Epiphone Les Paul Classic Quilt-Top Review – the beginning of six years of playing an awesome Les Paul!

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Originally posted May 8, 2006… I had this guitar until last month… sold it to a beginner who needed a good first Les Paul. I’ll miss it. Very much.


Epiphone Les Paul Classic Quilt Top Review

Over the years, there have been many guitars I have played and loved. One guitar, however, has been consistently my favorite to play – the Les Paul. I love Firebirds, Stratocasters, Telecasters, SGs, Ibanezs, PRSs and lists of others. But, time after time, I always come back to a Les Paul. The way they play, sound, feel, and look just says something to my soul. I know that Les Pauls aren’t for everyone – no problem. They’re just wonderful to me.

Quick Opinion: The Epiphone version of the Les Paul Classic Quilt Top is a well-done rendition, with great features and decent sound. The guitar does not approach its Gibson cousin, but is definitely worth its price and then some.

The Epiphone Les Paul Classic is not currently in production, but you can find out more about Epiphone Les Paul guitars and get Free Shipping at zZounds.com

Playability: In the world of Les Pauls, there are two main camps. Those that like thick necks and those that like more modern C-shaped necks. The Epiphone Les Paul’s neck is much more comperable to a modern Tele or Strat than a 50s Les Paul. The neck is slightly less beefy than the 60s-neck Gibson Les Pauls, and significantly less beefy than the 50s-neck Gibson Les Pauls. If you’re a modern Fender fan, the Epihpone will probably feel much more at home than the Gibson necks. If you’re used to Ibanez electrics or modern ESP/LTDs, for example, you’ll find the Epiphone very similar.

The neck plays like greased lightening, and is very comfortable from a grip point of view. The string spacing is excellent for most hands, and the string height is actually superb – right out of the box. In general, Les Pauls have a short-ish scale length (means, the length of the string is a little less than the average guitar). The shorter scale makes thicker strings a little more comfortable to play, and makes reasonable string-bending possible with 10s or 11s.

The balance of neck and body is good, and the fretboard is comfortable and smooth. Some may find the weight of Les Pauls (in general) a bit much to lug for hours at a time, but I think it is a reasonable trade-off for the MILES of sustain and depth of the guitar’s sound.

Features The Epiphone Les Paul Classic Quilt top is very high in the features list arena. Were this a Gibson, the features of this guitar would be between a Les Paul Studio and a Les Paul Standard. The single-ply cream-colored binding is applied to the top edges and the fretboard. The back is pretty much a natural mahogany color, and the entire guitar is gloss finish (including the back of the neck). The quality of the smoothness of the finish is very good, although my particular guitar has a few blemishes underneath the top coat on the back (almost like a filler was applied to the wood, then finished over without coloring the filler).

The Classic Quilt Top is actually a beautiful instrument, with mahogany body and quilted maple carved cap/top. The fretboard is a comfortable and nice quality rosewood, and the headstock overlay is fairly well done. The stop-bar tailpiece is standard Gibson stuff, as is the Tune-o-matic bridge. The guitar sports two tone knobs and two volume knobs, with one of each for each of the two pickups. My Classic came with superb, chrome full-sized Grover tuners. Epiphone appears to have made the switch from the jade-keystone-two-screw vintage tuners not long before my instrument was made – all the catalogs and internet sites still showed the guitar with the vintage tuners and not Grovers. (As an aside, I found some new Gibson-authorized Grover chrome tuners that have the keystone/tulip shape for the tuner buttons – and they were a direct replacement for the factory Grovers. I just like the keystone shape of the tuners better than the butterbean shape.)

Overall, the Epi Classic is complete with features that compare favorably with other, nicer Les Pauls.

Sound: Sustain, sustain, clarity, clarity, and clarity. When you look up sustain in the dictionary, there’s a picture of my Les Paul. Nuff said.

