Tag Archives: lespaul
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.
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.
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.