s clothing. Introduced in 1961, it’s essentially an ES-330, a fully hollow thinline electric originally intended as a student model. But beginning around 1965, each of the three guitar-playing members of the Beatles owned Casinos and used them extensively, which is why vintage mid-Sixties models command a premium: in the $6,000 range compared to $3,000 for an ES-330 from the same era.

Epiphone’s 1965 Casino is part of the company’s Elitist Series, which are made in Japan of top-quality components and set up at Gibson’s headquarters, in Nashville, Tennessee. The new Casino sports all of the basic features of the original: a double-cutaway, five-ply laminated maple body with twin f-holes, a set-in solid mahogany neck, and a duo of P-90 pickups with nickel-plated covers. But it also incorporates some thoughtful upgrades for the modern player, like larger fretwire, precise Grover tuning machines, and a second strap button, right below the neck heel.

On account of its thin, hollow build, the Casino is a lightweight guitar. My review model weighed in at roughly 6.4 pounds, a bit more than the Sixties-era ES-330 against which I measured it—a relative featherweight at 5.8 pounds. Nonetheless, the Elitist Casino hangs very comfortably from a strap or positioned on the lap.

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The craftsmanship on my Casino was boutique level. Great care appeared to have been taken in grinding and polishing the 22 medium-jumbo frets and in cutting string slots on the Tune-o-matic-style bridge saddles and on the bone nut. The rich, traditional sunburst (also available in natural) was free from imperfections and—although polyurethane instead of the vintage-correct nitrocellulose—managed to lend a handsomely old-school vibe to the guitar.

With its medium-size profile, the neck feels solid and reassuring, unlike the pencil-sized necks found on some Sixties originals. The guitar’s factory-set low action made barre chords a breeze. It would have been a nice touch if Epiphone had used the narrow neck binding found on vintage Casinos, which is a little more refined than that on the reissue.

My test Casino had a surpassingly good unplugged tone—every bit as resonant as its older Gibson counterpart and even a bit louder. In this capacity, the Casino would make an ideal couch-sitting guitar. The guitar is so loud, in fact, that when linked to a Fender Pro Junior, its acoustic sound overwhelmed the amplified signal until the Junior was turned up to three or more.

The Casino sports premium electronics—two U.S.-made P-90s connected with vintage-style braided and shielded wire—so it’s no surprise that it sounds as exceptional plugged in as when unamplified. Like the ES-330, it has a throaty, articulate midrange and more than a little warmth. The Casino also has a versatile voice. Engaging the bridge pickup and cranking the amp quickly produced a convincing “Taxman”-esque tone. With the volume lowered and the neck pickup selected, I was able to coax from the guitar a thick and silky tone similar to that associated with jazz guitarist Grant Green and his ES-330.

All of this is just a long way of saying, of course, that Epiphone’s Elitist Casino is a superlative instrument. It sounds as good as a 50-year-old original but feels and plays a bit better, exactly as a modern guitar should.

Ply me to the moon!

Brian Jones

The Epiphone Casino’s body is made from plywood, pressed into form in a heated press.

Originally the plywood in many of Gibson’s and Epiphone’s thinline-electrics from the 1950s wasn’t chosen as a means to produce a cheaper instrument. Instead the reason for the plywood construction was the resulting stiffer soundbox that is much less prone to feedback howl in an electric guitar, when compared to an all-solid, carved top guitar.

As Gibson’s and Epiphone’s vintage catalogues were even more vague in revealing constructional details than their Fender counterparts, there was – and still is – some disagreement between vintage buffs as to the number of laminations and types of woods used for vintage semi bodies:

There are some claims that the first batches of the Gibson ES-335 were built using three-ply maple, but most people agree that by 1959 all semis of the ES-335-family switched to four-ply maple with the two inner plies running crosswise to the outer plies. Here are some pictures of 1959 tops I found on the MyLesPaul-forum and ES-335-dot-net sites:

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4-ply_Lamination

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For some strange reason – maybe out of cost consideration or ease-of-production – Gibson’s current range is built from a three-ply laminate made up of a thicker poplar core inside two thinner outer plies of maple:

laminations

There are some claims that Gibson even used mahogany as inner-ply material during the Seventies and Eighties.

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Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 - Day 2 - Show

What does this mean for the Epiphone Casino?

The US-made models from 1961 to 1969 follow the specs of their Gibson ES-330 brethren closely, being virtual identical instruments produced at the same Kalamazoo plant.

Epiphone’s history during the Seventies and early Eighties is very hazy – the brand was used for imported Japanese instruments of very varying quality, and Epiphone was left to die a slow and silent death. There were some versions of the Casino produced during that time, but specifications and construction details vary greatly.

Paul McCartney 1966

In 1986 Gibson Guitars was saved from the brink of bankruptcy by new owners, and Epiphone was revived specifically as Gibson’s cost-conscious, made-in-the-Far-East sister brand.

Epiphone was a brand, but it didn’t have its own production facilities (up until the opening of their first Chinese plant in Qingdao in 2002). Instruments were sourced from a number of different manufacturers, mainly in South Korea. Epiphone ordered their models to their own specifications, and then chose different factories according to the type of instrument each factory could produce best.

This often resulted in the same model being produced at different plants (sometimes concurrently) over the years, resulting in different specs.

