The Gibson Limited Run 2011 Melody Maker Explorer – a sampling over the past year… Verdict? Keeper!

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The Limited Run Gibson Melody Maker Explorer Review – Three to play, two to own for first impressions

I am constantly on the prowl for interesting instruments to play, to record, to enjoy. It is in my inner fibers, I guess… I really like the balance and the chunk of Explorer- and Firebird-shaped guitars. I’ve played tons of them, in many brands, in many configurations, of many ages.

I don’t have a huge budget, so snagging $800+ guitars (used, $1400 new) on a several-times-a-year basis is not really feasible. Some of the Asian-made guitars are fun and nicely made, but they always leave me wanting… a cheap LTD ESP EX401 might play nicely, but it doesn’t make me want to pick it up and play it!

GibsonMelodyMakerExplorerWhiteFrontShotJimPearson

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer White Front Shot by Jim Pearson

Enter Gibson’s 2011 Limited Run guitars. Among these? A line of blue (yay! something other than cherry or walnut!), white, and black Melody Makers in new configurations! SG, Les Paul, Explorer, and even a Flying V! These things are low-cost, American-made, come with a NICE gig bag, and sound amazing!

Other than some market confusion on specs, these guitars are out-of-the-ballpark. I’ve owned a few and customized several for friends/customers. I’m really enchanted with the Explorer version of the Melody Maker. Here’s why…

GibsonMelodyMakerExplorerBlueBackShotJimPearson

Quick Opinion: The Gibson Melody Maker Limited Run Explorer is a bargain. They sound like the growly stuff you expect from a USA Gibson Explorer, are easy on the shoulder (and say it again, wallet). They’re bone-simple to own, play, and enjoy. And, if you’re a Dr. Frankenstein like me, you can easily make wonderful concoctions with these at a low price. I’m always hesitant to mod a Gibson Standard (anything), other than a knob or maybe a careful pickup change. I think Gibson gets them right nearly every time. Even when I buy used Gibsons, I appreciate the way they’re made and how they’re configured. But, I will be me, after all. Modding Fenders is a blast. Modding a Gibson is fun, too!

The Gibson Limited Run Melody Maker Explorer is a joy to play. They’re very affordable, and sound terrific. Hand made in the USA. What’s not to like? I love mine!

The Gibson Melody Maker Explorer (and V and SG and Les Paul) Limited Run guitars may not be available by the time you read this, but you can see more about Gibson Melody Maker guitars here at zZounds. I truly like their “love your guitar” guarantee.

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer White Beauty Shot Shadows Jim Pearson

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer White Beauty Shot Shadows by Jim Pearson

Playability: Playability is one of the places the Melody Maker Explorer really shines. Turn the volume knob up, jack in, and play. Sounds zzounds! The neck is a cool Melody Maker variant. It’s not an LP neck (any vintage), it’s not an SG neck (any vintage), it’s not a Fender-y neck for the most part. What is it like? It’s a “C” shape for sure on the ones I’ve kept (they’re not all the same, I assure you). The neck is medium in every way. It’s a beginner’s guitar by its description – entry-level for folks who have a variety of capabilities, hand sizes, and such. It is narrower than my Firebird or my Les Paul Standard in most ways. It is thinner than my SG Special or my Firebird.

Gibson Explorer Melody Maker Size Comparison Jim Pearson

Gibson Explorer Melody Maker Size Comparison by Jim Pearson

Similarly, it is somewhat reminiscent of a 60’s Les Paul neck, just smaller in two of the dimensions. It’s kind of like a wide, thinner Telecaster neck. It doesn’t feel like a broom handle or baseball bat. It’s nothing like a Gibson ES neck… As I said, the neck is a “Melody Maker” neck. Something like the 2007 Melody Maker reissue (one single coil in a narrow-bobbin format) I used to have.

My MM Explorers are a joy to play. They’re lighter than their larger standard Gibson Explorer cousins – and about 1/5 smaller in most ways, too. They’re VERY easy on the shoulder and can be played for a long time. They’re easy on a strap, and mostly easy when you are sitting down. Here’s another difference between the MM Explorer and the “standard” Explorer: The MM likes to slide a bit on my knee and need occasional fidgeting to adjust it as I play it. Not really a big deal – but it happens… I do like the smaller top half of the body: my picking hand is all over the play area with NOTHING in the way. The fretting hand has access to everything. It’s like the body just isn’t in the way. I LOVE it. In general, I like Firebirds and Explorers – and one of the reasons is the small amount of body wood over the connection to the neck. And… the MM Explorer has less wood than the big cousins do.

