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Epiphone Wildkat Review | Cool As Hell

tl;dr

Dripping with tone and bearing the versatility to be played in many styles, the Epiphone Wildkat is a high-value guitar which is different from other Gibson-equivalent Epiphone models.

Notably, it houses two P90 Dogear pickups and comes equipped with a genuine Bigsby tremelo arm. It bears the vintage Epiphone headstock logo design, and is one of Epiphone’s exclusive guitars (not having a Gibson version), similar to an Epiphone Casino or Riviera.

The guitar is a fine choice for players seeking a highly functional guitar, capable of achieving different sounds, while minding the budget (so you can afford other accompanying gear like amps or pedals). On top of that, it’s a fine looking guitar with a nice maple top and mahogony body.

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Epiphone’s journey from a mere “affordable Gibson” to a brand of tone-rich and face-melting guitars is likely what’s led to it’s more recent growing popularity. Actually, Epiphone began as one of Gibson’s top rivals in pre-WWII years, crafting some of the highest quality archtops of the day; vintage Epiphones from this era are rare indeed and cost many thousands of dollars in auctions you might find online. In 1957, Gibson sought to eliminate Epiphone as a competitor by acquiring them, and since then Epiphones have been wrongfully thought of as just a cheaper Gibson. More recently, Epiphones have been built to honor their past greatness as a top semi-hollowbody brand, and the Wildkat has been a notable addition in that effort. Equipped with quality hardware and the intent for versatility, the Epiphone Wildkat is helping to restore the brand as worthy of bragging rights and taking the place of your top axe.

General Specifications

Tonewoods

Sizing

Electronics

Hear How it Sounds

Tap the play button to get a sense of how this sounds. If you’ve got the time, explore many more videos to see if the style of the product could fit the sound you seek.

Our Review & Analysis

Is this Snarly, Tone-Dripping P90 Guitar the One for You?

If your first thought when you think “Epiphone” is that they’re a Gibson-equivalent, cheaper brand, then know that the Wildkat is indeed different. You can think of Epiphones as being split between two categories: Gibson-equivalent budget guitars, and Epiphone-exclusive guitars (oftentimes in tribute to its truly glorious history). The Epiphone Wildkat is part of the latter group – the Epiphone-exclusive lineup. Similar such exclusive Epiphones are models you’ve probably heard of, like the Casino, Sheraton, or Emperor guitars.

Certainly, it’s still an affordable guitar and it’s not an L-5 or a Les Paul Custom, but you’ll be very hard-pressed to find another time-tested axe, built to be played rather than hung, which comes packed with snarly P90s with a Bigsby at hand. The Bigsby alone would run you $140 or more in parts. 

With that being the case, you can know that you’re buying a quality axe in the Wildkat, and you’re buying the side of Epiphone which does have a higher tier of quality, nodding its head to the old Epiphone semi-hollowbody ancestors, and not being very far off a true Gibson for the money.

Though, if you’re going to drop some of your hard-earned money for this guitar (or any guitar), it’s worth asking: will this be a guitar you treasure and play, or will you be looking to sell it within months only to opt for something else? Rather than gamble your money, try to tilt the odds in your favour by making an informed decision beforehand. Get a better idea if the Wildkat will be your big win of a purchase, or a gamble gone wrong..

The Rarity of High-Quality Archtops Below $1,000

First off, a couple terms which you’ll want to ensure you’re familiar with are: archtops & semi-hollowbody guitars. An archtop guitar is a guitar which is built with more of a violin-style; the back and top of the guitar actually have a convex shape, which tends to create a more focused, direct tone (compared to flat-top guitars which tend to have more overtones and sustain). Historically, that was favorable since then archtops were able to cut through loud big bands, before guitars had amplification. As well, the tone tends to be a bit mellower and punchy. Semi-hollowbody guitars are guitars which have some acoustic qualities, yet they have a centre block of wood within the body. This allows semi-hollowbody guitars to handle heavier gain and volume; whereas, full hollow-body guitars usually can’t handle gain since they’ll start uncontrollably feeding back.

Note that the Epiphone Wildkat is an archtop semi-hollowbody guitar; its got that kind of punchy, direct sound, retains the beautiful lightness of an acoustic touch, while also being able to sustain heavy gain & snarl if need be. These qualities help the Wildkat make its name as a versatile guitar, fit for a multitude of genres. 

