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The Gibson ES Les Paul Memphis Electric Guitar Review – The new Classic “ES”

The Gibson ES Les Paul Memphis Electric Guitar Review – The new Classic “ES”

In all the years I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve levitated towards Les Pauls, SGs, Explorers, Strats, Teles, and so many more iconic bodies and configurations. The Gibson ES series (Electro-Spanish) has always been a desire, but something out of reach. The ES lines of guitars are premium instruments, generally priced north of most nice Les Pauls and even some LP customs. I think the stuido ES models are OK, but they just aren’t like ESs to me… I love neck and body binding on them and I love the great lacquer finishes Gibson offers on the non-studios. As such, I’ve really kind of stayed away from new retail ES guitars… until 2014.
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I was surprised one day to be trolling the Gibson guitar home site (opens a new window) and saw something I’d never seen before: a Les Paul called the ES Les Paul – best of both worlds. It wasn’t long before I’d saved up and bought a 2014 ES Les Paul in Light Caramel Burst. Wow. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I really fell in love with the whole idea, right away.

Quick Opinion:  I think describing my first hour with my special-order 2014 Les Paul could be best described in a “first impressions” kind of format. I was really blown away.
* First thought: WOW this thing is seriously light compared to any Les Paul I own of any kind. What a delight.
* First strum (acoustic) felt as though I had a living thing in my hands. The resonant feedback to my hands and my chest was truly sensuous. I was delighted with the way the ES LP sang with open strings and fretted notes!
* When plugged in amplified, I found the ES LP to be somewhat similar to the ES 339 and ES 127, but lighter and more airy. It could be pushed to get blues snotty, caressed to be jazzy and new-agey, picked to be either rock or country. Name your poison: it does it to the nines.
* After fiddling with tone, volume, tunings, and general noodling with sound, I took time to just take the instrument all in with my eyes and hands: It’s really quite beautiful to behold.
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I’ll go into more detail in the rest of the review. With that said, suffice it to say that I not only loved the new design concept, its execution is pretty much flawless. I love it so much so that I regretfully sold my first (the Caramel 2014) and took the time to find just the right cherry burst 2015 on the market almost two years later. My newer one, the 2015 “Memphis Belle” is in my sound library until it is passed on to my family after my time has come.

Playability: To be clear: each neck is hand-shaped and finished from a pre-form blank. Not all Gibson necks are the same… That’s one of the great reasons to own MORE THAN ONE of the same kind ;-). My first ES Les Paul, the 2014, and my current ES Les Paul, the 2015, have virtually the same neck carve, except that the 2015 is definitely thicker feeeeeelingggggg. Your mileage might vary, depending on what you like, the size of your hands, and the actual neck shape at the time of manufacture. Gibson calls it a “Rounded C Profile neck.” With that said, let’s describe the ones I’ve actually owned…
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If you like the traditional old-school 50s thicker neck, the ES Les Paul is for you. It’s a nice hand-carved shape that resembles the neck thickness of my 2010 LP Traditional, my 2016 LP Traditional, and my Gibson Les Paul Custom. I like almost any kind of neck, but this one is my favorite, right up there with the Stratocaster 50’s V neck and my Fender Soft-D Tele Deluxe neck. The ES Les Paul 50s neck is substantial, but doesn’t feel like a baseball bat or bass neck at all. If they made these with 60s necks or even slim-taper Firebird necks, that would be fine… I just prefer the thicker kind…

Nicest play-ability thing when you play standing for hours? It’s LIGHT. WOW is it light. You see it and think “heavy like a non-weight-releived body or heavy like a big ol’ ES 335 with maple ply”… and then you strap it and put the strap on your shoulder and feel like it’s an acoustic in weight. VERY nice. I can play Memphis Belle all day long and my shoulder is none the more sore.

I do play finger-style mostly, with some picking styles and lots of hybrid claw styles (pick and fingers are REALLY fast for some things!). Given the traditional neck width and nut width, the ES Les Paul is a finger-picker’s delight, without costing the pick-picker to lose her/his mind when sweeping, economy-picking, or alternating up-stroke and down-stroke. Memphis Belle has a GREAT balance of string spacing to fingerboard width.