The pickups are a little on the low-output side (although still better than the Classic’s less expensive siblings). When compared to Burstbuckers or Classic Gibson pickups, the edge, bite, and growl are significantly more tame with the Epi’s pickups. But to put them in real perspective, they are more versatile, warmer, and more creamy than any other humbucker I’ve played in guitars in the same price range. Pickups are almost a matter of preference – when concerning their overall sound. Some like the visceral sound of EMGs, some like the mellow twangy-beefy of Fenders, and others like the true-blue broad-spectrum sound of Burstbuckers. The pickups in the Epi are most comperable to the Gibson humbuckers, but with less output and less tonal range. I realize I ramble on this part of the subject, but I think most will agree that you will always want more pickup sound (unless you’ve bought a top-of-the-line Gibson/Fender/Etc.).

The sound of this particular Epi Les Paul is good for rock (almost all types), good and gutsy blues, electronica, and some forms of traditional metal.

Value: This is a $550 guitar in value (not ‘retail’, ‘street’). This guitar is significantly nicer than the lower-end Epi Les Pauls, and is an excellent value for the money, the sustain, and the features.

Wishes: I love my Les Paul. Even when my budget will allow me to buy the Gibson Les Paul Standard of many a dream, my Epi will still get lots of play time and recording time.

However – The finish flaws on the back side could have been avoided. Also, as seems typical of many Chinese Epis, my guitar’s lead wire solders were not very good. I had to re-solder most of the wiring into the pots before I could get the guitar to behave correctly (as was true of at least 6 other classics at my favorite guitar stores).

I do wish the pickups were covered with nickel covers. I do think the sound might change a bit with nickel covers – but to me, after looking at Les Pauls for so many years, nickel-covered pickups were traditional. Perhaps this model could be offered with more than one type of pickup system.

The Epiphone EB3 Bass Guitar Long-term Experienced Review – Still rockin’!

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Epiphone by Gibson EB-3 “SG” Bass Hands-on in-depth review

I like to have different sounds in my daily guitar/bass playing. I also like to hear different sounds in my myriad recordings… I find it inspiring to have different instruments from time to time as I grow as a musician and an artist.

I could enjoy having one super-killer bass and one of each kind of guitar, but… I’m totally psyched when I pick up something different almost every day.

My basses are no exception. I really like picking up something different and recording what comes to heart – fretless, fretted, long-scale, short-scale, beautiful, bizarre, humbucker, single – you name it… If it is a bass that plays, I generally enjoy it.

With that said, I sometimes have a strong hankering for a particular feel or sound. To wit: there’s nothing like the feel of an EB bass (be it EB3, EB0, or other!).

The EB3 looks like a really long EB3 with a couple of funky humbucking pickups and giant clover tuners. It has a super-slim neck that sits in the edge of its o-so-familiar body. These are a gas to play. And my Epiphone EB3 fits the bill and then some! Great bass!

I play D’Addario Chrome flatwounds on my EB3 and enjoy the thrill of the old 60s-70s bass sounds and can still get that flatwound “mwah” if I play the strings just right. Love it. I do enjoy roundwounds on these, but I’ve got a Thunderbird for the smashing growl sounds when I need them.

Quick Opinion: The Epiphone EB3 is a modern implementation of a decades-old design that stands the test of time. It’s easy to play, relatively light, sounds great, and is really inexpensive. It even looks really cool.

The Epi EB3 is an unsung hero for bass players, and is a real treat even for beginners and pros alike. In most cases, other bass and guitar players have smiled when they pick up my EB3 (cherry gloss). I keep it well-adjusted and clean, ready to play… It often gets a coveted spot on one of my Hercules auto-grab guitar stands in one of my recording spots in our house.

Read more details about the Epiphone EB-3 electric bass here at zZounds.com. They’re awesome folks.

