Sometimes the fate of a guitar model can be entwined with the artists who champion it – and so it proved with the return of the Epiphone Century last year, 46 years after the company ceased production of the hollowbody model. It’s surely no coincidence that recent years have seen British artist James Bay reach mainstream success wielding a 1966 Century and making it a central part of his music. And now his loyalty has resulted in a limited-edition signature model.
“In the three years we toured my first album, Chaos And The Calm, the amount that I got around with this guitar… if you saw me anywhere, I probably had this guitar,” explains James of the genesis for the model. “I think we came together because [Epiphone] noticed that.”
Even in its original years of production, Century numbers were relatively slim. Bay’s original ’66 is one of only around 300 Epiphones made that year. The singer-songwriter ended up picking one up during his first trip playing in New York, and was drawn to the unusual combination of the electric and organic that the P-90loaded hollowbody with a rosewood bridge presented. “It looked like a challenge,” he says. “It looked like it might be a bit difficult, but if I hit it hard and turned it up loud it might kind of sound good.”
Occupying a middle ground between acoustic and electric, the Century has influenced and reflected Bay’s path as a writer and player. “I’ve enjoyed the battle because it meant I wrote a lot of the songs from my first album on this guitar in quite an intimate setting, and a lot of them are intimate songs, but I kept with this guitar when it came to playing live with a band and turning the amps up. The songs could come from the same place, but the sound could develop differently [live]. And I enjoy the two things rubbing against each other.”
Bay’s pickup upgrade to the his own ’66 is one of the fundamental changes compared with last year’s initial ‘Inspired By ’66’ model that reintroduced the Century to players. It’s loaded with a Kinman Custom No Hum P-90 like Bay’s. Subtler nods include a James Bay Hat Man insignia, and his original Century’s serial number – 385143 – is laser inscribed on the back. Rather than the satin finish of last year’s relaunch, this time it’s an authentic gloss and Bay adds that it took some time to get the ‘brick red’ finish of the signature just so.
The limited edition of 600 signature models even includes a recreation of Bay’s own strap, a homemade creation from the hem of a sari. And the significance of the end result of this package isn’t lost on him. “When you pull it out the case for the first time it’s… a quietly breathtaking moment. I was a kid at school reading guitar magazines and reading about people who have put out signatures and following guitarists that have done the same thing, and then for the first time I’ve got my own one.”
As the Hold Back The River hitmaker embarks upon writing and recording new material, he confirms the Century is very much part of his future plans, too. “I’m still all about P-90s,” he adds, suggesting fuzz, chorus and new approaches to reverb are all part of the future for his sound. “My original ’66 still features in a very big way. There’s a lot more shorter reverbs and slapback. With slapback, I barely touched it on the first record and as I move forward now with new music… a guitar like this with a bit of slapback sounds incredible, and I get choppier with my playing. I’m sticking with this guitar for the journey.” The Epiphone Limited Edition James Bay Signature Century Outfit is available for £679 and is limited to a production run of 600. For more information, visit www.epiphone.com
James Bay’s original ’66 Century is one of only 300 made that year
Bay’s new Limited Edition Century is finished in an authentic brick-red gloss