I’m quite happy about this!
The 2018 Gibson Les Paul Studios have BINDING-OVER-FRET binding and Grenadillo fingerboards…
I’m quite happy about this!
The 2018 Gibson Les Paul Studios have BINDING-OVER-FRET binding and Grenadillo fingerboards…
Good news, my wonderful readers!
The 2018 Gibson Guitar lineup has appeared on the Interwebs, and my sponsor zZounds has the straight scoop on them!
It’s exciting! Check them out here: Click and buy to help me have funds to run my Guitar Review Site!
Happy to see a NATURAL Gibson Explorer!
My thoughts about The Big Three non-custom Top-Shelf Gibson Les Pauls!
Gibson Les Paul: The value and “best-ness” of the Classic vs. Traditional vs. Standard is based upon a very personal set of feelings and practicalities. The features, price, and benefits of Gibson’s non-custom pinnacle Les Pauls are dizzying and often are mystifying to someone who hasn’t studied the Les Paul line for very long. It is very important to note that Gibson changes the specs for these guitars almost yearly. So, please don’t email to say things like “year x model y doesn’t have…” The purpose of this article is really about a general comparison between the three. If I’ve made any mistakes, grin and bear it, please 🙂
It’s no wonder that most new-to-Top-Shelf Gibson Les Paul players (and soon-to-be Top-Shelf Gibson Les Paul players!) get a bit confused on what guitar is right for them, particularly when they first aim their sights at a Les Paul. One could easily say that “just go to the store and play all three varieties, and play older ones and new ones, then buy the one that is ‘right’ for you.” As easy as that is to say, it’s very difficult to do.
Not everyone can afford a new Standard. Not everyone has access to a guitar store with lots of models available to try. Not everyone can sit down in a guitar store and even concentrate long enough to get a good, thoughtful view of a given guitar. A Gibson Les Paul is a big purchase for guitar players: if a player is going for models above Specials and Studios, it’s important to make a good decision up front… So, let’s look at some of the objective things we can share that help players make decisions. The good news? If you choose one of the three types, Classic, Traditional, or Standard, you’ll have a GREAT guitar! There is NO wrong choice!
Also to note, recent Gibson models (so far, 2016 and 2017 of all models like SG, Firebird LP, etc.) have a new “T” or “Traditional” designation – which is offered as an alternative to the new (2016-2017 so far) HP models. This is not the same thing as a Gibson Les Paul Traditional. Weirdly enough, you can have a Gibson Les Paul Traditional T/Traditional. That’s as opposed to a Gibson Les Paul Traditional HP/High Performance. I own a 2016 Gibson Les Paul Traditional Traditional. Fun, yes?
Before we dive into the details: Know that Gibson has produced a HUGE array of Les Pauls over the past 60+ years. The Classic, Traditional, and Standard are only a small part of the models available to a guitar player… This review is just a conversation about these three particular extraordinary guitar models.
Let’s start with the simpler, objective parts in summary so we can start with a clear understanding.
Note that these are generalizations of these models over their lifetimes… there might be differences between model years or even sub-models. This handy list is a general guide as opposed to a verbatim perfect enumeration of absolutes.
Remember, these are simplified generalizations to help cut this writing down from an entire book to a single multi-page web review…
Looking to buy a nice top-end Gibson Les Paul, but don’t have the funds for a Custom or a Custom Shop? Read these bullets and ask questions of yourself. Everyone else’s opinion is NOT more valuable than yours. If you like it, you like it – no matter what the salesman or the “old guitar guy” says (I can say that! I’m an OLD guitar guy!) As with almost anything involving humans, there tend to be Curmudgeons who want to tell you what you want because THEY know what’s the right answer! 🙂 Ignore them and trust yourself.
So, to set up this opinion part of this review/article, let me start by saying that my preferences are my preferences. It makes me HAPPY for YOU to have YOUR own opinions, and you should like what you like, so I won’t go there (telling you what is “Best” for you).
I have big hands and long fingers. I’m very tall, and I am strong as an draught horse. As a tendency, I like bigger frets (not part of this LP discussion) and thicker necks because they feel right in my hands. I do, however still enjoy flat or thin necks too! I think playing a library of very different guitars is great for my sound! For me, it’s an adventure. That said, when the chips are down, I like a substantial neck and a solid and heavy body to give me that tone and sustain I CRAVE CRAVE CRAVE.
YES, I DO remember 50s Les Pauls (used, of course) on guitar store walls. YES, I have dreamed of the “golden years” Gibson Les Pauls. YES I have played them. NO, I cannot afford to own any of the originals. I’ve been watching them ever since. So for me, a “Les Paul” has always been a comparison to those great used Les Pauls of my childhood: snot-green Deluxe tuning keys, gorgeous yet simple maple caps and really GREAT well-feathered bursts, NIBBED binding on the neck, binding on the front of the body, two covered humbuckers, a yellowing or amber-ing switch tip, and those dark-aged-amber-gold-brown hat knobs. That will always be a “Les Paul” to me. But remember, that’s ME. You don’t have to see it that way :-). That’s what lights up my heart. But I’m a PolyGuitarist, so read on!
