From Hendrix and Springsteen to Jeff Tweedy and My Chemical Romance. The remarkable story of Epiphone's Wilshire.

The Epiphone Wilshire may not be the company's best-known guitar but it has one heck of a back story.

Epiphone Wilshire with vibrato arm

In 1960 Gibson had just started making Epiphone guitars in its Kalamazoo factory, and was still a year away from the controversy caused when it switched focus from the Les Paul to the SG.

At the time Epiphone was known for its hollow and semi-hollow body instruments, like the Emperor and the Triumph (the Casino and Sheraton were still to come). So it was perhaps a brave move for the company to launch a solid body electric guitar which, in styling at least, had more in common with guitars made by arch (see what we did there?) rival Fender than it did with Epiphone's past line-up.

Nevertheless, the Epiphone Wilshire made its first appearance that year, and was sold an updated throughout the 1960s. Commercially it did very little, but among a very select few it became a favourite.

Jimi Hendrix' Epiphone Wilshire

When Jimi Hendrix left the US army in 1962, he traded in his Danelectro for a Wilshire. According to the Hendrix site, he bought the Wilshire for $65. 'It had a mahogany body, and two P-90 pickups. It was a 1961 or 1962 model,' it explains.

Take a look at this pic of Hendrix playing the Wilshire with Johnny Jones and the King Casuals, from the New York Times and compare it with the re-issued 1962 Wilshire on Epiphone's website. The P90s, fret inlays, and headstock shape are correct for the 1962 model, though the 'E' plate between the pick-ups is obscured in the Times photo, and may even have been removed. Look more carefully, and you can see there's a tailpiece behind the tune-o-matic bridge in the Hendrix pic. Several sites report that Hendrix' Wilshire had a vibrato arm, and indeed vibrato arms were available as an option on early Wilshires. But not on the 1961 model, according to this detailed list of models. And by 1962, Epiphone had switched to mini-himbuckers for the Wilshire. Now those could be mini-buckers in the pic, but to me they look like black soapbar P-90s. If they are, that isn't a 1962 model either. It's possible (likely?) that Hendrix' Wilshire was a '61 model with the vibrato arm added later.

The mid-Sixties Wilshires and Bruce Springsteen

By the mid-sixties, Epiphone had swapped the 'three on each side' headstock for a batwing design, as seen in this re-issue of the 1966 model. Note also the change in the shape of the pickguard, and the positioning of the pick-up switch.

In addition to Hendrix, according to Epiphone, the Wilshire became a favourite of 'Johnny Winter, Paul Gilbert and Steve Marriot and many others who embraced the excellent tone and build quality.'

Among those 'many others' are Pete Doherty, Pete Townshend, and Jeff Tweedy. And perhaps the most surprising of all, giving an almost lifelong affiliation with Fender's Esquire and Telecaster, one Bruce Springsteen. Little seems to be known about Springsteen's Wilshire, other than it was a present from his mum and was a mid-sixties model. Looking at the pic, it closely resembles the 1966 model, with mini-humbuckers, the batwing headstock, and stop bar tailpiece. It also has a vibrato arm.

The Wilshire re-issued

Epiphone stopped making the Wilshire in 1970, but re-issued it in the mid-eighties for a period, and again in 2009. There are currently two models available new. The Wilshire Pro has a batwing headstock, pearloid block inlays,  and two full-size humbuckers.

The most recent model, the Phant-o-matic, was designed with My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero. Described as a 're-design of our early Sixties Wilshire by Epiphone, the Phant-o-matic has the headstock from those early models, but has block inlays and the pickguard and switch position of the mid-Sixties models. It also has a Varitone control in place of separate volume and tone knobs.

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