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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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).