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.
Part One: The Awesome Amazon Exclusive Gibson M2 (Les Paul Shape) MOD ONE (Not Rogue One 🙂 ) Review!
Looking for the pictures and don’t want to read Jim’s wanderings: scroll down. I’ve put them in one convenient section!
I’ve really enjoyed playing my new Gibson M2. it’s a nice evolution to the Melody Maker type of guitars. It’s really quite nice, and is affordable. I wrote a review of it here My first-look Gibson M2 review.
One of the reasons I bought the M2 is because it has an easy, almost Fender-like means of changing out your sound. The neck is fixed, which is actually nice for sustain, but otherwise, it works like most Fenders: you can change the pickups and electronics very easily – even without re-stringing the guitar.
So what’s this review about? This one is the first of two I’d like to write: “What does the Gibson M2 look like under the covers – what can you do with it?”
I found it super-easy to change out my sound with my Gibson M2. The on-pickguard electronics and top-routed cavities make it very easy to switch things out and easy to even put in a battery if you’d like to go active.
Everything about the Gibson M2 from the non-electronic parts is wonderful and well worth the price alone. The woods, the fit and finish, and the overall features of the body and hardware are really great, even at the low entry price. The electronics are average to excellent for the price range. In fact, the overall makeup of the electronics is as good or better than $900 (street price) guitars made in Asia.
The pickups, pots, jack, capacitor, and wires look almost like those included in Epiphone instruments. The switch is the very nice and extremely sturdy leaf-contact three-way toggle that looks a lot like Switchcraft’s switch and is extremely similar to those found in nice Epiphones. In replacing or modding this guitar, the switch is a keeper. In addition, the jack is pretty good, although a real Switchcraft 1/4” jack is a safer bet if you are going to actively play the guitar – particularly standing up and moving around.
The Amazon page lists the pickups as “Gibson ProBuckers.” It is likely they are some type of slightly-different humbuckers (from Epiphone ProBuckers). Looking at the pictures in this write-up as compared to pictures on the Internet (of Epiphone ProBuckers), there are key differences in the appearance. In addition, the weight of the pickups is a little different: the Gibson M2’s pickups feel slightly lighter than my older Epiphone Les Paul’s ProBuckers. This might be due to something very simple like differences in magnet weight or differences in potting/not potting… Overall, the pickups are great for an entry-level humbucker.
It’s a great guitar. If you’re not a modder like me, it is a SOLID value and a great little lightweight USA-made guitar that has a street value of about twice the actual purchase price.
What’s under the covers with the new Gibson M2?
When one takes the time to closely examine the non-electronic parts of the guitar, the materials, workmanship, and the assembly are excellent. The low-gloss finish is smoother and more comfortable than a matte or satin finish. The neck finish is nice, and the shape is good for a variety of hands, particularly the hands of beginning guitarists. The routing is clean and very well executed.
The tuners are new to anything I’ve seen with Gibson or Epiphone: they’re sealed tuners that have mount/stability pegs on them to go into holes on the back side of the headstock to keep them from turning. This is similar to the way some Taylor and Fender tuners are mounted on the headstock. As with the Gibson Firebird Zero, the tuners have a fairly wide ratio of wheel-to-machine-shaft turns. They look the same as those on my Gibson Firebird Zero: but with a catch – the tuners on the Firebird Zero are much smoother and require less effort than those on my M2. It might be a one-off issue, but my M2’s tuners feel a lot less refined and are actually harder to turn than most of the small-button tuners I’ve used. Overall, it gets to tuning pretty well, but just isn’t as fantastic as my Firebird Zero’s tuners.
I thought this would be a good place to post pictures of the electronics inside my M2. These are un-changed from the factory and are pre-modification: I thought it might be useful to share them with the world so some of the burning questions about pickups and wiring can be put to rest :-).
What’s on tap for what I’m going to do to mod mine?
I’m leaving the body, pickguard, and tuners alone on my M2. They’re just fine and nicely done. What’s on my agenda to mod the M2 is to switch to either Bournes low-effort pots, a Switchcraft jack, better wires, a nice PIO (paper in oil) capacitor, and some type of pickup upgrade. I’ll be using the existing switch and pickup trim rings/springs.
I’m still debating which pickup work to do. I have a killer pair of matched Seymour Duncan Blackouts (series 1, gold covers), and I have a really nice non-matched pair of Seymour Duncan pickups in which I’ve switched the magnets to Alnico 3 (neck) and Alnico 4 (bridge). A third choice might be a pair of odd-fellow DiMarzio humbucker from my parts drawers that have nice output and can be nicely split with some Bournes push-pull DPDT pots I’ve picked up.
If I go with the Seymour Duncan Blackouts, I’ll be using the factory pots, jack, and wiring plus a nice PIO capacitor. With my one-off Seymour passives or the DiMarzios, I’ll be using some of the really nicely matched and assembled pots and jack from my goodies box. Since the DiMarzios are four conductor pickups, I’ll split them for sure, one pickup per knob.
In all cases, the slick-finished black hat knobs are not easy for my hands to grip or to do swells with a pinky while playing. I generally switch to either knurled dome knobs or speed knobs to make things a lot easier for my playing style. (Suffice it to say I have a couple of bags of genuine Gibson hat knobs. 🙂 )
If I can get time to write a post-modification review, I’ll post it here with pics!
Why Mod my Gibson M2?
I wanted the M2 for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I wanted to see what Gibson was doing, how well it was being done, and to see what sonic possibilities there might be found with a very low-cost instrument. The other (strong) reason I wanted an M2 was to use it as an easy-change recording mule: nice bright body; lightweight; and a snap to change out the pickups and wiring.
If I were a beginner, or if I were recommending a guitar to one of my students, I would recommend the M2 based on its merits, not on its mod-ability: it’s a great guitar on its own.
Note that I’m saving the original wiring of my M2, because it uses the connectors found in the Gibson Quick-connect system. I have several sets of different Gibson (and Seymour and Dimarzio) pickups with Gibson Quickconnect connectors on them, so I might reverse the mods and just use QC-capable pickups in my mule.
Stay tuned. I’ll finish my mods and post pictures and a short review as soon as work and life permits.