Playability: The Epiphone EB3 is a pleasure to play. I could end this part of the review with that one sentence… but it would be nice to talk a little more about why…

I haven’t played too many basses that aren’t neck heavy or don’t neck dive a little. Bass players the world over like to argue about “your bass neck dives and mine doesn’t.” Truth be told, almost all of them do. With that said, the neck and headstock on the EB3 is light enough that it actually is one of the more playable models. If you add a strap button to the tip of the upper horn and hang your strap from that, it gets VERY comfortable (don’t alter your guitar based on my advice… YMMV, I’m not responsible for errors you make to your instrument, etc. Please.). I am used to the way my EB3 hangs and plays, so I find it to be just right…

The neck is thin in width, more so than a Fender Jazz. But it is also thick-ish so it is easier to get a good grip. If you have small hands, this might be a good bass for you (as opposed to something like a metal bass or a P Bass – another alternative is the short-scale EB0). I have huge paws, so in my case, the neck is a delight – kind of like a big long Tele neck in most ways. The profile feels like a “D” to me.

Thanks to the shallow set-in of the neck and the double cutaway, I can reach any fret on all four strings. It’s easy to play the high notes, and the low notes are all just a stretch away… With the strap button in its factory position (the back of the bass at the neck/body joint), the body seems to push forward a bit on my strap, but it’s really nothing different than any of my SG-shaped instruments… This is largely true whether you’re playing an EB3 or a Viper or a Samick “SG bass.”

My EB3 is nicely finished, so it feels great in my hands – I really like the smooth finish and the “new” feel it has kept. If you like a satin finish (particularly on the neck), Epiphone (as of this writing) offers a “faded” satin version of the EB3 for the same price…

Epiphone EB3 Cherry Bass Jim Pearson

Sound: Here’s one of the many places the EB3 shines: It sounds great. It has a quiet humbucking nature with a mixture of strong thumpin’ and mild warm funky vintage sounds. It has a pair of very different pickups, with the bridge pickup being a tiny mini humbucker and the neck pickup being a giant heavy big-box humbucker. These sound resoundingly different than Thunderbird pickups, Fender singles, Stingray big-slug humbuckers, or Rickenbacker pickups… These are in a class of their own.

You get a nice mixture of that old warm thumpy sound you get from upright basses and that jeans-ruffling blowback THUMP of a humbucker-bred P Bass. Nice. The three-way dial pickup selector lets you choose between the two or a blend of both… It works like it should and it doesn’t disappoint.

I am a person who likes to upgrade or fiddle with his less-expensive instruments – generally to make them sound better. To tell you how I feel about the sound, I’ve left my EB3 alone, even though I’m a tech and could pop some real Gibson or DiMarzio replacement pickups in it. I like it just like it is.

The first time I plugged it in to my combo amp, I was pleasantly greeted with a sound I’ve been hearing for decades. Wonderful. Once I fed it through my tube preamp into my computer-guitar interface, I was blown away! The benefits of a 12ZX7 and a little dialing are huge! It does sound fine on its own, but with a little help it rivals my Gibson experiences.

Quality: My Epiphone EB3 bass is flawless. I have one of the older ones, and have played many of the recent makes as well. Every single one I’ve played or owned (I’ve owned two and played many more) has been pretty much perfect. The neck is solid, the body is good, and the hardware and electronics are above par.

I do wish Epiphone would stop making so many of their guitar bodies from a zillion pieces of wood and veneering the body with thin sheets… My particular bass isn’t too bad, but it still has that funky composite body. I guess that the price of the guitar is reflective of how it is made… Don’t get me wrong: the sound and heft of the bass guitar is great. It just isn’t a nice slab of mahogany.

The hardware is, in particular, top notch. The bridge works great, came almost intonated, and is nicely adjustable. The nut, tuners, plastics, and metals all are as good as most $500+ guitars. The electronics are fine, with the usual chicklet tone cap and the typical Asian pots and switch. For the most part, the guitar is reliable and is wired as good as or better than the vintage classic Asian guitars. The pickups are excellent and very consistent from individual instrument to individual instrument.

Value: This guitar is easily worth $399 or more street. I think they are under-priced in general. They are an excellent bargain at the current street retail ($299 as of this writing). You can plug it in and play it on day one without spending another nickel on it for a long time. This instrument delivers on value and bang-for-the-buck.

I have had two and will probably buy a third…

Features: The neck is a real feature on this instrument. It is a pleasure to play, and is actually a real selling point for this bass. I love my Jazz, Thunderbird, Precision, ESP Surveyor 404… but this guitar is a treat to own and play.