GibsonMelodyMakerExplorerBlueBodyShotJimPearson

Here’s something that’s squirrelly about my Limited Run Melody Maker Explorers: even with a set of .010-.046 set of nickel or nickel-plate strings, the Explorer actually get’s tuning-crazy when I grip the neck/fretboard/strings with my hand with any strength. This guitar likes thicker strings! It’s a regular Gibby 24 3/4-scale neck with a 1 11/16 nut, but it just doesn’t feel substantial enough to handle a tight grip. By contrast, my (same year, similar construction) Limited Run Melody Maker SG in white does not play the same way. Seriously. I’m experimenting with Ernie Ball STHB (Skinny Top Heavy Bottom) strings… I’m TRYING to find some more Carlos Santana GHS Strings at .0105 for the high E, but have had no luck. I think they’re a perfect match for my MM Explorers. From the factory? The factory strings are bulk .010s and feel a little squeamish. We’ll see. If I have the time again someday, I’ll write a long-term review and talk about it some more.

For a beginner, these guitars play VERY easily. My students love them when they’re starting out.

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer Blue Bridge And Pickup Detail Jim Pearson

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer Blue Bridge And Pickup Detail by Jim Pearson

Sound: There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like the Gibson LP Studio Baritone, the “sound” portion of this review deserves a little more depth than usual. I’ll explain as I have done in other reviews of recent vintage:

1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) USA Made and Simple

Pickups and Electronics: These are the simplest Gibsons I’ve ever played. One simple potentiometer (pot) for volume, a little braided vintage-style push-back wire from the pot to the jack and another from the pot to the pickup. No capacitors, switches, or three miles of wire to interfere. Just. Plain. Simple. It pays off in droves on these guitars. Almost like taking the sound directly from the guitar into the amp in a “mainline.” The parts are good quality Gibson-usual stuff.

Here’s a point of some contention on the internets and interwebs: What pickup comes in my Melody Maker? It turns out, in the real world, that it varies, really. And, it’s not consistent in each model of Melody Maker, either. The sales sites and even some Gibson pages indicate that a Seymour Duncan “Duncan Designed” HB10x pickup is used in the Melody Maker Explorer and V. However, I’ve seen differently with my own two eyes and my own two paws. Like my Melody Maker SGs of this run, all three of the Melody Maker Explorers I’ve modded or opened have a Gibson 491T (ceramic magnet bridge pickup), just like the three Melody Maker SGs I’ve opened and modded. (BTW, I do have one Explorer that’s not modded… I liked it enough to keep it as-is).

So, it depends on what day it was, and what was in the pickup bins when the guitars were made? I don’t know for sure, but I DO know that there are variances in what was actually used. In EITHER case, the pickup – either the Seymour Duncan or the Gibson, sounds GREAT! The pickup is more articulate than inexpensive humbuckers from other manufacturers. Period. It’s bright and snotty when you want it to be, and it can play almost clean when you lightly play. Overall, this pickup is designed to drive the tubes. It is not a Jazz or New Age pickup. It’s loud, proud, and in the cloud!

One more note on the pickup: They sound hotter than a 490T to me… the 490T can clean up more, but the 491T can get the brown sound going MUCH easier!

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer Control Detail by Jim Pearson

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer Control Detail by Jim Pearson

Tone woods: The Gibson Limited Run (yes, different from other MMs – for posterity’s sake, that’s why I keep calling them that) Explorer has an interesting set of woods. The neck is quarter-sawn mahogany glued-in with a mortise and tenon joint, the body is a resonant solid maple, and the fretboard is a “baked maple.” Since the guitar is coated with a somewhat thin coat of nitrocellulose lacquer, it breathes well and is VERY resonant.

Interesting? I really like maple fretboards in general… I like the way they sound and the way they play and the way they feel (Yes, I like ebony, rosewood, mahogany, and even some of the composite fretboards, too! Maybe I like ebony and maple the best? Well, it depends on what I’m playing…). When you pick up one of the 2011 Melody Maker Explorers, your brain says, “that’s a rosewood fretboard all day long.” Actually, Gibson made them from maple – they just “bake” the wood and heat-treat it to make it brown. I think the new maple fretboard is pretty neat. It sounds and feels like that plank-spankin’ maple, but looks like traditional Gibson stuff…

USA Made and Simple: Tone? Great tone sometimes comes from excellent craftsmanship of the finest, yet SIMPLEST things. These Melody Maker Explorers are no exception to that. REAL craftsmen/craftswomen made these in the USA – and did a great job making them sound great. The simplicity and selection of parts and the care of craftsmanship all speak volumes in the sound of these guitars. I’m sold. When are they making more? I never got to get a V or a Les Paul version with which to tinker.

