The 2018 Gibson Lineup has appeared on September 1, 2018! is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

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A Thoughtful Article about The Big Three: the Gibson Les Paul Traditional, Standard, and Classic! is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

Jumping in the deep water: What’s my opinion on the difference between the Gibson Les Paul Standard, The Gibson Les Paul Classic, and the Gibson Les Paul Traditional? Are there things that might help me choose one for myself?

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 🙂

Gibson Les Paul Classic body shot Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Classic body shot Image (C) Rights holders of

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.

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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!

Gibson LeGibson Les Paul Classic Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of Gibson.coms Paul Traditional Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Classic Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

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.

Gibson Les Paul Classic Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Classic Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

A Quick Look at The Big Three

Production and Availability Short Timeline

Let’s start with the simpler, objective parts in summary so we can start with a clear understanding.

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

The Basics

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.

  • All three models have a mahogany body and a mahogany neck
  • All three models have carved maple tops (also called maple caps) some minor variations have special tops or are all mahogany – these non-maple-topped LPs are very unusual.
  • All three models have bound bodies and bound necks – the binding is often different amongst the three, but binding is present. The binding on the body is on the front side only, covering the transition from maple to mahogany.
  • All three feature (typically) rosewood fingerboards with some sort of trapezoidal or four-sided 3rd-fret-and-up inlays
  • Each model includes (typically) a four-control layout (V-V-T-T) Some Classics came with a mini-switch boost instead of a second tone.
  • Each model includes some sort of three-way toggle switch in the upper bass-side bout, like Les Paul designed in the first LPs.
  • Each model has the tried-and-true 3×3 machine head headstock/peghead.
  • All three, in their every-day form, have a tune-o-matic style bridge and a metal stop bar and stud posts. Some varieties do get produced with tremolos or other tail treatments. The vast majority are stop-bar guitars.
  • Each model (typically, with some exceptions) has two pickups and is largely comprised of two humbuckers – note that many times over the years, at least two of these models have been offered in 2xP90 or P90+Humbucker versions. Many specialized and store-specific versions have been popped out in recent years… There have been rare one-pickup models.
  • All three models typically have the Gibson logo inlaid with mother of pearl or a similar colorful material
  • All three models have been built with fancy and plain tops – the style of the top differs from year to year and sometimes even to vendor-specific builds
  • All Gibson Les Paul Guitars are made in the USA.
Gibson Les Paul Traditional Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Some high-level differences

Remember, these are simplified generalizations to help cut this writing down from an entire book to a single multi-page web review…

  • Although the Classic, Standard, and Traditional bodies are all bound, the binding is often different/thinner/different colors.
  • In recent years, the weight of the body is very different from model to model.
    • Traditionals are the heaviest, with some years being no weight relief and some being very little weight relief.
    • Classics tend to be in the middle weight, varying quite a bit between the Traditional and the Standard – with each year’s model being possibly different. Go with your gut on these, if it feels heavier, it is…
    • The Standard, being the much older model, has had lots of iterations of body weight relief… it is often the lightest of the three models, but some old models are really heavy.
  • Traditionals and Standards tend to have covered pickups, Classics have not (in my experience) had covers on the pickups.
  • Classics and Standards of the past couple of decades have had metal sealed tuners such as Gibsons or Grovers.
  • Traditionals (except the Pro models) have been almost entirely the traditional Kluson-/Deluxe-style Green-key/keystone/tulip tuners
  • In my own 4 decades of experience, the most one-piece backs I have seen have been in the Traditionals, closely followed by the Standards. I have not yet seen a one-piece back on a Classic. Note that it is rare that Gibson actually says they will feature a one-piece back. I think the luthier who picks the wood from the stack will be the one to choose 1, 2, or (rarely) three pieces… it varies based on wood supply and supply quality. Each individual guitar is truly just that – an individual… I’ve seen great wood in the backs and I’ve seen not-so-good matches or wood in the backs – even on Standards.
  • Necks are REALLY a subject of MUCH argument, conversation, and preference, but I can say a few things in general
    • Traditionals tend to be thicker necks, often called “50s” necks.
    • The Standards defined what a “Les Paul” neck is, so it varies wildly with the decades… Old ones tend to be thicker, like the “50s necks” (ergo the name), or can be thinner/faster like the “60s” necks. The best thing is to trust your own opinion with guitar in hand… if it feels thick or thin, it is what you think it is. If you are new to Les Pauls, try two that are clearly different and find out what YOU like – you’re the one that matters
    • In my experience, Classics are almost always like the 60s neck profiles. They’re often the most like a “C” shape that’s fairly consistent from nut to heel.