I like the rotary pickup switch. I don’t often have to do a blinding-fast pickup switch flip, so the rotary works fine for me. It is like it should be, and the chicken-head knob is easy to grab when you’re gigging…

The guitar’s tuners stay in tune very well, the hardware stays adjusted just fine, and the guitar has just what it needs.

Wishes: I don’t really have any wishes for this guitar. I like it pretty much just like it is.

If I were to be able to make minor adjustments to the guitar, I’d say that the body could be made of better wood construction and that the bridge pickup could be wound a little tiny bit hotter.

That’s it for now. Rock on. Buy one if you want a nice bass! It’s a plus that it is inexpensive, too!

Epihpone (By Gibson) ES-339 Ultra Pro Guitar Review, hands-on, in-depth, from a real player’s point-of-view

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Epiphone ES-339 Ultra Hands-on in-depth, experienced review

Update: I’ve since been able to find a few examples at my local guitar acquisition establishments… new pictures on-site and a few updated notes in this review…

I enjoy playing an electric guitar that has a piezo bridge in addition to one or more “traditional” magnetic pickups. I do enjoy acoustics with piezos, but an electric that has a choice of blendable magnetics and piezo(s) has sound qualities that are unique and a pleasure to the ear.

My first electric guitar with combined piezo and mag pickups was a Parker p-36. I’ve had a few of these and liked them very much. Of late, though, I’ve wanted something different, particularly something with a set neck and a different sound.

Imagine my happiness when Epiphone (Gibson) introduced a new Ultra guitar. The ES-339 Ultra was emblazoned across my email box in a drooly Gibson newsletter. I was hooked. I was due for a Christmas present for myself and decided to take the leap. I sold my current Parker P-26, added the funds from wonderful gifts from family members, and ordered a Pelham blue ES-339 Ultra from my favorite online retailer (none are available in stores yet, as I write this, some months later). Pelham blue, shaped like a small ES, anticipated Epiphone fit-and-finish, Shadow NanoMag, new series pickups from Epiphone, and vintage-looking appointments. Check. It couldn’t get here fast enough.

After I got the first ES-339 Ultra (the blue one), things went downhill…

Quick Opinion: I REALLY wanted to love this guitar and keep it in my sound library for a long time. I just couldn’t do it. And I tried more than once.

I’ll be waiting for the next version, or for one to come to a local guitar store where I can play it and handle it to be sure it is not like those I purchased.

Epiphone ES339 Ultra Pelham Blue Jim Pearson

Epiphone ES339 Ultra Pelham Blue by Jim Pearson

You can see the specs and details on the new Epiphone Ultra ES-339 here at zZounds.com. They have a “love your guitar” guarantee – so you can buy an ES-339 Ultra and try one for yourself!

Playability: For the purposes of this review and concerning playability, I’ll leave out the quality problems I had with my Ultras for the moment.

I loved the neck profile and the light weight of the guitar. I like the small-ES shape and the way the guitar feels on the knee and on the strap. I love the thin-ness of the guitar. It’s a nice difference from my Sheraton II (which I do love…)

EpiphoneSheratonIIComparedES339UltraFrontJimPearson

The Epiphone Ultra 339 compared to an Epiphone Sheraton II by Jim Pearson

The controls are usual and easy, and the pickup-type-selector (piezo, piezo+mag, mag) switch works fine and very noiselessly. Overall, I love this guitar from the standpoint of how an ES plays.

Sound: I enjoyed the sound of both of my ES-339 Ultras. Both had creamy and smooth humbucker pickups that did a good job emulating Gibson BurstBucker Pro pickups – albeit with a little less punch. They are good for most forms of rock and jazz, with OK sound for country and prog. I don’t think they’re strong enough for Metal or Alt Country, but I’m not sure that the ES-339 was really intended to be a Metal machine.

