Epiphone guitar production had already been at the Gibson Kalamazoo plant for five years when Howard Roberts' first signature model was launched, towards the end of 1964. Only ten instruments were shipped that first year, and the model was too late to make the 1964 Epiphone guitars, basses amplifiers catalogue. In September 1964, the Howard Roberts model was listed at $295 for a Sunburst model, or $315 for Natural. These two guitars were initially given model codes HR-S and HR-N, though these would change to HR-SE and HR-NE by July 1965, when fully acoustic versions were launched, and now given the model codes HR-S and HR-N. Oddly, the standard description for Sunburst Epiphones was 'Shaded' however early publicity material uses Gibson's 'Sunburst'. Same finish, just a different name. In fact the 1965 price list also includes the HR-C - a new acoustic model the Howard Roberts Custom.
The Howard Roberts electric models were fitted with a single 'jazz' humbucker at the neck position. This pickup was not mounted into the guitars top, rather was attached to the side of the neck, in the same manor as the Gibson Johnny Smith - it was actually the same pickup, though without the gold cover - in order not to interfere with the natural resonance of the guitars top when played.
1966 full line catalogue
Today the electric Spanish guitar is found everywhere... orchestras, combos, jazz bands and as a featured solo instrument. Epiphone electric Spanish guitars suit the need of every player, from the top professional, to the semi-pro, to the amateur
The electric version of the Custom, HR-CE, was first pictured in the 1966 Epiphone catalogue, and first listed in the October '66 price list, with a tag of $650 - compared to $455 for the standard Howard Roberts model - placing it in the same ball park as the Epiphone Sheraton, which was listed at $625-$695 depending on precise specifications. It was broadly similar to the existing model, but with more elaborate ornamentation and an ebony fretboard. The headstock featured the Epiphone 'tree-of-life' design, as opposed to the old Epiphone 'oval'.
Like most Epiphones with a Shaded finish, the Howard Roberts model had deep brown walnut-stained back and sides - however, and quite unusually, this was also the case for the HR-N/HR-NE (natural top).
The Epiphone Howard Roberts was only shipped until 1969, however shipping records suggest a very small number were shipped as with Gibson branding in 1970. Jump forward to 1974 and the Howard Roberts was again available, and again with Gibson on the headstock - see the Gibson Howard Roberts.
Shipping figures for the Epiphone Howard Roberts are available for acoustic and (partially) electric models; the Howard Roberts Custom HR-CE figures are not available.
Electric guitar advertisements originally published from 1966 onwards. Click on the images for larger copies. Check out other vintage Epiphone advertisements
Epiphone Howard Roberts - Jazz guitarist Howard Roberts - Color Him Incredible (1966)
1966 advertisement for Epiphone guitars featuring Howard Roberts and his 'funky' style of jazz guitar playing. The image shown is from the the original vinyl cover of Roberts' first album on Capito...
Epiphone Howard Roberts - Creative Guitar (1967)
This advert from 1967 was posted towards the end of Epiphone's US production; but actually the best year in terms of sales for the two Howard Roberts models. Mr. Roberts is shown (inset) playing hi...
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