Table of contents
1. History of Gibson Les Paul
Gibson Les Paul was released in 1952 in the United States of America and became the second solid-body electric guitar in the world. The new model featured mahogany body and neck, which imparted deep lows and strong mids to the instrument, thick maple archtop, which added bright highs to the sound, as well as a set neck design ensuring prolonged sustain. Since the end of 1956, the instrument has been equipped with PAF humbucker pickups created by Seth Lover, an engineer, that are considered the classic Les Paul sound today.
However, in the early years of guitar music era, Gibson Les Paul had not been very popular and so, in 1961, was replaced with ergonomic Gibson SG as the vis-à-vis to inexpensive Fender Stratocaster. Similar fate was shared by futuristic models Explorer and Flying V, which were innovations by the company president Ted McCarty that were well in advance of their time. It was only in 1968 that Les Paul manufacture was resumed, and in 1974 Gibson factory moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Nashville, Tennessee, where it still produces instruments. The semi-acoustic guitar factory is located in Memphis, Tennessee, and the acoustic guitar factory is located in Bozeman, Montana.
The entire chronology of Gibson Les Paul manufacture can be provisionally divided into four eras:
1) 1952-1960 (the golden age of authentic guitar manufacturing – creation of solid body instruments, invention of PAF humbucker pickups, the advent of sunburst coloring, the use of tune-o-matic bridge together with stop bar tailpiece, the reduction of the neck thickness ’58-’59-’60 with a long tenon into the body, the use of lightweight Honduran mahogany and Brazilian rosewood);
2) 1968-1982 (resumption of the guitar manufacture – experiments with gluing neck and body out of several pieces, the use of maple as the material for the neck and fretboard, the shortening of the neck tenon, the use of volute at the headstock);
3) 1983-present (resumption of manufacturing guitars out of one-piece mahogany, gradual introduction of various perforations inside the body, diversification of the guitar line);
4) 1993-present (setting up the Custom Shop division, regular limited run release of historic reissues, rare and anniversary versions as well as signature models of famous guitarists).
Over the last half a century, Gibson Les Paul guitars have been played by numerous legendary musicians and bands: Les Paul, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Slash, Gary Moore, Vivian Campbell, Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Guns n’ Roses and others.
2. Gibson Les Paul Design Features
Let us consider design features of the cult musical instrument. Various types of mahogany (Honduran, Pacific) as well as korina are used as the body material. The distinctive feature of Pacific mahogany is its low weight and lower sound in overdrive, which adds deepness to the guitar. All in all, the weight difference can be caused by the use of rare hardwood types, by cutting the workpiece off of a higher part of the trunk or by a different drying technology. Korina, in its turn, has strongly pronounced lower and upper mids imparting rhythm density and high clarity to the instrument. As far as the body design is concerned, it can be solid, perforated (with holes or chambers of various geometry) or hollow.
Archtop has variable thickness of 0.24-0.71" (6-18 mm) and is produced out of maple with figured grain pattern. Hawaiian koa, which imparts the most richest overtones and the best clarity to the guitar when playing solo, walnut or redwood, which is characterized by the most shrilly and sharp sound, and mahogany, which imparts very fat overdrive to the instrument, are used extremely rarely as the material.
Because of the archtop and the use of the tune-o-matic bridge, Les Paul neck is glued to the body at the angle of 4-5 degrees, and the headstock is additionally angled at 17 degrees. This improves the guitar’s resonance and makes its attack brighter, and the bridge pickup is installed considerably higher than the neck pickup. Besides, thanks to the neck angle it is more comfortable for the guitarist to play in the standing position.
Traditionally, Gibson guitars are finished with a thin nitrocellulose lacquer that enables the wood to breathe and produce as much resonance as possible thanks to the absence of wood shrinkage effect. At the same time, the disadvantage of this finishing is its low wear resistance, because of which the instruments should be handled with great care to avoid scratches.
Fig. 1. “Neck angle and headstock angle”
From 1969 to 1976, the body had been a 4-piece “pancake”: a mahogany back – a thin layer of maple – a mahogany top – a maple top (glued together out of 3 pieces).
Fig. 2. “Mahogany – maple – mahogany “pancake” body”
Approximately at the same time, from 1969 to 1982, the guitar necks had been made out of 3 longitudinal pieces of wood (excluding the headstock “ears”), and from 1970 until 1982 the headstock had had a volute on it. From 1975 to 1982, necks had been made out of maple instead of mahogany, and today maple necks are installed to signature models Zakk Wylde and DJ Ashba. There is no great difference in sound between maple and mahogany necks except for a slightly more percussion attack and slightly less rich overtones. The only exception is 5-piece design of glued maple-walnut or maple-ebony neck that had been in limited use for a short period of time from 1978 to 1982 and imparted deep lows and strong mids to the instrument. From 1975 to 1981, maple had been offered as an option for fretboard material.
From 1952 to 1960, Les Paul necks had had long tenon. When the model release resumed, from 1969 to 1975, its neck had had transitional tenon, and then the tenon became short. Today, the neck tenon has become long again with the Standard and then with the Studio. Besides, long tenon is used in Historic Reissue and Collector’s Choise that are made out of lightweight mahogany and in a number of expensive and signature versions (Elegant, Ultima, Carved Flame, Black Widow, Alex Lifeson, Zakk Wylde and others).
Fig. 3. “Neck tenon length”
Fig. 4. "Long and short neck tenon"
Fig. 5. “Short and long set neck”
Les Paul necks can be classified into medium ’60, thick ’59 and very thick ’58. Also, collectors single out ’57 profile, which provisionally includes all the instruments released in 1952-1957, when these had not been officially standardized. When comparing the neck thickness at the 1st fret with that of the other manufacturers, one can use the following gradation: Gibson – 0.90"/0.86"/0.79" (23/22/20 mm) ['58/’59/'60], Jackson – 0.79"/0.71" (20/18 mm) [RR1/RR3], Ibanez – 0.71"/0.67" (18/17 mm) [USRG/SuperWizard]. According to statistics, about 60% of guitars have ’59 profile, 30% have ’58 profile (most Custom) and only 10% have ’60 profile (Classic, 1960 Reissue, Slash).
Fig. 6. “’60, ’59, ’58 neck profiles”
As of 2008 model year, the Standard has had asymmetrical profile where the curvature in the area of thin strings has a smaller radius providing comfort when positioning the thumb. All Gibson necks have classic compression (single acting) wrench truss rods.
Fig. 7. "Symmetrical and asymmetrical neck profile"
The fretboard is made out of classic African rosewood, Indian and Brazilian rosewood, granadillo, ebony, richlite and maple. African rosewood is characterized by fat sound with damped highs. Indian rosewood is notable for its percussion attack and high clarity, while Brazilian rosewood additionally has strongly pronounced upper mids and more rich overtones. Granadillo on the whole is identical to Indian rosewood. Ebony’s character is also similar to that of Indian rosewood preserving fat sound and at the same time imparting slightly less bright attack and perfect clarity to the instrument. Richlite is made out of compressed paper impregnated with phenolic resin and has the most shrilly and sharp sound exceeding ebony in this regard. Maple imparts the fastest and most articulated attack to the guitar together with excellent clarity of whole chords and single notes, but somewhat lesser rhythm density and richness of overtones.
