Hands-On Review:True Gibson quality at friendly prices.

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By Ely King


Les Paul Studio and ClassicLes is more. From country crooners to rockabilly rednecks, pop pretty-boys to stadium mega-stars, and grungy balladeers to metal shredders, the Gibson Les Paul electric solid-body guitar has reigned supreme for half a century. And the real Les Paul is not just a body style, it's an alchemical combination of woods, shapes, and manufacturing techniques that works so well it's stayed pretty much the same through dozens of musical styles and an ever-evolving musical sensibility.




A fixed mahogany neck on a body composed of a sculpted maple top laminated to a mahogany back, plus a rosewood fretboard, stopbar tailpiece, and two toneful humbuckers add up to an inimitable yet flexible voice for modern music. Between the non-sculpted Junior and Special Les Paul models and the high-end Standard and Custom Les Paul models lie some more-affordable yet truly winsome full-fledged Les Pauls-the Studio and Classic models. I got my quivering digits on a couple of the coolest of each.


The Les Paul Studio
It's an unfair and loathsome fact that we slaves of the musical muse generally don't pull down a bundle of bread. Hence, the common compromising positions that inspire the best blues tunes and ballads. As musicians themselves, Gibson's staff has made an effort to prevent such sad stories by making available a genuine Les Paul with all the essential ingredients and a little less flash for a lot less cash.


The most obvious difference between the Studio models and their more pricey brethren is the absence of binding. Binding looks very cool and feels great, but it involves a lot of painstaking, highly skilled labor-i.e., high-denomination dinero. By ignoring your passion for bondage, you can pick up a Les Paul that doesn't require a bank job to bankroll but will still deliver a fat slice of satisfaction and comes with some very hot modern finishes.


Studio Plus
When I whipped this baby out of its case, I was far from disappointed. The AA figured maple top glowed an iridescent amber with a masterfully executed burst mellowing down to rich brown on the edges. Gazing on this splendiferous piece of hardwood, the Plus seemed that binding it would be gilding the lily. The glowing facets of the wood were enhanced by radiant gold hardware. (I'm a sucker for gold.)


When I plugged this gorgeous machine into my Gibson Goldtone amp (there's that gold again), its beauty proved instantly to be more than skin deep. The full-bodied, ballsy crunch of the 490R and 498T covered alnico magnet humbuckers compared quite favorably with my vintage Les Paul Standard. The '59 rounded Les Paul neck and mortise-and-tenon joint had that solid Gibson integrity. Unplugged, that integrity is audible in a bright, ringing resonance. Plugged in, it comes out in thick, lasting sustain.


Studio Gothic
This was truly a spooky-looking axe. The satin black finish, black pickguard, space-black hardware, and inky ebony fretboard sucked down the light like a black hole. A single, esoteric moon-and-star fingerboard inlay at the 12th fret really set off the exotic and foreboding beauty of this axe. Jacked in to my Goldtone, its open humbuckers generated a fine, raw presence and toothy grind. And something about the finish made me want to stroke the thing like a purring black cat.


The Les Paul Classic
Higher up the food chain, but appreciably easier on the wallet than the top-end L.P.s, are the Les Paul Classics. These models have all the visual authority of your vintage '60s Les Paul Standard, including top and neck binding, plus vintage finishes. But they're outfitted with hotter pickups-exposed-coil 496R and 500T ceramic magnet humbuckers-that generate gigantic tone for screaming, wailing, all-out solos. The slim-taper neck facilitates lightning-quick runs up the fretboard and won't wear out your hand.


Classic Heritage Sunburst
A lot of players might actually prefer this guitar to the more expensive Standard and Custom models. The finish was truly sumptuous. The gorgeous maple shone through, elegantly framed by the natural-looking but perfectly even sunburst and precision binding. Its sweet resonance was so pronounced I played it unplugged for a long while before tapping the juice to groove on that sparky, ramped-up, rockin' tone.


Affordable quality
All the Gibson Les Pauls I played for this review generated the stellar sounds I've grown to expect over many years as a Les Paul player and enthusiast. The quality of workmanship evident in these fine instruments rivals that of the higher-end Les Pauls for substantially less capital.


Features & Specs



Les Paul Studio PlusLes Paul Classic Models
  • Carved figured AA maple top
  • Mahogany back and neck
  • Rosewood fretboard with pearloid trapezoid inlays
  • 490R and 498T alnico magnet humbuckers
  • '59 rounded Les Paul neck
  • Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Gold hardware
  • Carved maple top
  • Mahogany back and neck
  • Rosewood fretboard with pearloid trapezoid inlays
  • 496R and 500T open ceramic-magnet humbuckers
  • 1960 slim-taper neck
  • Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Nickel hardware


Les Paul Studio Gothic

  • Carved maple top
  • Mahogany back and neck
  • Ebony fretboard with moon-and-star inlay
  • 490R and 498T open alnico magnet humbuckers
  • '59 rounded Les Paul neck
  • Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece