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Music Gear Review - Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RA Acoustic Guitar
[for the robots: epiphone masterbuilt ef500 ef-500rans]
 

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Epiphone's modern retro acoustic guitar series - Masterbilt (not "master built") - are all very cool in my opinion.

The EF-500 is an OM style guitar that was designed with fingerstyle players in mind.  Factory action is low.  Neck is the 50's V style.  String spacing is wider via the 1 3/4" nut and 2 3/8" partially-compensated saddle (both bone).

With that in mind, it seems to me that they might have been better off going with a tuning gear ratio of 18:1 instead of 14:1.  Fingerstyle players tend to use alot of open tunings ala Michael Hedges.  Just sayin.

I like these Grover Sta-Tite open-faced budget gears; have been using them for years.
[fyi: the one vintage Epi Masterbilt (Royal) that i've ever seen in person had 12:1 gears]

This new RANS Masterbilt is the most expensive in the non-electric series, with

rosewood back and sides, plus all the trim.  Did i mention the trim?  Let me mention it...

Binding on front, back, sides, neck, neck heel & headstock.  The people who hand-inlay the abalone were obviously trying to keep up by using their own ridiculous amount on the front, back & sides, plus stars on the fretboard.  Too much in my opinion; but at least they stopped short of a singing cowboy.  hehe

The Epiphone EF-500RA is really a gorgeous-looking acoustic guitar.  Top is Sitka spruce; back and sides are "solid rosewood" (how mysterious).  Set neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard.  Headstock face looks like ebony but i have to assume it's just a fantastic paint job.

Build consistency is an issue.  I own two of these guitars [and yet somehow i am still married].

There is a very big difference in the size of the necks.

Compare them near the headstock and near the neck heel.

That top neck is considerably bigger than


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the bottom, which is obviously not a good thing for two guitars with serial numbers that are fourteen digits apart.

 

How does it play?
On one of my EF-500s i replaced the partially-compensated bone saddle with a fully-compensated TUSQ saddle that is ALOT taller, which is what you need for banging out chords.  [fyi: this is a non-standard saddle; you have to buy a blank and make it yourself]  With .13's and higher action, the spruce top really opens up nicely.
 


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Of course there's still no comparison between this guitar and a dreadnought when it comes to heavy strumming.  With its deeper body and square shoulders, the dreadnought's frequency range is just broader than this Epiphone OM.

On the stock EF-500 it feels like any other acoustic with low action; just very easy to play fingerstyle.  Depending on your style of playing, the wider string spacing can either be a good thing or a bad thing.  Most of the who've played this guitar thought the EF-500's spacing was perfect (once they'd gotten used to it).  I happen to agree with them.  [fyi:

i don't play with fingerpicks or nails]

Also with the stock EF-500: yes, you can actually shred.  It's kindof funny too because i'm not just talking about the Tommy Emmanuel kindof flatpicking shred; i'm talking about electric guitar licks on an acoustic.  So tasteless and fun!  hehe

Either way - high action strumming or low action fingerstyle - i have to say that once you get used to the string spacing and V neck, this guitar is incredibly comfortable and easy to play.

 

How does it sound?

I don't have a preference when it comes to top, back or side woods; i like spruce, cedar, rosewood and mahogany equally.  For an OM this guitar does have a low frequency range that i wouldn't expect it to, but it's still a 'diminished' range in comparison to guitars with larger internal volume.  So...

As you would expect, the rosewood back and sides lend a warmth to


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the low/mid frequency range.  Equally predictable is the (bright) color added to the mid/high freq range with the Sitka spruce top.  Sonically speaking, the top is damn near perfect for my taste in fingerstyle tone (without using fingerpicks); structurally though, it's a different story [more on this below].
 

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For this review i tried to get ahold of a Masterbilt EF-500M, which has mahogany back and sides, but that fell through so i'm unable to make that direct comparison (which really would've been useful, but whatever).  An alternate OM that i am most familiar with is a Martin, so i guess i'll go ahead and make that comparison:


Epiphone OM versus Martin OM
[bell rings]
* Light strumming: Epiphone has more complex low-range tone; Martin is brighter.
* Medium strumming: Epiphone is still darker; Martin is brighter and more focused.
* Heavy strumming: Both guitars open up but Martin opens up more; Martin is clearly more focused but pushing the envelope with that G string (sometimes).
* Light fingerstyle: Epiphone has more complex overall tone AND it's brighter (well, that's something to brag about).
* Medium to aggressive fingerstyle: I don't know; i can't play that way!
* Flatpicking/shredding: i prefer the Martin's tone when doing standard flatpicking licks, but i prefer the Epiphone's warmth and smoothness between low and high notes when shredding.

The strings i've found to like the most on the Epiphone EF-500RA are: SIT Golden Bronze 80/20 on the cheap end, and Godin A6 (mid-priced).

 

Is it worth the money?
My most-used acoustic is a $300 cheapie that i do not take good care of.  This is my go-to guitar around the house and for open-mic/jams and also for taking to the beach and camping.  It sits

out in the van sometimes in the middle of winter and also in the hottest, driest, rooms of the house.  I've had that guitar for about five years and have had very little problems with the neck or bridge/soundboard.

Conversely, my $900 EF-500R's live the life of house cats.  One hangs in the studio and the other sits in its case (which only gets opened when i add water to the humidifier).  Both of these


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guitars suffer from neck twist, but it's worse than that:

I was recording over about a week and just leaving everything in place.  One of those days i came into the studio and was looking at my Epiphone and overnight the soundboard had cracked from the bottom to the bridge!
Now, beyond physical abuse i have only ever seen this happen with very old guitars, or guitars that have been subjected to the absolute driest of conditions.  I had had those guitars for less than two years at that point and i was tuned a half-step down.  Geesh, talk about a glass jaw.
 


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Up to that point i had never gotten warranty work done on an Epiphone acoustic guitar; and as evidenced in this picture, i still have been unable to get warranty work done on an Epiphone acoustic guitar.  Is it any wonder i'm such a huge fan of Washburn & Yamaha?  Oi

 

One last thing.
The Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RA comes with about as nice a molded gigbag as you could ask for.  Form-fitted foam covered in heavy material.  Zipper, locking button, big pocket, velcro handles, back strap/handle, and

removable shoulder straps.  Has a built in hygrometer.  This is absolutely the kindof case you should expect to come with a $900 guitar.

 

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