The majority of guitars that are being released have fretboard radius of 12’’, which makes for comfortable chord playing in the first fret area. The frets are covered with the neck binding, which is the hallmark of Gibson.
An important design feature of the guitar is that it has a shortened scale of 24.75” (629 mm). As a result of this, the strings at the same pitch are stretched weaker than in the instruments with scale of 25.5” (648 mm), which theoretically results in a less percussion attack but a greater sustain. For this reason, thicker string sets have to be installed in Les Paul.
Besides, a shortened scale reduces the distance between frets, which makes it easier to play difficult figures with widely spread fingers (in the manner of Randy Rhoads). Specifically, the distance between zero fret nut and 22nd fret in the guitar with 25.5” scale is 18.2" (463 mm), while in the guitar with 24.75” scale this distance is 17.6" (447 mm). In other words, Les Paul necks are about 0.6" (1.5 cm) shorter.
Stop bar tailpiece fixes the strings and transmits their vibration to the body, and the tune-o-matic bridge makes it possible to set the string-to-neck height and adjust the scale. Tune-o-matic studs on vintage guitars get screwed directly into the wood, while in modern instruments the studs get driven into bushings. All Les Paul models come with undertightened tailpiece. After the stop bar is fully sunk into the body, the strings get pressed against fret nuts harder, which improves the guitar’s resonance. When tightening, the set of 9-42 thickness feels exactly like 10-46.
Fig. 8. “Correct stop bar tailpiece position”
Initially, PAF pickups were complete with cupronickel covers to reduce noise and hum. In modern Les Paul models these covers are rather honoring the tradition. And these covers can be unsoldered and replaced with different ones, however, it is important to correctly determine the center-to-center distance of adjustable pole pieces at the south coil. For example, in 57’ Classic and 490R pickups this distance is 0.37" (9.5 mm) (1.94" (49.2 mm) covers would fit: PRPC-010 - chrome, PRPC-020 - gold, PRPC-030 - nickel), and in 498T pickups it is 0.41" (10.3 mm) (require 2.06" (52.4 mm) covers: PRPC-015 - chrome, PRPC-025 - gold, PRPC-035 - nickel). It is not recommended to buy not genuine pickup parts, because these can reduce the signal.
Fig. 9. “Gibson 57’ Classic pickup with cover removed”
Potentiometers installed to Gibson Les Paul often have different resistance. Volume controls might have 300K, while tone controls might have 500K. After replacing Volume potentiometers with 500K, the guitar sound becomes brighter due to reduced high frequencies cutting. Additional advantage can be gained by installing push-pull pots so as to split coils into single coil mode. However, it should be kept in mind that because of variable thickness of the maple archtop new potentiometers would fit only the lower holes of the body.
Fig. 10. “Wiring diagram of Gibson pickups (4Conductor) with push-pull potentiometers for splitting coils into single coil”
By way of a little digression, it should be mentioned that push-pull are universal switchers. These can be used both instead of volume potentiometers (the most popular use) and instead of tone potentiometers, these can also be installed separately (the guitar would have to be drilled for this). These would do for switching series/parallel coils connection in each pickup, in-phase/out-of-phase commutation between two pickups, humbucker/single splitting (where 1 or 2 pickups can be connected to one potentiometer), as well as for choosing south/north coil being split (when placing two switchers on 1 pickup). Besides, these can be used instead of toggle switchers. In other words, all the bang for your buck!
Standardly, a toggle switch commutates 2 pickups using B, B+N, N chart. In Les Paul versions with 3 pickups (Black Beauty, Peter Frampton, Ace Frehley) the toggle switch has an additional contact, thanks to which the commutation is being done using B, B+M, N chart. However, this wiring has been found poor by most guitarists and so many left the toggle for classic switching between the bridge and the neck pickups, and installed their own volume and optional tone controls for the middle pickup making it possible to connect it anytime regardless of the main pickups.
For several decades, Les Paul guitars had had a solid body. However, starting from 1983, Gibson began actively experimenting with holes inside the body, thus the instruments’ body got 9 asymmetrical holes for proper balance and weight relief.
The Elegant, released in 1997, had a totally hollow body (some wood remained only in its central part for installing the pickups and the bridge). When played unplugged this instrument sounds much brighter and louder than its solid-body cousins, because wood produces resonance better thanks to internal chambers. The guitars sound almost identical in overdrive. But when played solo, the difference becomes quite evident – the solid-body guitar sounds fatter and more compressed, while the hollow one sounds more open and airy. At the same time it should be noted that chambers in the body do not add any sustain. Another feature of the Elegant was a neck with compound radius fretboard and a long tenon that was widely used until 1969 when the company’s owner changed and cost-reduction policy was introduced (Norlin period).
The Supreme, which superseded the Elegant in 2003, has fewer chambers. In fact, the guitar is glued together out of 3 component parts: the top and the back are made out of maple, while the side and intentionally retained central part (the spine) are made out of mahogany. Because of the maple body the instrument’s sound considerably differs from the classic Les Paul sound – the guitar’s lows are totally removed, but its pick harmonics on any note (even when played unplugged) sound very bright. Another feature of the Supreme is absence of covers on the back for access to electronics, which makes it considerably harder to alter the wiring and replace potentiometers. As a sort of a compensation the manufacturer left an enlarged opening in the side under the jack plate.
Today, the Standard has separate chambers inside its body which are not interconnected. However, this reduces the guitar’s weight and improves its resonance. The Standard’s example was followed by the Studio. Also, the Classic has 9 holes in its body similar to the Custom. The only guitar that retained a solid body is Gibson Les Paul Traditional (as well as all Historic Reissue and Collector's Choise, of course), although it also had holes in it for some time. In addition to the listed 5 types of weight reliefs in serial instruments (including two Standards - of 2008 and 2012 model years) the Custom Shop also uses to a limited extent 2 other types of perforation - 17 holes and 17 notches, which are described in the appropriate section (Standard Custom Shop and Carved Flame).
Fig. 11. “Weight relief of Les Paul versions”
Fig. 12. “Gibson Les Paul Standard (2008-2011) and Custom/Classic bodies”
Fig. 13. “X-ray images of Custom/Classic, Florentine/Elegant/Ultima/Black Widow and Supreme bodies”
3. Gibson Les Paul Guitar Line
Today, Les Paul guitar line includes the following models: Custom, Supreme, Standard, Traditional, Classic and Studio. Additionally, the manufacturer produces signature models of famous guitarists (Gary Moore, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Ace Frehley, Alex Lifeson, DJ Ashba and others), various reissues of discontinued models (1954 / 1956 / 1957 / 1958 / 1959 / 1960 Historic Reissues and Collector’s Choise with long neck tenon, lightweight mahogany etc.) as well as some limited series (Government, Peace, LPJ, LPM etc.).
