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!