The Gibson Les Paul is an icon. It’s one of the instantly recognizable brands by sight or name in the world of guitar. We have you covered if you want to know more about this iconic instrument. This buying guide will help you make an informed purchasing decision.
The Gibson Les Paul
- 1 The Gibson Les Paul
- 2 Les Paul Models
- 2.1 Les Paul Guitars | Models
- 2.2 The Standard
- 2.3 The Traditional
- 2.4 The Classic
- 2.5 The Specials
- 2.6 Gibson Les Paul Studio
- 2.7 Gibson Les Paul Junior
- 2.8 1950s Les Paul
- 2.9 Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop
- 2.10 Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue
- 2.11 Maintenance tips
- 2.12 Conclusion
- 2.13 Resources
An old saying goes: with a good Les Paul, you can rule the world. Les Paul is the top electric guitar with no equal for many guitarists.
Some might say that is a very subjective opinion. However, few would argue that it is easily within the ranks of the world’s top five to ten most famous and popular guitars.
Guitar players’ preferences vary significantly in line with their playing requirements. Hence, there is an extraordinary range of guitar types from which to choose.
Why Choose a Les Paul
Without question, the Les Paul is a legendary guitar that has found its place in a great variety of different musical genres. It is also firmly placed within the heart of many guitarists.
The Les Paul basic design
The Les Paul was developed back in the 1950s and was endorsed by Mr. Les Paul. The guitar now has so many iterations.
The Les Paul basic original design and distinguishing features
- A stop tail bridge (there were some variations, however)
- A solid mahogany body with a single-cutaway.
- A mahogany set-in neck.
- Tone and volume control independently controlled.
- Two pickups
Plenty of different brands has their takes on this iconic guitar. However, aside from Gibson, the company’s subsidiary Epiphone is the only other legitimate manufacturer of Les Pauls.
But before we get into exact models present on today’s market, let’s explore and come to understand some of the Gibson essential traits for which Les Paul is known. Indeed, there is a model to satisfy various tastes and your planned budget.
Les Pauls come with either regular humbuckers or P90 pickups. However, there have also been some variants with Fender-like single-coils, but these are extremely rare.
In most cases, L.P.s utilize a pair of humbuckers and a 3-way switch. This classic layout first became available introduced in 1957, along with the legendary “P.A.F.” humbuckers. However, Gibson and Epiphone sometimes have humbuckers that partially replicate these old pickups on some models.
Nonetheless, Humbuckers on Les Pauls differ significantly. But you can always expect a “darker” tone with a significant boost of those tasty mids.
P90s are a bit more specific; they are technically single-coils, although they’re slightly smoother-sounding than the regular ones.
The traits above are because of their specific construction and design. Not to get too geeky about it, P90s are “beefier”-sounding single-coils. P90s are often very popular among alternative rock and punk musicians.
Tones | Great for blues and jazz
The tones are used in classic heavy metal when paired with an appropriate tube amp. However, the tone is outstanding for blues and jazz as well. They can also find their ways into classic heavy metal when paired with an appropriate tube amp.
The choice between humbuckers and P90s comes down to personal preferences. However, we recommend considering the P90s to anyone gravitating towards vintage tones.
You will see Les Pauls, with similar specs played in a broad range of musical genres,e.g., rock, Blues, Jazz, Punk, Country Metal, Reggae, Pop, and Soul, to name just a few.
Les Paul neck profiles
Although they all have (almost) the same body design, the necks on Les Paul models differ. Subsequently, there are two main neck designs, the ’50s style, and the ’60s style.
The ’50s neck is thicker, and it’s often referred to as the “baseball bat neck,” it’s also uniformly rounded throughout most of its length.
However, the ’60s-style neck is noticeably thinner. It has more of a “D”-shaped profile than a “C”-shaped, like with ’50s-style necks.
Indeed, the ’60s-style necks tend to keep with present-day Les Pauls. There are many variations to this ’60s shape, and you’ll often hear it referred to as a “slim-taper” neck.
Indeed, they’re generally all thinner with some exceptions, especially on some high-end modern Les Paul models.
How about those tops
A hallmark feature on some of the Les Pauls is the beautiful tops. Let’s now discuss the differences among the L.P. tops.
