Hands-On Review:A benchmark of tonal excellence since Ike ruled.
By Ely King
When Musician's Friend asked me to write a review of the Les Paul Standard, I had to wonder why. "That's like writing a review of apples," I said. "Who doesn't already know the LP Standard inside out?"
"So you don't want to do it?" they said.
"Of course I'll do it. How many can you send me?" I already had two in the closet-one made in '99 and a gorgeous 1960 model-but I'm always anxious to meet a new Les Paul.
A musical genius
Some of you young players may not even be hip to Les Paul. I'm talking about the player here, not the guitar. After first hitting the stage at 13, Les Paul was ripping out blindingly-fast Django-style jazz riffs back in the late 1930s and also playing country swing under the moniker Rhubarb Red. During the '40s and '50s, he perfected his own radical style and became a household name behind a big list of pop hits. He played with Nat "King" Cole, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and dozens of others. He's become a major icon of guitar wizardry and, at age 86, he can still be found every Monday night at the Iridium Club in New York. If you haven't given Les Paul a listen, you don't know what you're missing.
But in the midst of all that amazing music, Les Paul was an inventor of huge significance to the music industry. He invented the multitrack recorder and a lot of tape-based special effects that you'll now find on your effects processor. In 1941, fighting feedback, he designed the first semi-hollowbodied guitar. Built in the Epiphone shop, this monstrous marvel came to be known as "The Log" in honor of the 4" x 4" beam that went through its center. It was never mass-produced.
A touch of luxury
A few years later solidbody guitars had become very popular. Les Paul teamed up with Gibson to help create a model that could compete. The result was the Les Paul guitar, born in 1952, the same year Eisenhower was elected president. The Les Paul was designed to best the competition with luxury. A slightly arched, bound, carved top and a body design resembling a traditional acoustic gave the guitar a richer, higher-quality look and feel. Gibson's long history crafting fine acoustic instruments made it easy
Also drawing on this history was the neck joint of the Les Paul-a genuine, tight, mortise-and-tenon set joint that provided a livelier resonance than the bolt-on necks of the competition's models. The lamination of a very dense, carved maple piece atop a lighter base of mahogany joined to a mahogany neck created a unique, crisp tone and produced remarkable sustain.
Fine rosewood was chosen for the fretboard and was inlaid with large trapezoidal fret markers. The pickups of the original LPs were single-coil P-90s. They made a nice tone but also picked up a lot of 60-cycle hum from electrical appliances. In 1957, Gibson's Seth Lover invented a solution-a second coil placed right next to the original, wrapped backwards to cancel the hum. The new pickup also provided a stronger, more rounded signal. These "humbucker" pickups went right onto the Les Paul, along with the tune-o-matic bridge, another Gibson original that allowed for intonation adjustments of the individual strings. Once all those pieces fell into place, the Les Paul was complete. A slightly fancier model and a few less expensive ones were produced, but the original Les Paul maintained its status and was dubbed the Les Paul Standard in 1958, when the traditional gold top was replaced by a subtle sunburst that brought out the most in the selected maple top.
Still the one
There have been a few minor improvements over the years, but the LP Standard that Musician's Friend sent over to me is pretty much the same axe as the 1960 model in my closet.* That is to say, it is a paragon of fine electric guitar building. Which is probably why, between 1967 and 1992 (the period covered by the poster on my wall) the Les Paul appeared on the cover of Guitar Player magazine no less than 23 times, once all by its lonesome. It can be seen in the hands of great players from rockabilly to metal, fusion to blues, country pop to stadium rock.
The new Standard slipped into my hands like an old friend and felt like I'd been playing it every day of my life. Thick, warm, clean sounds; truly gnarly crunch; and the giant, endlessly sustaining lead tones that have held me in their thrall since childhood came pouring out just like I knew they would. After all, it's a Les Paul.
*The new Standard has gone back to the beefier, pre-1960 neck shape with slightly larger frets and thicker binding. The neck piece tenon doesn't extend quite as far into the body. The top contours and neck angle have changed microscopically. The 498T pickup at the bridge is slightly hotter than the 490 on my 1960. The headstock overlay is a different material and the tail piece is slightly heavier in cast zinc.
Features & Specs
|Les Paul Standard,|
Les Paul Standard Raw Power, &
Les Paul Standard Plus
|Les Paul Standard Double Cut Plus|