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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review: Gibson 2015 Les Paul Special

In 2012 I bought my fourth electric guitar, a Gibson SG Standard, and completed my collection of classic rock guitars. Since then, I’ve added a further three guitars to my line-up: a Taylor steel six-string, a 12-string and an Alhambra nylon-string. These seven axes along with my wife’s Jazz Bass give me basically any kind of tone I could conceivably need. This is the most logical stopping-point I have come across since I bought my Les Paul in 2001 and had two electrics for the first time in a decade. But it isn’t enough. It’s never enough. How many guitars does a guy need? Always one more. Therefore, after getting the nylon-string in January last year, I started thinking about the subject pretty seriously. What do I need? Irrelevant. What do I want? That’s the better question. The first thing that always seems to pop into my mind whenever I ask myself that question is a maple-neck Fender Stratocaster. The second thing seems to be a Les Paul Standard of some kind. That’s all and well. Except that it doesn’t really allow me to do something new. One train of thought led me to consider a seven-string guitar, or a six-string shred guitar with a Floyd Rose, or both. Another had me looking at more 60s-inspired designs, like a Rickenbacker 330 or an Epiphone Casino. Last weekend, I spent two hours at the music store, mostly trying out Stratocasters and Les Paul Standards. Towards the end, I was kind of in a bit of despair, since I just didn’t like any of the Gibsons I tried, and none of the Fenders were any good-looking. Then my eye fell upon a Les Paul Special in Heritage Cherry, and I thought, what the hell, and picked it up.

The Les Paul Special is basically a low-end Les Paul, with a flat-topped mahogany body (no arched maple top), simplified controls and usually single-coil P90 pickups. This particular model is part of the 2015 range, so it is a double-cutaway guitar with no pickguard. I have never played on P90 pickups in my entire life, the closest I ever came was a 1956 Les Paul reissue I picked up and played unplugged in another music store a few years ago. I’ve almost always been a humbucker guy, so I’ve never been very interested in P90:s. My loss, it turns out now. I played the guitar through the clean channel of a Blackstar HT Metal 5, and I have never heard a nicer clean tone. P90:s, it seems, have a bigger, fatter, brasher sound than the comparatively small Fender single-coils. It just sounds fuller, less toppy, less brittle. I almost didn’t want to put the guitar back, it was so fun to noodle around! The best bit is that Gibson have put a reverse polarity/reverse-wound neck pickup into the guitar, so whenever you select the middle position of the pickup switch, any buzz or noise just disappears.

I very much enjoyed the body shape, and the wraparound one-piece bridge and tailpiece actually felt more natural to my picking hand than the Tune-O-Matic bridge that I’m very much used to by now. The bridge compensates for intonation issues via staggered ridges, and even then, there are tiny set screws that allow you to fine-tune the thing even further. Honestly, I don’t worry about this issue at all, not since I tried Paul Reed Smiths with the same set-up. The absence of independent tone and volume controls for the two pickups (the Les Paul Special has master volume and master tone only) wasn’t much of an adjustment. I play both Fenders and Gibsons, so I am accustomed to the pros and cons with both systems. The master volume solution gives you control no matter what, and the dual-volume allows you to preset two different tones if you wish.

The only drawback that I could find (other than the G-Force robot tuners, that is!) was the very limited access to the upper frets. Anything above the 20th fret basically requires a new hand position to reach those high D:s, E:s and, conditionally, F:s. This is a bit of a conundrum, because I know I’ll be getting a guitar that has a well-known limitation like this. Then again, I am probably not going to use this guitar for the same sort of stuff for which I use my current Fenders and Gibsons. I’d probably reserve a Special for cleans or possibly regular crunch, anything but screaming leads. It is a blues, rock and possibly punk machine. Still, it’s something that I know is going to go on nagging in the back of my mind. Therefore, I didn’t put my credit card down on the counter. Instead, I’m going to wait and see what the 2016 Les Paul 60s Tribute sounds like. It’s a trade-off, I suppose: a familiar body shape with decent upper-fret access. But I liked the feel of the flat, single-cut body. A new body shape forces you to think and to play in new ways.

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Posted by on 20 September, 2015 in gear, review

 

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Review: Gibson 2015 models

I am obviously very, very late to the Gibson-2015 party, since from what I’ve gathered, Gibson has already been flying in their 2016 models under the radar, at least over in North America. I have to admit that I’m horrible at this whole blogging thing. I mean, what the hell, this is my first post this year!! So here it is, more than six months overdue.