Flat Top vs. Carved Top
Although Les Pauls are solid-body guitars, they often have an arched top, also known as the “carved” top. With the first model released in 1952, Les Paul guitars are the first to utilize them.
The body features a mahogany base with an added carved maple top.
However, cheaper models, such as the Les Paul Junior and Les Paul Special, feature flat tops.
Note: The L.P.’s carved top is a standard trait for Gibson and Epiphone models.
The carved top is primarily an aesthetic trait. However, carved tops offer a better feel for the picking hand. However, again, we have a feature that comes down to a personal preference.
How Much Does a Gibson Les Paul Weigh?
From day one, Gibson Les Pauls soon earned a reputation as a heavy guitar. However, weight relief methods have helped Gibson reduce the instrument’s weight. Excuse the pun but much to the relief of many Les Paul guitar players.
Yep, the Les Paul Traditional is heavy, weighing in at about 9-12 lbs. Note this guitar body doesn’t have any weight relief. The weight of a Les Paul begins at approximately 6 pounds and can exceed the 10-pound mark.
If weight is of concern, be sure to check the L.P model’s specifications.
To clarify, Les Pauls, on average, are indeed heavier than most other guitars. However, the later models are much improved due to Gibson employing weight relief methods to some of the L.P.’s range.
There are some exceptions; juniors and Specials are much lighter, although they don’t utilize maple tops like other L.P.s. Furthermore, The Les Paul Modern is uniquely lighter because of the specially conceived weight relief method used for this model.
Weight Relief Types
As we have already said, Gibson has gained a reputation for their heavy Les Pauls. Hence they introduced weight relief into the design. For example, below are four that feature weight reduction methods.
Traditional: Not to be confused with the “Traditional model” name. It features multiple cylinder-shaped holes in mahogany.
Chambered: The mahogany part has two large cavities. The body is similar to a semi-hollow guitar.
Les Paul’s Prices
It’s no secret that Gibson guitars are expensive. The cheapest Gibson Les Paul models are close to the $1000 mark, and High-end models are well over $2500.
Furthermore, some specially designed custom series come priced over $10000. Vintage Les Pauls can reach astronomical figures, especially those made between 1958 and 1960.
Les Paul Models
You may have heard about the tonal and visual differences accompanying some Les Paul models. It would take a separate guide to explain these variants in full detail.
However, we will talk about some of the most common Les Pauls and their unique characteristics. However, be aware many of the differences can at times be minor. For example, some of their aesthetic features. On the other hand, certain specific models can be completely different.
Les Paul Guitars | Models
Most Common Les Paul models:
Let us now clarify the main differences between the Les Paul Guitar range in no particular order.
The Standard is pretty much a “flagship” model. At the time of writing, Gibson offers the 1960s and the 1950s variants. The Standard comes with a mahogany body, carved maple top, Burstbucker Pro pickups (in most cases), and even push-pull pots, which offer specific functions.
The Traditional variant is similar to the Standard, except they lack the advanced electronics features seen in the Standard. Weight relief is the same as the old-school Les Pauls.
The Les Paul Classic variant is similar to the Standard and Traditional variants. To clarify, it’s pretty much a Classic without the advanced electronics. However, it does keep the same chambering features. Both Traditional and Classic are slightly cheaper than the Standard.
Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute Humbucker
No-Nonsense Gibson LP
Do you feel tired of reading about so many features and traits that you won’t use? In case you’re up for a no-nonsense no-BS Les Paul that won’t send you bankrupt, you can check out the Les Paul Special Tribute.
Being a part of Gibson’s special series, these guitars come with a mahogany body, no maple top. It’s a super-simple guitar that comes with all the essentials.
There’s the rosewood fretboard, 22 frets, and classic dot inlays. And, for the fans of vintage stuff, they also have Gibson’s Vintage Deluxe tuning machines.
Its simplicity is rounded up with the wraparound bridge.
The pickups on it are the standard 490R and 490T humbuckers. These are the usual deal for all the basic Gibson guitars. There aren’t any pickup covers that keep their output intact, although a bit prone to some noises.
Tone and Performance
The Special series guitars are always cheaper. With this said, you can’t expect the same tone and performance as you would have with the more expensive Les Paul models.
However, the Special Tribute is a force not to be reckoned with. Plug it into a vintage tube amp, crank the volume on the clean channel, and let it create “organic” distortion magic with a lot of harmonic content.
