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Review: Gibson Les Paul 2016 60s Tribute T

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.
 
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Posted by on 29 May, 2016 in gear, review, Uncategorized

 

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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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Review: The Gibson SG

My Gibson SG is a black 2005 Standard that I bought used in 2012. It was in pretty bad shape when I got it: the intonation appeared to have been set according to rough description rather than listening to actual pitches, the fretboard was caked with grime and the body all dusty. It required such little effort to talk it down from the listed price that it occurs to me that maybe I should have gone for 500 crowns more. Well, for some people, the haggling is the thing, whereas for me, I prefer looking at it as getting a good deal, and I really did.

The really annoying thing was only evident after a week or so, namely that this was the second Gibson in a row where the backs of the tuners were coming off. On my Les Paul, I had to get a new set of tuners. This time, some superglue seems to have sufficed. But what are they doing in Nashville? Or is it the dry Swedish winter that does the guitars in?

As far as I know, the SG originated in an attempt to rejuvenate the Les Paul model and/or take up direct competition with the Fender Stratocaster. In the latter case, I think that it is quite disappointing that it has never occurred to Gibson to pimp their SG:s in more interesting colors. It seems like you can always get them in black and some form of brown. Sometimes a splash of white. Maybe I’ve seen a blue one. But wouldn’t it be cool with red or green metallic?

But okay, let’s put away the negative waves for a moment and instead concentrate on the positive ones. For there are many! I like to think of the SG as the younger ballet-dancing cousin of the Les Paul. The family resemblance is right there, it has most of the attitude of the Les Paul but in a thinner, nimbler package that is a hell of a lot easier to throw around on stage. The ergonomics are simply fantastic. Not Stratocaster-class, but pretty darned close. All the controls are right next to the picking hand and there is even a top-mounted jack socket. About the only thing that knocks it down from full marks is that the neck pickup tone control is a bit too close to the jack socket, but that’s it. It is a light body that is a delight to strap on, almost to the point where it gets neck-heavy, but never uncomfortable. Still, it is surprisingly resonant: mine just booms right across the room even when it’s not even close to being plugged in. Some of this might be the neck, which is thick and almost club-like. It is a considerable adjustment from my other guitars, but I haven’t played enough SG:s to tell whether it is a design feature or something unique to my guitar or the 2005 Standard.

However, the main selling point of the SG for me is the unparalleled access to all frets across all strings. Seriously, they could easily have extended the 22-fret fretboard to 24 without compromising access in any way. (They actually did on the 50th anniversary model!) I had to reprogram my muscle memory when I got my SG, because I had got used to jamming my hand into the cutaways of my three other electrics and then reaching a bit for the 22nd fret. On the SG, I can easily reach it without even being close to the cutaway. This guitar is built for shred, and has the sound for it as well. You get the same drive and crunch as with a Les Paul. The difference is that the tone just isn’t as fat, and doesn’t have the hour-long sustain. But I can live without that. The neck humbucker has an almost single coil-like transparency that contrasts nicely with the force of the bridge pickup. It is also very nice to have the standard Gibson wiring where you can set the volume and tone of the two pickups separately. Clean and crunch, or lead and woman tone.

The only really sad part is that I bought this guitar more than two years ago, and I have yet to use it on stage.

 
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Posted by on 12 November, 2014 in gear, review

 

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Editorial: Signature Guitars

Our desire with the whole Signature Series was to build the guitars exactly the way the artists play them. We didn’t just want to build something that everybody was going to buy and then the artist had to have his different.

Dan Smith, Fender, from A.R. Duchossoir’s The Fender Stratocaster, 3rd ed., 1988.

Undoubtedly, this was a dig at Gibson and Les Paul. It is well known that Paul did not want an archtop electric guitar, but a flat top, and he wanted the maple/mahogany proportions in the body reversed, so Gibson made them special for him. That’s all fine, I suppose. But what about Fender? Have they gone the way Dan Smith intended? You can just take a look at their website, at the two different Eric Clapton signature models. One for the general public, and a Custom Shop version, exactly like the one E.C. himself plays on stage, which is different. Okay.

I am not a great fan of Trivium, but I am impressed with Matt Heafy’s attitude towards signature guitars. I always wondered why such a comparatively high-profile player would settle with an Epiphone when he could probably have arranged a signature model with Gibson. The answer turns out to be that the guy wants the people who enjoy his music to be able to afford one! I think this is a very nice way of looking at it. People write a lot of shit on message boards, but occasionally, you do run across nice people with interesting things to say. Someone once commented that it’s us regular hobbyists and amateurs, Clapton, Slash and Petrucci fans, who get ripped off, so that Gibson, Fender and Music Man can continue supplying free instruments to already filthy-rich rock stars. And probably tack on royalty money to boot.

