Whether you're a beginner learning to strum, or a professional looking to better his tone, choosing a Les Paul can be a challenge. There are close to 127 models that have been released under the Les Paul name since 1952. To make your decision easier it helps to remember that they are all derived from 3 basic models. There are currently about 13 or so variations on the basic Les Paul design around today. All models feature a 'Tune-o-matic' bridge and a stop bar tailpiece, and can be with or without a scratch guard. Apart from reissues, all Les Pauls now feature humbuckers. They are mostly mahogany, but there is now a series called 'SmartWood Exotics' which feature a number of exotic woods. There are a number of variations and reisues based on the above but slightly different, and they all feature Les Paul's signature on the headpiece.
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This is the contemporary version of the model that was introduced in '58-'59. It was reintroduced in 1976. This model has a smaller peg head, green push keys, and in bushing. The body and neck are solid mahogany while the fret board is made of maple and rosewood. All hardware is nickel. Thanks to the Burst bucker Pro pickups, the tone is tight and balanced with increased midrange. Up until 1957 they featured single coil soap bar pickups, after which they switched to Humbuckers. The hardware is chrome. In the 1960s Gibson introduced the 'slim-taper' neck, which changes in thickness only about a tenth of an inch from the first fret to the twelfth and maintains a precisely controlled width to thickness ratio, designed to promote speed while reducing player fatigue. The Standard is now available with or without the slim-taper neck.
Introduced in 1983. A more refined version of the guitar, with a thinner body and more advanced electronics designed by Les Paul himself. Low impedance electronics were used for an improved signal to noise ratio and a very clean tone. The thinner body changed the tonal qualities of the instrument somewhat, but the improved electrics allowed higher quality in recording situations. The same woods are used but there is no binding. This model is a watered down version of the Standard. It comes in a wide choice of finishes and has a sleek minimal look and features an optional plus top. The Les Paul Studio is intended to be played in a recording studio and is the favorite of guitarists who want a guitar that combines the Les Paul's classic performance with a modern edge.
This is something of a piece de resistance in the Les Paul stable, and is the most expensive model. Introduced in 1954, the Custom is perhaps the most beautiful Les Paul with its elegant colourings and gold hardware. It features multi-ply binding on a maple neck and mahogany back and top. Essentially it is the same as a Standard, but with slicker aesthetics. It's designed with a single piece mahogany neck and a carved maple top. Aesthetics include a warm mahogany finish and gold hardware. The 2 hum buckers ensure a warm quality to the tone, making this the perfect lead guitar. Other features include a tune-o-matic bridge and a stop bar tail piece.
Epiphone got its name from its founder, Epaminodas Stathopoulo, known as "Epi." and was one of Gibson closest competitors back in the archtop guitar market during the 40s and 50s. Gibson acquired Epiphone in 1957 and today Epiphone is a subsidary of Gibson, producing licensed "economy" versions of, among other models, the Les Paul.
Epiphone Les Pauls are competitively priced and offer extremely good value for a reasonably high quality guitar. However, here a few things to note while buying an Epiphone Gibson:
- Gibsons are made in the US while Epiphones are made outside the country (usually Korea and China).
- Gibson guitars come with an ultra light thin nitra cellulose coating that takes weeks to perfect. Epiphones comes with a less labor intensive polyurethane finish which doesn't take long to apply and is also more durable.
- Gibson uses high quality woods like South American mahogany in its designs. Epiphone guitars use less expensive materials like a combination of alder and mahogany, making them more affordable than the upscale Gibson models.
- Gibsons have a lighter tone overall in contrast to the Epiphones' darker tones.
- The Pickups, electronics and internal wiring of Gibson Les Pauls is of substantially higher quality than their Epiphone counterparts.
If you're watching your wallet, the Epiphone Les Paul Junior or LP Special might be a safe bet. A little more expensive are the Epiphone Les Paul Custom and the Les Paul Classic. If you're in the mood to splurge then you can't go wrong with a Gibson les Paul Standard or Gibson Les Paul Custom.
Need More advice purchasing your first electric guitar? Check out some recommended beginner electric guitars.