It’s a straight-up hard rock guitar that also comes in handy for various genres. And, the thing that I love about it is the playability. It’s lighter than the usual L.P., and it comes with a thinner body. The access to higher frets is pretty comfortable.
Plug-and-Play No-Nonsense Les Paul
As I mentioned, it’s a no-nonsense, straightforward L.P. with two humbuckers and essential controls. It’s cheaper and straightforward while keeping some of the much-respected Gibson qualities.
Like any guitar from the Junior and Special series, it’s the best choice for anyone wanting a simple yet versatile guitar with a genuine Gibson tone. Plus, it’s also pretty affordable for a Gibson.
Specials are very similar; they come with two pickups, most commonly P90s. Both of these guitars have very simple wraparound bridges. The Junior, however, can also be purchased as a double-cutaway variant.
Gibson Les Paul Studio
A Reliable Studio Companion
The Les Paul Studio is a cheaper alternative to the Standard, far more advanced than the Junior and Special variants. These differences, however, are primarily aesthetic; they come without any binding and have much simpler finish options.
The whole Studio thing started back in the 1980s. Guitar players were looking for a cheaper alternative to the LP Standard. And to this day, it’s pretty much the same deal. The Studio is a no-frills guitar lacking many aesthetic features, like binding on the body and the neck.
With all that said, it has some excellent tonal features like the coil-tap feature on both volume pots, and there are still some superb finish options for it.
The old principles of having a “stripped-down” basic guitar are still sort after. The whole “Studio” label is not a pretty-looking stage instrument but a high-performance Les Paul with all the essentials, a workhorse.
Tone and Performance
If you are minimalistic and couldn’t care less about bindings, you’ll still have an aesthetically pleasing guitar that sounds great.
Nevertheless, the guitar still features classic trapezoid inlays that Gibsons are known for. However, what’s different is that they make them with Ultra-Modern weight relief these days. The cavities inside the mahogany body are wider, making the guitar light.
Honestly, it even adds to the tone as I’ve experienced a slightly increased sustain. It’s especially noticeable if you’re next to your loud tube amp with the distortion wound on.
Tone and Performance Over Unnecessary Aesthetic Details
If you’re up for a great-sounding Gibson guitar with lots of sustain and are happy to have a basic-looking guitar, then this is right up your alley.
It’s as good as a standard model, but it’s more affordable. What’s more, many guitarists even prefer its more uncomplicated aesthetics.
Gibson Les Paul Junior
Special and Junior variants are the cheapest. Juniors come with a double-cutaway body and a thin mahogany body. They usually only have one P90 pickup in the bridge.
Student Model Turned Punk Icon
As you may already know, Juniors feature a body made of mahogany only, without any maple tops. It not only makes it lighter but more comfortable as well. It’s the same deal as with the L.P. Special.
This also includes some visual features, like dot inlays on its fretboard.
Aside from that, it only has one P90 pickup in the bridge position and an old-school wraparound bridge. This is rounded up with a chunky ’50s-style neck profile.
Tone and Performance
L.P. Juniors are as simple as it gets. These straightforward guitars have become popular among punk musicians. But although simple, this is still a high-performance instrument. And it even looks good, although that’s expected from Gibson. There’s even a pickguard on it that adds to the visual aspect.
It’s elementary, yet it has some serious raw power with its single P90 pickup. Try one of the theses; you might be surprised at what an LP Junior can do, especially if it’s paired with a vintage-oriented tube amp.
More Than a Traditional Punk Rock Guitar
Although it’s often associated with punk music, it can cover hard rock, blues, and even some metal if appropriately implemented. Overall, I’d recommend this as a higher-end “student” guitar. It’s also an excellent choice for anyone who needs a very simple yet potent L.P.
Gibson Les Paul Standard ’60s
A Standard by Which All Others are Measured
The 1960s is when Gibson made some of the most significant changes to their guitars. Not to get too deep into the Les Paul history, but they pretty much defined the future Les Paul models.
The ’60s Standard has some changes compared to the ’50s Standard variant. The most notable one is the SlimTaper neck profile. The guitar has had the Plek Pro treatment, which should ensure it’s very playable when it leaves the factory.
