trapeze tailpieces

Close-up #42: Trapeze tailpiece evolution 1931–1956

Over the years, Epiphone used a variety of tailpieces on their guitars. Within the three major designs types – Trapeze, Compensating and Frequensator – there were variations in details which were typical for certain time periods, and therefore are helpful for dating parts and instruments.

Let's start with the trapeze type tailpieces which were used on all early Masterbilt models until 1935, and afterwards on all lower-end models until 1956 when the original Epiphone company ceased production.

This overview was compiled with the invaluable help of Epiphone aficionado Anthony Hendrix who provided many insights and photos – a big thank you, Tony!

General remarks:

Type 1: Wrap-over bar, short bracket (1931–32)

The trapeze tailpiece seen on the earliest Masterbilt models is quite different from later types: The string retainer bar is hooked onto the trapeze (without bolts), with the strings inserted from the front and wrapped over the bar. The tailpiece is screwed to the rim with a rather short, curved bracket which does not reach the endpin.

Royal 5987Zenith 5163

Note that this “Type 1” tailpiece was similar (but not identical) to the model used by Gibson on their early L models including the L-5 – some with stamp “Patented July 19, 1910”. See this great website on the Pre-War Gibson L5.

Trapeze tailpiece type 1

Type 2: Flat bar with holes (193334)

By 1933 a new trapeze tailpiece “Type 2” was introduced, with several changes to the previous Type 1: The string retainer bar is now bolted to the trapeze, with the strings being inserted from the rear – a construction that became pretty much standard in the industry. The bar is a flat piece of metal with a square-cut front edge, and slots for each strings with individual recess holes for the ball-ends.

Broadway 6983
trapeze tp type 2trapeze tp type 2

Furthermore, the mounting bracket significantly changed – to a larger, triangular shape, with a hole for the endpin – a design detail only used by Epiphone in this exact shape. Note that this new bracket required the location of the endpin moved towards the top by about ¼" (compared with the Type 1 tailpiece on early Masterbilt guitars). This new bracket type stayed in use until 1956 – while the string retainer bar was subject to various design changes described below.

Type 3: Radiused bar with holes (1934–1935)

Around late 1934 the string retainer bar became radiused – aligning the strings with the radius of the fretboard and bridge saddle. The bar on this “Type 3“ tailpiece still had a solid, square-cut profile with individual recess holes for the string ball-ends.

Broadway 8058trapeze tp type 3

Type 4: Flat bar with slot (1935)

The next change happened in 1935 when the individual recess holes for the string balls were replaced by a single slot, giving the bar a more “hollow” appearance. At the same time, the bar profile became rounded at the front edge. Interestingly, these “Type 4” units were again flat (no radius) like Type 2 – possibly the reason why it was only short-lived.

trapeze tp type 4
trapeze tp type 4

The image below shows the string retainer bars of (from left to right) Types 1, 2 and 4  – on the latter note the rounded front edge and single slot visible from the side.

Olympic 10010

Type 5: Radiused bar with slot (1935–56)

“Type 5” was basically an improved version of Type 4 – showing the same single slot design with rounded front edge, but now with a radiused bar shape (like Type 3).

This trapeze tailpiece is the most commonly seen variant: Epiphone used it from 1936 until 1956 – except during and immediately after WW2 when Type 7 was in use (see below).

Olympic 10010
Olympic 10010
trapeze tp type 5

Type 6: Stamped “EPIPHONE” (1941–42, 1947–48)

Some time around 1941, a new trapeze tailpiece variant was introduced which had “EPIPHONE” stamped on the bar.

This “Type 6” tailpiece first shows up on electric Spanish (hollow body) guitars exclusively. When WW2 prompted Epiphone to discontinue electric instruments in 1942, Type 6 tailpieces were briefly used on Zenith and Olympic models – before by 1943 all lower archtops switched to the wartime Type 7 tailpiece (see below). After the war, Epiphone used up spare Type 6 units on some Blackstone examples in 1947-48. 

Olympic 19266
Zephyr Spanish 6166

Type 7: Rosewood bar (1943–47)

“Type 7” came into use due to wartime material restrictions: In order to save metal for the war effort, the string retainer bar was instead made of rosewood, with drilled holes for each string. This tailpiece was introduced in 1943 and kept showing up until 1947, on acoustic archtop models below the Triumph.

Olympic 19470
Zenith 19941

Type 8: Radiused bar, short bracket (1955–56)

In 1955, Epiphone introduced the Harry Volpe electric hollowbody guitar, the only artist model of the original New York company. The  "Type 8" tailpiece used exclusively on this small-body electric model is similar to the standard Type 5 unit, but with a shorter bracket – i.e. not surrounding the endpin (similar to Type 1 in this respect).   

Volpe 68710
Volpe 69098

Type 9: Short trapeze (for flattop guitars 1939-40)

For a brief period in 1939–40, Epiphone’s flat top guitars were equipped with a special “string-through" bridge and tailpiece instead of the more common pin bridge. These “Type 9” tailpiece units have a shorter trapeze and thinner bar than the tailpieces for archtop guitars.

FT 37 16454

Summary

The table below summarizes the trapeze tailpiece evolution:

Years
Models
Type
Bar Recess
Special Bracket
1931–32 Archtop
1 flat  holes wrap-around short
1933–34 Archtop
2 flat holes square edge
long
1934–35 Archtop
3 radiused holes square edge
long
1935 Archtop
4 flat slot round edge
long
1935–56 Archtop, Electric
5 radiused slot round edge
long
1941–42
1942
1947–48
Electric
Zenith, Olympic
Blackstone
6
radiused slot stamped
"EPIPHONE"
long
1943–47 Archtop
7 flat holes rosewood long
1955–56 Volpe 8 radiused slot round edge short
1939–41 Flattop
9 flat ? short, thin long

Note: This overview is subject to updates whenever new evidence surfaces.

(Oct 31, 2018
)