The Gibson M2 S-Series: USA-made Les Paul-Shaped Sonic Demon! Beginner’s Paradise

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The Gibson M2 S-Series: USA-made Les Paul-Shaped Sonic Demon!!
Perfect for Beginners and Pros, Modders, and Gigging Bands On A Budget

Update: I’ve written a second review with lots of pictures of the inside and outside of my M2.

Update: Gibson now has a product page for the M2 here!

I was fortunate this past Christmas holiday: my wonderful spouse bought me a Gibson! I had been eyeballing the Amazon-exclusive M2 Electric Guitar since they were available on the Amazon site. I was particularly enamored with the Citron Green. Having played my Gibson Firebird Zero for a while now (with my awesome Gibson 57A3 pickups plugged in to the quick-connect system after I took pictures, modded the Zero, and started recording!), I’m very happy with the S-Series. This green monster is wonderful at about 2/3 the price (on sale) of the Firebird Zero, with very few compromises.

I’ve actually kept my eye out for another Amazon sale. I’m hoping to grab a blue, gray, or red one!

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2, since it is an Amazon exclusive. But you can still get the Firebird Zero S2-Series Guitar here!

Quick Opinion:
The Gibson M2 S Series LP-shaped guitar is a wonder of simple engineering, USA handmade goodness, and a perfect student’s instrument! I can’t express enough the fact that this guitar sounds, plays, feels, and IS better than pretty much every Asian-made beginner’s guitar on the market – at any base-model price.

It comes in lots of colors, including an almost PeptoPink, it’s easily available, and Amazon backs up their exclusive Gibsons with their usual easy-return customer service. You can try one out with the knowledge that it is backed by a pro-customer-service company. You can see the specs and buy the M2 here at Amazon.com (opens new window).

Features:
The new Gibson M2 electric guitar is huge on features for such a low-end guitar, is made in America, and is the absolute pinnacle of well-made very basic entry-level guitars. You would be hard-pressed to find a nicer and better-playing guitar in this price range with a gig bag, much less one made in the USA. I do see that many Poly-Painted Epiphones are nicer in features and glossy finishes: but the Epiphones still don’t have that American touch to them.

– Series: S Series
– Body Style: Les Paul in general shape, like an LP Melody maker or a thin LP Special. VERY Light! Very well balanced
– Back: Solid poplar
– Neck: One piece solid maple with satin nitro finish
– Neck profile: Slim taper (this is similar to the 60s neck shape on many SGs and Firebirds – but it feels narrower in some way. Each one I’ve played is typical Gibson: hand-hewn and a little different from guitar to guitar.
– Fingerboard: One piece solid rosewood – this is a nice feature for this price point
– Scale length: 24.75 – just as most Gibsons are…
– Number of frets: 22
– Nut: Tektoid – mine are nicely cut and required no work. Nice job on this one Gibson!
– Inlay: Acrylic dots
– Bridge: Adjustable wraparound – this guitar’s cost has a savings by not including the stop tail and its studs.
– Knobs: Black top hats – these are the traditional “student” Gibson knobs. They’re slippery to me, so I usually replace them with knurls or speed knobs.
– Tuners: Mini-buttons – these are a surprise hit! These are a cost savings over Grovers – and the ratio is actually really nice!
– Plating: Chrome
– Neck pickup: Gibson Pro Bucker Rhythm
– Bridge pickup: Gibson Pro Bucker Lead
– Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone, 1 toggle switch (the toggle is the traditional 3-way: neck-neck and bridge-bridge)
– Case: S Series padded gig bag
I know that the M2 isn’t available outside Amazon, but there are other affordable Gibson S Series electric guitars out there at my favorite online retailer: zZounds.com.

