The Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe


One of my holy grails, by Tim Brennan from Tym Guitars

I was first introduced to the Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe through pictures of Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman. Seeing pics in old punk rock fanzines of him playing this ………. Thing, with a paddle of a headstock that didn’t look like anything else I’d seen before sparked my interest just as Johnny Ramone had with his Mosrite. I later found out that Fred “Sonic” Smith played one in the MC5, which turned out to be THE SAME actual guitar. Unfortunately for me, these were no more common than the MK II Mosrite Johnny had played and proved just as difficult to find.


By the mid to late 1950’s Gibson was on a sales and production high with Ted McCarty at the helm (see previous story). Epiphone had been around since 1873 and were Gibson’s main rival in the archtop “jazz guitar” market. Their archtops like the Emperor, Deluxe, Broadway and Triumph were considered by some professional players to be better than those of Gibson. However, the company’s wanning sales after World War II allowed Gibson to eventually buy it outright in 1957. Epiphone solid bodies were then built in the same Kalamazoo factory as Gibson, using the address of the side road as the Epiphone address so as not to confuse dealers and customers. Gibson’s take over of Epiphone presented a real challenge to the designers and marketers at Gibson.

One problem was to design a new solid body instrument that could be produced on the same factory production line using existing timber, tooling and production techniques. Another was to make it visually different from Gibson’s solid body Les Paul (and later SG) range. Gibson wanted a guitar line to compete with Fender and supply guitars to dealers that didn’t carry Gibson products without using the Gibson name. The first solid bodies off the line were the Crestwood, the Wilshire, the Coronet, and the Olympic introduced in 1958.


The Crestwood was a symmetrical double cutaway solid mahogany body with 2 “New York” pickups, three a side headstock and a large scratchplate with the Epiphone logo.  Gibson was still using some leftover parts from the original Epiphone buy out and used these Epi New York pickups until the stock ran out. The Crestwood was introduced with a 2-tone sunburst finish and then offered in cherry within a year. At first they had a 1 3/4″ thick slab body just like the Gibson LP Junior but they were quickly slimmed down to 1 3/8″ in 1959 and called the Crestwood Custom. These early three a side headstocks had inked serial numbers just like the solid body Gibsons.

In late 1959 the body’s edges were rounded off and the scratchplate was re-designed. In 1961 the New York pickups were replaced with Gibson mini humbuckers, which were the same size and shape and the New York pick ups, the dot markers were replaced with pearl oval markers. They also had an inlayed headstock logo and stamped in serial numbers, again, like Gibson. The Crestwood kept pretty much on these specs through ‘62 with the exception of optional white finish (custom colours were available) and the rosewood insert in the vibrato tailpiece.


In 1963 the body of all the models got a slightly longer upper horn, a six a side “batwing” headstock to compete with Fender but not mimic them (or Gibson) in any way and nickel plating replaced gold.



Epiphone also launched the Crestwood Deluxe this year which is essentially a three pickup version of the Crestwood Custom with a bigger, bound headstock and an ebony fretboard with block Gibson “Custom” style inlays. The confusing designation with “Custom” as the standard in the line and “Deluxe” as the fancier model differed from the Gibson sales terms. The Crestwood Deluxe corresponds to the Gibson SG Custom in the sales line and were priced exactly the same at $455 (Oct 1966) yet over the production period, the SG outsold the Crestwood Deluxe 7:1 and as a result only approx 219 were made between ’63 and ’67. They were offered in the catalogue up until ’69 but sales were almost insignificant after 1967.

Although Gibson have now driven the Epiphone name into the ground by using it on cheaper and cheaper offshore imports, the ‘50’s and ‘60’s Epiphone solid body range was the same quality as the Gibson SG range sharing most of the same hardware, pickup configurations, body and neck woods, construction and controls as they were all made at Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory.


I have been fortunate enough to now have 2 Crestwood Deluxes go through my hands and I still own the complete line up of an Olympic, Double Olympic, Wilshire, Crestwood and Crestwood Deluxe. These guitars, while being light and a little fragile feeling are GREAT playing and sounding guitars and Deniz Teks use of his through the years on tour with Radio Birdman and New Race prove they were well made and suited the harsh life on the road.

Their necks are generally thinner than the equivalent year Gibson which suits me just fine. The combination of that fantastic mahogany Gibson was using combined with mini humbuckers makes them an exceptional guitar indeed for both live and recording and the deluxe with it’s 3 pick ups makes it a very versatile guitar and they’re lighter (yeah, lighter) than an SG. The big headstock Deluxe sounds different from the other models in the line with mini humbuckers. This may have something to do with the more mass on the end of the neck combined with the ebony fretboard as the Deluxe is the same guitar in most other respects to the Wilshire and Crestwood Custom, except with a middle pick up.

Up until recently, these Epiphones could be had at a fraction of what the equivalent year Gibson SG was going for. In fact you could have a Crestwood Custom for less than an SG JR cost. They have recently been going up in price while Gibsons have been dropping or staying static. This may be because people are finally realizing what they are, or maybe that people were simply paying too much for the Gibsons?

This combined with the fact the Gibson Custom Shop has just paid homage to the Epiphone range by making a limited edition ’62 Wilshire with 2 P-90’s.


Let’s hope this is the start of more interest in these Epiphones and maybe, just maybe we’ll see a Crestwood Deluxe from Gibson soon?