Franny Beecher 1950 Epi Soloist Emperor
Franny Beecher playing his 1940 Epiphone Soloist Emperor, with Buddy Greco (p) and Don Sgro (b).

Close-up #41: Cutaway archtops
– how many made?

In 1930s' archtop guitar market, Epiphone and Gibson were in fierce competition – watching each others' innovations closely, and quickly adopting new trends such as larger bodies, slimmer necks, blonde finishes, fancier tuners, and more. After Gibson had launched the "Premier" versions of their Super 400 and L-5 in 1939, with cutaway body to facilitate access to the higher frets, Epiphone reacted by building an experimental run of "Soloist" Emperor and DeLuxe models with a cutaway in 1940; the few known examples bear labels with SNs in the 16501–16505 range.

However for reasons unknown, cutaway models never made it into Epiphone's regular lineup before WW2. It was not before 1948 that cutaway archtop guitars appeared in a price list.

1948 pricelist
Price list March 15, 1948 – "new models" include cutaway versions of the Emperor, DeLuxe, Broadway and Zephyr DeLuxe. The initial model naming "Advanced" was soon dropped and replaced by "Cutaway" or "Regent".

1948 ad Zephyr DeLuxe Cutaway Tone Spectrum
1948 Epiphone advert for Zephyr DeLuxe Cutaway with new "Tone Spectrum" pickup.

The new cutaway guitars proved immediately popular, and by 1949 Epiphone also extended this option to their Triumph and Zephyr models, while the lower-end guitars continued to be made with the  traditional non-cut body shape only.

Epiphone kept offering non-cutaway versions of most models –  making me wonder: How do production figures compare between the different versions? To find out, I refined my registry database spreadsheet to differentiate between cutaway and non-cutaway versions of models. Here some results from this exercise (for details about our methods of calculating production estimates, see Research):

Let's start with the Triumph – undisputedly the best-selling Epiphone model of the New York period, with an estimated total production of more than 5000 units. According to our registry data, in the years 1949–1956 roughly 1200 Triumphs were built – with cutaway examples accounting for likely around 900 units. , i.e. ¾ of the model output. 

The fancier Broadway was a fairly popular model during the 1930–40s, but then production figures dropped sharply: Very few Broadway batches were built after 1949 – only about two dozen examples are confirmed with SN in our registry database, making production estimates somewhat difficult. Our current research figures suggest that at least 43 Broadway Cutaway/Regent were built – resulting in an (extrapolated) guesstimate of around a hundred in total.

With the DeLuxe things get a bit more complicated: This model had been the fanciest 17" archtop, but by 1950 the DeLuxe got upgraded to the same larger size as the 18" flagship Emperor, albeit only briefly. Similar as with the Broadway, by the 1950s production of acoustic DeLuxe models was rather low, making calculated estimates unreliable.
Lets look at 18" and 17" versions separately: Of the larger 18" Deluxe Cutaway/Regent we have only recorded two batches – one each in 1949 and 1951 –, and we doubt that more than one or  maybe two dozen units were made. The smaller 17" DeLuxe Cutaway/Regent is a bit more common: The confirmed examples in our registry suggest that at least 40 units were produced, but likely not much more than a hundred in total.
The non-cutaway acoustic DeLuxe was obviously not in demand anymore: After one single batch of 18" versions in 1950, we don't have evidence that any more examples were made.

Emperor: In the 1950s, the flagship of Epiphone's acoustic archtop line was produced in higher numbers than both the DeLuxe or Broadway. Our current registry data suggests that at least 74 Emperor Cutaway/Regent were made, with an (extrapolated) ballpark guesstimate of about two hundred cutaway acoustic Emperors in total – plus around one hundred or so non-cut examples in the 1949–1956 period.

1954 Epiphone catalog
In the 1954 Epiphone catalog, the acoustic DeLuxe is pictured as non-cutaway version – although our registry data suggests that only cutaway examples were made after 1950 ...

Summary: In the 1949–1956 period, Epiphone made roughly around 1400 cutaway acoustic archtop guitars in total. Now, how do these figures compare with Epiphone's electric models?

In 1948, the Zephyr DeLuxe Cutaway was the first electric offered with the new body shape. Epiphone's model-specific SN systems for electric instruments in the late 1940s allow for pretty precise production estimates – showing that the new cutaway version of the Zephyr DeLuxe quickly outsold the non-cutaway model: During 1948–1949, around 385 cutaway units were built, about twice the number of non-cutaway examples!
By 1950, electric hollowbody instruments joined the SN system of the acoustics, which means less precise estimates. Our registry data suggests that the Zephyr DeLuxe Cutaway/Regent remained a  popular model, with an (interpolated) minimum of 450 examples made after 1949, resulting in a ballpark (extrapolated) guesstimate of more than 1100 units in total for the entire 1948–1956 period – quite impressive figures for this rather pricey instrument, also leaving the acoustic DeLuxe far behind. 
By comparison, the non-cutaway Zephyr DeLuxe became pretty much obsolete, with a few last examples made in 1951.

When the Zephyr Cutaway/Regent was introduced by 1950, it was an immediate success, as our registry data proves: The (interpolated) minimum production counts over 700 units, resulting in an (extrapolated) estimate of around 1200 units in total. 
Although the non-cutaway Zephyr remained in production, not surprisingly it fell behind the cutaway version: During the 1950s, about 300 non-cutaway Zephyrs were made.

When Epiphone announced their new top model Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone in November 1950, they must have figured out from Zephyr DeLuxe model sales that there was not much point to offer a non-cutaway version. According to our (interpolated) registry data, at least 350 Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone/Regent were produced, while our extrapolated etimate suggests a total of around 500 units built.

Summary: Epiphone's cutaway electric guitars sum up to a (ballpark) total estimate of 2800 units built in the 1948–1956 period – about twice the number of cutaway acoustic archtops.

(April 23, 2018)

1950 advert Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone