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By Dan Day
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
On May 28, 1958, the first two Les Paul Standards were shipped from the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Over the years, numerous variations on that classic design have been issued. When I tell you that Gibson USA is coming out with two new , I fully expect you to ask, "Do we need more Les Pauls? Aren't there enough already?" These are fair questions. Quite simply, having so many variations meets the needs of a wide range of players.
With the new Les Paul Traditional and 2008 Les Paul Standard, Gibson USA has proved they know how to make good guitars better, and are dedicated to making the best Les Paul Standards ever made. The new Traditional is for players who want a Les Paul as it was, yet can't afford a Custom Shop Historic Reissue. The 2008 Les Paul Standard has the look and sound with some modern refinements. It's for players who want up-to-date features and aren't concerned about historically accurate components such as CTS pots and bumblebee capacitors. Both types of guitarists want that warm, powerful, solidbody sound produced by the pairing of a mahogany back and carved maple top; the 22-fret mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard, Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece; and a pair of specially wound "Patent Applied For"-style humbuckers with Alnico magnets. Both the Les Paul Traditional and 2008 Les Paul Standard are available with gold top or ebony finishes as well as sunburst finishes that highlight the figured maple top.
There is one new cutting-edge technology that both guitars share: their necks receive precision fret dressing and setup thanks to use of Gibson's Plek machines. A German company developed the technology choosing the name Plek, short for the Greek word for guitar pick—plektron.
As the guitar lies in a cradle, a computer-controlled robot arm moves along the neck measuring each fret's height, the fingerboard radius, even the bow in the neck. Using that data, the Plek machine adjusts the truss rod, cuts the nut slots for optimal spacing and height for each string, files each fret to a hundredth of a millimeter accuracy, and then polishes the frets. In a fraction of the time it takes a skilled technician, the Plek machine eliminates buzzing strings and dead spots, producing a neck with superb action and playability.
An increasing number of Les Paul players just don't want to play all evening with an 11-1/2-pound guitar strapped over their shoulder. Reducing weight is a reaction to the wood supply—there is not enough lightweight mahogany available. The Les Paul Traditional and the 2008 Les Paul Standard use different techniques to handle the hefty mahogany used for the guitar's back. Gibson USA began using weight-relief holes in 1982 and has made it part of the Traditional production process. Weight-relief holes are drilled into the body, but aren't visible once the maple top is placed over it. Players should not be concerned about how the weight-relieved body will sound, as they will not likely hear a difference, but they will notice the added comfort.
In contrast, a more involved weight-reduction process takes place with the 2008 Standard. Strategically positioned chambers are carved out of the mahogany back using a computer-controlled router. In addition to a lighter instrument, players should find it acoustically louder with more sustain and resonance.
The Traditional retains the '50s rounded neck, while the 2008 Standard model unveils an asymmetrical neck—a feature that more and more guitarists will be asking for once they hear about it and try it. As pictured above, the asymmetrical neck's center line is moved .005" toward the bass side. The back is tapered toward the high strings, more closely matching the natural curve of your hand making it easier to reach the fretboard. The neck is thicker toward the bass strings resulting in the asymmetrical shape. The average player may not immediately notice the increased comfort level, but a professional or avid jam-hound will soon discover the comfort of playing with reduced hand fatigue over an extended period of time. It's subtle, but it does make a difference. Additionally, the 2008 Standard features the largest neck joint ever used on . The shape of the joint (see detail pic below) allows the neck to literally lock into place in the form-fitting body cavity, maximizing the wood-to-wood contact for extended sustain.
The 2008 Standard is loaded with new features that share the keyword "locking." The bridge on the 2008 Standard is the locking TonePros Nashville Tune-O-Matic. TonePros have been used on some Custom Shop guitars as well as the Gibson Les Paul GT, SG GT, and the Slash model, and now it's being used on production guitars for the first time. You'll have to look closely to see the bridge and stopbar tailpiece are tightly clamped to the studs with small Allen screws. This solid connection provides better transfer of string vibration with the body producing more resonance and sustain. The bridge also holds the saddles securely locked into place keeping the intonation constant after changing strings.
Locking Grover tuners on the 2008 Standard replace the Traditional's Kluson-style tuners. Locking tuners make it easy to change strings and quickly bring them to pitch. Just loosen the knob, insert the string, tighten the knob, tune to pitch, and trim excess string. No extra windings around the post eliminate string stretching so you're ready to play right away.
The 2008 Standard has a Neutrik locking cable jack that locks when the cable is inserted and unlocks by pressing the safety release tab so you don't tear the jack out from the body. No more looping your cord around the strap, with it rubbing against your guitar's finish all night long. Dunlop strap locks also protect the 2008 Standard from slipping.
The Traditional's Classic '57 humbuckers use the original specs of the "Patent-Applied-For" humbucker developed by Seth Lover. Featuring Alnico II magnets and an equal number of string windings for both coils, they produce a warm, balanced sound. The 2008 Standard is equipped with BurstBuckers with Alnico V magnets and slightly mismatched windings for a harder edge and more modern, overdriven sound.
The 2008 Standard also features volume and tone pots manufactured by Bourns—a California company that's been making pots for over 60 years. Mounted on a printed circuit board in a cavity in the back, the square-shaped pots are gold-plated to ensure the signal won't degrade. Using a plug-in connection, the pots are easy to remove, giving the player the option of changing the values when makes replacement pots available in the near future. For example, if hotter pickups are installed, the standard 300k pot could be replaced with a higher value pot for a little extra brightness.
Common Les Paul Traditional and Les Paul 2008 Standard:
Les Paul Traditional
Les Paul Traditional Plus
2008 Les Paul Standard
2008 Les Paul Standard Plus