Quality: Other than a few foibles I’ve seen on the internet for other people’s Melody Maker Explorers (warped pickguards, errors in finish), I’ve had nothing but superb success with my Melody Maker Explorers. The quality is absolutely top-shelf. Seriously. These are FAR better than the $800 Epiphone ES-339 Ultras I tried to buy and play.

The paint is consistent in thickness, evenness, and smoothness. These are thicker-applied lacquers than on my “faded” SG Special or the Faded Vintage Mahogany Les Pauls I’ve played. Overall, the paint is more perfect than its price-point demands. The plastics and metals are excellent in consistency. And, the general shape of the body and neck is consistent enough for everyday play.

Value: Value is one of the strong points of a Limited Run Gibson Melody Maker Explorer. When they were introduced, they were just over $500. Later in their for-sale-new life, they’ve come to the low $400 range. I believe the guitars are worth the original price point (allowing for the occasional sale). The quality, the craftsmanship, the sound, the gig bag, and the USA-made-ness of these is well worth the money.

These are far higher in quality than equally-priced low-end Asian explorer-type-body guitars. The sound is largely equal or better than those in its price point. When the price went way down at the end of the availability for the 2011 models, I could have blazed trying to get some money together to grab a few before they were gone. In the end, I did snag a couple, but to tell you the truth, these are a modder’s dream for those like me who can appreciate a simple quick change to a limitless number of new one-pickup sounds.

Features: Simple. Features are not the point with a Melody Maker. Playability and price are the strongest points of a Melody Maker (and, methinks that’s the way it has been for a long time).

However: Here’s the interesting stuff:
* One of my Melody Maker Explorers has genuine Kluson white-button Deluxe tuners. One of the others has Gibson Deluxe white button tuners. According to the Kluson folks, they’re not the same thing (or, at least they weren’t when I talked to a rep back in 2010). I think it is interesting that I’ve gotten variations on one or the other on the five different Limited Run MMs I’ve had/owned in the past year’s time.
GibsonMelodyMakerExplorerTunersKlusonDeluxeJimPearsonGibsonMelodyMakerExplorerTunersGibsonDeluxeJimPearson
* As mentioned before, the pickups aren’t always what they seem. All of the Melody Makers I’ve opened have had Gibson USA 481T pickups and not Duncan Designed HB10x pickups.
* I love Gibson: but the smoothed black top-hat knobs are HARD to grab when you’re trying to do volume swells or fast changes to volume. Really. I understand the tradition and vintage-y thing, but these smooth slippery top-hat guys don’t work easily on anything but Eddie VanHalen low-friction pots. The Gibson OEM pots don’t turn that easily when new… I almost always swap them out for knurled metal screw-bound knobs or Gibson speed knobs.
* The gig bags are ABOVE PAR. Nicely-padded, attractive, and included in the price.

Wishes: Not much to wish for on these, Gibson… However: Offer a two-pickup version (next time around) for a bit more? One thing that would have sold boatloads of these would have been to put banana headstocks on all of them (including the Les Paul). Maybe some consistency as to what pickups and parts were used?

GibsonMelodyMakerExplorerBlueBodyBeautyShotJimPearson

Could we please have a MM Explorer-sized Gibson Gear hard case? I’ve ended up with a full-size Explorer case for one and a bass case for the other. The guitars bang around… too much room…

P.S. I really wish the control routing was big enough for deep pots (like a concentric or push-pull) and for enough room for me to put in a tone pot or a battery (for active pickups like EMG or Seymour Duncan). I’m not so good at routing – don’t have a woodworking shop…

Oh, and one more wish: Gibson: let’s do a FIREBIRD Limited Edition Melody Maker guitar!!! I’d buy one or three or so if I could find the budget! Especially if it had a Firebird beak headstock or a banana headstock!

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer White Smiley In Cavity From Factory Jim Pearson

Gibson SG Special Faded Review Still rockin’ and easy on the wallet for a USA Gibson!

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Gibson USA Faded SG Review

Gibson has some awesome 6-string hard-body electric guitars. Les Paul, Explorer, Vee, Firebird, and SG. My favorite Gibson? Any Gibson. (of course there are more, like the L6S and others…)

The Gibson USA Faded SG Special reminds me of some of the SGs I played in the early 1970s (sans shiny finish, though). VERY lightweight, mahogany, thin neck, bright rockin’ humbuckers, tulip tuners, fixed bridge, and tons of vibe. Every time you pick it up, you don’t want to put it down. Gibson has brought these things back in a modern-day form.