The neck, the fingerboard, the binding on the body’s front edging: all are comfy and make the guitar feel like it was made to be played. As a guitar player with joint issues, Memphis Belle is really so very pleasant that I forget I’ve got a guitar in my hands sometimes – the ES Les Paul is just an extension of my musical mind…
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Sound: There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. The “sound” portion of this review deserves a little more depth than usual because the ES Les Paul’s sound is complex and very versatile – it can be different depending on how you play it and how you amplify it.
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck
3) Semi Hollow with just enough of a center block

Pickups and Electronics The Gibson ES Les Paul for 2014-2016 has Memphis Heritage Spec humbuckers (also called MHS Humbuckers). The MHS humbucking pickups are true to their name in that they are virtually self-noise-silent in the signal chain. Nice. From one of Gibson’s own pages, it lists the pickups as “MHS unpotted humbuckers.” I don’t get in front of a 100wx2x4x10 Marshall Stack any more, so I’m not really worried about microphonics. I don’t have one any more, so sorry, readers, I can’t test it out for you to see if the humbuckers will allow feedback. Since they’re covered with nickel Gibson covers, I don’t know if it would be much of a problem.
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The wiring in my ES Les Paul is hand-soldered point-to-point old-school wiring and solder and capacitors. The potentiometers are non-splitting and feel and act like older unbalanced tone-to-volume resistance. I like it just like it is. It sounds fantastic and I wouldn’t have it wired any other way. (By the way, I put speed knobs on mine because I have a terrible time gripping slippery smooth-edged top hat/witch hat knobs.)
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The sound. Oh! The sound! I can dig in with a thicker pick or metal pick through some hotter pre-amp 12ax7 tubes and get bluesy snotty snarly sounds in a skinny minute. The mid-position (both neck and bridge humbuckers {or treble and bass humbuckers for the old-school folks}) sounds the most balanced for most kinds of playing. The neck is decidedly jazzy and very thick and creamy. The bridge, when played alone, likes to honk a little like old unpotted PAF vintage, low-resistance pickups. With that said, you can dial in the tubes and your playing style and get a nice rock or country or blues lead from slapping the pickup selector towards the floor. The bridge isn’t quite right for jazz unless you thicken it up with a chorus, phase, or flange pedal. Stereo pedals all the more.

When finger-picked, I can get DELIGHTFUL jazz and new age sounds out of clean channel stuff with the 12ax7s dialed down and using a nice clean boost such as a Beano from Analog Man or the unsung hero the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster. (Funny, I have four different pickup boosters/clean boosters for varieties of punch and clean stuff and for rock and blues… I like having a choice…) I can use any of the three switch positions to benefit song-like melody passages, bird-like counter-melodies and “color tracks,” and the beautiful mellow warm sound of a cleanly-played and not-over-effects-pedaled neck pickup. I love the electronics in my ES Les Paul. It’s VERY different than my BurstBuckers, 57s, 59s, or moderns.

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When I hybrid-pick, I can get varied sounds out of the same amp/pedal/pre-amp settings, just by the shape of the pick motion, the difference between finger flesh and fingernail, and pick. More so than just any guitar with those different picking styles and parts: it’s VERY expressive and can be really coaxed into very different sounds when amplified or run through a great modeler.

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Tone woods: The Gibson ES Les Paul body is made in the traditional ES Memphis way: Pressed 3-ply woods with a carved top and lovely flamed maple on the top. The back and sides are invidiual pieces, much like the way an acoustic is made, with a flat surface on both. The wood is nicely thick with maple-birch-maple ply layers. The body’s box is made, then a mahogany center block with Les Paul weight relief for feedback protection, anchoring the tail piece and bridge, and enabling a thicker, more sustaining sound. The neck is a lovely mahogany one-piece unit with a nice chocolaty-red-brown rosewood fretboard. This overall combination gives you a hybrid between the playability of a Les Paul, the weight of an acoustic, and the sound basis of an ES 3-series Gibson. It plays and sounds like the woods were lovingly picked out by a master luthier for their appearance AND tone.

