Review: Epiphone 1939 Century Guitar Amplifier — Video

Back in the late Thirties when the electric guitar was still in its infancy, Epiphone produced a variety of Electar model amplifiers to pair with their electric guitar models.

The Century and Zephyr amps were designed to go with Epiphone’s classiest, top-of-the-line electric guitar models with the same names. Unlike most amps produced at the time, which resembled luggage, the Century and Zephyr amps were housed in maple or birch cabinets with tasteful art deco styling that looked right at home on stage in the upscale nightclubs where they were often used.

Epiphone recently introduced a reissue of the 1939 Century amplifier.

This compact 20-watt 1x12 combo faithfully reproduces the original version’s cabinet down to the six-point screws, grill cloth and chrome-plated carrying handle while offering a newly designed tube amp circuit.

FEATURES The Epiphone 1939 Century features a pair of 6V6 power amp tubes that provide 20 watts of output and two 12AX7 preamp tubes. The 12-inch speaker is Epiphone’s own special-design 8-ohm Electar model. Like the vintage amplifiers that inspired it, the Epiphone 1939 Century has a simple control panel that features only a volume and a tone control. However, three individually voiced inputs and a pull boost function on the volume control (which also can be controlled with an optional footswitch) greatly expands the amp’s tonal versatility. Instead of the instrument, mic and phonograph inputs on the original (which were actually wired in parallel), the reissue has bright, normal and dark inputs. Other modern features include an internal variable bias control and a speaker output jack for connecting the amp to an external speaker cabinet.

PERFORMANCE The circuit’s push/pull fixed-bias output stage and long-tail pair phase inverter provide impressive clean headroom for a small, vintage-style combo, but the amp still can get satisfyingly gritty and nasty with the volume control cranked up past 7 (when using single coil pickups, earlier with humbuckers) or with the pull boost function engaged. Whereas most “Dark” inputs on other amps produce muddy, flabby tone, here it sounds more like most Normal channels with just a touch less treble brilliance. If you prefer bright, sparkly tones, they’re available from the Normal and Bright inputs, with the latter sounding razor sharp with the tone control set anywhere past 5. The amp sounds best with the volume control fully pegged, where the distortion is gloriously vicious yet refined and clean tones are just a twist of the guitar’s volume knob away.

LIST PRICE $665.00

The wood cabinet, chrome-plated handle, grill cloth and six-point screws are all faithful to the design of Epiphone’s original Electar Century amp from the Thirties.

Bright, Normal and Dark inputs plus a pull-boost function provide greater sonic versatility than the typical vintage-inspired amp.

THE BOTTOM LINE The classy retro styling of the Epiphone 1939 Century make it the ideal affordable living room practice amp, but the sound and performance make it great for the studio and small gigs too.

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Chris Gill, Video by Paul Riario

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.