The Ephiphone Company, prior to their acquisition by the Chicago Musical Company in the mid 1950's crafted thousands of quality guitars. Their acoustic Emperor Deluxe Broadway and Triumph Masterbilt models, along with comparable Gibson guitars, are considered to be the best factory made archtop instruments ever made.
However one of the most fascinating guitars ever built by Ephiphone was not one of the Masterbilt Acoustics but a natural 1946 Zephyr (electric) owned and played by the great Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
As a player Django represents one of the all time peaks of Jazz guitar supremacy. He was a talent that bordered on and sometimes achieved a state of pure genius. He did more than any other guitarist to create acceptance of solo virtuistic guitar and destroy the concept of the instrument as a device purely for rhythm.
Players as diverse as Chet Atkins, Irving Ashby, Joe Pass, BB King, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery were influenced by him.
Throughout his career Django almost exclusively used several of the French Selmer-Maccaferri guitars, easily recognized by their distinctive shape and sound. After World War II he sometimes used various American-made electric instruments which had been presented to him by makers.
It was on Django's only visit to the United States that he aquired Epiphone Zephyr #3442.
Duke Ellington was a fan of Django's. They had met in Paris prior to World War II. In early 1946, "The Duke" invited him to visit the United States and tour with his band as a featured performer. Django accepted his offer and arrived in New York City in the month of October. Django did not bring his Selmer-Maccaferri guitar with him from France because he thought American guitar makers would vie with each other for the honor of presenting a guitar to him.
He was mistaken about this and as a result had no instrument to play on the tour.
Fortunately Django had an old friend in the city on whom he could depend to help him, Joe Sinacore was a New York studio guitarist who served in the army band during World War II. While stationed in Paris he met Django. The Gypsy could not speak English well but spoke Italian in addition to French. As Joe knew Italian as well as English he became Django's unofficial interpreter and friend while he was in Paris.
Django contacted Joe and told him he did not have a guitar for the Ellington concerts. Joe took him to the Epiphone factory located on West 14th Street in New York City. It was there that Django selected the natural Epiphone Zephyr #3442.
It is also possible that he aquired a large electra amplifier at that time. According to Joe Sinacore the Epiphone Company gave the guitar to Django which is contrary to Charles Delaunay's biography of Reinhardt.
After aquiring the Epiphone Django traveled with Duke Ellington by train to Cleveland, the first stop on the tour. (November 1946).
The concert was reviewed by the Cleveland "Plain Dealer." Of Reinhardt, they said; "In the hands of this virtuoso the electric guitar aquires richer, magical qualities. His dexterity was remarkable, in intricate chords that were executed with such technical brilliance that the band musicians kept shouting "go to it Master."
"The Cleveland Press" also reviewed the show, "Duke Ellington came to Cleveland yesterday...He introduced in this country for the first time the hottest guitar player in the world."
After Cleveland the band played to enthusiastic crowds in Chicago, St Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and closed with two nights (November 23rd and 24th) in New York City at Carnegie Hall.
After the tour Django worked at "Cafe Society" before returning to France taking the Epiphone with him.
Reinhardt never returned to the United States. He spent the remainder of his life successfully touring the continent usually with small groups similar to the legendary "Quintet of the Hot Club of France" that he formed with violinist Stephane Grappelly in 1934.
During this period the rare film footage of Django playing the natural Epiphone Zephyr through a large Electar Amplifier was made.
Django's last important appearance was with Dizzy Gillespie in the Spring of 1953. The following May he died at the Hospital in Fountainbleu near his home at samois from a stroke. He was forty three years old.
In 1967 Fred Sharp, a noted guitarist and owner of the largest collection of Django Reinhardt recordings in the United States, was invited by Charles Delaunay, Django's biographer, to come to Paris. Delaunay wanted to record Fred and Babik Reinhardt, Django's son an accomplished guitarist in his own right.
During their work together Babik learned of Sharp's life long interest in his Fathers music. When Fred Sharp left France, Babik presented him with a bon voyage gift...Django's Epiphone.
As noted in the "Plain Dealer," Sunday, November 5, 1967, one of the treasures brought back from Europe by Freddie Sharp, the Cleveland heights band leader, is a six string guitar formerly owned by Django Reinhardt, the late, great, French guitarist.
"I was overwhelmed when Babik Reinhardt, son of Django gave it to me as a bon voyage gift", Freddie said as he displayed the cherished present.
"This is the instrument his father played in Duke Ellington's Orchestra on his American concert tour in 1946. Django also played it at New York's old Cafe Society Uptown Club where I heard and met him."
Sharp, a guitar virtuoso himself, and his singing wife Iris, flew to France to tape a new record a new record with Babik's studio Jazz band for Disques Vogue records in Paris.
It was an extremely happy merger of talents, "as well as a memorable experience", the Clevelander reported. The recording date was arranged after a long exchange of letters and tapings with Babik and Charles Delaunay, production director of Disques Vogue releases.
"Several mutual friends also recommended me to Delaunay for this project," Freddie said. "He was impressed too, by the fact that I own 885 sides of Django's tapes and famous recordings. It is one of the largest collections in the United States."
In Paris, Sharp met several noted musician who had been friends of Jean Baptiste ("Django") Reinhardt, the Belgian born gypsy jazz muscian who influenced guitarists throughout the world for over 30 years.
"His son is one of the finest jazz guitarists on the contemporary scene," Sharp commented. "Babik and his combo sounded so great at Le Club du Jazz in Paris that I am hoping to arrange a tour of the States for them."
Freddie, who once toured in Red Norvo's and Jack Teagarden's orchestras, was asked if he plans to play Django's guitar in future shows.
"Oh no! Definitely not!" he replied. "I treasure this museum piece so much for sentimental reasons that I would not sell it for less than 50 million dollars."
Fred can still be contacted and is as chipper as he was all those years ago. .