Emperor Regent 59990

Close-up #6: 1950 Emperor Regent
SN 59990

Another guitar I saved pictures of when it was offered in an online auction, I think in 2014. It is an early example of an Emperor Regent with blonde finish – with a price of $475 Epiphone's most expensive model at the time (see catalog picture below).

1949 catalog Emperor Regent

Epiphone did not offer cutaway versions of their archtops before WW2, although in 1940 the company had produced an experimental run of a few "Soloist Emperor" and "Soloist DeLuxe" models which featured a rounded cutaway. 

1948 price list new models

Cutaway models first appeared in the price list of March 15, 1948: Interestingly, these models were listed with the suffix "Advanced", however I have not seen or heard of any actual example showing this term on its label. Some early examples are labeled with the model suffix "Cutaway", while by 1950 cutaway models were generally designated by the term "Regent" which was introduced in the price list of March 15, 1949.

1949 price list

The blonde finish is showing off the figured maple used for the back, sides and neck.

Emperoro Regent 59990 back

When comparing the pearl inlays on Epiphone instruments of different eras we notice a trend: While inlays of the early 1930s had intricate designs displaying meticulous workmanship, inlays gradually got more and more simple over the years – a cost-saving measure I guess. By the 1950s, the Epiphone script logo and blossom branch inlay were a pretty far cry from those of a 1935 Emperor

Emperor Regent 59990 head

To electrify an acoustic archtop by adding a "floating" pickup was a common practice; installed is a Gibson "Johnny Smith" pickup in neck position, with volume and tone controls on the original pickguard – note the shadow of the silver "E" logo which has rubbed off as seen on many examples. The bridge looks non-original.

Emperor Regent 59990 pickguard

This Emperor Regent bears serial number 59990, printed in blue on the label. There is also a handwritten note: "Back removed and instrument completely rebuilt by John M. Gilbert, Woodside, California / for Rock Gunter, Colorado, March 1975".

Emperor Regent 59990 label

"Rock Gunter" refers to the original owner of this guitar: Sidney Louie "Hardrock" Gunter (1915-2013), an Alabama-born Country/Rockabilly singer, songwriter and guitarist. Hardrock Gunter went down in music history as possibly the first artist to coin the term "Rock and Roll" in the early 1950s. With the guitar came a promo photo of the artist with an inscription dated 2003, as it looks to the new owner of the guitar.

Hardrock Gunter

And there was also an original letter from Epiphone addressed to Waldrop Music Studios in Bessemer, Alabama, dated "2.2.50". The letter confirms an order dated "1-26-50" for:
"1 SMALL NECK IF POSSIBLE / Emperor, Regent, Blonde, $475.00 
1 110 Case $60.00
1 Zipper Cover for above $28.50"
Ending with: "We appreciate this order and be assured it will be given our diligent attention."

Emperor Regent 59990 letter

According to our research, the serial number 59990 indicates that manufacturing of this instrument started approximately around the turn of the year 1949/1950. Which seems to match quite well with an order date of 26 January 1950: Possibly the order was assigned to an Emperor Regent batch which was under production at the time.

However what we don't know: At what date SN 59990 was completed and shipped to the customer – and how the request for a "small neck if possible" in the order was handled by the Epiphone company.

P.S. It is rare that historically interesting documents like this Epiphone letter survive with an instrument. Thus my call: If you happen to own original order/sales documents of a vintage Epiphone instrument, please contact me.

Hardrock Gunter c. 1953

(Oct 6, 2016)