The Epiphone Riviera helped reinvent Epiphone in the 1960s as a modern guitar company whose instruments sported such contemporary features as thinline, semi-hollow, double-cutaway bodies and humbucking pickups.
In the minds of older guitarists, Epiphone was a traditional New York-based company, with roots in 19th-century Greece, that came into prominence with tenor banjos in the Jazz Age and challenged Gibson in the archtop and electric market of the 1930s.
However, in the minds of younger guitarists of the late ’50s, Epi barely existed. The company floundered after World War II due in large part to the death of founder Epi Stathopoulo in ’43, and it was virtually dead when Gibson’s parent company, Chicago Musical Instrument Company (CMI), acquired the brand in 1957.
Gibson president Ted McCarty drew up a new line of Epiphone guitars and debuted them in 1958. His electric archtops represented an abrupt departure from Epi’s past – four of the five new models were thin-bodied, a style Gibson had offered since ’55, but Epi had never done. And one of the new Epis – the Sheraton – was a fancy, semi-hollow double-cutaway, a style Gibson was introducing concurrently under the Gibson brand as the ES-335.
A new model was introduced in ’62 and dubbed the Riviera.
By the time of the Riviera, the makeover of Epiphone was complete. This example illustrates the distinctive Epiphone peghead shape – more curvaceous than Gibson’s, but with Gibson’s “dove-wing” top edge design. The single-parallelogram fingerboard inlay pattern is also distinctly Epiphone and is shared by the double-cutaway fully hollow ’62 Casino.
The pickups are humbuckers, but in order to keep the Epiphone line slightly below Gibson in status and sound, Epiphone humbuckers were made slightly smaller. Consequently, they’ve become known as mini-humbuckers. Gibson did think enough of these pickups to make them standard equipment on the original Gibson Firebird line and Les Paul Deluxe model.
As if those features weren’t enough to distinguish the Riviera from a Gibson, the pickguard and the tailpiece insert sport the stylized upper-case E from the Epiphone headstock logo. It’s actually a lower-case version of the Greek letter epsilon, which ties in this modern instrument with Epiphone’s roots. The shape of the pickguard, too, is inspired by traditional Epi archtop pickguards and is different from the standard Gibson issue.
Unfortunately, though, while the ES-335 continued through Gibson’s Norlin years (1970-’85) and into current production, the Riviera went away with the entire Epi line when Gibson sent Epi production to Japan in 1970. It reappeared briefly in 1982 and came back for good in the early ’90s, and is still produced overseas.
This particular Riviera appears to be in completely original condition. And it’s a sweet thing. Light and responsive, it is super playable, with a slim taper neck and original medium frets in excellent condition.
The nut is a little narrower than its Gibson cousins at 1 9/16” which may suit a player with smaller hands or slender fingers.
But the sound is its distinctive characteristic. The mini humbuckers are focused and tight – not quite as bright as single coils, and without the dark low midrange of regular humbuckers. But because they actually are humbucking pickups, there is none of the hum or buzz sometimes associated with P-90 equipped guitars.
It is a lovely and unique sound – good enough to remind the esteemed US guitarist Robben Ford why he loved the Riviera long ago. Since he rediscovered the joys of his 60s Epi Riviera it has become one of his mainstay guitars and can be heard all over his recent albums.
This one is in great shape. Neck is straight, truss rod works perfectly, tuners are strong & stable, controls clean and quiet. It features a clean white pickguard because its owner preferred the look in preference to the original black guard, which is in the case.
It has been set up beautifully by respected Sydney guitar tech Clyde Watkins.
This from Guitar Player Magazine –
“It is only by the fickle finger of fate that the Riviera sits today in the shadow of the Epiphone Casino. After all, the Beatles surely would have been perfectly satisfied with Rivieras. The Riviera’s similarity to the ES-335 makes it, in our opinion, a “sleeper” in the vintage market. While it is not wise to expect the vintage market to behave in an orderly manner, it is reasonable to view vintage Rivieras as undervalued, with excellent future investment potential, since they are currently available for significantly less than an equivalent ES-335 and less even than many new guitars with similar appointments.”
This original 1968 Epiphone Riviera would suit a collector or player wanting that 60s thinline Gibson vibe at a fraction of vintage Gibson pricing.
Comes in a newer hard shell case in good condition.