The guitar ships with Burstbucker 61T and 61R pickups (featuring Alnico 5 magnets), orange drop capacitors, and audio taper pots.
It has other excellent appointments, such as the Graph Tech nut and Grover Rotomatic tuners, more common for present-day Gibsons.
Tone and Performance
It’s much closer to what present-day guitars feel like, which Gibson established back in the 1960s. The SlimTaper neck is thinner and more for “shreddy” players. This is also enhanced with the Plek Pro-treated frets that feel very smooth.
The guitar also features no weight relief, adding to the genuine ’60s feel and tone. It’s a bit heavier, but you can dig into it and make it roar. It’s Burstbucker 61T and 61R pickups that make things a bit “darker,”, especially with this kind of a body.
The choice of orange drop capacitors is also pretty interesting as these give a much more reliable and consistent tone.
Blues-Oriented Gem With the 1960s feel.
While not a full-blown reissue of old Les Pauls from the 1960s, these still bring back the good old times feel. But I like to refer to these as “the best of two worlds” or “where the old school meets the new school.”
On the one hand, the LP Standard ’60s is every old-school hard rock and blues player’s dream. But at the same time, it works great for classic metal and even jazz stuff. If you love the classic L.P. tone and performance and want something versatile, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Gibson Les Paul ’50s P90
Gibson Is Going for Gold
But we definitely shouldn’t forget about the 1950s Les Pauls. This especially goes for those with the good old P90 pickups. If you’re fond of such guitars, then a Les Paul Standard ’50s is for you.
These are the old “gold tops” with the legendary prestigious golden finish. They look almost as if they came directly out of the 1950s.
In addition to some of the expected basic features, I was pleasantly surprised by Vintage Deluxe tuners. This brings back some of the instrument’s old-school visual and performance vibes.
Of course, the neck has that classic C-shape profile, the “baseball bat.” It’s fitted with a rosewood fretboard with trapezoid pearl inlays and binding. Like the previously mentioned Standard ’60s, it also comes with Plek Pro-treaded frets and a Graph Tech nut.
The guitar also includes ’50s-style electronics and wiring, making the best out of its P90s. It’s not a full-blown replica as it has some modern traits. But it’s still pretty close.
Tone and Performance
Of course, these aren’t full-blown ’50s L.P. replicas. But they give a pretty genuine ’50s Les Paul feel and tone. Along with the guitar’s old-school feel, you get a real piece of history.
Honestly, I liked this approach of having some contemporary traits on it. Plek Pro-treated frets can only enhance the performance, and a Graph Tech nut is a better choice than any other alternative these days.
P90s always bring the ability to play anything from jazz to heavy metal and punk.
But with the special wiring on this instrument, you get even more options. Smoothen it out with the tone knob, or just reduce the volume a bit, and you’ll get a different tone.
1950s Les Paul
Bringing Back the 1950s in Looks and Performance
Original 1950s Les Pauls are insanely expensive. But if you want something that feels the same and has the genuine gold top finish, this guitar gets close. And you won’t need to sell your home to buy one.
The Closest Thing to the Holy Grail
Holy Grail guitars, 1959 Gibson Les Pauls, fetch some astronomical prices these days. However, these guitars are incredible historical artifacts. It’s reported that only 643 of them have been manufactured.
But if you don’t have at least $250k lying around yet, you should check out Gibson’s ’59 reissue. Sure, they’re expensive, but it’s only a tiny fraction of the price of the original guitars.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop
Gold Nugget from the Golden Age of Guitars
The Custom is the most prestigious variant with luxurious aesthetic traits, including high-quality wood. Custom shop Gibson’s finest luthiers build Les Pauls. Consequently, they also incur a premium price.
Gibson Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul Goldtop Ultra Light Aged
Some would call it nostalgia, but there are many good reasons why Gibson clones some of their old guitars. Another one that I’d like to mention is the Custom Shop ’57 Les Paul Goldtop Ultra Light Aged. That’s certainly a lot of words for one model, but there’s a reason for that.
Goldtop Les Pauls, made in 1957, is somewhat of a “blueprint” for this type of electric guitar. So Gibson introduced the ’57 Murphy Lab Goldtop. To those not familiar, Tom Murphy is one of the company’s collaborators who does these deliberately aged finishes.
