By Chris Gill | Photo by Justin Borucki
The first printed mention of the House of Stathopoulo, a stringed-instrument company based in New York City formerly known as A. Stathopoulo, appeared in The Music Trades magazine in March 1915, a few months before the death of founder Anastasios Stathopoulo, on July 22, 1915.
Epaminondas “Epi” Stathopoulo took over his father’s business and continued making instruments sold under the House of Stathopoulo brand until December 1927, when he officially changed the company’s name to the Epiphone Banjo Corporation. Although most instruments built by the House of Stathopoulo between 1915 and 1927 were mandolins and banjos, the company made a few guitars as well during this period, marketing them primarily to Greek-American musicians.
This unique 12-string House of Stathopoulo harp guitar could possibly date to the earliest days of the House of Stathopoulo brand, as it has several distinguishing characteristics that resemble the touch and vision of Anastasios Stathopoulo rather than his son Epi. The most notable of these features is the neck, which only has center strips instead of the multi-ply design found on later House of Stathopoulo instruments.
Even more unusual is the single-piece ebony fretboard and neck that appears to be crafted from a single piece of wood, even though the design resembles two V-shaped necks joined together. “If it’s two joined pieces, it’s very hard to tell,” says Buzzy Levine of Lark Street Music in Teaneck, New Jersey, who recently acquired the instrument from its previous owner, Peter Corrigan. “The design allows you to play the highest-tuned six strings normally and easily, but when you go to play the lower six strings, your fingers are blocked by the groove in the middle.”
Another notable feature is the deep, sweeping cutaway, which Epiphone later used on its Recording Series guitars. Should this guitar date to 1915, it would be one of the earliest examples of a functional cutaway on a flattop, nonclassical guitar. The distinctive heart-shaped soundhole was a trademark feature of pre-Epiphone House of Stathopoulo guitars. With its 28-inch scale and lower bout measuring 19 3/4 inches across at the widest point, this harp guitar is much larger than a standard six-string guitar and was likely designed to fulfill bass and baritone roles in a string orchestra.
“The build is surprisingly thin and light for such a big instrument,” Levine says. “The resonance is beautiful. It sounds best tuned down a fourth from standard tuning. It’s in surprisingly good shape for an instrument this old. No one has tried to modify it, and it has only a few minor cracks that have been repaired. It’s a museum-quality instrument that is unique and rare, yet it’s also very playable.”