Life as a Gibson fan has not been especially pleasant in the past few years. I liked the 2014 models a lot: the Les Paul Futura was especially impressive with its humbucker/P90 combination, the nicely implemented boost and the cool colors. The Studio Pro was really neat, that cherry sunburst is an awesome take on the classic Gibson finish. I just didn’t care for the 120th Anniversary marker behind the 12th fret, it was jarring to the eye. I don’t know about you, but when I spent that much money on a new guitar, it must be perfect, and then I mean in every possible sense of the word. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have been so upset over a 12th-fret inlay.

The 2015 range is, in my humble opinion, bloody awful. Of course they’re pretty, with the sunbursts and the triple-A flamed maple tops, but that’s par for the course for Gibson. We’ve come to expect nothing less over the years. The first thing that struck me was that the store hadn’t put a price tag on any of the 2015 Standards. I know exactly what this means: if you have to ask, it means that you cannot afford it. So I asked, and the guy told me straight up that the philosophy for this year was to jack up the prices 25% to put Gibson closer to boutique makers such as PRS in price, if not in quality and image. One of my constant daydreams during the past 30-odd years has been to own a Les Paul Standard and a Les Paul Custom, and when he told me this, I realized that the only way I could fulfill the dream would be to go for used guitars. There is just no way I’ll shell out close to 30 Swedish grand for a guitar and I don’t care how good it looks or how well it plays. It has to beat my 25-year-old Les Paul Studio at everything hands down, and it turns out that few guitars do.

Then we come to the issues with the actual guitar. Looks are important. I’ll come clean and say it. And the new guitars are ugly as hell. I don’t care for the new logo, not one tiny bit. I respect the hell out of Les Paul the man, but I don’t need his shaky autograph on the headstock of my ridiculously expensive new guitar. I want the “Les Paul Model” logo! The new adjustable brass nut is okay. I appreciate the utility of it, since it gives me a whole lot more flexibility in adjusting the action, for instance if I want to set the guitar up for slide guitar. And then, the tuners. Those tuners. They tie into the price discussion mentioned above, because I would not only have to budget for a Les Paul Standard, a DiMarzio Cliplock strap and a set of Elixir 10-46 Nanowebs. I would also have to plink down 1000+ crowns for a set of replacement tuners! I have tried the Min-ETune/G-Force robot tuners. They were fun – once! I was amused by the novelty of pressing a button, strumming the strings, and watching how the guitar tuned itself. And after that first time, I wanted to go back to what I always do: play a bit, strum a chord and then fine-tune the strings that have gone sour. Only then did I realize that I had to turn the tuning peg about five times to bring the string up a quarter-note. And the tuners for the wound strings are the wrong way around, like the guitar was restrung by an amateur! Not to mention the mechanical resistance you feel when trying to tune manually. I also got the feeling that these tuners were decidedly less reliable, since I was forced to retune every two minutes.

There are a few features of the new Gibsons that I do very much enjoy. One is the push/pull volume controls for coil-tapping the humbuckers. I have even considered installing coil-taps on the two Gibsons that I own, so getting it set up that way from the factory is very nice. I have nothing against a built-in boost per se, but this is one thing that is implementation-dependent. I have always shied away from active electronics since I always imagine that the battery will wear out when I least want it to. A clean boost or mid-boost has to be set up so that you can still use the vanilla guitar when you run out of juice. Then it has to be unobtrusive. Last year’s Futura model did it nicely: the boost was controlled via a push/pull pot, so you couldn’t tell even up close that the guitar was hot-rodded. This year’s “Classic” model replaced one of the tone controls with a toggle switch, which is at best extremely ugly. What’s “classic” about that model, I wonder.

I am not alone in all of this. But the grim satisfaction didn’t take hold until I heard that Gibson was forced to dump the prices just to get rid of the 2015 models. Guitar Center ordered whole batches of special-production guitars sans all the 2015 “innovations”. And from what I’ve understood, Gibson have rushed out the 2016 models, and notice if you will that none of them sport the nonsense that Gibson tried to force on us with the 2015 range. I am intensely pleased that the market has spoken and uttered a very firm NO, and that the manufacturer has listened! The only sad part in all of this is that we have a bunch of dealers worldwide that are sitting on hundreds of thousands’ worth of stock that is going to be fairly tough to get rid of. I feel their pain. But for Gibson, the only thing I can muster is schadenfreude. Then, having said that, 2016 might just be the year I buy a new Gibson!

 
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Posted by on 19 September, 2015 in gear, review

 

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