Even with their Chinese production facilities now bearing the brunt of Epiphone’s production, there is still some variance in Casino bodies, which can be either four- or five-ply maple, or even a five-ply laminate of maple/birch/maple/birch/maple.

For example the “Inspired by” Casinos sport noticeably thicker five-ply tops and backs than my own Korean Casino or most current (and vintage) Gibson models I have played. This means the acoustic tone of these Lennon-models is slightly less loud and open than Lennon’s original guitar probably is, but on the upside the slightly stiffer body of the new Chinese version is a bit more resistant to amplifier feedback than that of a vintage guitar.

450px-Paul_Weller_at_the_No_Cactus_Festival_in_Belgium

What is the difference between a Casino and other semis?

ES-335

Gibson’s ES-335 – released in 1958, and pictured above – is the original semiacoustic electric guitar, the first of its kind.

Gibson’s then-president Theodore McCarty came up with the idea to combine a flat (“thinline”) hollow-body electric and a solid-body’s clearer tonality and resistance to feedback howling by inserting a solid-wood centre block into the body. The centre block runs from the neck joint all the way to the end pin, cutting the acoustic body in half, as well as dampening its acoustic resonance. The centre block also allows for use of solid-body hardware (i. e. the Tune-o-matic bridge and the stopbar).

Here’s a schematic of an ES-335 body, with the block marked out in brown:

Semi bodies.001

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In 1959 Gibson broadened its model range by introducing three new models with the same body outline:

The stereophonic ES-345 and the top-of-the-line ES-355 shared their basic construction principles with the ES-335; they also had a solid centre block inside their bodies.

The third model, though, wasn’t actually a centre block-equipped semiacoustic at all, but a hollow-body, thinline guitar called the ES-330.

ES-330 1959

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The Gibson ES-330 only features a traditional neck block, allowing for the neck to be glued into the body, and a small end block that helps to keep the rims together and gives you something to screw the trapeze tailpiece and strap pin into.

The neck of the ES-330 is set deeper into the body to lessen the neck’s pull on the short neck block.

The body looks something like this:

Semi bodies.002

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Gibson had acquired their bankrupt East Coast competitor Epiphone in 1957, and set up a new Epiphone production line at their own factory in Kalamazoo (MI). They used this new brand to widen their customer base, as the two separate brands allowed them to double their outlets in the USA.

Although the Gibson-owned Epiphone company produced a number of their own designs, there were some instances in which Epiphone produced very similar guitar and bass models.

One of these instances was the semiacoustic model range with Gibson’s ES-335 being used as the template for Epiphone’s Riviera, and the ES-355 being given a sister model in the Epiphone Sheraton.

The Epiphone Casino was (and still is) Epi’s version of Gibson’s ES-330, and shares its hollow body. Thanks to the considerable exposure the Casino got through the Beatles in the mid-Sixties, this particular model has become more famous than Gibson’s original.

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Epiphone Casino – the official story

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Epiphone has made a name for itself by producing some of the greatest and most innovative musical instruments for over 120 years. While models such as Masterbilts, Broadways, Wilshires, Coronets, Emperors and Texans are some of Epiphone’s most memorable models, the Casino is arguably our most famous due to its close association with The Beatles.
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The Epiphone Casino still has the same classic look, sound, and features that have made it the go-to guitar for two generations of artists including Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Keith Richards and Gary Clark, Jr.

gary-clark-jr

For the Epiphone Company of 1961, the Casino was a small breakthrough. After the merger with Gibson in 1957, Epiphone moved away from making large archtops. A new era of music had arrived. The introduction of the Casino was a modern design that announced that Epiphone’s unique history would continue separate from Gibson’s.

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Though from a distance the Casino had the look of an ES-335, the Casino was a true hollowbody giving players a clear, ringing tone that could be pushed into overdrive when needed.
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It was an ideal guitar for stage and studio and can be heard on many landmark recordings including The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
ElitistCasino_VS
Maybe it’s purely coincidental that at the same time that the Casino was in its planning stages at Epiphone headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Beatles were starting their historic run at the Hamburg Star Club. By 1964, the Beatles were stars and when Paul McCartney went shopping for a new guitar that could feed back, he reached for a Casino. John Lennon and George Harrison soon bought their own and used their Casinos on stage and at Abbey Road throughout the band’s career.
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Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, Paul Weller of the Jam, and Noel Gallagher of Oasis are just a few of the players who have made great records with Casinos.
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I Love My Epiphone Casino

Kitarablogi.com – Finland's premier Guitar and Bass blog

One of my all-time favourite guitars is the EpiphoneCasino. It is the ultimateBeatle-guitar – all three guitar-playing Beatles have owned and played this model. Paul McCartney still rates the Casino as his personal favourite.

casino_full1

Originally called the Epiphone Casino ES-230TD it was the sister model to Gibson’s ES-330. Gibson had bought (the then US-firm) in the mid 1950s and produced Epiphone models alongside their own line in Kalamazoo (Michigan). Nowadays the Epi brand serves as Gibson’s cost-conscious line and the production has long been moved to the Far East (mostly China).

casino_full2

My Casino is an early Noughties Korean-manufactured guitar. Originally a natural (gloss) finished model, it has been Lennon-ised by my friend Sebastian Bunge of Soundhaus Lübeck (Germany). He dulled down the finish (at which point the serial number went missing) and installed higher quality P-90 pickups made by Göldo.

casino_p90s

Although the Casino shares…

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