Several nice features to point out:
* The paint finish is lacquer, and has a nice smooth feel to it. It’s a bit more satin than the Firebird Zero lacquer, and you can see and feel lots of Poplar grain with your eyes and fingers. It’s interesting: you can see the beautiful waves of Poplar grain on the top and the back of my M2. It’s attractive, actually. The guitar feels right at home when I play it.
* The neck is a nice semi-satin. It doesn’t grab at the player’s skin when palms get sweaty: and it still feels much smoother than most maple necks on inexpensive guitars.
* The electronics are loosely based on the Gibson Quick Connect system. The pickups can be easily switched with others that have the five-pin Quick Connect fitting. A VERY easy upgrade if you ever want BurstBuckers, maybe some 57s, or something screamin’ like some Gibson Dirty Fingers humbuckers or a Gibson 500T Super Ceramic!
* All the non-pickup electronics are attached to the pickguard: to work on them, you don’t even have to pull the strings. The pickguard is completely unfettered when the guitar is strung.
* The controls are simple: one volume, one tone, and a three-way. The jack is front-panel, easy-to-use and will accept an L-connector guitar cable.
* The tuners! WOW. I’m still blown away. Just as nice as the Firebird Zero, just 3+3 instead of inline. My first thought when I saw the pictures was “I’ll find some Klusons or Grovers and replace those: they look maybe too cheap.” I WAS WRONG. They’re high-ratio (maybe 18:1 or 19:1?), very smooth, and work really very well!
* The M2 has a new take on a Melody-Maker-like headstock: it’s thin, without the added wood to give the wide sweeping book-top headstock, but it still looks like Gibson.
* I’ll say it again: it comes with a simply nice gig bag. You rarely get a gig bag with entry-level instruments below $500.

If you’re thinking about hard shell cases, it fits great in a traditional Gibson or Epiphone Les Paul hard case. it fits in my Gibson LP cases, my Epiphone LP case, my SKB LP case, and even some old-fashioned cheap rectangular cases.

This Epiphone case fits the M2 just fine. The M2 is thin, so it isn’t quite as “clamped down” as it would be with a thicker LP shape…

Playability
This guitar is nicely balanced. it is thin and light – so much so that when you put it on a strap, it is almost non-fatiguing when you stand and play for hours. If you are a young player with small hands and a petite body, this guitar feels right at home and won’t make you topple over like a traditional weight LP Standard or Traditional. It’s perfect for comfy jamming.

Similar to the Gibson Firebird Zero, I like the finish. It feels good when you’re playing the guitar. The M2 is more satin than the Zero, but it is FAR better than the flat-black guitars that proliferate in the entry-level guitar market. With most non-gloss guitars, fingerprints and funky patches crop up on the first day you play them. With the M2, it looks like the finish has just enough natural gloss to wear in nicely and make a breathable instrument in its old age.

Gibsons Galore Gather Gleefully and Graciously with Goodness at my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Sound
To reiterate what I said in my Gibson Firebird Zero review (opens a new window), I’ve played (literally) thousands of 2-humbucker electric guitars in my 5+ decade life. Some were $100 new, some were $7000 new. Lots in between. The sound of an electric guitar is partly subjective and partly objective. “How you play it and through what device(s) you play it really change things.”

I think this next part of the Firebird Zero review works just fine for the M2, too, so here’s a short excerpt paste:

For me, the best two measures are: Absolutely clean straight circuit with no effects and no pushing the pre-amp; and a good tube pre-amp running just hard enough to make the sound just a touch growly or fat-jazzy to really feel the body of the sound. Of course, other types of play are important, such as rock, jazz, metal, new age, pedals and such, but the first two of these are the most telling of all.

A good pickup is what you need it to be. Need that SRV sound? Scooped pickup EQ and overdrive is the best way to see if you like the pickups. Need that Tony Iommi sound? Good balance with very clean highs and crushing miss with balanced lows… Need that Dwayne Allman or Derek Trucks sound? Good balance on the three main EQs with emphasis on tight highs and very tight lows…

Me? I like a balanced pickup with all three main EQs about equal. I want the pickup to clean up for jazzy or mellow passages, and I want it to have crystal clarity when I overdrive it or run it through several effects pedals. I also want the bass sounds to be very present and clean: no mud. Miss? I like them to be present in the harmonics and not scooped out or enhanced.

