Kent 68710

Close-up #18: 1954 Kent/Volpe
SN 68710

No idea where I saved these pictures from, years ago.

Although not a very common and well-known guitar, a metal plate on the headstock makes it easy to tell that this obviously is an "Epiphone Harry Volpe Model".  

Volpe 68710

Harry Volpe (1904–1995), born in Sicily and living in New York by 1919, was a very successful jazz guitarist. In 1946 he met with Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) in New York – see photo below both playing Gretsch Synchromatic archtops which were endorsed by Volpe at the time.  

Django + Volpe New York 1946

In the 1950s Harry Volpe became an endorser for Epiphone – and by 1955 the company launched the one and only "artist model" of their pre-Gibson era.

Pictured below a 1955 catalog insert (source: Fisch/Fred 1996, p127; there is also an interview with Volpe, p214). Although Harry was mostly seen playing large body Emperor (Zephyr) and FT Deluxe Cutaway models, the instrument named after him was a student-grade electric guitar. A distinctive feature was the slightly wider-than-standard fretboard (1 3/4" at nut), mentioned in the catalog with the words: "(The guitar) has all the qualities of a regular professional model with the added advantage of extra spacing between the strings to make fingering easier for the beginner."

1955 Volpe catalog insert

The 15 1/2" wide non-cutaway model was offered with shaded or blonde finish. The Volpe had one DeArmond pickup (without adjustable poles) in neck position, and clear plastic "barrel" knobs – a combination seen on other Epiphone electrics by 1954 (but not all). On this example, the shaded finish of the laminated maple top is seriously flaking off ...

Volpe 68710

... and more finish issues on the rim. Note that the trapeze tailpiece has a short mounting plate which stops before the endpin – while typical Epiphone trapeze tailpieces have a larger mounting plate with a hole for the endpin. This short-plate tailpiece appears to be original and is also present on other Volpe examples.

Volpe 68710

These three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners with "bell-end" plates were only used on this Epiphone model. 

Volpe 68710

The "blue" type label inside the guitar bears the printed SN "68710" – indicating a manufacturing date of c. late 1954. This is the lowest SN of an Epiphone Harry Volpe Model documented so far ... but wait: This label says "Model KENT"!? 

Volpe 68710

We can only speculate about the story here: The Kent Spanish model was last listed on the July 1950 price list – and not mentioned in the November 1950 nor the July 1953 price lists. However there are documented Kent examples well into 1953 – SN 65704 being the latest. The Volpe model can certainly be perceived as the successor of the Kent which had the same body size. We don't know if SN 68710 is a (very late) Kent made into a Volpe prototype, or if the typed model name is simply a mistake ...

Whatever the reason: SN 68710 appears to be the very last Kent – and at the same time possibly the first Volpe!

(Nov 11, 2016)