Olympic 5013 full

Close-up #2: 1944 Olympic SN 50913

Here a guitar I don't own I saved these great pictures from an offer on eBay a few years ago if I remember right.

As the label says, this is an Epiphone Olympic model with serial number 50913. This label is commonly referred to as the "blue" type since it was printed with blue ink on white paper. The blue label was introduced when Epiphone changed their serial number system for acoustic instruments in c. 1943, replacing the "green" label at the occasion. Note that the guarantee claim of earlier labels is no longer present on the blue label.

The reason for this change is not known possibly it was related to restructuring measures after the untimely death of company president Epi Stathopoulo on June 6, 1943. The new numbering system appears to have started with SN 50000 (the highest documented number of the old system being SN 20301).

Olympic 50913 label

When introduced in the early 1930s, the Olympic was Epiphone's cheapest archtop model with a list price of $30. It had a carved spruce top with an arched back made of laminated mahogany. During the 1930s, the body was upsized twice until it reached its final width of 15 1/4 inches by 1936.

Olympic 50913 back

The cool Hawaiian-themed decals on this example were obviously added by a previous owner. If I owned this guitar I would definitely not try to remove them, but leave them on as part of this particular instrument's history!

Olympic 50913 body

Based on the serial number this Olympic was built in 1944, during the WW2 years. Due to government restrictions, some materials such as certain metal products and woods were not always available during the wartime period. This forced musical instrument manufacturers to use substitute materials for certain parts. Epiphone announced this issue in their 1942 catalog, see picture below.

1942 Catalog governmental restrictions

Olympic SN 50931 is an example in which typical wartime features are present:

1. Tailpiece: the metal string retainer was replaced by a rosewood bar.

2. Bridge: the knurled thumbwheels for height adjustment were replaced by octagonal nuts.

The pickguard on this guitar appears to be a short, black example as used in the 1930s – but we don't know if originally on this guitar.

Olympic 50913 bridge

3. Tuners: Starting in 1943, most Epiphone models used Kluson tuners with riveted gears (no screw), either single tuners or three-on-a-strip units. Many of these had black plastic buttons.

4. Top wood/finish: In 1943 the top finish of archtops changed to an opaque quality – in both sunburst (like this Olympic) and blonde finish instruments, the latter showing an "ivory opaque" top finish often yellowed today. I believe that the opaque finish was actually introduced to conceal the wood grain, because during the war years shortages in top quality spruce seem to have prompted Epiphone to use a different wood species for some carved tops – possibly birch or poplar(?). There are examples stripped of their originally opaque finish showing an unusual wood grain pattern (however so far I never had the opportunity to personally examine such an example).

Olympic 50913 tuners

5. On lower models, the pearl of the inlaid "Epiphone" script logo was replaced by celluloid in 1943.

Olympic 50913

In 1940 Epiphone had introduced cherry wood for necks on most lower and middle models, as present on this Olympic.

Below the description of the Olympic in Epiphone's Catalog V published early 1942. The company kept using this catalog through the post-war years: Price lists referred to this catalog until 1949 when a new catalog was issued. 

1942 catalog Olympic

However the Olympic model was discontinued by the end of the war along with the Ritz archtop and all flattop guitars and mandolins – see the 1946 "Notice" sheet pictured below. Discontinued models were marked in the catalog with a blue stamp stating "Discontinued for the duration".

1946 Notice Sheet

1946 price list Olympic

Although the Olympic appeared on price lists until 1948, it was never listed with a price again. The last documented Olympic is SN 52010.

(Sep 21, 2016)