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Gibson Les Paul Traditional Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

A New-to-Les-Pauls Buying Guide

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.

  • First and foremost, know that if you buy any one of the three, Standard, Traditional, or Classic, you’ll get a GREAT guitar! You can’t go far wrong with any of the three. RELAX and enjoy!
  • Ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly. Often two of the models will fit your needs, sometimes all three!
    • Does standing up with a fairly heavy guitar on a strap for a good while seem OK, or is it a problem?
      • If you always sit, weight isn’t so much an issue and all three models will do fine. If you always stand and don’t have trouble with a bass or a heavy guitar, all three models are fine. If you find the strap painful and don’t like heavy guitars, try an Ultra-Modern Weight Relief or Modern Weight Relief Gibson Les Paul Standard. The next lightest is the Classic.
    • Do you have small or large hands and/or fingers?
      • If your hands and or fingers are short/small, the thinner 60s necks will do well for you, so either a Classic or a 60s neck Standard (there have been LOTS of both in the Standard line) will be the one for you.
      • If your hands and or fingers are longer or larger, you might find the 50s neck to be more substantial and more comfy – that means the Traditional is right in your sweet spot, as well as a few specific 50s neck Standards. These are more like the old-time guitar neck shape.
    • Do you want high-output sound, traditional (vintage) output sound, or medium output sound?
      • If you want a more modern higher-output sound, the Classic is a great choice. This is not a 21 kOhm ceramic sound – it’s largely a 10 kOhm Alnico V sound particularly in the bridge.
      • If you want vintage or moderate sound in the 7-8 kOhm range you can trust the Traditional to get you there. Most have Gibson’s 57 pickups – although I’ve seen some with Alnico II BurstBucker unbalanced coil non-potted covered pups. These are both sweet, nicely EQ’d humbuckers. It’s hard to go wrong here.
      • If you want just a little more juice and a little more crunch without going modern (high 7 kOhm range to the low 9 kOhm range), the current-year Standard is the Standard (what’s in a name? 🙂 ). The standard has been offered different ways over the decades… much of the time with the original PAF humbucker, Bill Lawrence-era humbuckers, and MANY more… In the recent two decades Standards typically come with the Gibson 57, and more recently often with the BurstBucker Pro (Alnico V) pickups. Gibson is always updating the Standard, and it still is the pinnacle of the desirable NICE Gibson Les Paul when it comes to the pickup sound.
Gibson Les Paul Standard Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Standard Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

  • Does the LOOK of the guitar mean something important to you? Does it need to look like a 58-59 Les Paul, or does it need to look like something more recent?
    • The looks of a guitar are REALLY Subjective, I’ll offer my opinions in the What Jim Thinks and Likes section… read on

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What Jim Thinks and Likes

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!

Gibson Les Paul Standard Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Standard Body shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

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.

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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.

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Gibson Les Paul Classic Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Gibson Les Paul Classic Neck shot. Image (C) Rights holders of

Just Like my guitar reviews: Wishes and Wants

  • Dear Gibson, keep innovating. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers who keep saying, “The only way to make a Les Paul is a copy of a 59 Les Paul Standard.” It’s always great to be able to buy a newly-built version of the 57-59 Les Pauls of great fame. But we don’t need ALL Les Pauls to be the same. Keep trying nuts, necks, bodies, electronics, and materials. Some things stick around (like BurstBuckers!) and some things don’t. It’s OK. I LIKE adjustable nuts and I LIKE the new easy-access heels. I don’t like the fret-end-over-binding necks (nib-less), but that’s ME as an individual… Try stuff, keep innovating!
  • Dear Gibson, The 59 Tribute pups you put in the 2014 Traditional were awesome! Bring them back in other models! Not the BurstBucker 59s, the 1959 tributes!
  • Dear Gibson, a 12th fret inlay kerfuffle from 2014 is not the end of the world, even though some traditionalists didn’t like the 120th inlay. Don’t be afraid to toot your horn… The 125th anniversary is soon!
  • Dear Gibson, I love my Les Pauls. I love the variety, I LOVE the fact that two different individuals of a given model and year are slightly different. That way, lots of us can find something we love.
  • Dear Gibson, I wish we could have optional Richlite on one of the Classic, Traditional, or Standard models. Even though some don’t like Richlite, I do! It’s like having ebony, but without having to cut down a millennium-year-old tree to get it. I am a person who likes sustainability.
  • Dear Gibson, Please do the Les Paul Peace again, but this time with nibbed binding! I LOVE those!
  • It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if we Gibson players and buyers could get factory cut and installed real bone nuts!