Free Shipping, the “love your guitar” guarantee, and more information about the Gibson USA Faded SG at zZounds.com

Quick Opinion: Like the Gibson Vintage Mahogany Les Paul, grab one. They’ll be gone and you will have missed a great instrument. This is the kind that will sell (30 years from now) on eBay for good bits of money because of the “vibe” and “mojo” of the lightweight, plain SG.

Playability: The experience of playing the faded Gibson SG is a treat. The body is very nicely balanced, very comfortable, and vibrant.
The neck gives a sense of ease – where some necks make you think about them as you play, the neck on the faded SG is effortless such that you forget about it entirely. For you thick-neck fans, this will be an adjustment – it is somewhat slimer than the big ’59 Les Paul. It feels good, and doesn’t have the roughness of many of Gibson’s “faded” guitars. It’s definitely bigger than the 60s Les Paul.

A note about necks: Gibson changes them from time to time, even year-to-year. You might find a 2007 SG Special to be big, while the 2009 might be slimmer… They aren’t always the same!

The body is comfortable, and makes itself comfortable up against your picking arm and your ribcage. The body is very light-weight, almost the lightest solid-body I’ve ever picked up. Incredibly, though, the balance of body to neck is just about 50/50.
I’ve found that the (fairly standard) setup of the bridge, stop-tail, and nut feel good, and are quite flexible. I’ve played one that was set up for slide – strings high, but still playable with fingers. I’ve played several others that were set up for easy action and quick fingering. In both cases, the guitar performed flawlessly with no buzzes or flat spots. (A few of the fret wires had fuzzy ends, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with some fret polishing paper and a little TLC.)

Features: The features of the Gibson faded SG are basic, simple, and uncomplicated. The instrument features a standard 4-knob control: neck pickup tone and volume plus bridge pickup tone and volume. This SG also has the three-way toggle pickup selector (neck, neck and bridge, bridge).
The finish is sort of a satin clear finish on brown or cherry-looking mahogany. Unlike the faded Les Pauls and faded double-cutaway Les Pauls I’ve played recently, the finish on the SG is still smooth, even though it is not gloss-polished. The faded SG feels like an old, comfortable, worn guitar friend.
This instrument is ideal for a double-humbucker split-coil plus phase modification. (Just remember! Keep all the original stuff untouched! The original stuff is pretty sweet. Future generations will appreciate an elderly instrument with its original bits.)
I like the original-style Kluson tulip/keystone green “Deluxe” tuners. They’re not the sturdiest tuners out there – but they feel like the old Gibsons I’ve played as a kid.

Sound: Simply put, this SG SINGS. When you strike a chord or pluck a low string, you can FEEL the sound. It feels like it was special tuned for its setup, strings, and woods. The set neck, unfettered mahogany, and stop-tail bridge give this guitar a VOICE.
It can be played overdriven, over-distorted, clean, reverb-y, warm and jazzy, and lots more. I’ve played several examples at my local guitar stores (I can’t purchase one at the moment – starving artist – so I researched my review with many months of “research playing” at my guitar stores) – and I’ve played them through Mesa, Peavey, Epiphone, Marshall, Fender, Crate, and others. Standing in front of a full Marshall stack (tube head), with everything on 5 and volume on about 4 – WOW – it makes every guitar player in the store salivate to hear the sound.
The Gibson USA 490R and 490T pickups are flexible and warm, but have more output than the vintage SGs around which I grew up. They’re bright without being harsh. They’re easy to push into breakup with a good amp, and they play clean/jazzy with abandon. They’re fabulous. many folks these days talk about the 490 series being dogs… I disagree. Plug in to a nice high-class Marshall half stack with a simple pedal or two for tone from Analog Man, set everything to about 6, and rip your face off! There is NO denying that these will get your jeans flappin in front of the cabs and get your feet movin’!

Value: These SGs are very much worth their street price, maybe more. They’ve been marked down from the $700 range to the $579 range in the past few months. At the new price, they are very much a bargain. (that was back in 2007 – they fluctuate in price, between $699 and $599 – depending on the season.

Bear in mind: these do not come with a hard case at this price. They ship with a Gibson gig bag. The bag is really nice and not thin like the Fender gig bags that come with the low cost models – it’s soft-plush padded and lined, and is fairly sturdy. If you want to preserve your SG, the genuine Gibson SG case (about $189 street) is well worth every cent. If you can’t swing that, at least find a durable TKL or SKG case for it. I have seen some used Gibson USA cases (made in Canada by TKL) for around $100 plus shipping on eBay. I think they’re worth it.

As I said with the Vintage Mahogany Les Paul, go to your favorite get-in-trouble guitar store and play an example or two. If you don’t have a git-box store nearby, check out your favorite online haunt and pick one up NOW.