These pickups are different than the Firebird Zero pickups in their makeup, their thickness (sound), and their EQ. They’re a bit drier, have a bit more honk in the bridge, and reflect the thin small body and the maple neck pretty accurately. They are just that, accurate. They’re not overwhelming, they’re not bad, just accurate. These aren’t high-output metal pickups that will pop to top off your Mesa, but they drive a nice tube amp in a very respectable way.

However: Compared to pretty much every bargain pickup on the market in sub-$500 guitars, these are awesome. They sound much cleaner and more refined than the average super-cheap double-black humbucker out there in the entry-level guitar market.They do clean up pretty well and can do good old heavy metal just fine. If you want to chug-a-lug some grinding country or throw down on some hard rock, they do a decent job. They’re head and shoulders above almost everything in their price/type class. I like them much better than the low-quality humbucker pups in pretty much every intro-level HH guitar I’ve owned or played. That said, remember: these are entry-level pickups.

Besides, they are fun and easy to replace if want to get a black one and Get Your Tony Iommi going with some Gibson signature pickups or some Seymour Distortions (OK, or your DiMarzio Super 2s, EMGs, etc). Actually, plugging in a Gibson 500T Super Ceramic in the bridge gives a face-blowing metal sound. NICE!

Fit and Finish
Just like my Gibson Firebird Zero, my wild and crazy-looking Citron Green M2 came well-painted and nicely strung. In the case of my M2, however, the Green Bean Machine Christmas M2 was much better in its setup and playability right out of the box. Interestingly, it comes in the same really nice shipping box as a top-level high-end Les Paul like a Standard, Custom, or Traditional. I liked the new plastic fret protector that’s inserted between the frets and the strings for shipment – it’s a great and inexpensive way to prevent shipping crushes causing string indents. It’s nice enough to keep and put back every time you put your guitar in the gig bag or case.

My lovely from-my-super-awesome-wife gift M2 came MUCH better intonated than my Firebird Zero. it was either a good match from the parts bin, or the set up tech really spent time adjusting things. I only had to move the three plain-string saddles (kind of typical to find intonation issues on a low-end guitar. It did well for a wrap-around bridge guitar when it was properly intonated using one of my Peterson strobe tuners).

Last request on this review. I pay for my site myself, write all the materials, and take most of the pictures myself. It really helps if you visit zZounds with this link and buy your gear. I don’t get credit for anything when other pages see my cookie and offer a cookie of their own. Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Wishes and Wants
I do wish that other vendors offered versions of the M2, or maybe even just colors. I like Amazon, truly: and I do like the idea of competition and multiple sourcing.

The New Gibson Firebird Zero S-Series Bargain Powerhouse Guitar Review

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The Gibson Firebird Zero S-Series: USA Goodness for an Import Price!
Perfect for Beginners, Seasoned Pros, and all the rest of us, too!
Perfect for us modders!

I like having different guitars to use for sound, playability, recording intonation, and even guitars that are expressly so I can experiment with different wiring, nut, string, bridge, and pickup combinations. My 2006 Fender American Deluxe Tele and my 2010 Gibson Les Paul Traditional are just like the day they were made: awesome, albeit with some wear now that it is years later. My 2012 Gibson Les Paul Special (Humbucker model) has been many things: it is currently factory control cavity with Seymour Duncan P-Rails mounted on Seymour Duncan Triple-Shot Miracle Trim Rings – and will be something else some day… I have Strats and Les Pauls and a few neck-through Asian guitars that are all subject to my latest sonic journeys…

I affectionately call them Mules. Somewhere in the sea of guitar cases in my life are Ash, Mahogany, Maple, Alder, and even Basswood Mules. The Force is Strong with this herd. Each of the 6 (most recent so far) albums I’ve released has a Mule or two on at least half the tracks.