It is important to note that Les Paul Custom and Gibson Custom Shop guitars are not identical. The former are series-produced instruments with freatboard made out of ebony instead of rosewood, while the latter are custom guitars produced in a specialized shop in Limited Runs. These include all Historic Reissue and Collector's Choise, limited releases of Florentine, Carved Flame, Black Widow etc., as well as signature models of famous guitarists, which will be covered in the next section.
Gibson Les Paul Custom – body with holes – mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/ebony or richlite, a mother-of-pearl rhombus on the headstock with 5-ply binding, mother-of-pearl inlays in the shape of blocks, pick guard on the top with 7-ply binding.
Gibson Les Paul Supreme – hollow body – maple/mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/ebony or richlite, the planet on the headstock with 5-ply binding, inlays in the shape of split mother-of-pearl blocks (similar to 25/50 Anniversary and Custom Super 400), 7-ply top binding, an enlarged body and jack plate, absence of covers on the back.
Gibson Les Paul Standard – body with chambers (with 9 asymmetrical holes until 2008 model year, hollow body until 2012 model year) – mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/rosewood, thin neck profile, humbuckers with split coils. Standard Premium and Standard Premium Plus specifications have a more figured maple top.
Gibson Les Paul Traditional – solid body (with holes prior to this) – mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/rosewood, humbuckers with split coils, pick guard on the top.
Gibson Les Paul Classic – body with holes – mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/rosewood, lightweight wood, thin neck profile, open pickups, aged inlays, pick guard on the top.
Gibson Les Paul Studio – body with chambers – mahogany/maple, neck – mahogany/rosewood (more rarely granadillo or ebony), no body or neck binding. Old versions have a body with 9 asymmetrical holes, pick guard on the top, the thickest neck in the line of models with inlays in the form of dots. Studio Standard specification has body and neck bindings, Studio Custom specification has golden hardware, Studio Pro Plus specification has curly maple grain.
Fig. 14. “Gibson Les Paul guitar line: Custom, Supreme, Standard, Traditional, Classic and Studio”
There are several dozens of colors and shades used for finishing Gibson Les Paul. The most popular ones are Cherry Sunburst, Honey Burst, Desert Burst, Tobacco Burst, Lemon Burst, Ice Tea, Ebony, Wine Red, Alpine White, Gold Top etc.
Today, every guitarist has an opportunity to touch the instrument that has become the rock icon. However, inexperienced musicians should beware of Asian copies, many of which are sold in the guise of genuine guitars.
The genuine Gibson Les Paul differs from its fake copies mainly by the neck manufacturing technology. True Les Paul guitars come complete with a truss rod cover in the form of a bell screwed down with 2 screws, while on many a fake model the bell is screwed down with 3 screws. In the genuine Les Paul the edge of the frets are covered with the neck binding, while in most of the fake ones the frets are not rolled and go above the binding (except when these have been replaced). The Les Paul neck is set at an angle to the body, and the headstock is angled to the neck and makes one piece with it. And the headstock either does not have a step on it or has a volute (1970-1974 – mahogany, 1975-1982 – maple).
Fig. 15. “Truss rod cover and neck binding”
Fig. 16. “Headstock, classic and with a volute”
Of course, the sound of Chinese, Korean and other imitations compares very poorly with seasoned species of hardwood of expensive mahogany and ebony. Some “experts” put up American vs. Asian guitar comparison tests in the Internet plugging them in with cheap cables to a digital processor connected to a home stereo sound system. Naturally, any instrument in such conditions would sound about the same. But as soon as one plugs a original guitar in with a professional hi-end cable (Analysis Plus, Evidence Audio, Lava Cable, Monster, Van Den Hul, Vovox, Zaolla Silverline) to expensive tube amps with cabinets (Diezel VH4 / Herbert / Hagen, Custom Audio Amplifiers OD-100, Marshall JVM410H Mod, Engl Savage Special Edition 660, Earforce Two, Fortress Odin etc.) at the stage volume (120-130 dB), the difference in the sound becomes evident even to the uninitiated. In other words, amateur equipment is just unable to reach the full potential of the instruments like Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop.
4. Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop Review
2. Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary
1. Gibson Les Paul Custom
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1969)
The first custom Les Paul was released in 1954. The instrument featured an ebony neck and had no maple top, which was substituted by a mahogany archtop. Because of its black coloring the guitar was given a promotional name of Black Beauty. Starting from 1957, the instrument has been equipped with PAF humbuckers.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1971)
When the model production was resumed in 1968, it got a maple top, but the tenon became transitional first (1969) and then short (1976). From 1969 to 1982, the guitar necks had been glued together out of 3 longitudinal pieces of wood, and from 1975 to 1982, maple had been used instead of mahogany, and maple had been offered as an option for fretboard in 1975-1981.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1972)
At the same time, from 1969 to 1976, the body had been a “pancake” made out of 4 transverse pieces of mahogany-maple-mahogany-maple top (glued together out of 3 pieces). Starting from 1983, the body got perforation in the form of 9 asymmetrical holes for weight relief and proper balance when played in the standing position. The Custom has from 8.8 to 11 lb (4 to 5 kg) in weight.
Gibson Les Paul Custom 20th Anniversary (1974)
In 1974, in honor of 20 year anniversary of the start of production of the Custom, Les Paul Custom 20th Anniversary guitar series with a signature inlay on the 15th fret was announced. As far as its design and sound are concerned, the instrument does not differ from its contemporaries featuring a “pancake” body and a mahogany neck glued together out of 3 pieces. However, the following year, the neck material in all Les Paul guitars was replaced with maple, thus, the 20th Anniversary is a sort of a borderline between two epochs. Because of its collection value the guitar costs up to $5000-$10000 on the secondary market today.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1979)
Black, white and cherry remained the traditional colors for finishing the Custom up to 1990’s, when Plus and Premium Plus specifications of various shades of sunburst finish were presented to the customers. Today, vintage Customs with a transparent top can be found on the secondary market, which means these have been refinished by their previous owners. Maple grain pattern in such instruments is usually very unexpressed or totally absent.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1980)
As far as its sound is concerned, the Gibson Les Paul Custom is considered the standard among solo guitars – fat compressed sound, rich overtones and prolonged sustain together with high clarity of notes make this instrument unattainable for most of existing models. At the same time, as a rhythm guitar the Custom does not possess any outstanding characteristics regardless of neck or body material (excluding the Black Beauty reissue). All current instruments are equipped with a classic pair of pickups – 498T in the bridge and 490R in the neck.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (1997)
During the hard rock boom of 70’s and 80’s of the past century, Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars had been used as the main concert instrument by such famous guitarists as Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde.
Gibson Les Paul Custom (2006)
Interestingly, the manufacture of the serially produced Custom was transferred to the Custom Shop only in 2004, more than 10 years after it had been set up. In present, Gibson produces four Custom reissues – 1954 Reissue, 1957 Reissue, 1968 Reissue and 1974 Reissue that have design differences described above.
Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary (1979)
The 25/50 Anniversary was produced in 1978-1979 in the Kalamazoo factory in a run of over 3500 guitars. The guitars had their own numbering and were delivered to advance orders that had been placed no later than 31 December 1978. The set included a belt buckle with the series logo. The instrument cost $1200.
Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary (1979)
At the time of its release, the 25/50 version was an inventive step in guitar building and included some innovations that have become widespread in the following years – a neck glued together out of 5 pieces of maple-ebony or maple-walnut (not including the headstock “ears”), adjustable tailpiece with fine tuning screws as well as an enlarged control cavity with an additional mini-switch for splitting coils into single coil. Zero fret nut was made out of bronze. The guitar neck has a short tenon. The 25/50 Anniversary has 9.9-11 lb (4.5-5 kg) in weight.
As far as its sound is concerned, the Les Paul with the maple-ebony neck is one of the most powerful guitar among all current versions of the legendary instrument. The classic Custom with the neck made out of mahogany and maple are noticeably inferior to the Anniversary as to rhythm density. Thanks to the use of nonstandard wood, the 25/50 version has deep lows and fat mids retaining rich overtones and prolonged sustain when played solo. When playing with palm mute notes, the guitar has high clarity.
Unfortunately, Gibson has not used tenons made out of ebony or walnut in the necks of other custom instruments (except for the Les Paul Artist with active electronics that took over in 1979-1982 and Vivian Campbell signature version in 2018), which makes the 25/50 Anniversary very valuable not only to musicians but to collectors as well.
3. Gibson Les Paul Artist
Gibson Les Paul Artist (1979)
Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary was superseded by Gibson Les Paul Artist, which was produced at the Nashville factory from 1979 to 1982. Both guitars had a laminated 5-piece maple neck with ebony stripes. The design differences of the Artist consisted of different inlays of the headstock and fretboard, a scarfed cutaway in the back to fit the belly, a combination of 3 potentiometers and 3 mini-switches, as well as two circuit boards of Moog active electronics installed into milled cavities in the body.
The release of the Artist can be regarded as the Nashville factory's answer to the innovative 25/50 Anniversary from Kalamazoo introduced a year earlier due to the intra-corporate competition between the factories during their coexistence in 1974-1984. The price of the guitar was $1,300.
The instruments sound identical in overdrive and have deep lows, tight mids and rich overtones with prolonged sustain. Active electronics with a lot of adjustments extends the traditional ideas about the possibilities of Les Paul and is innovatory for its time. The neck has a short tenon. The Artist has 10.2-10.4 lb (4.6-4.7 kg) in weight with circuit boards and 9.3-9.5 lb (4.2-4.3 kg) in case of dismantling the electronics.
4. Gibson Les Paul Florentine
Gibson Les Paul Custom Florentine Limited Run (1996)
Gibson Les Paul Florentine has been produced in small runs since the time the Custom Shop was set up in 1993 and is the predecessor of the Elegant. Both guitars have hollow body with “spine” retained under the pickups and the bridge only. The Florentine design differs only by its short neck tenon and the presence of F-holes in the maple top of most guitars. The guitars sound identically and have good acoustic properties as well as more airy but less compressed sound when played solo. The Florentine has 8.2 lb (3.7 kg) in weight.
5. Gibson Les Paul Elegant
Gibson Les Paul Elegant (2004)
After the Custom Shop division expanded in 1997, Gibson released an innovation Elegant that continued on the assembly line until 2004. The instrument has a hollow body, a neck with a long tenon, compound radius ebony fretboard with inlays out of real mother-of-pearl and the top binding of increasing thickness, which is very uncommon for Gibson. From 1997 to 1999, the headstock was decorated with a round Custom Shop logo located above the truss rod bell. The Elegant has 8.2 lb (3.7 kg) in weight.
Thanks to its hollow body, the guitar sounds much brighter when played unplugged and has more reverberation but less compressed sound when played solo. Rhythm density and sustain length are practically unaffected by the hollow body.
6. Gibson Les Paul Ultima
Gibson Les Paul Ultima (2003)
In 1997, simultaneously with the Elegant, Custom Shop division introduced the world’s most expensive in history series-produced instrument - Les Paul Ultima. The guitar cost approximately $10,000 in stores. As far as their design was concerned, these versions were identical and had absolutely hollow body, however, in comparison with the Elegant the top-end Ultima featured premium exterior decoration. The fretboard inlay was offered in 4 variants - flame, tree of life, woman with harps and butterflies. The tailpiece was made in the form of a classical stop bar or vintage Bigsby. The body binding and unusually shaped tuner buttons are made of natural mother-of-pearl. The headstock is fitted with circular Custom Shop logo. The guitar neck has a long tenon. The Ultima has 8.2 lb (3.7 kg) in weight.
In overdrive, Ultima surpasses similar Elegant and Florentine, having a lower and at the same time sharp sound with high clarity. However, when playing solo the instruments are all in all similar and have a deep, but not as compressed sound in comparison with their solid-body cousins.
Because of low demand in the mid-2000s, the production of the guitar was switched over to an advance order mode, and a few years later its production was finally discontinued. However, in 2017, Gibson reissued Ultima in a limited run with a solid body, a long tenon neck and classic inlays of the headstock with natural colored mother-of-pearl at the price of $9,000. Currently, Ultima guitars produced earlier have a considerable collection value, they cost up to $6,000-8,000 on the secondary market.
7. Gibson Les Paul Supreme
Gibson Les Paul Supreme (2013)
The Supreme originated in 2003 formally does not belong to the Custom Shop, however its design is much similar to the Custom Shop’s products. The guitar has a sectioned hollow body glued together similar to an acoustic body – the top and the back are maple, and the side is mahogany. And the back has no holes for replacing the electronics, which makes it considerably harder to upgrade it using an enlarged opening under the jack plate. Its neck has a short tenon. The Supreme has 8.6 lb (3.9 kg) in weight.
When playing riffs the guitar differs cardinally from the sound of all Les Pall models – its lows are totally removed and it has no rhythm density, but it has very brilliant upper mids and the highs that grate on the ear. When played solo it differs insignificantly by less rich overtones and easily produced pick harmonics. The instrument’s sustain is comparable to that of other custom Les Paul versions.
Gibson Les Paul Supreme Limited Run (2007)
In 2007, a limited run of 400 Les Paul Supreme guitars was released, which have a larger amount of mahogany inside the body and the fretboard with no mother-of-pearl inlays. As far as its sound is concerned, the guitar is similar to the classic model with the only difference of a slightly less rhythm density, but possesses strongly pronounced upper mids as well as more percussion and sharp attack. The Supreme Limited Run has 9.7 lb (4.4 kg) in weight.
8. Gibson Les Paul Carved Flame
Gibson Les Paul Carved Flame Limited Run (2003)
In 2003-2005, the Custom Shop division produced a limited run of an innovative Carved Flame. The maple top of the guitar has curving in the shape of flame tips painted in chameleon colors. Its body has unique perforation including 17 rectangular cutaways of various area. Its neck has a long tenon. The Carved Flame has 8.4 lb (3.8 kg) in weight.