Wishes: I only have two simple wishes: I wish they came with a Gibson hard-shell case (even one of the Epiphone ones with different logo silkscreening). I personally think every Gibson deserves to live in a Gibson case. I also wish that the 490 pickups in this guitar came with German nickel humbucker covers. I’m spoiled by the looks of the old ‘70s SGs.

P.S. Gibson, if ever there was a Gibson sponsorship for “really great guys who review guitars”, this would definitely be one of the ones! wink wink wink nudge nudge

Gibson Les Paul Vintage Mahogany Review – Now a “Faded Les Paul Studio”

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I first wrote this on November 26, 2006. These guitars are STILL an awesome deal. They’re still about the same price. And now they come in blue! They’re not called “Gibson Les Paul Vintage Mahogany” any more… they’re “Faded Les Paul Studios.” Still looking forward to owning one. I’ve played tens of them over the years. Still feel the same positive way about them…

Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded Blue

The 2011 Les Paul Studio Faded in Blue

Gibson USA Vintage Mahogany Les Paul Review

One of the guitars on my “to get” list is the Gibson USA Vintage Mahogany Les Paul (faded cherry). I’ve played several examples a great number of times over the past year or so… and although I could not purchase this one for myself (budget, budget, budget), I felt the need to express my view on this instrument. This instrument is a fundamental instrument that incorporates critical elements of a fabulous-sounding instrument. In its basic-ness, this particular Les Paul is all about sound delivery in a price-friendly Gibson package.

Tone folks will find the Les Paul Vintage Mahogany to be a monster… Folks whose budgets cannot achieve the heights of the Les Paul Standard, or even the Classic or Studio, will find this instrument to be a real bargain. Perhaps enough of a bargain to truly bring great Gibson-ness to many musicians’ sound libraries.

This is a fabulous instrument – stay tuned and I’ll attempt to explain why it strikes me so well.

Quick Opinion: Grab one right now before they’re gone. Period. If I had the means, I would.

The “Les Paul Vintage Mahogany” isn’t in production any more, but you can get the Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded series (even in blue!) here at zZounds.com (free shipping and a love your guitar guarantee!).

Playability: The Gibson Les Paul Vintage Mahogany is all Les Paul. It has the chunky 50’s-style neck one expects from many Les Paul models. The neck is tapered in a subtle way, and the radius is extremely comfortable.

Another interesting aspect of the neck’s playability is its consistency. It is even, smooth (if a little woody – like lots of natural-finish acoustic guitars, but not as wide), and very comfortable. As a person who truly likes the 60’s neck profiles (and the slimmer Epiphone neck profiles), the Les Paul Vintage Mahogany was different at first. However, after playing several examples over several months at my local, favorite Guitar Center, I adjusted to it. I am now more comfortable going between my Epi Les Paul and the Gibson.

The body’s weight seems to be really well-balanced. It doesn’t feel as weighty on the shoulder as a traditional Les Paul – but it still retains that singing, miles-of-sustain feel that makes Les Pauls so breathtakingly essential to many kinds of music. It plays like an old friend. It feels like an old friend, and is one of the most comfortable Gibson Les Pauls I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

Features: The features of the Gibson Les Paul Vintage Mahogany are varied and interesting. This particular Les Paul is a marriage of basic simplicity and killer electronics. The fretboard is very nice, the tuners are the (to me, essential) traditional green-tulip tuners. The body has no binding, and the top wood has the same feel and color of the back and neck.

This particular Les Paul may be a lower-priced Gibson, but it comes with a real, deluxe Gibson hardshell case (update: This was true when the “Vintage Mahogany” was still being produced. The current “Faded Studio” only comes with a gig bag. Given that the guitar itself is about the same price, I’d say that it’s still a bargain: buy yourself a hard shell case though… it’s worth protecting.). This is unusual, considering the fact that some of the other “worn-finished”, less-expensive models only come with a gig bag (such as the Vee and the SG).

By far, one of the greatest values in the Vintage Les Paul Mahogany is its pickups. It comes with Burstbucker Pro humbucking pickups. I don’t know how different the wiring is (as opposed to the Standard, Classic, or Studio), but the sound is absolutely awesome. The Burstbucker Pros, combined with the case, make this guitar feature rich – even though it isn’t a fancy Les Paul.

Sound: Sound, sound, sound, sound, and sound. WOW. Pick up an old or vintage Les Paul, close your eyes – pop it through some Marshalls or even a deluxe Twin Reverb, dial up the amp, and let loose. Now do the same with one of the Vintage Mahogany Les Pauls. Listen… No matter if you can scream like Vai, cry and wail like Lang, or rip the souls of the audience into happy little pieces like Gilmour, or just play like a regular Jane or Joe, this instrument does not disappoint. It takes that vintage-ness of the old PAFs, adds more output, and makes the dynamic range of the sound more (a good thing) complex and rich.