What does this have to do with the awesome Gibson Firebird Zero? LOTS. It’s the perfect beginner’s humbucker guitar, the perfect quick-gig guitar, and a modder’s dream!

gibsonfirebirdzerobodyfrontshot2jimpearson

Buy one before they are gone. Go ahead.

I’ll wait while you get one or two, then come back here and read the rest.

I’l wait 🙂 Click here please, buy one, and help me keep this site up and running! Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Quick Opinion:
The Gibson Firebird Zero is a set-neck design for added sustain and that “feels good” sound when you play it. The finish is a gloss type of finish: it’s not as slick and hard as the finish on a Gibson Les Paul Standard – but it is definitely a long way from satin. The tuners are surprisingly good. The pickups are far nicer than any of the base model humbuckers that come with pretty much every low-priced entry-level guitar on the market. It comes with a Gig Bag(!!) that fits it nicely and does a good job of protecting the instrument. And so much more! I’ll leave the rest of the details to the review below.

In short, the Gibson Firebird Zero is a jewel, an excellent guitar, a fun design, and priced at a point where nearly any guitarist can reach out into the galaxy of set-neck USA-made guitars!

Seriously, They come in a huge array of colors. Buy one.

gibsonfirebirdzerofrontlongshot1jimpearson

Features:
The new Gibson Firebird Zero electric guitar is huge on features, is made in America, and is the absolute pinnacle of well-made entry-level guitars. You would be hard-pressed to find a nicer and better-playing guitar in this price range with a gig bag, much less one made in the USA.
– Series: S Series
– Body Style: Firebird Zero – a new take on the non-reverse Firebird! Smaller in body than the traditional Firebird, and much lighter, too!
– Back: Solid poplar
– Neck: One-piece solid maple with satin nitro finish
– Neck profile: Slim taper (this is similar to the 60s neck shape on many SGs and Firebirds – but it feels narrower in some way. Each one I’ve played is typical Gibson: hand-hewn and a little different from guitar to guitar.
– Neck width: 1.695″ (Just a tiny bit more than the traditional Gibson 1 11/16” width…)
– Heel: Short heel design – the scoops into the neck pocket are shallower, and the typical Gibson glue-in set-neck bump is there. Very comfortable
– Fingerboard: One-piece solid rosewood – this is a nice feature for this price point
– Scale length: 24.75 – just as most Gibsons are…
– Number of frets: 22
– Nut: Tektoid – mine are nicely cut and required no work. Nice job on this one Gibson!
– Inlay: Acrylic dots
– Bridge: Adjustable wraparound – this guitar’s cost has a savings by not including the stop tail and its studs.
– Knobs: Black top hats – these are the traditional “student” Gibson knobs. They’re slippery to me, so I usually replace them with knurls or speed knobs.
– Tuners: Mini-buttons – these are a surprise hit! These are a cost savings over Grovers – and the ratio is actually really nice!
– Plating: Chrome
– Neck pickup: Made in USA double slugs DS-C Rhythm
– Bridge pickup: Made in USA double slugs DS-C Lead
– Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone, 1 toggle switch (the toggle is the traditional 3-way: neck-neck and bridge-bridge)
– Case: S Series padded gig bag

gibsonfirebirdzeroheadstockfrontshot1jimpearson
Read more details about the awesome Gibson Firebird Zero in the new S-Series Gibson Line Click here please, buy one, and help me keep this site up and running! Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