Speaking of the neck, the 2015 ES Les Paul has a bone nut, replacing the modern corian nut. It tunes, plays, and sounds nice!
Re-imagining Semi-hollow Guitars: Since the ES Les Paul has the open design of a hollow body blended with the sound block of a solid body, sustain really comes to call in this guitar. Compared to either of my (truly hollow) hollow body guitars, the open strings sing noticeably longer with the ES Les Paul. Nice balance of mellow open sound combined with good sustaining while lacking the (not friendly to most guitarists) floating bridge on my true hollow body guitars.

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Quality:Frankly, I have not found a single flaw with either my 2014 or my 2015 Gibson ES Les Paul. The finish around the body where the neck is inserted lacks the somewhat (unfortunately) typical bumpy spots I see on many set-neck guitars. The consistency of the wonderful nitrocellulose lacquer finish on the back and sides is superb. The fret shape, cut, and thickness is just right. I had no string buzz at all, even after I changed the strings out to some D’Addario half-flat jazz strings. This, even without having too high an action…

The case is above par, smells great, and does a nice job fitting this odd bird. Great! The tuners are REALLY old school, with green keystone keys and old-school push-in bushings. You’d think the ES Les Paul was built back in the 50s. The fingerboard inlays are super sharp-edged, and feel great. The nickel (or chrome, I can’t tell) finish on the hardware is perfect: hard, smooth, and mirror shiny.

I love the new “F Hole” stamped truss rod cover!

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Value: Dollar-for-dollar, the Gibson ES Les Paul is priced right for its quality, appointments, the Memphis manufacture, and position in the ES and Les Paul product lines.

To be sure, the Gibson ES Les Paul is a premium-value and mid-premium price guitar when purchased above $3000 new at retail. It’s a real heirloom guitar, so I think it’s worth it. It will, however, be unreachable by some guitar enthusiasts. For those who can’t pay the “new” price, you can VERY patiently watch the used market for just the right color and condition. My first ES Les Paul was $2999 out the door, my second was used and was $1999 (a very good price for the new condition of the Memphis Belle).

VividPeaceGibsonESLesPaulBodyBack2If you want an ES and have enough money for an ES, the delightful ES Les Paul is much lighter and easier to play than the traditional ES-335. It’s worth a lifetime of playing.
Wishes: Gibson, I love thee and I love all my favorite American guitar builders: please offer the ES Les Paul with traditional nibbed binding-over-fret-end neck binding. Gosh! The one thing that made me sell my 2014, only to find that subsequent models have the same design. I’ll live with it, but that’s really my ONLY wish for this guitar. Maybe, just maybe it would be nice if the bridge pickup had a little thicker sound somehow.
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2015-Correct Features: Just a quick jog into the specs for those of you who might not know where to find them or if the original page is gone:

Top Wood Species:    Maple, Poplar, Maple
Pieces:    3-Ply
Grade:    Figured
Binding:    Cream

Back Wood Species:    Maple, Poplar, Maple
Pieces:    3-Ply
Density:    Plain
Binding:    Cream

Body Rim Species Wood:    Maple, Poplar, Maple
Pieces:    3-Ply
Grade:    Plain
Weight
Weight Relief:    ES-LP Center Block
Average Weight (body only):    1.3925 kg / 3.070 lbs.

Body Contour
Carve:    ES-LP (Semi-Hollow)

Neck
Wood Species:    Mahogany
Pieces:    1

Details
Truss Rod:    Historic
Profile:    Rounded “C”
Thickness at Fret 1:    21.59 mm / .850″
Thickness at Fret 12:    24.13 mm / .950″
Other Materials:    Franklin Titebond 50
Average Weight:    544.31 gm / 1.2 lbs

Headstock
Type:    SP-1
Inlay:    Mother of Pearl
Logo:    Mother of Pearl “Gibson”
Silkscreen:    Gold “Les Paul Model”
Headstock Angle:    17 degrees
Tonal, Resonant, and/or Technical Effect:    The rounded neck provides an ergonomic feel and the mahogany adds a rich tonal quality

Neck Fit
Joint Angle:    4 degrees
Joint Angle Tolerance:    0 deg 0 min 15 sec
Type:    Mortise and Tenon

