Hands-On Review:Gibson Custom Shop 1958 Les Paul Standard, CS-336 and Non-Reverse Firebird
by Eric Kirkland
Supernatural tone and inspiration start with a remarkable guitar. And over the years, Gibson has been responsible for providing many of the best players with the finest-sounding instruments available. These three recent additions to the Gibson Historic Collection combine new ideas and components with traditional craftsmanship to create the tone and feel that we expect from a Gibson Custom Shop guitar.
1958 Les Paul Standard
There's something about a figured maple top that evokes a visceral reaction from guitar players. And our '58 Paul didn't disappoint, with a carved AA flame maple top that was finished in a delectable golden butterscotch and bound with cream plastic. Although not a weight-relieved instrument, our test guitar came in at a very respectable eight and one-quarter pounds, which added to its loud tone.
The neck's 24.75-inch scale length is one of the keys to the Les Paul's comfort and playability. It provides ideal fretbox size and lower string tension, while the 1.6875-inch nut is the perfect match for the fat one-piece mahogany neck. The neck is bound to match the body and features stamped machines, acrylic trapezoid inlays and the classic Gibson logo. It's coupled to the body with a long tenon design that makes the guitar resonate more like a single piece of wood, injecting all that classic smoothness and sustain into the final tone. The 22 slightly flattened medium jumbo frets add to the guitar's "broken-in" feel and serve to eliminate string buzz. Rounding out the hardware is a standard nickel ABR-1 bridge with a lightweight aluminum stopbar.
The '58 Paul pumps out true vintage tone courtesy of a hot Burstbucker 3 pickup in the bridge position and a medium-output Burstbucker 2 in the neck slot. Utilizing nonmatched coils that accurately replicate the hand-wound coils of yesteryear, these new Burstbuckers create dimension that few new humbuckers can claim. Electronics consist of two volume and two tone controls, each capped with an amber top-hat knob, and a three-way pickup-selector toggle, topped with a wax yellow cap.
The complex bridge pickup seemed married to my Marshall rig, though with the Les Paul cranked through a vintage Fender, it displayed characteristically dark overtones, with a relaxed attack. Although the neck-position pickup had enough presence for defined leads, it was best suited to low-gain interludes and slow arpeggios. Thanks to the guitar's handpicked tone woods, its clean sounds were balanced with more highs and detail than I expected.
With its latest hollowbody, the CS-336, Gibson has realized a longtime goal by creating a guitar whose back, sides and center tone block are carved from a single piece of mahogany. The CS-336 is quite a bit smaller than its big jazz brothers and feels more comfortable to hold and play. Its thick, book-matched maple top provides all the attack you need and features a three-ply pickguard, nice figure and a vintage burst finish. The slim-taper neck is made on the traditional Gibson 24.75-inch scale length and sports a 1.6875-inch nut and a rosewood fretboard with 22 medium frets. Nickel hardware includes an ABR-1 stoptail bridge, Gibson Deluxe tuners and vintage-style strap buttons.
Although archival rock and rhythm tracks are easy to produce on the 336, it really shines when finessed with a light-handed approach. Sweet and dynamic jazz solos flow effortlessly from the fretboard, and the hollow body provides a mellow top end and impressive note separation, allowing distinct bass lines that solidbody guitars can't duplicate. The '57 Classic pickups add a little edge to the laid-back acoustic tonality, but you may like the sound enough to keep this one plugged in. Although the 336's tone was crystal clear with a flat pick, fingerstyle players will appreciate the natural woody tone that lends real clarity to upper-register scales.
Gibson put a spin on a Sixties classic by turning the Firebird's "upside-down" body right side up. I've never been a fan of the meiosis-inspired body shape but, without a doubt, the Firebird has been a favorite of mine.
The Non-Reverse Firebird features a slab mahogany body hewn from a single piece of wood and adorned with a standard chrome ABR-1 stoptail bridge and a top-mounted input jack. Nestled in the bird-wing pickguard are two exposed-coil Burstbucker pickups-a righteous 3 in the bridge position and a 2 in the rhythm spot. The 22-fret one-piece mahogany neck has a rosewood fretboard and a 1.6875-inch nut that feels narrower, thanks to its lack of binding and its deep-rounded back geometry. Gracing the bird-of-prey headstock are sealed Grover minituners and a matching truss rod cover.
If you haven't played a Firebird, you might be surprised by the powerhouse tone and ample highs that emanate from the one-piece mahogany body and neck. The real secret lies in the uncovered Burstbucker pickups, which create endless sustain and sharp attack. Through a clean amp, they produce tons of thonk and warm clanky notes, giving the guitar an undeniable Rickenbacker vibe. Overdriven, the Non-Reverse Firebird lays down thick crunch and screams like a Tasmanian devil. By dialing down the bridge pickup's tone and plugging into a distorted amp, I achieved one of the best and most responsive classic rock sounds I've heard in recent years. Want to rule the stage with a single downstroke? The mythical Non-Reverse Firebird rises from the ashes to produce colossal crunch and finger-numbing sustain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Honorary Allman Brothers and future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will do well to check out the 1958 Les Paul Standard, with its big rock tones and serious stage presence. If you're looking for a smoky jazz partner with reduced size and big tone, check out the CS-336. Those for whom only the thickest tone will do should reach for the Non-Reverse Firebird, with its classic design and great exposed-coil Burstbucker pickups.