Zephyr DeLuxe 5542 front

Close-up #8: 1941 Zephyr DeLuxe
SN 5542

This guitar was auctioned as part of a large estate in 2012 – a remarkable, historically interesting instrument in several ways.

In their price list dated December 1, 1941, Epiphone announced a new model, the "De Luxe Zephyr Spanish Electric Guitar", priced at $195 without the case which was an extra $33.

Pricelist Dec 1941

This new flagship model in Epiphone's electric lineup was prominently featured in a new catalog that was published shortly after in early 1942 – now named "Zephyr DeLuxe" (see below).

Catalog 1942 Zephyr DeLuxe

The catalog blurb raved about the advantages of the new combined tone and volume controls on a single shaft (achieved by stacked pots). Nevertheless the combined controls (gone on this example) were a short-lived feature and soon discontinued.

Epiphone's "Master" pickup was one of the earliest pickup systems with individually adjustable pole pieces. Their pre-WW2 pickups were rather bulky and generally required an access door in the instrument's back to install the unit. (The opening was covered by a panel which is missing on this example). Only after the war, top-mountable pickups were developed which made the back door obsolete.

Zephyr DeLuxe 5452 back

The Zephyr DeLuxe had the same fancy neck construction, headstock decoration and "segmented cloud" fret markers as its acoustic counterpart – at least almost: The electric version lacked the acoustic's inlaid binding stripes in the fretboard. The back of the headstock sports the infamous Miessner patents plate which came with all pre-WW2 Epiphone electrics. 

Electric instruments and amps had their own serial number systems (see our research): Before 1950 the SN was stamped on the headstock – "5542" on this example. A look into our database reveals: SN 5542 is the lowest number within the first and only documented batch of pre-WW2 Zephyr Deluxes!

The Zephyr DeLuxe had been first announced just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States' entry into WW2 soon forced Epiphone to virtually halt electric instrument production due to government restrictions on metals and other required materials. (Note the stamp "Discontinued For The Duration" across the model's picture in the 1942 catalog!) It was not before 1946 that production of the Zephyr DeLuxe was resumed.

Zephyr DeLuxe 5542 head

While the spruce top and maple back looked much like the acoustic DeLuxe, there was an important difference: Like with all Epiphone electrics, the arched top and back was not carved but made of pressed, laminated wood.

The pre-WW2 Zephyr DeLuxe was only available in a blonde finish. However this example's top is not a natural blonde, but rather covered in an ivory white, opaque finish – the only such example of this model we are aware of, and we reckon original: In 1941 the company seems to have experimented with this ivory opaque finish, as several other guitars from that period proof: Maybe the most unusual is DeLuxe SN 18108 featuring a kind of "ivory blonde burst" (today part of Epiphone's Vintage Collection). And by 1943 Epiphone started to widely use opaque finishes – likely for a specific purpose: to conceal visual imperfections in lower quality wood grain.

Zephyr DeLuxe 5542 in case

Finally, rather special is also the previous owner of this instrument. It came from the estate of guitar legend Les Paul (1915-2009). The description in the auction catalog reads: "Les Paul saw an ad for this guitar and contacted the dealer who in turn gave it to Paul for his 90th birthday. Case contains the original birthday card and notes on the guitar."

(Oct 8, 2016)