Nut
Style:    White
Material:    Bone
Width:    4.318 cm / 1.700″

Fingerboard
Wood Species:    Rosewood
Pieces:    1
Shade:    Dark

Fingerboard Details
Radius:    30.48 cm / 12 ”
Frets:    22
Nut/End of Board:    4.318 cm / 1.700″ @ nut, 5.6007 cm / 2.205″ @ end of board
Scale:    62.865 cm / 24.75″
Binding:    Cream
Side Dots (Color):    Black

Fingerboard Inlays
Style:    Trapezoid
Material:    Pearloid
Dimensions:    16.51 mm x 29.718 mm / 0.66″ x 1.17 ”

Electronics
Pickups    Rhythm MHS Humbucker Lead MHS Humbucker
Winds/Coil: Screw side/Slug side:    4900/5100        5200/5400
Material of Wire (gauge):    Enamel (42)        Enamel (42)
Coil Dimensions (per coil):    6.6294 cm x 1.7272 mm / 2.61″ x 0.68 ”        6.6294 cm x 1.7272 mm / 2.61″ x 0.68 ”
Coil Material:    ABS        ABS
Coil Winding Process:    Scatter Wound        Scatter Wound
Pole Piece Material:    Nickel plated steel        Nickel plated steel
Pole Piece Position from Nut:    47.4218 cm / 18.670″        59.5173 cm / 23.432 ”
Slug Material:    Nickel plated steel        Nickel plated steel
Slug Dimensions (diameter x length):    4.7498 mm x 1.24206 cm / 0.187″ x .489″        4.7498 mm x 1.24206 cm / 0.187″ x .489″
Magnet Material:    Alnico III        Alnico II
Magnet Position from Nut:    48.26 cm / 19″        58.42 cm / 23″
Magnet Dimensions:    6.35 cm x 1.27 mm / 2.5″ x 0.5″        6.35 cm x 1.27 mm / 2.5″ x 0.5″
Polarities:    Screw side is the south pole of magnet        Screw side is the south pole of magnet
Cover:    Nickel plated        Nickel plated
Qfactor:    3.21        3.2
ResistanceDC:    7526 ohms        7963 ohms
Resonant Frequency:    2859.84 Hz        2695.19 Hz
Tonal & Resonant Advancements:
Historically accurate “Patent Applied For” replica with airy tone and unbalanced coils. Slightly under wound.

Control Pocket Assembly    Volume
Type:    CTS 500K Linear
Peak Voltage:    1080V
Range:    0-500K
Power Rating:    1/4 watt above 100K ohms
Resistance Tolerance:    500K +/- 20%
Minimum Resistance:    100 ohms

Tone
Type:    CTS 500K Audio
Peak Voltage:    1080V
Range:    0-500K
Power Rating:    1/4 watt above 100K ohms
Resistance Tolerance:    500K +/- 20%
Minimum Resistance:    100 ohms

Capacitors:    Lead Value    Rhythm Value
Orange Drop .022 mF    Orange Drop .015 mF
Hardware

Tuning Keys
Style:    Kluson Single Ring Tulip Button
Material:    Body is stamped steel with plastic tulip button
Weight:    22.6796 gm / 0.8 oz

Tuning Keys Details
Tuning Ratio:    15:1

Bridge
Style:    Tone Pro AVR-2
Material:    Die cast alloy
Plating Specs:    Nickel

Tailpiece
Style:    Lightweight Stop Bar
Compensated:    No
Material:    Aluminum
Plating Specs:    Nickel

Output Jack
Style:    1/4″ mono with dual tip contact

Jack Plate
Style:    Les Paul Square
Material:    ABS – Cream
Weight:    2.0 gm / 0.07 oz

Plastics
Truss Rod Cover
Style: Black and white bell with engraved F-Hole

Knobs
Style:    Gold Top Hats

Dial Pointers
Yes/No:    Yes
Switch Washer
Style:    Cream with hot stamp gold

Trim Rings
Style:    Cream

One thought on “The Gibson ES Les Paul Memphis Electric Guitar Review – The new Classic “ES”

  1. Hi there! What a pleasant surprise to see a new review. Allow me to say that I love to see your site from time to time and check if there is any new one. Keep in the good job!

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