ALL THE HATERS OUT THERE CAN PRE-LOAD THEIR SQUAWK BOXES WITH vitriol and rabble-babble about how I’m probably sucking up to a manufacturer, but it’s hard to believe the Wilshire is a $249 guitar. The Chinese-made alpine-white avenger—a budget version of Epiphone’s $4,443 Custom USA Wilshire 1962 Reissue—is no cheap imitation of a workingman’s instrument, nor is it an inexpensive banger best relegated to “backup” status. If you dig its wonky ’60s-Italian-weirdness-meets-early-American-garage-rock looks, the retro-cool Wilshire certainly won’t let you down in the construction and sound departments. A jagged cut on the top right edge of the pickguard, two or three black-paint miscues on the headstock, and a somewhat goofy routed slot for the nut are the only elements that aren’t top drawer. All of the other paint and finish features and hardware components are as finely rendered as those on guitars costing three times as much, and the fret ends are smooth and nicely polished—a very much appreciated attention to detail that you don’t always see on guitars going for under $500.
Despite its relatively light weight and long-ish headstock, the Wilshire’s neck doesn’t power dive towards the floor when you remove your hand, and it feels good to play whether standing or seated. My picking style immediately bonded with the wide neck, as it felt as comfy as the baseball-bat girth of the vintagestyle guitars I love, while simultaneously being a bit easier to play up and down the fretboard (thanks to the neck’s flatter “D” shape). The factory setup is a tad on the high side, but it wasn’t at all difficult to blast fast runs, angular arpeggios, and heavy-handed riffs. I didn’t notice any fret buzzes, notes fretting out, or significant intonation problems. All-in-all, the Wilshire is a delight to play.
Sonically, the Wilshire parts company with many of the bizarre ’60s models to which its body design pays homage. There’s not much funky, vibey, lo-fi, or outright screwy about the Wilshire’s tones. This machine is articulate and clean, choosing to give the spotlight to whatever you plug into, rather than impart a substantial helping of its own sound upon your signal chain. For example, the bridge-pickup tones possess a taut, transparent treble that snaps pleasingly without being particularly biting or jangly. The neck pickup sounds are round and solid—almost piano-like—without a hint of mud or subsonic lows. Switch to both pickups, and you get a pleasant midrange attack. The benefit here is that the Wilshire speaks with authority through almost anything. Bring on massive fuzz freak outs, and your single-note lines will still cut through the mix. Crank the chorus and distortion for some arpeggios and every pluck will shimmer clearly. Pull back the Tone knob for a soft, jazzy interlude and the audience will hear every complex chord voicing. In other words, what you may lose in funky vibe, you’ll more than gain in clarity, articulation, and punch.
My old-world grandparents taught me that it’s dangerous to consider something’s true worth by cost alone— although I think they were probably denouncing the Euro-trash neighbors who smoked Gauloises and raced their flashy Alfa Romeos around the block. But, in the case of the Wilshire, they are right. This is a kick-ass guitar that crams hundreds of dollars of value, tone, and playability into a $249 price tag.
Epiphone (800) 444-2766; epiphone.com
MODEL Limited Edition Wilshire
PRICE $299 retail/ $249 street
NECK Set mahogany with “D” shape
FRETS 22 mediumjumbo
PICKUPS Two Alnico Classic Plus humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, two Tone, 3-way selector
BRIDGE LockTone stopbar/ ABR-1 Tune-o-matic
TUNERS Epiphone diecast
FACTORY STRINGS: Gibson Brite Wires, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.36 lbs
KUDOS Stellar value. Good construction. Articulate sound. Easy player.
CONCERNS Extremely minor cosmetic issues. Transparent tones may not suit guiatrists who desire funkier colors.