As far as its sound is concerned, the Carved Flame is one of the best custom Les Paul versions. Thanks to its chambers, the guitar sounds brightly and loudly when played unplugged. When played in overdrive, the instrument has fat and rich overtones, deep lows, very fast and articulated attack along with high clarity of chords and single notes. When playing compositions, it makes an impression that the guitar has pickups with ceramic magnets and a fretboard that is most probably made out of Indian or Brazilian rosewood.
Considering its characteristics altogether, the Carved Flame surpasses most of the current Custom Shop versions. Unfortunately, Gibson has not used similar perforation in other custom guitars (except for some of Class 5), which makes this instrument very valuable not only to musicians but to collectors as well.
9. Gibson Les Paul Black Widow
Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Widow Limited Run (2009)
At the end of 2000’s – beginning of 2010’s, the Custom Shop division produced Widow Limited Run series that included Black Widow, Blue Widow, Green Widow, Red Widow, Purple Widow and Orange Widow collection guitars. In its design the Black Widow is similar to the Elegant, however, as far as its sound is concerned, it differs cardinally from its prototype thanks to the use of lightweight mahogany. Its neck has a long tenon. The Black Widow has 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) in weight.
The Black Widow instruments were released in 2009 in a limited run of 25 guitars and have their own serial numbers with abbreviation of the model line and a logo in the form of a spider. In November 2015, when legendary Slash had been to Moscow, he became the owner of one of the 25 exclusive guitars with the serial number BW 009.
As a result of using authentic '57 Reissue wood along with internal chambers, the Black Widow turned out to be one of the lightest guitars in the entire Les Paul line. When playing riffs, the instrument has very low and strong overdrive comparable to that of the 25/50 Anniversary. At the same time, when played solo the guitar sounds dry as if it has no internal chambers at all and the amplifier has reverberation totally turned off. All in all, the Black Widow can be said to be the complete opposite to the Supreme.
10. Gibson Les Paul Korina
Gibson Les Paul Standard Korina Limited Run (2001)
In 1958, Gibson ushered into the world three innovative models made out of korina: Les Paul, Explorer and Flying V. In comparison with guitars made out of mahogany, the main Gibson wood, a body and a neck made out of korina (white limba) impart more mids to the instrument. On the other hand, the use of Indian or Brazilian rosewood imparts percussion attack and high clarity to the guitar. Thanks to this, Korina sounds more aggressively than the standard Les Paul, but does not always possess as deep lows as R9 and R0 reissues. When played solo, some reverberation and airiness get added to the notes. At the same time, authentic pickups do not permit the instrument to fully reach its potential when played in overdrive. The '58 collection Reissues have long neck tenon. The body has no chambers or holes. The Korina has 8.4-9.3 lb (3.8-4.2 kg) in weight.
1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue Korina (1999)
This 1958 Reissue Korina was released in 1999 by the Custom Shop according to the original specs of the 1950's. A decade later, Gibson announced once more a series of Korina reissues in honor of half a century anniversary of the legendary guitars. On the secondary market the instrument costs up to $10000-$15000.
Unfortunately, despite its improved frequency response and splendid wood resonance along with low weight, korina has not become widespread in guitar building because of its high cost due to the fact that this species of wood grows exclusively in the South African tropics, there are small number of workpieces suitable for manufacture and its drying technology is complicated. As a result of this, korina being positioned as “super mahogany” remains mainly the lot of premium Custom Shop guitars.
11. Gibson Les Paul Koa
Gibson Les Paul Custom Koa Limited Run (2009)
As a result of replacing the maple top with Hawaiian koa, the guitar, when played solo, acquired fantastic clarity on the bridge pickup along with very rich overtones and practically infinite sustain on the neck. At the same time, when playing riffs the instrument does not differ from traditional models. Its neck has a short tenon. The body has perforation in the form of 9 asymmetrical holes. The Koa has 9-9.7 lb (4.1-4.4 kg) in weight.
This guitar was released in 2009 is a limited run in the Custom Shop division. Many of the subsequent Koa reissues had internal chambers and did not have such fat compressed sound. The instrument costs up to $5000-$10000 on the secondary market.
Unfortunately, similar to the situation with white korina, the use of koa in guitar building is limited because of its high cost due to the fact that this wood grows in the Hawaiian Archipelago in the Pacific ocean. The closest to koa, as far as the sound is concerned, are Brazilian rosewood, cocobolo and granadillo from Central and South America that are used in expensive Custom Shop instruments.
12. Gibson Les Paul Classic Custom Shop
Gibson Les Paul Classic Custom Shop (1995)
In 1995-1997, the Custom Shop division produced a limited edition of Les Paul Classic with mahogany top and Indian rosewood fretboard. The guitar sounds as close as possible to the reissues R9 and R0, featuring punchy lows, strong mids, very sharp trebles coupled with high clarity, rich overtones and virtually infinite sustain. Neck inlays are made of mother-of-pearl with a greenish tinge. The pickups have no covers. The hardware is represented by vintage tuners and a reverse bridge on studs without bushings. Its body has 9 asymmetrical holes. The neck has a short tenon. Classic Custom Shop has 8.2-8.6 lb (3.7-3.9 kg) in weight.
13. Gibson Les Paul Standard Custom Shop
Gibson Les Paul Standard Custom Shop (2011)
In 2011, the Custom Shop division released a classic Standard version of an unusual gray finish with blue flame tips. The instrument featured the absence of covers on the pickups along with chrome frames, splitting of the neck pickup into series/parallel coils connection as well as the use of a lighter one-piece mahogany for the body material (similar to R8 reissue). The sound of the guitar practically does not differ from that of the classic Standard. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The Standard Custom Shop has 9.3 lb (4.2 kg) in weight.
Gibson Les Paul Standard Limited Run (2002)
In 2002, the Custom Shop division released an unusual emerald-colored Standard with the fretboard decorated by colored mother-of-pearl inlays with a black binding. The neck has a long tenon and the '60 profile, the tuners, the bridge and the pots are made in a vintage style, and the body contains a unique perforation in the form of 17 holes. The Standard Limited Run has 8.8 lb (4 kg) in weight.
The sound of the guitar in overdrive is close to the R7-R8 reissues and is characterized by a fat mids combined with rich overtones, but it does not have the same deep lows as the R9-R0 versions.
14. 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue
1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue 50th Anniversary VOS (2010)
The 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue differs from the 1959 Reissue described below by the neck thickness and body weight. Otherwise the instruments are identical and in comparison with modern versions feature a narrower headstock with vintage tuners and a logo, a reverse tune-o-matic bridge with studs without bushings, the use of lightweight mahogany along with Indian rosewood, the R0 sign in the control cavity etc. The True Historic specification differs from the Standard Historic by the use of the lightest wood, transparent pot knobs, a slightly raised truss rod bell and a golden Gibson logo. In overdrive the 1960 Reissue has very low and dense sound compared to that of the 1959 Reissue. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The R0 has 7.9-8.2 lb (3.6-3.7 kg) in weight.