It can be tricky to find nice semi-hollowbody archtops for under $1,000; generally speaking, you’re faced with Ibanez models, budget PRS guitars, Epiphones, and some other well-known brands. Certainly, as you’re making your buying decision, head over to a guitar store and try out everything you can get your hands on – nothing will replace that. But know that the Wildkat is a fairly unique option, due to its build which is unlike most others; for example, most use normal humbuckers or have lower-quality tuners (the kind where you make one turn and the pitch really jumps irregularly). More on those nitty-gritty details below.

The Build of the Wildkat Body & Neck

In the days when the electric guitar was being pioneered (these were the late 30s when pickups & amplification were new frontiers), it was a revelation to all players, since – in bigger ensembles – the guitar could finally be heard as a single-note instrument, which allowed its innovation as a lead instrument, rather than just a chonking rhythm box.

However, there was a fatal flaw; the hollowbody archtops would vibrate due to the amplified sound, causing unwieldly feedback which would cap the volume at which these early archtops could be played. Even today, just try buying an old Gibson ES-125 hollow-body archtop and you won’t be able to play it at your next club gig – and forget about even touching any overdrive. 

Though, one innovation came along – the semi-hollowbody design, where a centre block of wood divides the guitar into two separate cavities. Adding that stability to the build allowed the guitar to fend off the feedback, while retaining the fluttery-touch sound of the guitar’s acoustics. 

That’s exactly how the Wildkat is built, and it allows you to use the guitar in overdrive, playing hard rock or grimy blues, while also playing with a gentler clean tone with more crystal-like clarity. 

Going into more specifics about the body, its built from mahogany, which is a tonewood with a more woody, direct sound, without as many overtones (which also can mean less feedback risk). The top of the guitar (the face of the guitar with the pickups, bridge, and so on) is built from a laminate spruce veneer. Spruce as a tonewood is known for its brighter sound, allowing notes to “pop” off with more volume and resonance. It helps when you’re at the climax of your solo, hitting that cathartic bend, and almost driving it like a spear of sound into the audience.

As far as the size of the body, it’s bigger than a Les Paul, while being smaller than an ES-335. For those who like to leverage the body of the guitar, holding it against you, to squeeze out more tone from the strings, it’s an ideal shape; oftentimes, the Les Paul size can be a bit small, especially to hold without a strap. On the other hand, the ES-335 can be bit to wide to be comfortable, and it’s certainly bulkier to carry around. The Wildkat seems to be more of a Goldilocks size for those who like a beefy guitar, but not too beefy. Probably the best comparison for size would be to Gretsch Electromatics, or something similar, though you’ll be paying half the cost which is nice.

The neck has a scale length of just under 25 inches; scale length is the distance between the guitar’s nut and the bridge. This is normal for the Gibson brand; it’s longer than the compact Fender Jaguars and so forth, yet not as long as PRS’, Carvins, and Ibanez guitars. Comfortably, the shape is an unobtrusive, slim-taper “D” profile neck, and the frets are medium jumbo, lessening the challenge of actually fretting the notes. The wood of the neck is again maple, and its got minimalistic dot inlays. 

One bonus is that the Wildkat has a “set neck” versus a bolt-on neck. If you’ve ever played Fender Stratocasters, you’ve probably noticed the necks are bolted on, this tends to be popular since it’s less expensive to manufacture; however, it can detract from tone & sustain since there’s less transfer of sound from the inevitable tiny spaces between the neck and body. On the other hand, set (also called glued) necks are a bit pricier, but they tend to have much better “tonal transfer”, resulting in warmer, fatter sounds.

Alluring Hardware: the Bigsby Tremelo & P90 Pickups

The main points, as far as hardware, to discuss for the Wildkat are the tremelo bar and the pickups.

One other point to squeeze in would be its nice Grover 18:1 tuners; 18:1 tuners mean you’d turn the tuning peg 18 times for the shift which bears the string to rotate once. Oftentimes, Epiphone guitars have 14:1 (less precise) tuning pegs, so these nice tuners are another way where this Epiphone differentiates itself from other Gibson-equivalent models. Another way it differentiates itself is with the retro Epiphone headstock label, which is quite classy and harkens back to Epiphone’s days of true glory.

Compared to the standard, out-of-the-box whammy bars which you’ll find on certain Ibanez and Fender guitars, Bigsby tremelos are of a completely different class. You can expect them to reliably stay in tune, and provide you with the ability to play steel guitar-like sounds (pre-depressing the bar prior to playing a full chord, then releasing the arm).