A couple of nice features to point out:
* The paint finish is lacquer, and has a nice smooth feel to it. It shines about halfway between satin and full-on shiny: it feels great and looks really nice. Mine is faded Pelham blue, and it glistens from a distance.
* The neck is a nice semi-satin. It doesn’t grab at the player’s skin when palms get sweaty: and it still feels much smoother than most maple necks on inexpensive guitars.
* The electronics are loosely based on the Gibson Quick Connect system. The pickups can be easily switched with others that have the five-pin Quick Connect fitting. A VERY easy upgrade if you ever want BurstBuckers, maybe some 57s, or something screamin’ like some Gibson Dirty Fingers humbuckers!
* All the non-pickup electronics are attached to the pickguard: to work with them, you don’t even have to pull the strings. The pickguard is completely unfettered when the guitar is strung.
* The controls are simple: one volume, one tone, and a three-way. The jack is front-panel, easy-to-use and will accept an L-connector guitar cable.
* The tuners! WOW. My first thought when I saw the pictures was “I’ll find some Klusons or Grovers and replace those: they look maybe too cheap.” I WAS WRONG. They’re high-ratio (maybe 18:1 or 19:1?), very smooth, and work really very well!
* It has a new unusual headstock shape. It’s like a Bat-Wing Epiphone shape merged with an Explorer shape, and a non-reverse Firebird shape… all together. I like it.
* I’ll say it again: it comes with a VERY nice gig bag.

gibsonfirebirdzerocontrolsdetailshot1jimpearson

If you’re thinking about hard shell cases (I did), it needs a wide-body electric guitar case that fits things like Jags, Jazzmasters, PRS S2 Velas, or similar. It doesn’t fit in a Gibson Reverse Firebird case or Non-reverse Firebird case (the form-fitting ones): the body shape isn’t the same.

This case looks to be about right. Honestly, I would ask the sales rep before I bought the case… There’s always a chance that the case dimensions change from year to year. I bought a generic one with almost the same dimensions… Click here please, buy one, and help me keep this site up and running! Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

Playability
The Gibson Firebird Zero is a breeze to play! When someone who’s never held a guitar asks me, “What’s a great first guitar?” I almost always answer, “Buy a Telecaster that’s in your price range. They’re simple, light(ish), and the play action on the strings are EASY.”. Now? I recommend the new player to buy a Gibson Firebird Zero if their budget permits! It’s not just a simple beginner’s guitar. It is a USA-Made guitar that can suit almost any Gibson-style playing need.

gibsonfirebirdzerobodyfrontshot2jimpearson

It’s light on the shoulder, it balances pretty well for a non-reverse “z” shape, the neck is effortless, and the controls are a breeze. The fit and finish on mine are just perfect for a $499-ish guitar. It tunes very easily, and needs very little re-tuning after you get things cranked up a time or two when it’s new. This is really a great guitar for the money.

gibsonfirebirdzerobacklongshot1jimpearson

I like the middle-gloss finish. I like it better than the recent Gibson “Vintage Gloss,” as it is smoother and shinier without being too expensive to make. It feels good when you’re playing the guitar. Honestly, for me, it is really important to have four pleasing factors with an instrument:
1) Sound
2) Feel of the instrument and its parts where contact is made with my body and hands
3) (Believe it or not) Aroma/scent
4) Looks – for example: I really am tired of flat black guitars and I can’t seem to get enough of wood-colored guitars 🙂

I love the picking-arm sloping surface shape. It reminds me mildly of the Fender arm-fits – just not quite as big.

They’ve just released a whole bunch of new colors for zZounds with the Gibson Firebird Zero! Click here please, buy one, and help me keep this site up and running! Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

gibsonfirebirdzerobodybackshot1jimpearson

Sound
I’ve played (literally) thousands of 2-humbucker electric guitars in my 5+ decade life. Some were $100 new, some were $7000 new. Lots in between. The sound of an electric guitar is partly subjective and partly objective. “How you play it and through what device(s) you play it really change things.”

For me, the best two measures are: Absolutely clean straight circuit with no effects and no pushing the pre-amp; and a good tube pre-amp running just hard enough to make the sound just a touch growly or fat-jazzy to really feel the body of the sound. Of course, other types of play are important, such as rock, jazz, metal, new age, pedals and such, but the first two of these are the most telling of all.