Starting in 2004, Gibson has been releasing a series of reissues with chambers, the Chambered Reissue, that have more open but less compressed sound and are the lightest guitars in Les Paul history. The CR0 has only 7.1-7.3 lb (3.2-3.3 kg) in weight.
In 2010, in honor of 50 year Les Paul Standard anniversary the Custom Shop division announced a limited series of 1960 50th Anniversary Reissue that included Version 1, Version 2 and Version 3 of a total run of 500 guitars with a golden authenticity certificate for each. Later on, Gibson released an additional run of anniversary guitars with a standard certificate without dividing these into versions. The main difference between these instruments was the neck thickness: Version 1 had a '59 neck (the beginning of 1960), Version 2 had a '60 neck (the middle of 1960) and Version 3 had a thinner '60 neck with 0.790" (20 mm) at the 1st fret and 0.865" (22 mm) at the 12th fret (the end of 1960). For visual differentiation Version 1 had Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Heritage Dark Burst finish, Version 2 had Light Iced Tea Burst and Sunset Tea Burst finish and Version 3 had Cherry Burst finish with chrome pot knobs.
Interestingly, the serial 1960 Classic version, unlike limited 1960 Reissue, has short tenon neck angled at 5 degrees, a body with 9 assymetrical holes and 8.4-8.6 lb (3.8-3.9 kg) in weight.
15. 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue Yamano (2005)
The Reissue series is a reissue of the classic 1958-1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard according to the authentic factory specification. During three years of the “golden age”, Les Paul produced 1700 guitars in total with 635 of these produced in 1959. Today, these instruments are the most expensive guitars in history and their cost can often exceed $1 million while their sell price was $300. It was this Les Paul that was played by Gary Moore in Still Got The Blues and Blues Alive albums and that is owned by Kirk Hammet today.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue VOS (2016)
The Les Paul Reissues have been regularly released from 1983 until now (small-scale production began as early as in 1970’s). However, during the first 10 years the guitars had been made out of standard mahogany and had had short neck tenon (Pre-Historic period). The authentic R9, whose production started after the Custom Shop had been set up un 1993, differ from the usual Standard versions by the use of lightweight mahogany thanks to which it sounds much lower than the new instruments. The weight difference can be caused by the use of rare mahogany types, by cutting the workpiece off of a higher part of the trunk or by a different drying technology. And its fretboard is made out of Indian rosewood, which imparts more shrilly sound and better clarity to the instrument.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue CS VOS (2015)
At various years, the Reissue was equipped with '57 Classic, Burst Bucker or Custom Bucker pickups, which is honoring the tradition and does not permit the guitar to fully reach its potential when played in overdrive. The headstock of authentic necks has a slightly smaller width with thinner veneer compared to modern models and has vintage tuners with short shafts and plastic buttons, the Les Paul sign and the truss rod bell are shifted higher, the tune-o-matic bridge with narrow base plate is attached to the wood with studs without bushings and is turned by the adjustment screws toward the pickups (ABR-1 model), the potentiometers have metal brackets, the control cavity has bumblebee capacitors and the R9 sign inside it. The body has no chambers or holes. All Historic Reissue necks have a long tenon with 4 degrees joint angle. The R9 has 8.4-8.6 lb (3.8-3.9 kg) in weight.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue VOS M2M (2016)
Today, Gibson produces Standard Historic and True Historic specifications (the latter is made out of the lightest quartersawn wood). Along with the usual reissues, starting in 2006, the customers have been offered the VOS (Vintage Original Specification) modifications – artificially aged guitars that make an impression that one is playing a vintage 1950’s instrument, as well as the Aged – heavily aged models. In its turn, the M2M (Made to Measure) is a line of exclusive instruments made to specifications of a 5-star Gibson dealer.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue Brazilian Rosewood #9 3434 (2003)
In 2001-2003, a limited run of R9 was released with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard that imparted more percussion attack, strongly pronounced upper mids and very rich overtones to the instrument when played solo. This instrument costs up to $10000-$15000 on the secondary market.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue 50th Anniversary Proto #8 (2009)
In 2009, in honor of the 50th anniversary of 1959 Les Paul Standard guitars a limited run of 25 R9 guitars was released, which had no pick guard on the top and had the Proto # 1...25 sign instead of serial numbers, which designated pre-production guitar prototypes of 1959 model year.
Today, the 1959 and 1960 True Historic Reissue guitars are the best serially produced instruments in the entire Les Paul line having the ideal sound and low weight thanks to the use of genuine hardwood from Fiji in the Pacific ocean.
16. 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue
1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue (2005)
The 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue differs from the 1959 Reissue described above by the neck thickness and body weight. Otherwise the R8 is similar to R9 and in comparison with modern guitars features has a slightly narrower headstock with vintage tuners, the Les Paul sign and the truss rod cover that are shifted slightly higher, a tune-o-matic bridge on studs with adjustment screws and a spring that are turned around toward the pickups etc. The Custom Bucker pickups have small resistance and weak output, which does not permit the wood to fully reach its potential. At the same time, R8 does not have sufficient lows when played in overdrive unlike lightweight R9 and R0 versions. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The R8 has 8.8-9 lb (4-4.1 kg) in weight.
1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard 50th Anniversary Silver Sparkle (2008)
This 1958 50th Anniversary guitar was produced as limited run in 2008 and differs from the classic R8 reissue by an unusual Silver Sparkle color. The 1958 50th Anniversary has 9.2 lb (4.2 kg) in weight.
17. 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue
1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue Brazilian Rosewood #7 3268 (2003)
The 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue differs from the 1958 Reissue by the absence of the transparent Sunburst finish. Otherwise the instruments are identical and in comparison with modern guitars feature a narrower headstock with vintage tuners and a logo, a reverse tune-o-matic bridge with a spring, the use of lightweight mahogany etc. The PAF pickups have soft classical sound that does not permit the instrument to fully reach its potential when played in overdrive. The R7 has lesser lows than R9 and R0 versions because of the use of heavier wood. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The R7 has 8.8-9 lb (4-4.1 kg) in weight.
1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue MM Brazilian Rosewood #7 3491 (2003)
This MM 57 25 guitar was released in 2003 in a limited run to order from Music Machine dealer. It differs from the 1957 serially produced reissues by the use of lightweight mahogany and a thinner neck profile with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard which was used in many of the Reissues in 2003. The R7 MM 57 has only 8.4 lb (3.8 kg) in weight. This instrument costs up to $10000-$15000 on the secondary market.
18. 1956 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue
1956 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue (1996)
The 1956 Gibson Les Paul Standard Reissue differs from the 1957 Reissue by the absence of the humbuckers, instead of which Soap Bar single coils are installed. Otherwise the instruments are identical and made of lightweight mahogany. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The R6 has 8.8-9 lb (4-4.1 kg) in weight.