Even though my childhood favorites had hat-shaped knobs, I find them VERY difficult to use for the subtleness of volume and tone changes. They feel slippery and are harder for my big fingers to grab. They’re even harder to use when doing a pinky-wrapped volume knob swell on the bridge pickup in Lead mode. I really always end up changing hat knobs of any kind out to speed knobs on my personal instruments. They just feel better. As much as I liked the absolute grab-ability of the super speed knobs of the 2013-2015 time range, I don’t like the sharpness of the knurls on the ends of them. So, just plain speed knobs for me, thank you. All the Classics I have ever played came standard with speed knobs. The Standards and Traditionals are truly a mixed bag. Since these are easy to change to one’s preferences, I wouldn’t recommend one model over the other based what kind of control knobs the guitar has.
I do think the Classic and Standard with the weight relief are much easier on the strap shoulder and actually kind of balance a little better with the neck. But these days, I almost exclusively play in the studio, so I’m mostly sitting down and the weight factor only comes into play with my perception of tone and sustain. I LOVE my two Traditionals very much. My Standard is awesome if I want that particular harmonic feel and sound. I do have a Les Paul Classic 7 string with Seymour Duncan pups (factory) and an ebony finish. It’s not as satisfying for me as my new Standard LP 7, so I will be selling the Classic soon. I haven’t had a Les Paul Classic 6 string in a few years because I really didn’t like the nib-less neck binding and some of the colors… However, I am going to change that later this year when my savings make it practical to get one of the 2017 Classic Les Pauls. They REALLY play nicely and do blues and rock REALLY well. The 2017 Classics come in some really interesting colors, too! I’m hoping to find an awesome deal on a 2017 Green Ocean Burst (Listening, Gibson ;-)? )
My latest Gibson Les Paul Standard is actually new to me and is a (yes, I LOVE it!) 7 string with a GORGEOUS AAA tobacco-burst top and dark back that is made with lots of love and is definitely one of my few life-long heirloom keepers. I’ve had others in the past that were wonderful, but I keep sticking with the Traditionals. I would have preferred a brown transparent back so I can see the back wood, but I’m OK for now, as the top is almost 3D! Interestingly, I found some Hipshot green-key buttons that fit nicely on the 7 Grovers on the Standard, so the guitar looks a bit like it’s a fancy old model with an extra string. I’ll review this guitar soon! I have really loved my other Les Paul Standard guitars – I’ve just been tending to stick with Traditionals these days.
Finally, in the opines section of this writing, I’d like to say that my selected Les Paul Traditionals (2010 and 2016) are both SUPERB and practically play themselves. I sought and found both with one-piece backs, nibbed binding, 57 humbuckers, and Gibson Deluxe green-key tuners. They’re heavenly. The 2010 is an Ice Tea burst with a cherry back that was made on the painter’s best day of the year! The 2016 saw one of the nicest AA (borderline AAA) flamed maple tops I’ve ever seen with honey burst and a brown-stained back. Both have neck carves with which someone at Gibson TOOK THEIR TIME. I wish I had not sold my 2014 Gibson Les Paul Traditional: it had the super-hard-to-find Gibson 1959 Tribute Humbuckers in it, a one-piece back, had nibbed binding, and had one of the best inlay jobs I’ve ever seen on any Gibson.
The Epiphone Explorer 1999 Korina Natural Finish Review!
I’ve been looking for an older Epiphone Korina Explorer (natural finish, as opposed to ebony) for quite some time. I wanted the old generic tulip/keystone tuners, the “sandwich” body, the excellent medium-output “Epiphone” engraved gold-cover humbuckers, and a simple rosewood fingerboard. I found one the other day on one of the main Internet used guitar sites at a price that was very attractive. It looked like it had hardly been played! There were no chunks worn out of the first 7 frets from barre-chord hard strumming – as a matter of fact, they looked unplayed, still tall and rounded on the top.
The sandwich wood is three-piece with one particularly nice-sized piece in the upper half of the body. The coloring and dyes used are very consistent and have that lovely “Old Gibson” golden yellow tint.
I wanted this guitar to do some experimenting with sound, with pulling the tuners, wiring, and pickups carefully out and preserving them for the future. (When I originally bought this guitar, I built it with this in mind: modding it with a very specific set of electronics, solder, tone cap, and some truly wonderful USA-made humbuckers… I’ve since changed my mind and have left it completely alone other than strap locks and 19:1 tuners. Read the “Sound” section below.)
