A question like “what do you want to get on your birthday” triggers all kinds of thoughts. For example, “what was that guitar that I was GASsing last time about?” :).

Well, let’s be honest – I have more guitars than I play every day, but… there is always “another one” that is itching in the back of my head. After all, a man shall have more than one! And there is no spec on the maximum…

OK, to get a bit more down to Earth. Indeed I was GAS’ing about a good acoustic electric guitar. That’s the only one is still missing in my “collection”. And the only acoustic that I have (the very first one) is ehm… cheap, old and pretty bright. Interestingly enough, the one who bought me the guitar is the one complaining about how hard it sounds :). Anyway, since she asked again…

After some research I have made a short list of the guitars I may want to consider based on the reviews, frequency of including in the “top ranking lists” and availability in the part of Europe I am living. Here is the list with the rough indication of the price at the moment of writing:

As you can see the price is starting just above 500 and the list mainly contains the dreadnought body shapes as that is what I am after. While there are definitely good guitars in the lower price range, having either a full wooden body or a big name (I will come back on this below) adds to the price.

Anyway, I took some time to get a feeling of some of the guitars on the list primarily targeting Epiphone and hoping to see more.

Epiphone DR-500MCE Masterbuilt


  • I didn’t take pictures (except for one) as I was busy trying to get a feeling of the guitar and only later realized I would share my thoughts. Anyway, the images would have been from a specific one, so I will try to describe in words.
  • I didn’t try the guitars amplified, only acoustically to start with…

Watching several videos and reading reviews I was kinda ready to get sold on the real life feel and looks of it. And to be honest… I almost was. Many online pictures do not show the actual beauty of the instrument, especially in the Vintage Sunburst color scheme. OK, I have to admit – I love sunbursts, so I am biased here!

First I looked at AJ200 just to get a feeling and then switched to DR-500MCE. The guitar is made in Indonesia (most other guitars in this price range are coming from China). The guitar looks very atractive with split-diamond inlays (not “just boring dots”) and extra color. The vintage machine heads add to the charm. The preamp on this particular one still had a plastic “seal” between the cap and the two AAA type batteries. I took it out to try tuner and…. the batteries seemed to be dead after half-a-second. OK, took out the batteries, swapped places… voila! The preamp including the tuner went alive. After some tuning (felt pretty good) the plastic foil was placed back to save the batteries for the actual buyer.

First strumming revealed a rather dark sound, not as bright as I used to have, which was also a wish on my side. Check. The strings definitely needed a replacement, but in general guitar felt good. The low notes were not very boomy or pronounced, but overall the guitar played nicely. I wonder what a new set of good strings would do to it.

I liked the satin neck and the finish on the body. Except that the latter was not ideal. And that confirmed many references to inconsistent quality of the Epiphones. A couple of things that put me off on this particular one:

  • The place where neck was joining the body had visible traces of glue. Some other exemplars of the other models did not have it, so I hope this is just this particular one.
  • The binding on the neck was visibly polished until the neck met the body, then the polishing stopped and the binding was left “as-is”, meaning rought.
  • The fret ends could have used some better polishing. Not too bad, but also not ideal (OK, I’ve compared to Martin, not really the same league, but still).
  • The NanoMag pickup was glued to the neck rather harshly, there a very noticable gap between the end of the neck and the pickup. Not what I would expect from a “masterbuilt”.
  • Last but not least there was a blemish at the back of the body which looked from the side like a dint, but it didn’t feel like it when moving fingers above, so likely was already there in factory. Yes, it is “just on the back”, but…

Anyway, I have tried the guitar several times with other guitars in between. All in all if I would spot a perfectly manufactured one I would have very hard time to leave it in the store, but for now… I will look futher.

I also briefly looked at the DR-400MCE. While it looks like a good alternative, it didn’t really appeal to me. The electronics is a step down. Only two dials slighrly coming out of the “body hole”. Satin finish body, one pickup (does not say it is worse, but less versatile), different wood for fingerboard and bridge. I have to admit it does sound similar, but not something I would seriously consider especially since the difference in price in not big (around 60 eur).

Continue reading in part 2.

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