There are few things indeed that can beat walking out of a music store with a new guitar. I recently had this pleasure when I bought a new Gibson, the 2016 60s Tribute Les Paul T. For about a year, I have been in the ridiculously privileged position of owning a stable of guitars of outstanding quality, fantastic sound and with basically no annoyances or weaknesses. As the old saying goes, there’s always room for one more. But which one? For years, it’s been back and forth between my two favorite guitars. During odd-numbered weeks, I’ve been convinced that the Stratocaster is my first love and that what I really want is a maple-neck American Standard. The next week I’ve realized that I’ve been an inveterate Les Paul player for 15 years, and I’ve dreamt of owning a sunburst Standard for about 30 years. But desirable as these guitars might be, neither will enable me to do something new. Neither will give me a new sound. If I am to spend thousands of crowns on a new guitar, it’s not enough to convince my heart, I also need to convince my brain. And the older I get, the more difficult it gets to justify the huge expense of a Les Paul Standard or Custom.
As stated in a previous review, it was quite the revelation to plug in a 2015 Les Paul Special with P90 pickups. It was quite frankly the nicest clean sound I have ever heard, way more massive than the Fender single-coil sound, but at the same time a lot crisper than a humbucker. The P90 has almost an acoustic quality to it, you can really hear the vibrating metal of the string! It even sounds awesome (if noisy!) with distortion: it drives the amp pretty hard and has that extra pick attack that tells you instinctively that this is not a humbucker. My problem with the 2015 Special was that it was a 2015 model. I don’t care for the wider neck, adjustable nut or ugly logo, and the first thing I’d do were I to buy one would be to disassemble and sell off the G-Force tuning system. To my immense satisfaction, it turned out that the 2016 range included a proper Les Paul with P90:s, and when I finally got to try one, I bought it inside of ten minutes!
I still like the Les Paul Studio, but ever since they started turning upmarket (they’re currently 16000 crowns, 60% more expensive than the 50s and 60s tribute models), I’ve been increasingly iffy about purchasing one. The tribute models might just be the bargains of the entire 2016 Gibson range. For just under 10000 crowns, you will get a US-made Gibson Les Paul, with either P90 or humbucking pickups, in a small but nice selection of finishes, and with few compromises, most of which are aesthetic in nature. (And, admittedly, most of which you would get on a Studio model as well!) These guitars don’t come with hard cases but a small padded gigbag, which is not a dealbreaker for me even though it might be for you. Otherwise it’s the usual Studio fare: unbound body and neck and a not especially flamey maple top. The sides and back of the body and neck are finished in opaque black, likely to hide the fact that the bodies are glued together from several smaller pieces of mahogany. If you get the 50s version with humbuckers, be aware that you get the old-school wiring, so there is no possibility to split the coils.
Both the 50s and 60s tribute models come in three finishes: black, tobacco sunburst and honeyburst, and with the former you also get a goldtop option. I already have two black Gibsons, and I wanted the 60s tribute, so it was basically a choice between the two sunbursts. A note to the wary: Gibson’s photos of these guitars simply do not do the finishes justice! The Honeyburst appears to be way more faded and brownish than it turns out to be in real life. I was amazed when I pulled it out of the gigbag, it was so beautiful! One of the nicer details with these guitars is the satin finish. It is wonderfully smooth, especially on the neck, where it allows a bit of the natural grain to come through, for a very nice feel.
The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is the way Gibson differentiates between 50s and 60s models in this range. If someone says “50s tribute” to me, then I immediately imagine the proverbial Les Paul, a humbucker-equipped flame-top sunburst. But if you mention two models, a “60s tribute” in addition to the 50s, then I think in different terms. Then the 60s tribute is the sunburst with humbuckers and the 50s tribute the goldtop with P90 single-coils. In the 2016 range, Gibson have managed to get this almost completely the wrong way around. The 60s tribute has the P90:s and the 50s tribute the humbuckers and goldtop. It’s a shame, since I really, really wanted a 1956-style P90-equipped goldtop. But I shouldn’t complain, since the honeyburst is so much nicer than I had imagined! And the more I think about it, the more I enjoy the thought of owning a 57-style goldtop with humbuckers.
This “review” makes one serious omission which I’m now going to address. The Gibson 2016 range actually consists of two distinct subranges: Traditional and High Performance. The former is basically the way you would expect things from Gibson: standard tuners, standard bone nut, standard neck width and the old-fashioned neck joint. The latter continues the modernization efforts started with the controversial 2015 range: robot tuners, a wider neck and an adjustable nut (this time in titanium!). New for 2016 is the improved-access neck joint. My music store only stocks the Traditional guitars, so I cannot make any statements about the HP range. However, I can imagine that I would enjoy the shaved-down neck heel.