I’ve played several of these through a very wide variety of amplifiers, including nice Class-A Mesas, wide-rich VOXs, chunky Marshall stacks, cheap starter combos, Fenders, and some Kranks and Line 6s… this horse can not only trot, canter, or gallop – it is a true thoroughbred: it brings crunchy, singing, sustaining sound to any style, amp, pedal, or volume.
Sound, sound, sound, sound.

Value: Based on its sound, its case (again, back when they were produced as “Vintage Mahogany”), its Burstbucker Pros, and its made-in-USA pedigree, this is absolutely worth much more than its street price. I’d put it at around $1k any day. The fact that you can buy it for much less makes it a 12-out-of-10 value any day of the week. If you’ve been thinking of going Gibson, or if you’re looking for that sweet, in-your-face rock. This guitar is a “jump on it now” opportunity. If you like warm, jazzy, neck-pickup sound that reminds you a little of B.B. King’s ES-combined with some of that Jimmy Page roots-blues-rock, this is the one for you. You won’t be sorry for getting one of these. Go to your favorite get-in-trouble guitar store and play an example or two. If you don’t have a git-box store nearby, check out your favorite online haunt and pick one up NOW.

With the current-generation Faded Les Pauls and their reinstated Burstbuckers (the faded studios had the 490-style pickups for a while), this guitar is still a bargain and a wonderful way to go. I would highly recommend these as a go-to-gigging or recording USA Les Paul. Note to those buying used “faded” Gibson Les Pauls: You cannot be sure from a picture which pickups you are getting. The only sure way is to either look at the back of the pickups for the stickers (Burstbuckers have stickers, 490s don’t), or look at the serial number, get the year of manufacture from the Guitar Dater project (or similar) do your research, or just ask Gibson through their customer support email.

Wishes: An optional 60’s neck would be fabulous (well, for me, anyway – sorry 50’s fans). (Update: I LOVE the blue! w00t! I do wish they still had the white-fur Gibson snakeskin case as a low-cost option.)

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Review – an owner’s view on a great guitar

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Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone 2011 Limited Edition in-depth review – from an owner’s perspective

Honey Burst Gibson Les Paul Studio with punch and bottom… Well-made, easy to play, and truly a phenomenal instrument… You don’t have to play metal or sludge or death throes music to enjoy a baritone. Baritones work very well in every type of electric guitar music I’ve played, including some new delicious blues progressions and some really comfortable progressive rock stuff… In my last album, I used my Gibson LP Studio Baritone as the bass guitar on one of the tunes… Crisper and a little tighter, the baritone (“Barry”, naturally!) sounds like a bass that has a real knack for brassier sound…

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Controls Detail Jim Pearson

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Controls Detail by Jim Pearson

I have to admit I’m partial to light burst, iced tea, honey burst, amber, and natural burst Gibson guitars. This one was right up my alley.

I’ve always liked baritones and extended-scale guitars (wish I had a Fender Bass 6 to play!)… It’s nice to be able to travel into the lows of a bass guitar, yet still be able to walk up the fretboard into plain old six territories too. It is a distinct pleasure to be able to cross the lines from bass to rhythm guitar to lead guitar – all on one instrument.

I like the feel of a seven string because it still seems like a plain 6 – just with a lower bottom (B or drop A in an easy-to-use package – nice!) Even long-scale 7-string guitars are nice – I have no issues with playing them. But it is the distinct pleasure of playing a true long-scale Bari that gets my nerves going.

Lots of deatails about the Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone here at zZounds.com!
GibsonLesPaulBaritoneHoneyBurstBodyShotFactoryPicture

When it comes to playing a baritone, it is a very small step to get used to the low B and the highest at B. Only occasionally do I find myself reaching for the high E string. With that said, there’s a critical thing about baritones that makes them special: That long AND slender neck. With a great seven-string guitar, you still get a wider neck… The wider 7-string neck takes a little getting used to (as a 5-string and P bass player, it’s not an issue for me in particular). But the baritone neck just feels like a 6 – one that’s a few inches longer and has a little wider feel to the first few frets. No big deal, really.

Baritones work very well in bass amps, and definitely rock a half stack of good tight speakers with a head running with tubes. Note that a cheap combo amp will woof out when you play a low-range guitar, particularly a baritone or 8-string guitar. I tried my baritone (and 7- and 8-string guitars) through my little Fender Mustang III combo: not a good fit. Use a more robust amp or use a nice bass amp.