19. 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue
1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue Black Beauty Yamano (2003)
The 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue differs from the modern version by the top material, the length of the neck tenon, the absence of body perforation and the bridge with studs in the wood. When production of this model began in 1954, the guitar had a mahogany archtop instead of a maple one. The model was equipped with single coil Soap Bar (P-480) pickups. Because of its black coloring the instrument was given a promotional name of Black Beauty. Starting from 1957, the Custom has been equipped with PAF humbuckers that are considered Les Paul classic today.
1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue (2003)
Because its whole body is made out of mahogany, the guitar has a very fat overdrive with strongly pronounced upper and lower mids and, as a result, it sounds much more shrilly and stronger than the modern Customs despite the vintage pickups. When played solo, the notes are lacking a little bit of highs, but rich overtones are present in constant quantity. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The B-7 has 9.7-10.4 lb (4.4-4.7 kg) in weight. As far as its sound is concerned, 1957 Reissue is indisputably the best guitar among all Les Paul Custom.
20. 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue
1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue 10th Anniversary #20 (2003)
The 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue is made to the authentic factory specification and differs from the modern version by the absence of body perforation, long neck tenon, bridge studs without bushings and pot knobs in the shape of “top hats” with chrome tops. Right after the production of the model resumed, the instruments had wholly-mahogany neck and a body with maple top. However, starting from the following year, the neck has been made out of 3 pieces and its tenon became transitional while the body has been a “pancake” of mahogany - thin maple layer - mahogany. Because of this, the guitars produced in 1968 are valued highly among collectors today.
1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom (2000)
In 2003, in honor of its own 10 year anniversary the Custom Shop division released a limited run of 30 guitars of exclusive 1968 10th Anniversary Custom Reissue series. Later on, because of its high popularity Gibson produced 10 more such guitars. All the instruments were signed by Les Paul personally. The sound of the reissues does not differ from that of the serially produced Customs of the past. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. This R68 has 10.8 lb (4.9 kg) in weight.
1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom (2005)
During 2000’s, along with the authentic 1968 Reissue the Gibson factory had been producing a 1968 Custom version that, as compared to the original, had a transparent figured top (there also were some exceptions) and sometimes lighter wood. The 1968 Custom and 1968 Reissue has 9.3-10.8 lb (4.2-4.9 kg) in weight.
21. Gibson Les Paul Zakk Wylde (Bullseye + Camo)
The signature Les Paul of Mr. Zakk Wylde differs considerably in its design and sound from classic Gibson versions thanks to its maple neck and active EMG pickups. Examples of the instrument’s sound can be heard in albums by Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon. The Zakk Wylde has 9.7 lb (4.4 kg) in weight.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Zakk Wylde Bullseye
The guitar had been produced in 2 versions: Bullseye and Camo. Besides the coloring, the main difference was that the Bullseye version had a neck with an ebony fretboard, while the Camo came off the assembly line with a maple fretboard (offered as an option for the Custom in 1975-1981).
Gibson Les Paul Custom Zakk Wylde Camo
The serial numbers were also slightly different: the Bullseye’s serial numbers started with ZW, while the Camo had serial numbers starting with ZPW. The first 25 Bullseye guitars are especially valuable to collectors and are named ZW Aged. The instruments’ serial number had letter A (for Aged) added to it, thus the Bullseye’s serial numbers looked like ZWA. The Camo series also has a peculiarity – the first 25 instruments were named a Pilot run and were pre-production prototypes of the original Camo. The instruments are aged artificially – this is how Mr. Wylde’s original instrument looks like.
Because the guitar is very popular and costs over $3000 even on the secondary market, various Chinese replicas cropped up of high or not so high quality. Here are some essential factors that will help you to tell the original instrument from a fake one:
1. The fakes’ serial numbers differ much from the original ones.
2. The authentic neck has a 3-piece design and a long tenon, its frets are covered with the neck binding.
A fake is made out of one piece of maple with the headstock glued to it, its tenon is short, the frets are not covered with the neck binding.
3. The EMG pickups in the original instruments have a logo with a sticker at the back and black metal wiring. In Chinese replicas the pickups have no identification marks and have many-colored wires.
4. The original instrument has a truss rod that require a wrench. Chinese replicas require a hex tool.
5. In the original instruments the triangle inlays under Gibson logo on the headstock are straight and symmetrical. In Chinese replicas these are totally crooked, of unequal size and slanted at different angles.
6. A Chinese replica video review on Youtube:
22. Gibson Les Paul Slash (Rosso Corsa + Vermillion)
The signature Les Paul models of a famous guitarist Slash had been released as more than ten modifications (Custom Shop, Snakepit, several Standard modifications, Goldtop, several Appetite for Destruction modifications, Rosso Corsa, Vermillion, several Anaconda modifications) from 1990 until 2017 in various runs of 4 to 1600 guitars. All these instruments were based on the classic Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Gibson Les Paul Slash Rosso Corsa (2013)
In 2013, Gibson practically at the same time released two last (as of today) signature versions, Rosso Corsa and Vermillion, in runs of 1200 guitars each. Both guitars have a thin ‘60 neck with a short tenon, a rosewood fretboard, a body with perforation in the form of 9 holes and Seymour Duncan APH-2 Slash Alnico II Pro pickups, which are analogous to ceramic Duncan Custom model with alnico magnets. The main difference between the instruments, besides the shade of the maple top, is their weight: the Rosso Corsa has 10.6 lb (4.8 kg) in weight and the Vermillion has 9 lb (4.1 kg) in weight. The weight difference can be caused by the use of difference mahogany types (African or Honduran), by varying density of mahogany (the workpiece can be cut off of the trunk higher or lower from the root, different trees could have grown in different climatic conditions) or by a different drying technology (natural-drying or kiln-drying technology).
Gibson Les Paul Slash Vermillion (2013)
As far as their sound is concerned, the guitars are improved versions of the Standard. Signature Slash pickups have balanced frequency response that includes bright highs, sharp mids and acceptable lows along with excellent clarity in overdrive. And the Rosso Corsa sounds much lower than the lighter Vermillion, which is an exception in the general Custom Shop trend. Otherwise the instruments are identical.
23. Gibson Les Paul Alex Lifeson
Gibson Les Paul Alex Lifeson (2014)
The signature Les Paul model of a Canadian guitarist Alex Lifeson duplicates the innovative Axcess version in many respects and differs from the classic guitar by the use of a thinner body with ergonomic carving in the back, the absence of the neck heel and the presence of Floyd Rose GraphTech Ghost tremolo with piezoceramic integrated saddle pickups. The volume potentiometers have splits for parallel humbucker coils connection. The tremolo chamber differs by its small size, but because of the archtop and a high position of the base plate it is quite sufficient for pitch raising. The pickups are sunk into the body deeper than in the classic Les Paul with tune-o-matic bridge. Its body has no chambers or holes. Its neck has a long tenon angled at 4 degrees. The Alex Lifeson has 8.6 lb (3.9 kg) in weight.
