Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #50
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
The Wildkat is never going to be a full on Rock guitar, not least because of the issue with semi-acoustics and feedback, but it offers plenty to please most.
A little unbalanced on the headstock end
Bigsby won’t appeal to all
If you're more into Eddie Cochrane than Eddie Van Halen, Epiphone's Wildkat might be just your thing. Why, it even comes with a Bigsby. Lewis Turner slips on his blue suede shoes.
Epiphone may be one of America's oldest instrument makers, having been around since 1873 and now in its 143rd year, but to a whole generation of players today it's known as the cheaper version of Gibson. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the quality of the company's instruments and recent years have seen some really good Epiphones come onto the market, often at pretty stunning prices. That must certainly apply to the subject of this review, the semi acoustic Wildkat, which is a lot of quite complicated to make guitar (well, compared to a Strat or an SG) for what is not really very much money at all.
As before with Epiphones we borrowed our sample from a leading retailer (DV247.com) which has the added advantage that this accurately represents the condition you are likely to find one in in a store.
The Wildkat is a cool looking guitar, our sample finished in a lovely Wine Red, with the Bigsby and double F holes giving it that real retro look. Fit and finish throughout was excellent and it will certainly turn heads. The body is mahogany with a laminated flamed maple top and coupled with the fact it’s an archtop with a centre block (much like the 335), that this makes for a very light guitar. The weight factor is not only good for saving your shoulders and back, it’s also great for resonance and increased sustain, and this is certainly true with the Wildkat. Even unplugged the guitar resonates well and you can feel every note that is played, which is great.
The traditional style headstock is quite a large affair, making it slightly top heavy but the tuners were good and stable. The glued neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard, 24.75” scale with 22 frets. I found the fretboard and shape of the neck very comfortable to play as was the action and spacing between frets, there were no buzzing or tuning issues anywhere on the guitar, and thanks to the glued neck, upper fret access was fairly easy.
The two Epiphone P-90 Dogear pickups are part of the Casino look and sound. I've always thought they were quite good, and the ones on this guitar were no exception offering warm mellow sounds in the neck position, with bright jangly tones from the bridge. A three way selector switch makes things nice, simple and obvious, albeit a little fiddly to adjust on the fly, (if you're not used to the selector being up there!) as well as 1 Master Volume, 2 Pickup Volume, and 1 Tone control. This layout can take a little getting used to but once you are, you really can tailor a variety of sounds from this guitar not just the bell-like cleans but also biting crunch, and quacky out of phase.
The Wildkat is never going to be a full on Rock guitar, not least because of the issue with semi-acoustics and feedback, but it offers plenty to please most. The B70 Bigsby vibrato looks cool and goes with the whole vintage styling, though I'm not sure how sturdy it will be long term. Frankly, it feels a little flimsy and if pitch bending harmonics are your thing, this isn’t going to cut it, though for a little shimmer on chords it works fine. Tuning wise it seemed to stay in place, but only time and hard use will tell. I'm not a fan of Bigsbys in general as they get in the way of my picking hand, but that could just be a personal thing.
I have played a fair few Epiphone guitars over the years and have always liked them. As with many people when I first played one I was a little dubious after reading the spec and noting the price and I admit I approached them with a bit of a snobbish attitude, only to be pleasantly surprised with what was on offer. That was true of the Wildkat, as well, except by now I know to expect a whole lot better from an Epiphone - and this one delivered. Sure, it's not quite up there with the higher end woods and the headstock makes it a little unbalanced, and there's also that bulky Bigsby, but for the price you really can't fault it, especially not in terms of playability.