To get an idea of the full capabilities of a Bigsby tremelo, check out Brian Setzer or Chet Atkins, among many others; listening to how they use it, you might get excited about the new possibilities. 

Next on the hardware list are the beautiful P90 ‘pups’ (pickups for short)! If you’re not sure about the heavenly characteristics of P90s, which aren’t quite single-coil pickups nor humbucker pickups, you’ll find endless Youtube videos and Reddit threads with users describing the fiery sounds. Words that describe P90 pickups could include: simmering, fiery, hot, piercing.

For example of that sound, listen to players like Grant Green, Santana, or Leslie West (when he recorded Mississippi Queen).. “if you know what I mean?” (Lol.. excuse the pun). Jokes aside, P90s can evoke a thick, warm lead tone while also creating a crispy, edgy sound, making them popular with punk guitarists as well. 

Once you try playing with P90s, you seriously may not want to go back to normal single-coils or humbuckers; the sound is unique and it’s as-if there’s this light fire under your fingers as you pluck the notes – it just simmers nicely. It can often be difficult to find good P90 guitars without paying over $1,500, and so – especially to get acquianted with the P90 sound – the Wildkat is a handy option for those looking to diversify their tonal palette. 

How Will the Guitar Play In Your Hands?

Overall, the combination of the tools at your disposal (those being the pickups and the bigsby) as well as the build of the guitar (the glued neck, selection of tonewoods, semi-hollow design, among other aspects) will play into your performance with the guitar. But none of those aspects come close to touching how the guitar feels in your hands and therefore inspires your playing. 

You won’t know that true feeling until you’re seated in your practice area, with your pedals and amps at hand; though, especially these days where buying online before trying (and then returning) is becoming much more normalized, definitely do your research on whether P90s might be right for the sound you’re looking for, consider if a Bigsby tremelo would be useful for you, think about whether you’d like to incorporate that more 3-dimensional semi-hollowbody sound, and imagine how the size of the guitar would feel in your lap. Also, be sure to watch lots of videos of the Epiphone Wildkat on Youtube, and take note of the different styles it can be used for.

From the videos and reports out there on the Wildkat, it looks like it can be a handy box for punk, rock, blues, and perhaps jazz as well. Should you choose to pull the trigger and give this guitar a try, be sure to please drop us a line and let us know your owner’s-perspective thoughts on what is quite an interesting instrument.

Is it Worth the Risk of Buying?

If you’re in the market for the Wildkat, you’re not quite looking to drop $4,000 on a vintage Epiphone with P90s, you might be more so looking to expand to new sounds, particularly with the crispy P90s on-board. 

With its comfortable body sizing, above-market-rate hardware (such as the Grover tuners and Bigsby), and the nice selection of tonewoods, the Wildkat is a sound option for those seeking a multi-purpose guitar at a reasonable price. You’ll be getting functionality in a guitar which can delve into multiple genres, while also being quite beautiful to display in your practice room.

Out of all of Epiphone’s exclusive line of guitars, the Wildkat has come out shining as a success, and is evidenced by its growing popularity among players of all styles.

