As the founding guitarist and singer in Alice In Chains, Jerry Cantrell knows a thing or two about dialing in massive rock tones.
His riffs were arguably the heaviest from the 90s Seattle scene, the group sharing nearly as much kinship with the likes of Metallica and Pantera as they did with the alternative peers from their hometown.
But there was always a more delicate side to the music, as evidenced on tracks like Down In A Hole, Nutshell and Brother – which, thanks to a profound sense of emotional sincerity, turned Jerry into one of the most deeply admired songwriters of his generation.
In January 2020, he made headlines by announcing he was teaming up with Gibson to release a whole line of acoustic and electric signature guitars. Here’s a closer look at the two latest Epiphone models for this year...
When Jerry Cantrell last spoke to us, he acknowledged that Gibson guitars had “been right there in the development of my sound from the beginning” and teased the acoustic signatures that were to follow on from the 100 signed and Murphy-Lab aged Wine Red Customs released in 2021.
The debut models were based on one of the four Les Pauls he acquired in the early 90s and stuck with him through his career. The collaborative partnership continues this year with two new entries under the Chinese-made Epiphone banner, sitting at a much more affordable price point than anything we’ve seen thus far.
The new ‘Wino’ comes in a slightly darker variant of Wine Red, with Epiphone parts offering a more cost-effective take on those found on its American Custom Shop sibling. The most notable difference is the lack of a Fishman piezo pickup-equipped bridge – a fair compromise given that this instrument retails for over ten times less, and ultimately a concession few would be surprised by.
Less predictable, however, is the arrival of its companion 24-fret Custom Prophecy fitted with Fishman Fluence pickups, given that the Alice In Chains guitarist isn’t known for using Fishmans and has generally stuck with 22-fret instruments through his career, including the G&L Rampages he’s used extensively alongside his Les Pauls.
However, with two voicings for each humbucker as well as split coil modes, it’s clearly going to be able to cover a lot of tonal ground, as well as two whole octaves across the neck.
Straight out of the (man in the) box, the new Wino model looks and feels like the closest the budget brand have come to a ‘real’ Les Paul Custom in quite some time. The neck profile is slightly thicker than your typical Epiphone Les Paul, though it’s still very user-friendly and every bit a ‘fretless wonder’, as these guitars were lovingly nicknamed early on.
Going head-to-head with our own 2004 Gibson Custom, there’s very little difference tonally (as much as it pains us to admit, barely any, in fact!). The Dark Wine Red finish and gold hardware marry gracefully with Cantrell’s name along the truss rod cover and his JJ logo, which some may recognize from his signature Friedman heads, on the back of the headstock.
When plugged into our British tube amp’s clean channel, the neck Alnico Classic PRO humbucker sounds rich and full-bodied, with bell-like chimes that can be accentuated further by flicking onto the middle position of the pickup selector.
On the distorted channel, the 98T PRO bridge humbucker sounds cutting and articulate, packing a little extra snarl thanks to its exposed coils. Arriving already tuned half a step down, it’s a guitar that comfortably nails the tones all the way from Alice In Chains’ 1990 Facelift debut right through to latest release Rainier Fog, as well as any of Cantrell’s solo endeavors.
Drop-D (or in this case Drop-C#) riffs like We Die Young, Dam That River and Stone feel particularly responsive here too, striking a perfect balance between low-end punch and searing high-end attack, with notes that well and truly pop out when switching over to leads.
Turn down the volume controls and you’ll easily find some tasty blues tones too, and there’s plenty of fun to be had using the neck pickup with the tone completely off, as you’d expect from traditional singlecuts of this ilk. In that regard, it’s every bit as classic as it looks.
The Custom Prophecy is a considerably lighter instrument, with an ultra modern weight relief in place of the Wino’s nine-hole drilling.
Other interesting features include the all-new Circle In Diamond custom inlays, which add to its aesthetic allure, as well as two extra frets and the inclusion of Fishman Fluence pickups. Which, by the way, react faster with more compression and snap than the medium-output humbuckers found on its companion, as to be expected from an active set.
There are three voicings per pickup – hot, vintage and single-coil – making this one of the most sonically diverse Les Pauls ever to go into production, and while the single-coil tones can’t quite compare to, say, plugging in an old Strat, they certainly carry enough bite to get you close enough for live performances.
With the right kind of compression and EQ treatment, these tones could also work as a faux piezo through a clean channel, which is handy if you’re combining electric and acoustic guitar layers like Cantrell and his cohorts have done over the years.
It would be fair to say the bridge pickup on the hot voicing might be a little scooped and overkill for some of the tones Cantrell is known for and it’s the vintage mode that gets us closer to the sounds on the records, but that’s precisely what makes this signature such a good all-rounder.
It covers a lot of bases well, especially for those in need of a singlecut that’s deceptively lightweight and comfortable.
These bells and whistles do come at a price, however, this signature retailing for £300 more than its companion. It’s not exactly the same kind of guitar you see Cantrell playing himself, but then again it doesn’t necessarily need to be. If anything, that’s what makes it such an intriguing proposition...
As we suspected, these are two very different instruments that cater for different needs. Purists and retro-lovers will undoubtedly feel more at home with the Wino, which convincingly harks back to Les Pauls of old. Modern-style and heavy metal players, however, may very well appreciate the Custom Prophecy for its extra power, versatility and range.
It doesn’t cover vintage tones quite as well as its claret-hued counterpart – active pickups are typically less smooth and less dynamic than passives – and players who dabble in blues or jazz may find that a bit of a turn-off. Those dialing in higher gain sounds all the way from Rammstein and Slipknot through to Code Orange and Periphery, however, will arguably feel more at home on the Prophecy.
Specs – Jerry Cantrell ‘Wino’ Les Paul Custom
- PRICE: $849 / £749
- BODY: Mahogany with plain maple cap
- NECK: Mahogany SCALE: 24.75”
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony
- FRETS: 22
- ELECTRONICS: Alnico Classic Pro (neck), 98T PRO (bridge)
- CONTROLS: 2x volume, 2x tone, three-way toggle
- HARDWARE: Gold
- LEFT-HANDED: No
- FINISH: Dark wine red
Specs – Jerry Cantrell Les Paul Custom Prophecy
- PRICE: $1,149 / $899
- BODY: Mahogany with maple cap
- NECK: Mahogany
- SCALE: 24.75”
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony
- FRETS: 24
- ELECTRONICS: 2x Fishman Fluence
- CONTROLS: 2x volume with push/pull coil splitting, 2x tone with push/pull voice switching, three-way toggle
- HARDWARE: Brushed nickel
- LEFT-HANDED: No
- FINISH: Bone White
- CONTACT: Epiphone (opens in new tab)