A good pickup is what you need it to be. Need that SRV sound? Scooped pickup EQ and overdrive is the best way to see if you like the pickups. Need that Tony Iommi sound? Good balance with very clean highs and crushing miss with balanced lows… Need that Dwayne Allman or Derek Trucks sound? Good balance on the three main EQs with emphasis on tight highs and very tight lows…

gibsonfirebirdzeropickupbridgedetailshot1jimpearson

Me? I like a balanced pickup with all three main EQs about equal. I want the pickup to clean up for jazzy or mellow passages, and I want it to have crystal clarity when I overdrive it or run it through several effects pedals. I also want the bass sounds to be very present and clean: no mud. Miss? I like them to be present in the harmonics and not scooped out or enhanced.

So, what about the new Gibson DS-C double-slugs in the Gibson Firebird Zero? Compared to really nice Gibson 57s or even Gibson Burstbucker Pro (Alnico V) pups, it’s not quite there. If you overdrive the sound, some clarity is lost… Picking lots of notes or even fanning a chord loses definition of the different frequencies when the pups are overdriven or distorted.

However: Compared to pretty much every bargain pickup on the market in sub-$500 guitars, these are awesome. They do clean up pretty well and can do good old heavy metal just fine. If you want to chug-a-lug some grinding country or throw down on some hard rock, they do a decent job. They’re head and shoulders above almost everything in their price/type class. I like them much better than the low-quality humbucker pups in pretty much every intro-level HH guitar I’ve owned or played.

gibsonfirebirdzeropickupbridgedetailshot2jimpearson

Besides, they are fun and easy to replace if you just want to get your Nickelback to clean up and sound sonorous :-).

Fit and Finish
My Gibson Firebird Zero came well-painted, nicely strung, and almost ready to go. I liked the new plastic fret protector that’s inserted between the frets and the strings for shipment – it’s a great and inexpensive way to prevent shipping crushes causing string indents. It’s nice enough to keep and put back every time you put your guitar in the gig bag or case.

My only issue with the way my Gibson Firebird Zero was shipped to me was that its wrap-around bridge wasn’t intonated. I”m not being picky. Most strings were more than 25 cents off, except for the lowest two strings. I had to use the pole-distance adjusters to push the bridge out as far as it would go before the saddle adjustments began to make a difference. For me, this was no big deal. For a beginner, this is a hard concept with which to deal. To be fair, though, almost every entry-level guitar I’ve played from Asia was as bad or worse, often with the fretboard too short – this Zero’s nut is a perfect distance.

gibsonfirebirdzerobodyfrontcarveshot1jimpearson

My favorite part of the Gibson Firebird Zero is the awesome body shape. Click here please, buy one, and help me keep this site up and running! Visit my awesome Sponsor, zZounds.com.

 

Wishes and Wants
Actually, I think there’s little to want or wish! This guitar is OUTSTANDING for the price point and made in America.

Perhaps the bridge should be adjusted better. It would feel better if the Firebird Zero had a belly/tummy cut on the back top of the body.

gibsonfirebirdzeroheadstockbackjimpearson

New review coming soon: Gibson Explorer Limited Reissue 2016

TheGuitarReview.com 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!

I’ve just received my newest purchase, a 2016 natural color Gibson Explorer, Limited release by one seller as an exclusive (thus far).

A new in-depth review is coming. For now, you can see my quick-and-dirty comment on the seller’s site (my purchase was verified by the seller).

My quick review at AmericanMusical.com

Cheers! See you soon!

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

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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 studio 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.
VividPeaceGibsonESLesPaulHeadstockFront
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.
VividPeaceGibsonESLesPaulHeadstockBack Please visit my sponsor and buy something from them after clicking one of my links! Those click-throughs don’t count for me when some big internet site out there has zZounds ads and you click on theirs! It helps feed my gear, my music, and makes this free site run!

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…
VividPeaceGibsonESLesPaulFrontFull
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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…
VividPeaceGibsonESLesPaulFrontAngle

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 from 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 modeller.

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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 individual 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
Resistance:    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