Korina, Korina

Korina, terminalia superba, also known as limba or afara, is a West African hardwood tree, probably best known for its use by Gibson and Epiphone for guitars. In fact, Gibson’s “futuristic” Explorer and Flying-V were produced using korina wood before I was born. And that was a very long time ago. It was also just at about that time that Gibson bought out their most important rival, Epiphone, and began to turn that company into their budget brand.

Basically, the deal is that Epiphone manufacture most of the same designs as Gibson, but at a lower cost, with factories in cheaper locations. Originally, that meant Japan and Korea, but even they were priced out of the market, and almost all Epiphones are now made in Qingdao, China. Until yesterday, I had three Epiphone guitars (you can see where this is going, can’t you?), a Japanese acoustic from 1980, a Korean-made Explorer bass, and a Korean G-400.

I think the Explorer might be made from korina (yes, a browse of the Internet seems to confirm that) but you can’t tell because it’s finished in opaque black. The neck is mahogany. The two woods are supposed to have very similar physical characteristics, so I don’t know the thinking behind the use of both. It does make the instrument very unbalanced though — much too heavy at the head end — and with the strap studs in the standard positions it won’t sit naturally in a neutral position. I experimented by moving the studs to different locations, but the only solution which worked was to have the “rear” one slightly in front of the “front” one, with the strap crossed. Crazy, but adequate. I’ve actually only ever played one gig with it though, and I then discovered that it won’t stand up on its own by the side of the stage either.

The G-400 is Epiphone’s version of the early Gibson SG. It was only recently, when Les Paul died, and I read something of his history and the Gibson guitars that bore his name, that I found out that the SG was supposed to have been the 1961 Les Paul Special. It was designed to be a competitor to the Fender Stratocaster: thinner, lighter and more basic than the existing Les Paul, and with body cut away from the neck on both sides into devil’s horn points. It was already in production before they told Les though, and he didn’t like it; didn’t want his name associated with it; and it had to become the SG, simply for “Solid Guitar” apparently. (Very early ones still had “Les Paul” script on the head and truss rod cover though.)

My G-400 is a standard one, body and neck made from mahogany, in the traditional “Cherry Red”, actually a dark, translucent burgundy. With the same wood throughout, there are no balance problems, and it’s thin, light and very comfortable to play, the very distilled essence of the electric guitar. The standard of construction is very good too. As well as the Epiphone brand for budget instruments, Gibson also make their own lower-priced range, including an SG Special at about half the price of the standard SG. I had the opportunity to look at one in a music shop recently, and it was absolute trash: shoddy finish and construction. Far, far inferior to the Epiphone at half that price again.

OK, if you know me, you know the next bit. I bought another one. I really did mean to print out “You Do Not Need Another Guitar” across several sheets of paper and stick it to the wall above my computer. But, er, I forgot. So yesterday, I bought a complete bargain. I had been resisting for weeks, and then the seller dropped his price by £20 and I could hold out no longer. It’s another G-400, made in Korea in 2001, but this one isn’t mahogany: it’s a “Limited Edition” with a korina body and maple neck, both very pale woods, and finished in a light honey yellow, translucent gloss. The metal parts are gold-coloured, although clearly not gold, because they’re slightly tarnished, something that other owners report on the Internet. Probably a “learning point” for the company: give them a thicker plating next time. Maybe they’ll polish up.

But I’m very pleased with my purchase. I Do Not Need Another Guitar, but I like it. It’s lovely.

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2 thoughts on “Korina, Korina

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