My favorite electric guitar is the Gibson Les Paul, so I probably have no right whatsoever to say this, but I am not overly fond of signature equipment. I think it’s a matter of association: I want to be myself and to have others see me as myself and not as some wannabe. And I also wouldn’t want to use something featuring the signature of an artist whose works I do not particularly enjoy – again, the association thing. I could never step on a Mark Tremonti phaser pedal because I don’t want to send him royalty money, and I don’t want a Petrucci or Hetfield guitar because I don’t want to be regarded as a wannabe.

 
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Posted by on 7 November, 2014 in editorial, gear

 

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Review: The Gibson Les Paul

Fenders have always been the ultimate electric guitars for me, but at the same time, there’s always been that unattainable ideal just beyond them. That guitar is the Gibson Les Paul. I don’t know what originally drew me to the Les Paul: if it was the looks, the sound or the legend. All I know is that the minute I played one, I knew what I wanted. But at the same time, there was just no way that I could simply save up and then walk into the store and buy one. For some reason I had got the notion that you can’t just buy a Les Paul, you first have to deserve one. Probably I felt I deserved one well before I actually bought one, but at any rate, I didn’t get around to it until early 2001, when I was 24.

I sometimes think about which is the coolest electric guitar ever made: the Stratocaster or the Les Paul. You know, one of those silly little games you play with yourself or other guitar players. If you could play only one type of guitar for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Most of the time, it is really difficult to make up my mind. But looking back on the past 13 years, the answer couldn’t be clearer. Since I bought my Les Paul, it’s been my go-to guitar, my main girl, the one I turn to when everything else fails. I love my Fenders, but they’re only for when I’m in a Fender mood, and hindsight has proven that it seems like I am always in a Les Paul mood.

What strikes me most about the Les Paul is how incredibly suitable it is for heavy rock and metal, considering that it was designed almost two decades before those genres even existed. Indeed, it is an extremely versatile guitar and performs equally well with a clean sound, mild crunch or full-on distortion. The shorter scale makes for slinkier strings, and the flatter fretboard facilitates bending like nothing else. It is a shred machine, and at the same time, it can do cool jazz. To think that it is the only one of the four classic rock guitars to actually go out of production!

I might not be wild about the Les Paul ergonomics upon solemn reflection, but at least I’m used to them. My right hand is programmed to flick a pickup switch on the upper bass bout of a guitar. I have also got used to having the possibility to preset tones using the individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, even though it’s not possible to cradle the volume control in my right hand for quick adjustments.

My Les Paul is a black 1990 Studio model that I bought used. It has slowly but surely fallen to pieces over the years, but I’ve always been able to breathe new life into the old girl. The tuning keys fell apart a few months after I bought it, and following that I’ve replaced most of the plastic components and currently the pickup rings are cracked and need to be replaced shortly. The frets have been sanded once during my ownership, and, as noted in a previous review, I’ve outfitted it with DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary pickups with black covers. I prefer wrapping the strings around the tailpiece, not because I’ve had problems with strings breaking, but rather because they feel looser that way. Also, I don’t have to raise the tailpiece to keep the strings from snagging on the bridge.

Many review sites ask hypothetical questions of reviewers, and one classic example is: would you replace the item if it were stolen? In the case of my Les Paul, I would – if only I could! I don’t have a problem with modern Studios. They’re fine guitars in their own right. But it feels like something’s changed since 1990. My Les Paul Studio is heavier and sturdier, and I have yet to find a Studio that has such a beautiful fretboard. If it isn’t ebony, then it is the highest-grade (or at the very least the darkest) rosewood I’ve ever seen! It is a perfect match to the black finish and no black Studio I’ve seen in latter years comes close. So, if my Les Paul were stolen, I’d probably buy something white or sunburst, just so that the lighter rosewood fretboard doesn’t look so jarring in comparison. The new Studio Pro looks really nice, I must say!

My heart has always desired a Les Paul Standard, a Custom and a 1959 reissue. A recent picture that Gibson released showed a ’59 in the “Sunrise Teaburst” finish, and it is probably the most beautiful guitar I have ever seen. Not all Teabursts look alike, but this one had the perfect combination of wood grain and sunburst. I can’t say I think that a guitar will ever be worth all that money, but if we for argument’s sake assume it is, then it has to be perfect in every way imaginable. But somewhere in here also lies my problem with Les Pauls. I can justify spending the extra cash for an American-made instrument, but not long after that magic line (or border) is crossed, the cost-vs-reward curve starts turning asymptotic. You pay double, triple the amount – for what? Binding and nice wood grain, the knowledge that someone took extra care and showed your guitar extra love during the production process? That’s nice for those who can afford that luxury, but I’m not sure that I can. For me, the unadorned simplicity of the Studio is quite sufficient, thank you very much, and to these damaged rock and roll ears, an unbound guitar sounds just as good. Maybe I’m being hypocritical, and maybe it’s just that I have my limits.

 
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Posted by on 14 March, 2014 in gear, review

 

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