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Body Detail Jim Pearson

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Body Detail after BurstBucker mods by Jim Pearson

Quick Opinion: The Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone is a real winner. If you want a guitar that goes low and strong, this one fits the bill nicely. Its cousin, the Gibson Explorer Baritone is also a real keeper. These two give you sounds that blend nicely in many genres – and are still comfortable to play for hours on end.

The quality of my Bari is excellent, the look is wonderful, and the overall feature list is great. The price was barely more than a gloss-finished Gibson Les Paul Studio, and is a real winner. Let’s see why in the body of this review.

The guitar handles many tunings very nicely. If you use lighter-gauge strings, you can do a C# tuning. With the factory strings (or the Ernie Ball Baritone strings I’m currently using), you can do the BEADF#B or BEADGB tuning no sweat. With the heavier strings of the Ernie Ball manufacture, dropping to A works very nicely, and dropping to G can work if you don’t play hard…

Playability: Playability is a huge strong suit for the Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone guitar. It feels great, with the neck like a hybrid 50s-60s LP neck (leaning to a 50s neck, just longer), and the body weight and size feels perfectly proportional to the neck. The guitar does a great job hanging from the strap and doesn’t nose-dive as much as many bass-ish guitars and other baritones. The nut is the same width as a “regular” Gibson Les Paul Studio at 1 11/16″.

The neck and fretboard angle feel great. The size of the frets is wonderful, and the width between the strings is comfortable. The guitar demands thicker strings than a 6, but the way the guitar is engineered, it all feels just right. The scale is 28″ – a long baritone and somewhat longer than most 7-string guitars. Comfortable and familiar – and yet exiting and different all at the same time.

The weight is good, it’s an LP – but isn’t a boat anchor. The balance is fine by my reckoning, and the neck-to-body-length ratio feels just fine. The body is described by Gibson as being “weight relieved,” not hollowed out entirely, but with some wood removed or not present. I like the “thunk – ring sound” of a solid body, but I also think this weight-relieved body is actually really very resonant and has nice overtones.

The Gibson LP Studio Baritone plays easily for a long-scale – and is very comfortably and thoughtfully built. Overall, the playability is top-notch and shouldn’t scare off too many 6-string players or even bass players.

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Sound: The Gibson LP Studio Baritone is a growlin’ howlin’ wolf with a barrel chest. It sounds perfect for low-end work and really does a NICE job of louder styles of music. If you had different pickups (see further notes below), it would also do smoother styles like traditional country-western, jazz, and even new age – the LP Studio Baritone is quite flexible… I use it for at least three different styles of music.

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Body Back Wood Jim Pearson

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Body Back Wood by Jim Pearson

Although many things make a particular instrument carry its unique sound, there are three high-level aspects that uniquely shape the sound of the Gibson LP Studio Baritone:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge, stop-bar, and length
3) String type, width and makeup.

Pickups and Electronics: The Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone uses standard Gibson LP pots, caps, jack, and switch electronics. Everything is solid, clean, and very simple. The pickups are the kind you’d usually find in a Gibson Explorer or a Gibson Flying V. They’re a pair of 496R hot ceramic and 500T super ceramic humbuckers. They’re loud, proud, and in the cloud. You can push any type of rock or pop-country or al music with these. They snarl, scream, and make tubes go wild. I like them with greenbacks or with Eminence speakers a great deal. If you’d like to play clean, old country, jazz, new age, or calmer progressive rock, these pickups probably push too far for those genres.
Rock: yes! “Clean” styles: not so much. That’s not a fault or a problem – it’s the way the pickups were meant to behave. With heavier music, the sound is “mission accomplished” in a big way. I have and enjoy another Gibson with the famed 496/500 pair and enjoy the sound… but I wanted something that can scream and can play smoother… I did the dastardly and put Burstbucker Pro 2 and 3 pickups in my Baritone… Now I can play *almost* as hard as the hot/super ceramics, but can easily play the clean stuff, too…


Tone woods: The Baritone has a grade-A maple top and a mahogany main body. The overall sound of the nicely weight-relieved mahogany with the beautiful thick maple on top is superb. I like the overtones it produces. The long neck and neck joint produce nice tones and sustains! Just like the man himself, the Les Paul guitar is a legend in its sound.

Strings and such: Be sure to buy a few different gauges of strings for your baritone and try them out. Save the factory ones if you can (you can’t buy those sets in any store or from Gibson: they’ve told me that they’re high-grade bulk plain nickel strings in select gauges .013 to .060). I bought Ernie Ball Baritone nickel-plate strings, Ernie Ball 7-string sets (two different gauges), and I also got a handful of bulk-by-size D’Addario strings. Remember: the tuner mount hole for the 6th string and the cut of the nut for the wound strings aren’t limitless in what they’ll handle. If you want to go for a massive gauge, it might not work without creating a new nut or tuners. My advice: stay close to the factory 13-60 gauge sizes.