You can get one of my favorite Gibsons of all time: the Gibson Les Paul Traditional

The SUPER Pawn Shop Find 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer Review! is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

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.

Body shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Body shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer









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.)

Epiphone has re-released its Korina Explorer! It looks great and is a real bargain compared to the early Korean used ones.

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.

Pickups back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Pickups back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Quick Opinion:
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.”

If you buy your Epiphone Korina Explorer through this link, I get a small amount of funding to help me run and maintain this FREE to the public guitar review site!

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
MOP Logo
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.

Pickups front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Pickups front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

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

Alternative Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Alternative Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

If you buy your Epiphone Korina Explorer through this link, I get a small amount of funding to help me run and maintain this FREE to the public guitar review site!

Neck Scarf Joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

Neck Scarf Joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer.

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.)

Epiphone has re-released its Korina Explorer! Take a look at zZounds’ Love it and play it guarantee!

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.

Neck-body set neck joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Neck-body set neck joint detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

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.

Beauty Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Beauty Back face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

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.

Headstock front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Headstock front detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

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.

Headstock back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Headstock back detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

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.

Control cavity detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Control cavity detail of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

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).

Beauty Front face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

Beauty Front face shot of my 1999 Epiphone Korina Explorer

The SUPERBIRD! Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” First Review! is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa “Treasure” Firebird First Impressions Review!
Buy one if you can find one! You’ll be GLAD you did!

Update (9.8.2017): it looks like the new ones are all gone from the market now… You can look at other awesome Firebirds here at!

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Body Front

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Body Front

I am a big “z-shape” guitar player. I love my Strats, Teles, LPs, SGs, and Vs, but my heart has a special BRIGHT AND LOUD place for Explorers and Firebirds! (Well, and offset Fenders, too, folks 🙂 ) It’s no surprise to those who know me that I’m constantly looking for a different sound, a different feel, a different tonal diversity. The first place I look is with Explorers and Firebirds. This past 7 years, Firebirds tend to not get sold after a while, unlike so many of my other much-loved-but-sacrificed-to-recording-pursuit guitars. In other words, when I get my hands on a great Firebird, I KEEP it for a long time. I still have quite a few very different Firebirds.

If this review seems to be a great gush of wonder over this guitar, you’re reading it right. Only a few guitars or basses have made me this happy in the decades I’ve been making music. So, take a deep breath and read on. there’s SO much to say that I might have to write a second review down the road after I’ve had “Joe’s Treasure” for a good while.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Headstock Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Headstock Back

Quick Opinion:
My Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is a keeper. It is extremely well made, it is super sonorous, and is a real pleasure with which to play or record or jam.

I’ve written a LOT of reviews. I have played and/or recorded with literally thousands of instruments over the past 4 1/2 decades (used to be a Band Director \m/ !) Once in a while I come across a guitar that makes me wish I could stand on a stage somewhere and show it to the world with great enthusiasm – even though I’m not currently an endorsed artist or an instrument-brand affiliate or dealer. I just get pumped when I find something awesome!

The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is just such a guitar. Let’s look at why I am so happy with mine that I might actually buy a second one such as the Polymist version. Let’s look at features, quality, sound and more…

JIm Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Heastock Front

JIm Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Headstock Front

As I said a bit before. If you want a simple and awesome Firebird I, you currently have to buy a vintage one or a multi-thousand-dollar Gibson Custom Shop Firebird I. I’d love one, but honestly it is pretty far out of my budget. Now? I’ve got a GREAT Firebird I guitar at a very small price!