The Shadow-brand NanoMag pickup is pretty competent. It compares fairly well with a Fishman piezo – on the whole. I think the Fishman is more “acoustic” sounding and has a better louder warmer pre-amp, but the NanoMag is still a thrill to hear, particularly amplified in stereo…

I really like the blended sound of the magnetic and piezo pickups on this guitar. The warmth and breadth of the ProBucker pickups combined with the NanoMag pickup gives the guitar a unique sound that is excellent for songwriting and performing a wide array of music. I found that if I plug the magnetic output into my Bugera 55-watt tube head played through my Bugera 2×12 – and the piezo output through my Mustang V Fender head through my son’s Crate 4×12, I get a delightful blend of sounds that had me experimenting with all kinds of tweaking and combinations. It was inspiring to me – it led to some new music composed in my garage.

I do think both the ProBuckers and the NanoMag could have some more output strength. Not crunch, mind you, just more oompfh. I ended up using a tube preamp on both channels to make the guitar really stand out. I like the blended output (in the right-hand jack – take a look at the labels on the jack plate) for many recording situations, and the combined output sounded fine for play through all of my different amplifiers.

I can dig the new magnetic pickups. It’s a nice evolution of pickups that were pretty good from the start. In addition, I found the ES-339 Ultra to be a fit companion in front of 100 watts of tube power out of a 4×12 – no feedback or howling. The way this guitar was made and designed negated feedback in my garage. My Sheraton and Artcores all get some level of feedback in the same garage with the same amps.

Quality: I’m going to try to make this part of the review short. This is where my ES-339 Ultras broke my heart. If you read through this whole review, you can get an idea of my general feelings of “near miss” for this instrument.

Update 3.29.2012… I’ve since found a few at my local guitar stores, natural, cherry, and black… The quality issues were largely not present in the on-floor guitars. The paint, finish, and detail problems were non-evident in the local examples. One thing remains, however: the string buzz is still evident on every one I played. Magnetism plus neck design plus nut detail plus neck execution? Not sure. They still buzz A LOT.

I bought a Pelham blue one and returned it. I received a natural finish one (All the blues were gone! There was a 6-month backlog on order for them…) and I returned it too. I had to give up and wait for (hopefully) Epiphone to release version 2.0 of this guitar. So sad and sorry, Epiphone. I like to write about what’s best in a guitar (no matter how cheap or expensive it is) – I just can’t do that with these.

Instead of writing many paragraphs about what was wrong with my ES-339 Ultras, I’ll just do a list – note that these were NOT nit-pick issues. These were dramatic and disappointing things that shouldn’t be present in a $100 guitar, much less an $800 guitar:
* The paint wasn’t cured on the Pelham blue one. The guitar smelled like fresh paint and the paint was sticky around the F-hole.
* All but the top of the body was covered in over-spray and paint errors on the natural finish guitar. The neck, the horns, the back, and the whole front of the neck felt like sandpaper.
* The NanoMag on the natural one was dramatically quieter than the NanoMag on the blue one.
* Both of the guitars had a funny cut to the fretboard compound. There was a huge difference between the bass side at the body joint and the treble side at the body joint. At first, I thought the neck was twisted, then I got the second guitar and discovered that they were the same. The bass side strings were very high at the 20th fret in comparison to the treble side.
* Both guitars buzzed horribly up and down the entire fretboard on all strings. Even if the neck was adjusted properly (which neither were from the factory), the buzz was really and truly distressing, no matter how lightly one picked on the strings. Even if the action were raised significantly, the bass side still buzzed.
* The nut on both guitars wasn’t cut very well. The strings were very much too close to the first fret wire.
* The guitar would not allow sufficient adjustment in the TOM bridge to set the intonation any closer than 10-13 cents on five of the six strings.
* The lack of a CD with Guitar Rig on it caused me to spend more than two hours hunting the internet for where I could download the software – and a little while longer to find out where the serial number is (It’s on the inside of the battery door, NOT the control cavity plate). This was really frustrating. The information I needed was NOT in any documentation that came with the guitar in the box.

Then, there were nit-pick things. I’ll not list them here.

Needless to say, I was truly unhappy about having to go through the hassle of boxing and returning a couple of guitars and having to wait from before Christmas until well into January only to find out that both guitars were nearly unplayable.