When I saw this 1999 model, I jumped on it VERY quickly because it was un-damaged, mostly un-played, and un-modified. I am truly pleased to have this example in my library.
The 1999 Korean-made Epiphone Korina Explorer is a great guitar. Its features and sound are fantastic, and it’s always a sure bet when you’d like to put on an Explorer at a low cost.
I’ve always found the Sandwich Epiphone Korina guitars (Firebird Studio, Explorer, SG, and Les Paul) to be a little funny to behold at first, as the front and back veneers always look so nice, with BRIGHT golden sides of much less dense and pretty Korina wood in the middle. Once you get past the visual edge between the veneer and the center wood, they’re really great instruments. The SG is the one that has the most striking veneer demarkation, as the veneer is only on the front-most part of the horns, with the cutaway being the sandwiched wood. C’est la vie.
Overall? The Epiphone Korina Explorer is a great bargain, a good-looking guitar, and a joy to play. The fretboards are especially nice and thick… The older, non-stickered but embossed pickups are really sweet – especially if you are looking for that Tar-Back sound (more on this in the “Sound” section of this review.”
Feature-wise, my Epiphone Korina Explorer is set up with pretty much a modern interpretation of the original Korina 1958 Explorer.
Gold hardware and pickup covers
Korina gold/yellow/amber body coating (nitrocellulose lacquer on the original, poly on the 1999 Epiphone)
White pickguard with pickup selector switch near the upper-treble-side horn/bout
Tulip/keystone tuning keys above the hockey-stick headstock
Three controls, Bridge Volume-Neck Volume-Tone
Jack on the bottom of the lower bout edge
Slender control cavity cover on the back of the body
Glued-in set neck with the traditional Gibson bump on the base of the neck
Rosewood fretboard with dot inlays.
Here are the actual specs for my individual 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer (yours actually could vary, as parts sometimes get switched mid-year):
* Korina “Sandwich” body (Korina veneer on top and back, three pieces of Korina sandwiched in the middle.)
* Maple neck stained to look the same color tone as the body – a bright gold/yellow that’s very distinctive hearkening to the original ’58 Explorer
* Scarf joint set neck
* Old-school gold keystone non-branded tuners (good tuning radius, but not very reliable when down-tuning, even with lubricant in the nut)
* Great old Epiphone humbucker pickups – with the “Epiphone” engraved base plate, these are getting hard to find.
* Well-balanced rosewood thick fingerboard – buffed to a nice shine… even though the fretboard is not painted, it almost looks shiny enough to have been lacquered
* Traditional B/W/B three-ply pickguard
* Old-style Epiphone Korean electronics and soldering techniques
* Black plastic square jack plate
* Two volume control potentiometers and one master tone potentiometer all are inch-sized Asian pots
* Traditional black speed knobs with numbers
* A mechanical Switchcraft-style three-way toggle pickup selector, N-NB-B – very nice! Sturdy and largely make-then-break
* Nicely inlaid MOP Epiphone logo on the face of the headstock
* Dot inlays on the fingerboard from fret 3 on up as traditionally done (hard to tell if these are pearloid or MOP)
* Black plastic pickup rings
* Old-school Epiphone gold large-knob strap buttons, one on the top of the bass-side upper bout, one on the traditional back-face of the lower bout
* 24.75” Scale length
* Plastic molded nut (sturdy and of run-of-the-mill quality)
* 22 Medium-jumbo frets (these are actually a little different than the current 2016 Epiphone Korina Explorer, in a pleasant way. But not huge…
* Gold-plated Zamak pot-metal stop bar
* Gold-plated Tune-o-Matic bridge with adjustable saddles
* From my best guess with my limited tools, it appears to be about a 12″ radius fingerboard
I love Gibson Explorers, Gibson Firebirds, and Gibson RD guitars. I like they way they feel, I like the full neck access, I like the way they look, and I like the way they sit on my leg when I’m seated and recording into the wee hours of the morning. Know that my review is written from that perspective.
I did end up replacing my original 1999 tulip/keystone gold tuners with more accurate and much finer Hipshot Locking Gold Inline tuners with the control plate on the back – this didn’t mod the original guitar at all, and the down-tune slippage of the original tuners is no longer an issue. I saved, of course, all the original parts :-).
The neck is a nice shape. It’s something between the bigger neck of a Firebird and the thicker neck of the original old-school Gibson Explorers. It’s not particularly flat anywhere, and the shape feels as though someone at the Korean Epiphone factory actually took the time to shape the neck blank for this particular neck. It’s easy, unobtrusive, and fits big hands and small. (Margaret is my neck tester for smaller-hand opinions, my hands are quite large in size, but slender in countenance.)