Here’s the quick-and-dirty feature list (with notes from me about my particular EJBTFI).
* Neck Joint: Thru-Neck (not the faux neck through that were actually glued in on the old Epi Firebird VII guitars)
* Neck Material: Mahogany/Walnut; 9-piece laminated (I counted. Yep!)
* Body Wing Material: Mahogany (both my Treasure Firebird I’s wings are one piece of mahogany, no glue hogs)
* Body Shape: Reverse Firebird
* Neck Shape: 1960’s Rounded-C (this is a delightful neck! If you like Firebird necks, this is a little plumper, but easier to grip for bends! It’s delicious for those that love a gentle round shape on the back of the neck. Mine has no flat areas or flat spots.)
* Truss Rod: Adjustable; Dual-Action (You adjust it behind the truss rod cover.)
* Truss Rod Cover: 1-layer; Black; Epiphone logo in Gold
* Scale Length: 24.75″
* Fingerboard Material: Rosewood with Dot Inlays (My rosewood fingerboard is shiny and nicely polished or buffed. It feels heavenly like a nice Rickenbacker fingerboard, without the lacquer… NICE)
* Nut: Ivory PVC (yes, plastic)
* Headstock: Original Firebird beveled (This looks great – black and brown, on the sunburst. The Polymist is all one color except the truss rod cover.)
* Bridge Pickup: Epiphone ProBucker FB720 (WOWWOWWOWWOWWOW More on this later in the review.)
* Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone (two knobs, no switch of any kind)
* Knobs: Gold Top Hats with metal inserts and pointers (I generally like speed knobs, but these are easy to turn)
* Fingerboard Radius: 14″ (nice and curvy for those who run up and down the neck a lot)
* Pickguard (3-Layer); White/Black/White with Vintage Firebird logo (my logo feels painted on. My Gibson Firebirds tend to be hot-stamped with the Firebird Logo.)
* Frets: 22 medium-jumbo (Just right. easy to bend, easy to fret, NICELY polished on my Joe Treasure.)
* Bridge/Tailpiece: Adjustable Wrap-around Lightning Bar (Mine needed adjustment, but is better than my Gibson M2’s wrap-around… These let you adjust the whole bar back and forth at each end… Makes intonating easier.)
* Nut Width: 1-11/16″
* Hardware: Nickel (I like chrome too and gold, but my heart belongs to old-fashioned wear-showing nickel.)
* Output Jack: Epiphone Heavy-Duty 1/4″
* Machine Heads: Kluson Reissue Firebird/Banjo Tuners; 12:1 ratio (14.6:1 wind rate) (YES! This was a HUGE thing for me. I really LIKE Steinbergers, but LOVE the new renditions of the Kluson brand Banjo Tuners! I bought a couple of sets and back-graded a couple of my Steinberger-tuner Firebirds to have the big Klusons! Just like the Firebirds I got to play in the 70s.)
* Strap Buttons: These are big buttons to hold on to a strap very nicely. The upper strap button is on the back of the neck/body area instead of on the upper bout as some Epiphone Firebirds have had.)
* Includes: Hand-Signed Certificate of Authenticity, Custom Deluxe Gig bag with JB artwork (I LOVE the Joe Bonamassa gig bag Firebird logo!

JIm Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" FB720 Pickup Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” FB720 Pickup Back

I want to store my Treasure Firebird I with other guitars in hard cases, so I went ahead and bought an Epiphone case for it. (Opens a new window.))

I have the traditional brown sunburst finish on my Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird. As of this writing, all the major retailers are out of Treasure Firebirds… look at the other Firebirds currently available!

So the features are awesome compared to many $799 (Street) guitars. That said, I see LOTS of $799 guitars that not only don’t have gig bags, but they don’t have NICE gig bags and hand-signed certificates in them!

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Body Back

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Body Back

Let’s look at a few of my favorite features:
* I love the Kluson Banjo Tuners. These look like perfect reissues – and tune and feel JUST like my Gibson Firebird V’s tuners. These were a MAJOR selling point for me, as I like the way the feel, the way they look and the fact that they bring back awesome memories from my childhood when I got to play priceless Firebirds back in the 70s.
* The Neck-through construction. SOUNDS fantastic! It has sustain for days and feels ALIVE in your hands compared to my older glued-in Epiphone Firebird necks or Gibson Firebird Studio necks. It just feels like a zillion (yes, folks, that’s $1,000,000+googleplex of zeroes!) bucks! Honestly. The neck is one of the MAIN features of this guitar. Looks and sound aside.
* The quality is fabulous. I like nitrocellulose lacquer better than poly paint: that said, this finish feels fabulous. It’s nice and smooth and looks like a perfect job was done at the factory.
* The pickup is old-school wired. it has a braided two-conductor wire just like my old Gibson Firebirds. The wiring is super-simple, and there’s not a lot to get in the way of this very special FB720 pickup’s sound.
* The gig bag is really nice: It’s a real plus and I’m keeping mine as long as I own this Firebird.
* I’m impressed with the signed certificate. I can’t tell if it is signed with ink by the two folks on the card, but it looks quite real to me.
* One more feature that really tipped me over the edge: the headstock construction looks JUST LIKE my Gibson Firebird V.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Cavity Shot

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Cavity Shot

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This is the easiest-to-play Epiphone Firebird I’ve ever owned (I’ve owned LOTS). The neck is a nice balance between a Firebird 60s neck and an Explorer 70s neck. Just enough round, just thick enough, just slippery enough to make me forget about the neck (a VERY good thing). The weight is bit lighter than my neck-through Gibson Firebirds, and is actually a little better balanced than my Firebird V, Firebird 7, and Firebird VII. With the BIG headstock and the Klusons, it does lean towards the neck a bit: with that said, it IS a Firebird!