Value: I have mixed feelings as to the value of this guitar. On the one hand, it is feature-rich for an Epiphone ES guitar. It has more features and flexibilities than any other Epi (other than the LP Ultra). On the whole, the features-per-dollar ratio is pretty good. As I’ve said in the “wishes” section of this review, I think the USB port is overkill, considering you have to use Guitar Rig to take advantage of this port, and it adds significant cost to the guitar.

I think the guitar should “street” for about $599 as it is. $649 at the most. At the time of this review, the street cost of an ES-339 Ultra is $799 – MORE than a Gibson USA faded SG, a few bucks less than a Gibson Les Paul faded studio or a Gibson 60s tribute LP or SG. Although the gadgets and very desirable pickups are great features, I don’t think this guitar feels like an $800 guitar.

With the quality issues I found on my ES-339 Ultras, I must admit I might be a bit jaded, but truly, it seemed like a lot before I even ordered the first one.

This is one of the first/few Epiphones I’ve ever played that I thought was too expensive (the others being the Prophecy line). Most Epiphones are great bargains!

Features: What’s not to like about the features? The ES-339 Ultra has a lot going for it.
* Two different pickup types on the same guitar (my reason for the season)
* Smaller, lighter ES-shaped guitar
* Semi-hollow that doesn’t howl in front of a loud amplifier
* New issue Epiphone magnetic pickups that have excellent sound qualities
* The excellent Shadow NanoMag piezo pickup
* A nice thin D-shaped neck, something like a big Telecaster neck, very similar to my Sheraton II
* EASY pickup switching with a simple momentary on-on switch built into one of the potentiometers
* The electronics are in a control cavity! Yay! No more fishing in the F-holes to fix or change the electronics!
* Simple, old-fashioned, high-quality Gibson Deluxe tuners (not Epis, but Gibbys)
* Nice general appointments and finish choices (LOVE the Pelham blue! Can’t these stay on for the long term?)
* Built-in USB port and a serial number for an older version of Native Instruments Guitar Rig
* Kudos to Epiphone for including a special stereo-capable guitar cable, a truss rod tool, and a USB cable…

This guitar is packed with features that, if executed well, make it a very interesting and fun-to-play instrument. On a scale of 1-10 for features, this guitar gets a clear and strong 10.

Wishes: I do wish I had taken great pictures of my 339 Ultras before I returned them. Perhaps later when they come out with version 2.0?

Really, the USB is more of an expensive gimmick than a real feature. Honestly, the guitar could have been more than $100 cheaper (in my opinion) without the USB port and NativeInstruments license… and the player would have better experiences with using the guitar through a more competent USB computer input from a manufacturer that does the job much better. The entire process of finding, downloading, hassling, fussing, and setting up the Guitar Rig software and trying to use it with my recording and playback software was very frustrating and did not give me nearly as good a set of results than a Line 6, M-Audio, (etc) USB interface to my computer.EpiphoneES339UltraBodyBackJimPearson

The purchaser of the Ultra 339 should not have to start out with a version of Guitar Rig that is already eclipsed by its commercial cousin. The software should be on a CD in the guitar’s new box. The software should be EASY to find on Epiphone’s and NI’s sites. The Ultra-339’s quick start guide should have a clear picture as to where to find the guitar’s Guitar Rig license number.

My biggest wish for these are that Epiphone fixes the train wreck of unusually bad quality of these instruments. On another note, I think these would be great with the simple and inexpensive addition of coil-tapped magnetic pickups and tap pot. I like the whole idea of this guitar – I just wish they were keepers.

I have to say, I’ve never been a “fan boy” of any particular brand – I like pretty much any kind of gear, particularly guitars and basses… I will play an Epiphone just as enjoyably as I will a Gibson or Fender or Rickenbacker or… With that said, I wish I could sit with Epiphone engineers and QC management and have a hands-on session about the way the examples I played came out… It is going to hurt Epi until they get this guitar’s issues under control… While I was writing this review, ALL my favorite guitar online sites had “returned” ES-339 Ultra guitars for sale… lots of them. It makes me really sad.