This Custom Shop reissue is adorned with a nitrocellulose lacquer named “Ultra Light Aged” finish. And it looks as if it was made back in 1957. And although this is the name of its finish, the guitar is pretty light due to the lightweight mahogany.
Other features also pay Tribute to the original ’57 gold tops. Even the hardware features an aged nickel finish done by Murphy Lab.
This includes both its Kulson tuning machines and the bridge with its tailpiece. You will notice that the bridge and tailpiece have a rust-like appearance.
Even the truss rod is replicated based on the original specs used in 1950. And it doesn’t end here. Switch tips, control knobs, the pickguard, pot caps – it’s all as if the guitar came via a time warp straight from the 1950s.
We also have a thick “baseball bat” C-profile neck, a rosewood fretboard with aged cellulose nitrate trapezoid inlays, and the list just goes on. Most importantly, we have Custombucker Alnico 3 pickups and the same ’57 wiring, all of which replicate that old-school tone.
Like the ’59 reissues, these pickups replicate the old legendary P.A.F. humbuckers from the “golden age” of guitars.
Tone and Performance
Don’t be weirded out by these old “broken” looks. This is what an actual old Les Paul would look like these days. And I was blown away at how genuine it seems.
Honestly, I have never seen these two guitars side by side. However, I doubt anyone would tell the difference if you compare them. Dare I say that it’s even better than the ’59 reissue I mentioned above? Hmmm?
The same can be said about its performance, feel, and tone. Perhaps a Gibson enthusiast might be able to pick the sounds in a side-by-side test. I would be surprised, however.
This is a reliable and versatile Les Paul With Genuine Old-School Feel and Looks. Again, we have a reasonably expensive one on our hands. But it’s the same deal as with the ’59 reissue – it’s only a fraction of the price compared to the actual ’57 Les Pauls.
But if you want a replica with the same feel and the 1950s looks, you’ll want to get your hands on this guitar and try it yourself. This is a guitar that can be played for almost any genre that comes to mind.
Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue
Burst for a Fraction of the Price
Gibson managed to “clone” the old L.P.s from 1959. They even did a chemical analysis of some of the original parts, completely replicating the feel, the tone, and the visual aspect.
The pickups are the so-called Custombuckers, and the guitar comes with paper-in-oil capacitors. From top to bottom, it’s a complete replica of these old guitars, including the electronics covers.
If you get into the details, all the stuff on it is like the old ’59 L.P.s. There’s an authentic “Medium C” neck profile and meticulously designed medium jumbo frets.
Its hardware has a nickel finish to make it look and feel authentic. Not to mention that the hardware design is also replicated to the tiniest details.
Tone and Performance
Well, with such features, you can expect an old-school guitar with a genuine ’59 feel and tone. The original P.A.F. pickups are “magical,” and the Custombuckers are great.
But its tone is a culmination of all of its features. The whole guitar vibrates when you hit a string. You hear the sound, and you feel it in your hands.
The instrument’s response and sustain are incredible. When paired with a tube amp, you’ll hear even the subtlest dynamic nuances.
Looking after your Les Paul’s Nitrocellulose Lacquer
After you have chosen that gorgeous Les Paul, you will want to keep it tip-top, right?
A few tips about the finish on Les Pauls.
Les Pauls are finished with Nitrocellulose or Nitro. Nitro was used almost exclusively on older or vintage instruments. The story goes that Nitro breathes and allows a guitar to resonate more than other finishes.
Polyurethane has a high gloss and is a commonly used finish for modern guitars. Nitro is a more porous lacquer than Poly, and it’s said that it breathes, which is why guitars finished with Nitro are perceived to have more sustain. However, Poly is more durable than Nitro and is more resistant to nicks and light scratches than Nitro.
It said, however, that guitars finished with Poly do not breathe, and therefore they do not resonate as well as a guitar finished with Nitro. Les Pauls are known for how well they resonate, just play a few notes, and you’ll notice it. Does a Les Paul resonate better because of the guitar’s finish, or is it another reason?
That’s a discussion we will have in another article.
Shop by your budget, make a shortlist and then play as many guitars as you can. There is no substitute for playing the guitars you are interested in person. It’s hard to go wrong with a Gibson Les Paul.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, February 11). Gibson Les Paul. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Les_Paul