The way the pickup sits and the controls are located are just fine. I don’t end up picking on top of the pickup so much as I do with my Firebird VII and my Firebird 7. The volume control and tone are just where they are supposed to be, but require a big hand move to do a volume swell or adjustment. Bear in mind, though, that this is not different than old Firebird I guitars. So this isn’t a problem per-SE… I’m just indicating that it feels a bit far. However, since I’ve started using a Morley volume pedal, this isn’t much of a problem any more on my far-control guitars.

The tummy-cut is awesome and feels just like it is supposed to. The body rests nicely on me whether I am standing with a strap or sitting without a strap. The rest of the guitar feels just like a Firebird. If you close your eyes, it would be largely hard to tell it is not one of my Gibsons.

I love the fingerboard radius (14”) and the smooth and shiny genuine rosewood fingerboard. Overall, when I’m fretting or bending strings, the fingerboard feels non-existent (a good thing).

Overall, I’d say that it’s EXTREMELY hard to put down and stop playing. Playability? Superb.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Cavity Shot With Body

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Cavity Shot With Body

One of the strong points of the Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is its sound. It sounds SUPERB. If you’d like to get an idea what it sounds like before you buy one, listen to Joe play one here (opens a new window). You can read more factory specs on the Epiphone JB Treasure page, too.

The single-pickup configuration, the simple controls and big potentiometers are awesome. The neck-through sustain and body’s sympathetic vibe are superb. I can’t say enough about this new pickup. I LOVE it! And paired with the body and neck-through, the sound just makes you giddy through a Fender amp, a VOX, a Marshall or even a small solid-state beginner’s amp.

Quality, Fit and Finish
I’ve owned a great many Epiphone guitars and basses over the years since Gibson bought Epi’s company and started making clones of the Gibson USA greats. When I first started recording, the only LPs, SGs, Explorers or Firebirds I could afford were used Epiphones.

That said, of all the Epiphones I have ever owned or played, my sunburst Joe Bonamassa Treasure Firebird I is the best-built, best-finished, and best overall Epiphone I have EVER owned or played. Bar none.

The paint finish is smooth and doesn’t have any smudges or spooges anywhere. The wood joints are perfect and the paint on the joints is nicely finished. The edge of the fingerboard is nicely clear-coated with the neck and the fingers don’t detect any line between the two. Like my non-bound Gibson Explorer fingerboards, the feel is completely smooth and easy.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" FB720 Pickup Front

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” FB720 Pickup Front

The soldering is quite well done, and there’s even a little slack in the capacitor’s wiring. If you want a professional to change the capacitor, it can be done very easily without actually damaging much of the potentiometer solder joints, if any. The jack is solid, and has a nice positive feel to it.

The tuners and hardware are nicely applied and are quite straight. The bridge is not adjusted like I would want, and the guitar came from the factory with some mild intonation problems: but these problems were easily resolved with the included allen wrench and a nice Peterson strobe tuner (you can buy one on your phone or desktop, too!). I really haven’t found too many guitars that come from the factory already intonated. I don’t know why this is so common, but there it is. My Firebird I wasn’t an exception. That’s pretty much the only issue I had.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Full Body Front Shot

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Full Body Front Shot

The sunburst paint is remarkably nicely done. On many Asian guitars, sunbursts tend to have a very “spray can hard edge” look to them. In my case, my Firebird I is very nicely faded from black to clear. Nice!

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" 9-ply Neck Detail

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” 9-ply Neck Detail

The 9-ply composition of the neck is extremely well done. The thicknesses of the woods is very consistent and very nicely paired. The look and grain of the mahogany is nice looking, if a little less dense than I’m used to on my Gibson USA guitars – but FAR better than most Asian-built mahogany guitars I’ve owned and/or played.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Neck-Thru Neck Joint

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Neck-Thru Neck Joint

Over all, Id say that the Quality is easily among the best Epiphone guitar I’ve ever had in my hands.

Take a look at all the wonderful Firebirds available on!

Wishes and Wants
Honestly, just a couple.
* Dear Epiphone, PLEASE make a Firebird V variant constructed JUST like this, but with four controls, a stop bar + TOM bridge, and two of these FB720 pickups. PLEASE!
* For all the wonderful components in this great guitar, the cap is a little disappointing.  Please consider an Orange Drop Sprague capacitor: the included film-based capacitor is OK, but ODs aren’t that much more in bulk… this would actually be a good selling feature.

Jim Pearson's Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I "Treasure" Control Knobs and Pointers

Jim Pearson’s Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Firebird I “Treasure” Control Knobs and Pointers