What kind of strings am I now using on my Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone? After trying lots of strings, I ended up with buying a set of strings that actually worked perfectly for me: Ernie Ball 8-String Slinky nickel-wound strings. I ended up using the middle strings, from .013 to .064 (it leaves me with an extra .010 and .074 to use on my 8-string guitar). I love this combination and size set – and these strings work great with the original nut, bridge saddles, stop-bar, tuners, and intonation. It’s a $10 set of strings that makes the LP Baritone JUST RIGHT – growly, warm, NOT muddy, and truly tonally complex. Very nice! There aren’t any baritone sets that I found that didn’t have a HUGE 6th-string-gauge.

I’m using: .013 .017 .030 .042 .054 .064 – these sound great and even take on some bass-like properties on 5 and 6. I like the Ernie Ball strings. It would be nice to have a custom Gibson set for them – I like the Gibson-branded Brite Wires strings on my SG Standard – I’d like to try them in a .013-.064 set if they made them.

Quality: With any non-mass-produced instrument, there are almost always little flaws. My Gibson Reverse Flying V has little funky places in the lacquer where the body meets the neck joint. My Gibson SG Standard and LP Traditional Standard, however, really are perfect.

Comparatively, my Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone is about as perfect as I’ve ever seen with a nicely lacquered instrument. All the parts were just as I wanted them to be, the finish quality looks like that beautiful hand-lacquered shiny drooly look, and the wood selection is very nice.

Overall, the quality is easily a 10 out of 10. I rarely “give” this rating. Trust me. And mine was a customer-returned instrument. The electronics, solder joints, finish, frets, fretboard, and pickup windings are flawless. Really.

Value: This is a value instrument. It’s not often that one can pick up a USA hand-made instrument with woods and components this nice for as little money as these guitars cost. Other than the lack of binding and the dot inlays, this instrument is on par with a basic Standard.

These are worth a bit more “street” than they cost, in my opinion. With the white-fur Gibson case, the excellent fit-and-finish, and the killer rock pickups, these are right on the mark or even a bit of a bargain. The older Epiphone Baritones were fun to play, but none of them came with this kind of quality attached, and they had to have giant Celtic crosses on them (good for some peeps, not for others).

Value? Not cheap, by any means, but definitely a well-priced USA hand-made work of art. These are cheaper than even the Fender Standard Strat and Teles, and are more nicely built (in most cases). I’m REALLY glad Gibson decided not to cheap out and sell these in a gig bag.

Features: Simple. Well-made. perfect as it needs to be.

Gibson Les Paul Studio guitars are no-frills killer instruments. The Baritone is no exception. They don’t have any cool wake-me-up features, but they have just the right amount of what we need. Maybe it would be fun to have a piezo NanoMag or sweet custom-wound active pickups or something – but I like this guitar appointed the way it is.

* Nice rosewood and mahogany
* Grover Rotomatics (I switched mine to Gibson-packaged Vintage-style sealed chrome tulip tuners… yowza)
* Simple stop bar and TOM bridge
* Beautiful nitro finish, made by a hominid (human)
* NICE case
* That awesome “new Gibson” smell…

What’s not to like in a rockin’/country/pop/prog guitar? In this case, “enough is a feast.”

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Front Shot by Jim Pearson

Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Front Shot by Jim Pearson

Wishes: I love speed knobs. The top-hat traditional knobs look great, but they aren’t as easy to turn in a hurry. Given that the current crop of OEM Gibson potentiometers aren’t quick-turn or easy-turn, the slipperyness and shape of the knobs makes it harder to have fine control when shaping the tone and volume in on-the-fly transitions. I do wish these were offered with 57 classic/57 classic plus or BurstBuckers as an OPTION. Some folks will really WANT the Explorer/V pickups; others will want something that can smooth out.

You know what? These could be body-bound, even if the neck wasn’t bound, and probably for nearly the same retail price. It isn’t the end of the world for me, but I think Gibson could pull it off.

I love the honey burst color. The heavy rock and metal friends I have wouldn’t play it unless it was red or black or silverburst (like its Explorer Baritone cousin). I’m thankful it wasn’t offered in faded cherry, faded brown, and faded black. I like the nitro gloss a lot. I do wish there was a color choice for those who aren’t die-hard honey and tea fans like me.

One other Wish: I REALLY wish Gibson would include heavy-duty vinyl “Gibson” stickers with their guitars. Seriously. I’d love to put one on my Mustang (Ford).