It sits easily when you play sitting down, and the entire neck is a breeze to play thanks to the basic design of Explorers in general. It feels pretty balanced in this case, partly because the body is lighter than the mahogany that’s used in my traditional Gibson Explorers. For the Explorer geeks out there, it’s about the same balance and feel as my Ash 2003 Gibson Explorer Pro.
When standing and on-strap, it’s fairly light as Z-shaped guitars go. Not as heavy as a Les Paul, not nearly as light as an SG or a Fender Tele. It’s comfortable enough for a set or for an entire gig. Nice!
The hard, close-grained rosewood fretboard has a neutral feel to it. The radius feels just about right, not quite as flat as a Fender Tele or Strat feels. It seems like a great piece of wood. It’s been on a neck hook for most of its 18 years of life (as of this writing), and the rosewood has held up fabulously. None of the frets are popped or sharpened, none of the feel of the neck is that cheap dry feel many older Asian-made guitars have. To its tribute, the rosewood was lovingly cured and prepared before it became a guitar fingerboard, and you can tell it. I gave it a light, quick coat of high-grade lemon oil and it actually didn’t look much different, but it felt a little more comfy on bends.
Sound is an absolute tour-de-force on this guitar. Take any two-humbucker stoptail guitar on the market under $500 with no mods and play it after playing this old Epiphone Explorer, and you’ll mostly go back to the Explorer every time, given the choice. Bear in mind that these pickups aren’t the “Super Crunch” super-duper-high-output kind. That’s the domain of some active pickups and even the newer Super Ceramic Gibson pickups. These pickups are about TONE. Gobs and loads and bucketfuls of medium-output tone. If you want more crunch, add an overdrive and/or a distortion pedal. If you want clean, articulate sound, go with these older Epiphone-embossed covered humbuckers.
On clean, no hot tubes, no pedals, the sound is simple and full-bodied. The bass-mid-treble balance is fairly equal, with just a tad off the top on the treble. Once you put it through a good vacuum-tube preamp with something like 12AX7s, turn them up just enough to put some more volume and width in the sound: now you get major juicy sound that’s a benefit to old-rock and jazz leads. Push the tubes a bit so that when you dig in to the strings it growls a little and you’ve got classic rock.
Push the tubes hard with this guitar and you get strong well-balanced leads and high-definition rhythm chords and rhythm arpeggios. Nicely done! Similarly, if you throw a bunch of pedals at it (say, chorus, reverb, overdrive, and a little fuzz) you get a swishy sizzler that is still articulated in the EQ range. This is more reminiscent of the mid-late 70s Tar Back pickups than the current super-duper Super Ceramic 500t/496R combo of recent Explorers. If you like versatility, the stock pickups are perfect. If you want super-sizzle and crunchfests, find a pair of Gibson USA 500t/496R uncovered pickups and you’ll have your face grinning in no time.
I am not truly sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new 2017 Epiphone Korina Explorer doesn’t last too long. The last couple of times they were available, they were not around for really long periods of time.
I think the only thing that caused me trouble about the sound is that the neck and nut were cut slightly too short… I could never get the intonation to be Jim-satisfactory. The plain strings all have a variance of about 8 cents sharp, even with the saddles pushed all the way to the rear of the bridge. Unfortunately, since these are metric/Asian-spec tails and bridges, studs and posts, the clever Schaller fine-tuning tail piece and the awesome Hipshot Tone-a-Matic bridge don’t fit this guitar. The only way to fix the guitar to its optimum intonation is to cut a nut (I like bone or fossilized bone) specifically for the specs of this individual guitar. I’ll probably do that in the near future. For now, I think, I’ll just practice with it tuned slightly flat on the plain strings and do a little on-the-fly intonation on most notes.
Quality, Fit and Finish
With the exception of how Sandwich Epiphone bodies look when you first see them, the fit and finish is top notch. There is a hard gleam to the finish on all Korina and maple surfaces, the fretboard was laid in with a great deal of care, and the neck joint is fairly close to how its American-made cousins are put together.
Comparing this individual to the modern, Chinese-made 1958 Explorer Epiphone reissue, the quality of the Korean guitar is awesome. The new ones are also nicely done, so you would have to play individuals to decide which one suits you and is put together in a way that pleases you. I’m an old guy, so I love the old pickups more than the hotter new ones, and I like the feel of the Korean neck vs the Chinese neck.
I love this guitar in its new version, too. Although the new ones are made in China, it appears the fit and finish is pretty outstanding for the money! Snag one of these before they also go into the history books along with the 1999 Korina Epiphone Explorer.
Wishes and Wants
This has been out of production for quite some time, so I don’t want to really talk about what I would do different. That said, it would have been nice to not have a hollow plastic nut. The brand new series of 1958 Reissue Epiphone Korina Explorers (2016 year) is about as nice, but the pickups could be improved a bit… and I prefer the white pick guard (a personal thing, yes).