Human Texans have a reputation for being big, bold and proud, so why should the classic Epiphone six-string that bears the name “Texan” be any different?
After all, the zaftig tone machine has a heavy history. In 1961, shortly after this jumbo offspring of an Epiphone FT-79 and a Gibson J-45 was introduced, the great western swing giant Ernest Tubb outfitted his entire band, the Texas Troubadours, with Epiphones, etching the guitar brand “Texan” into popular vernacular.
The most famous Epi Texan belongs to Paul McCartney. It’s the guitar Sir Paul used to record his signature performance of “Yesterday.” Today that specific instrument is immortalized in the Gibson Company’s catalog as the Limited Edition Paul McCartney 1964 Texan. McCartney used his Texan in the studio and onstage with the Beatles, and even appeared with the axe to play “Yesterday” on The Ed Sullivan Show. In fact, he still performs with the guitar. It’s worth noting that a portion of each sale of the McCartney Texan goes to the “Adopt a Minefield” fund, which raises money to clear minefields and to rehabilitate their victims.
You can also hear McCartney’s Texan live up to the ringing tonal boldness implied by its name on “Mother Nature’s Son” from The Beatles’ “The White Album” and on more recent solo recordings like “Calico Skies” from Flaming Pie and “Jenny Wren” from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.
If country or classic rock isn’t your cup of redeye, how about vintage grunge? Kurt Cobain of Nirvana played a Texan on the band’s 1994 In Utero tour. And while Jimmy Page favors Gibsons for his acoustic guitar tracking, British folk legend Burt Jansch, whose cross-strumming and fleet picking had a major influence on Page’s style, played a Texan in one of his highest visibility years as a rising star: 1965.
In the Hollies and early in Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, Graham Nash strummed a Texan refinished from its original cherryburst to black. And Tom Rush, whose cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going” made the song an American folk classic in 1968, is also as Epi Texan fan, along with Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat”), Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Peter Frampton. Even Jimi Hendrix dug the Texan sound, albeit his Texan family guitar that was auctioned in 2010 was actually a sunburst FT-79.
But enough about lineage. What about the Texan’s wood, steel, plastic and strings practicalities?
At its heart, this versatile stylistic rambler is a jumbo flat top model – built to resonate and project. These days they are typically made with a factory-installed pickup, although, of course, when the Texan was first created in Gibson’s original Kalamazoo Factory after the company purchased Epiphone, the model was purely acoustic.
The Texan’s roots go back to 1942, when the guitar’s ancestor, the Epiphone FT-79, went into production. The FT-79 was a fine instrument, but a flat top with a bigger body and more subtle curves was required to produce a bigger bottom end with more projection. So Gibson, now holding the reins of Epiphone, sought to blend the gently sloped shoulders of the Gibson J-45 with the longer neck of the FT-79, giving birth to the Texan in 1958. And logically, the Texan experienced its initial production heyday in the 1960s as a diverse roster of musicians from Tubb to McCartney and Jansch made the model popular.
The Texan has a distinctive look thanks to its parallelogram inlays and the traditional “E” Epiphone logo on its fretboard. Originally priced as a less expensive alternative to the Gibson J-45, the guitar was first built with plastic tuners, which graduated to metal in 1967. Three years later, the initial production run of Texans ended, although in 1972 an interim owner of the Gibson brand had Japan’s Matsumoku factory build a 12-string model for Epiphone called the Texan 12.
The McCartney model, with its exacting 1964 specs, isn’t the only Texan back in production. Last year, Epiphone put a standard Texan model into its catalog again, but with some new flourishes that improve on the earlier version’s construction. The original adjustable saddle has been replace with a fixed, compensated version to improve tuning accuracy and intonation. And the modern Texan comes equipped with a Shadow pre-amp system and under-the-saddle pickup wired to a jack in the bottom strap peg. The preamp is mounted in the sound hole. And there is a switch to cut feedback without altering the guitar’s historic tone. Yeee-hah!