Hands-On Review:The Gibson Les Paul Standard
The Standard of Cool
By Leif Argus
What do Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Peter Green, and Paul McCartney all have in common? I mean aside from the facts that they were all born in England of Western European heritage and grew to fame playing American blues and rock. The answer is what they play it on--the Gibson Les Paul Standard. Today's Les Paul Standard evinces the same attention to build quality and phenomenal sound characteristics that brought it into the hearts and bands of true guitar fanatics everywhere almost half a century ago.
A star is born
The original Gibson Les Paul model was given the name "Standard" in 1960. By this point the Les Paul's native gold top had become optional and the name was needed to distinguish the Standard from new Les Paul variations such as the Special, Junior, and Custom. Years later, collectors made the name "Standard" retroactive to apply to all the original Les Pauls from 1958 onward which sported sunburst as opposed to gold finishes.
Often cited as the world's most desirable vintage electric guitar, the late-50s Les Paul Standard had arrived at the state of grace we all associate with the Les Paul. Seth Lover's amazing "Patent Applied For" humbucking pickups with their thicker, warmer output had replaced the original P-90 single coils. The ill-conceived trapeze tailpiece had been replaced with the stop tailpiece and the brilliant tune-o-matic bridge, allowing precision adjustment of intonation as well as overall string height adjustment.
Aside from those significant positive changes, the Standard was pretty much the same stunning instrument that had made such a big splash with a metal-flake gold paint job in 1952--a carved solid maple top joined to a mahogany back with a mahogany set neck and a rosewood fretboard. Put together with the precise care of highly trained and well-motivated American artisans, this combination of woods added up to a unique and full-bodied tone that's never been topped.
True to its roots
The Les Paul Standard Musician's Friend sent me for review (straight out of stock, not hand-picked) demonstrated clearly that Gibson's quality control is at least as tight now as it was when those amazing early Standards were made. It's an ebony-finished model, which shouldn't be underrated. It has powerful eye appeal when you see it in the flesh and it can save you a pretty penny over a transparent finish. The paint and finish work are flawless and set off beautifully by créme binding on the top and fretboard.
The binding edges are clean as a whistle and the binding follows the top contour in the cutaway, just like it did on the originals. I really love the way the fretboard binding is hand-filed to enwrap the ends of the frets. This imparts a really smooth feel and a luxurious look. The matching heavy pickguard, pickup surrounds, and switchplate provide that vintage visual vibe that works as well today as it did 50 years ago.
The advent of laser routers has made the pearloid trapezoid fretboard inlays far more precise on this new Standard than on the $300,000 specimens from the late '50s (that's right, almost a third of a million bucks!). The classic nickel hardware emits a softer glow than chrome and the push-in bushing green tuning keys add another touch of history.
A player's relationship with his or her instrument is a very individual affair. There's a certain chemistry that either develops or not between musician and machine. That relationship begins with the eyes and quickly involves the fingers. The hands of a seasoned player can feel way more about an instrument than meets the eyes or even the ears. When the vibe is right, the instrument draws music out of the hands.
This Les Paul Standard did that for me at first touch. I didn't want to put it down, even long enough to turn on my equipment and plug it in. The slim '60s neck combines just the right amount of heft with the comfort of a worn-in glove. Though it's by no means a light instrument, the tight resonance of that perfect neck joint and optimal wood combination was readily apparent. The classic gold tophat knobs and pickup selector are placed perfectly for easy access without getting in your way. And the narrow-waisted body is easy on the ribcage.
The Les Paul Standard's Burstbucker Pro I and II pickups are virtually identical to the PAFs found on the original Standards, complete with slightly mismatched windings. They combine with the woods and workmanship on this guitar to produce tone that is nothing short of astonishing. Played through my two-channel tube amp, the Standard's clean jazz tone was breathtaking--punchy as hell but round, fluid and sweet. Overdriven just a bit, it cranks out a thick grind to provide a hefty spine of rhythm for any electric tune.
On channel two this thing totally rips. There's plenty of highs to get those chimey upper harmonics, but you don't have to sacrifice bold midrange and tight bass to get them. For laying down a dense river of sustained tone, today's LP Standard holds its own against any guitar I've ever played, including a '59 Standard and a '60 Standard.
This guitar leaves no doubt that Gibson is still producing instruments that can compete with the classics for looks, feel, and tone. You don't need $300,000 to have the real thing, you just need a modern Les Paul Standard.
Features & Specs:
Les Paul Standard
- Bound carved maple top
- Mahogany back and neck
- Bound rosewood fretboard
- Burstbucker Pro I humbucker with alnico magnet at the neck
- Burstbucker Pro II humbucker with alnico magnet at the bridge
- 2 volume knobs, 2 tone knobs, and 3-way switch
- 1960s slim taper or '50s rounded neck shape
- Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece
- Nickel hardware
- 1-11/16" nut width
- 24-3/4" scale length
- Black reptile-pattern hardshell case with shroud