Notable Customer Reviews Online

5/5
My first electric was a semi hollow body electric. After that was an SG Standard and Les Paul DC Studio. Looking to get a semi hollow body, sat down and played this guitar for 3 hours unplugged and plugged in. Played better than Gretch's I was looking at, sounded comparable and for a lot less money. Ordering this one and Epiphone DC Pro soon as I can. Can't believe this guitar. Buy it. No buy 2 so you have a backup just in case. Can't believe my gigging guitars will be 2 Epiphones.
Kevin Potts
Best semi-hollow body electric for the money
October 14, 2019
5/5
This review is about a guitar that more people should consider because it has it all! Semi hollow (almost hollow) mahogany body,P90 pickups, Bigsby Vibrato, Grover tuners, Quality looks and, build. I have two of these one Chicago Royale Blue and, Wine Red transparent and, they just blow me away. These come as close as you can get to a true hollow body except for a couple of places where it is solid under the bridge and, by the neck pickup, other than that it is hollow. I was looking for that something different in a guitar and, this is it! I've played these through a small 30w combo amp and, a Fender Twin Reverb and, the sound is Awesome!! I bought both sight unseen with no problem. I live in a very rural area so I have no choice but to do so. I have not been dissapointed in any way with these instruments. No modifications necessary, tune up, set the action, check the intonation and, neck relief and, get jammin'. Highly recommended!!!!
Terry Hoffman
Wildkat, Oh Yeah!
November 6, 2016
5/5
I purchased this guitar several months ago. It has exceptional clean tones and a very low end cut. It leaves a bit to be desired in the treble side of things even when the lead tone is selected. However it's mid range capabilities are amazing. It has a natural crunch when played clean that allows the user to not have to overdrive the amp or use a distortion effect. It does need tightened up when fresh out of the box, but once done stays in tune very well even when using the tremolo. The neck is fat and chords very nice, but not great for metal shredding. It is a very loud electric and I have issues when playing live switching between this and my solid body electrics because it is so much louder. I use this for all clean songs in our set list. If your a rhythm player looking for a solid piece at a great price look no further. If you want something to run the neck this is not the guitar for you. I get compliments on this guitar everywhere it goes.
Jake Walker
Best guitar for the price
March 23, 2016
5/5
I've had this guitar a few months now and I love it. It will fill the necessities for any style except, maybe, metal. It has a unique sound and look along with a great feel. I put some Gibson 11 gauge strings on mine and the sound is compatible with my regular Gibson studio. Caution: If you never stringed a guitar with a Bigsby trem, look it up on youtube before you do your first. It is not difficult, but easy to make mistakes that could cost you scratches or having to buy another set of new strings.
Jelly Bean
Best value for electric on the market
March 5, 2016
5/5
I was looking at an Epiphone Les Paul to compliment my 2002 Gibson ES-135. Thought I wanted a solid body guitar til I played this. Turns out I'm a semi hollow kind of guy. Plus I've always wanted a guitar with the P-90 and Bigsby combo.
This guitar is unique in its construction, with the routed back and sides made of one piece of mahogany. Most semi hollow guitars have a center block running the length of the body, but if you look at the f holes you can see daylight coming through toward the neck pickup. So it has a very hollow body tone. Almost acoustic sounding under the right settings. Watch your EQ with higher gain settings because she will feed back.
The hardware is top notch and construction is excellent. My Gibson has a smoother fret job but for the price it doesn't lose points. A simple fret polish when you get it will be fine.
This guitar is worth every penny and more.
Matt Solina
Epiphone Wildkat!
February 2, 2016
5/5
I got mine right before Festivus 2012, and fell in love with it during our family holiday jam session ... 20 months later, still in love ... definitely MY guitar ... the neck pickup is outta this world ... love the bridge pickup, too ... the tone knob is a TOOL TO ADJUST YER SOUND, not deaden it ... and the neck is a dream ... I bought this guitar cause of the price, P-90s, semi-hollow body and Bigsby, plus some online videos ... I never played it 'til I got it ... I am a lifelong Strat guy, this neck is THE best I have ever felt ... LOVE MY WILDKAT !!!
Greg
Still In Love
August 7, 2014
5/5
This guitar is way more than I ever expected! I was a bit concerned about buying a guitar online without playing it buy I was not disappointed. Also the sales staff was awesome! What a sweet guitar for the money!
DJay
Great Axe!!!
April 28, 2014
5/5
I got mine shipped today, it looks and plays great, it is a super addition to my collection.
I can get a great rockabilly sound without spending a fortune.
The customer service is great, and the candy bags satisfy the sweet tooth.
Scott Nicol
Awesome
April 22, 2014
5/5
This thing is a true classic. Great tone and playability! Very easy set up the action to your taste. It is somewhat of a diamond in the rough though. Although the fit and finish are up to par with even American made guitars, it needs a roller bridge and a graphite nut to reach its potential. Epiphone should send them this way, it couldn't cost but a few more bucks. Speaking of which, this thing is a stone cold bargain at this low price! The p90s sound great and go from warm and almost acoustic to total metal nastiness and everything in between with ease. Love the tuners, love the neck,the body size, the weight, and especially the master volume knob and it's location! Not to even mention the bigsby, it looks so retro and works so well you just don't want to put it down. Just buy one and make your guitar playing life complete!
Darrell
Wild yet versitle
September 29, 2013
5/5
I got this same Wildkat today as a gift from a dear friend and let me tell you....it is a wildcat. Very aggressive yet subtle when needed to be in the tone it delivers. The workmanship on mine is superb. All in all this is a tone monster and a gorgeous instrument.
Don't take my word for it though. Try one for yourself. You'll see what I mean. I'm keeping mine.
Papa Coochie
Wildkat indeed
August 16, 2013

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