Thanks to its lightweight mahogany body and Indian rosewood fretboard, the guitar has a very powerful sound in overdrive comparable to the Black Widow. In comparison with the classic Custom its riffs sound much stronger and lower with fast and percussion attack at the same time. However, when played solo, the instrument does not differ at all from the authentic Les Paul with a fixed tailpiece retaining rich overtones and prolonged sustain. When playing clean sound, the pickup splits permit to perform beautiful guitar fingering, while piezo pickup produces 12 string guitar effect with bright highs and resilient mids.
All in all, the signature Alex Lifeson model can be said to be the most handy and functional Les Paul with splendid sound in all tube amplifier channels. Considering its characteristics altogether, this guitar is one of the best versions of the legendary instrument.
24. Gibson Les Paul Gary Moore
Gibson Les Paul Gary Moore (2013)
The signature Les Paul of a famous bluesman Gary Moore had been produced in 2000-2001 and was based on the legendary 1959 model, which had been used in recording of immortal albums Still Got The Blues and Blues Alive. After the musician’s tragic demise in 2011, Gibson decided to reissue the signature series of his instruments.
Formally, the Les Paul Gary Moore does not belong to the Custom Shop division, however, in fact it differs little from their products except that it does not have binding on its body or neck. According to Gary Moore, the advantage of his signature model is a unique combination of authentic sound of old instruments with the ease of playing new ones – the quintessence of the best qualities from both worlds.
This guitar has a granadillo fretboard and is made out of lightweight mahogany thanks to which it sounds similar to the modern reissues of Les Paul R9 and R0 when playing riffs and solo. Thanks to updated PAF Pro pickups the instrument has magnificent clarity on the bridge along with very rich overtones on the neck. And the south pole of the neck pickup is reversed. Its body has perforation in the form of 9 asymmetrical holes. Its neck has a short tenon. The Gary Moore has 8.6 lb (3.9 kg) in weight.
As far as its price-quality ratio is concerned, the signature Gary Moore model is the best version in the Les Paul line, because the sound of the guitar practically does not differ from the 1959 and 1960 Reissues, while it costs much less.
5. Gibson Les Paul Production Chronology
1) 1952-1958 – Les Paul Model was released, Gold Top finish, Soap Bar (P-90) single coils pickups, fretboard made out of Brazilian rosewood, the early versions were equipped with trapeziform tailpiece, then with stop bar without tune-o-matic.
2) 1954-1960 – Les Paul Custom was released, Black Beauty finish, Soap Bar (P-480) single coils pickups, ebony fretboard, it had no maple top but had mahogany archtop instead.
3) 1954-1960 – Les Paul Junior was released, Dark Burst finish, Soap Bar (P-90) bridge single coil pickup, no maple top, no body or neck binding, stop bar tailpiece with no tune-o-matic bridge, inlays in the form of dots; concurrently Les Paul with tailpieces stop bar and bigbsy starts to be released.
4) 1955-1960 – Les Paul Special was released, unlike Junior it has two Soap Bar (P-90) single coils pickups.
5) 1956 – PAF humbucker came into being (today, ’57 Classic) that started to get installed instead of Soap Bar single coils pickups to Gold Top, and the next year to Custom.
6) 1958-1960 – Les Paul Standard was released (the official name was given only in 1975), Sunburst finish, PAF humbuckers, its neck had been getting thinner every year (’58, ’59 and ’60 profiles); at the same time, Gibson announced futuristic models Explorer and Flying V made out of korina, whose example was followed by Les Paul Korina.
7) 1961-1967 – Gibson discontinued the production of the Les Paul model and started to produce ergonomic SG model that was first named Les Paul similar to its predecessor.
8) 1968 – Gibson resumes the production of the Led Paul model because of keen demand for earlier produced guitars.
9) 1968-1985 – Les Paul Deluxe was released, Gold Top finish, mini-humbuckers in singles format.
10) 1969-1982 – Gibson altered the Les Paul manufacturing technology in order to reduce the prime cost of the products (Norlin period): the body was a “pancake” of mahogany-maple-mahogany-maple top (1969-1976), the neck was glued together out of 3 pieces (1969-1982), it was made out of maple (1975-1982) or glued together out of maple-walnut or maple-ebony (1978-1982), had transitional tenon (1969-1975) and short tenon (1976-present), the headstock has a volute (1970-1982), maple fretboard was offered as an option (1975-1981), Gibson logo was spelled slightly different (there was no dot above “i” and letters “b” and “o” had a closed contour), the stamp Second denotes discounted guitars.
11) 1974 - Gibson factory moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Nashville, Tennessee, concurrently the old factory kept producing limited runs of expensive Les Paul versions (The Les Paul, Artisan, 25/50 Anniversary, KM, Heritage etc.) up to 1984, which were competed by limited issues from the new factory (Artist, Spotlight etc.).
12) 1982-present - Gibson resumed the production of the Les Paul model using the original technology, started diversification of the guitar line.
13) 1983-present - Les Paul Studio was released with no body or neck binding and with inlays in the form of dots; the Les Paul bodies got perforation of various geometry (holes, notches, chambers, hollow - 7 varieties in all).
14) 1983-present – release of Les Paul Reissue series (small-scale production began in 1970’s), starting from 1993, the instruments have been made in the Custom Shop using the authentic factory specification of 1950’s and out of lightweight mahogany with long neck tenon and are named Historic Reissue (including Standard Historic and True Historic), in 2001-2003, Brazilian rosewood had been in limited use as fretboard material, starting from 2006, VOS modifications have been offered.
15) 1990-present - Les Paul Classic have been released, ’60 neck profile, aged inlays, open humbuckers, different serial numbers.
16) 1993 - Gibson Custom, Art & Historic Division opened, which released limited runs of reissues guitars (Historic Reissue, Collector's Choise), rare and anniversary versions (Florentine, Elegant, Ultima, Carved Flame, Black Widow, Korina, Koa etc.) as well as signature models of famous guitarists (Slash, Zakk Wylde, Ace Frehley, Alex Lifeson etc.), and later Custom and Standard/Classic Custom Shop, thus widely diversifying the line of custom instruments.
17) 1997-2004 – innovative Les Paul Elegant was released that has a hollow body, a long tenon neck, compound radius ebony fretboard, inlays out of real mother-of-pearl and the top binding of increasing thickness.
18) 2003-present - Les Paul Supreme has been released that has a hollow body, the top and the back are made out of maple, the side is made out of mahogany, the fretboard is made out of ebony.
19) 2008-present - Les Paul Traditional has been released, and updated Les Paul Standard has been released at the same time, the innovations include long tenon necks, asymmetrical neck profile with compound 10"-16" radius fretboard, the bodies that are made out of 2-5 longitudinal pieces of mahogany with weight relief, lock tuners, push-pull potentiometers, circuit boards in the control cavities, a jack plate with jack fixation, automatic tuner, new lacquer formula, titanium zero-fret nut and bridge saddles, fast-access neck heel, belly scarf, removable pick guard, pickups without mounting rings etc.
20) 2011-present - Richlite starts to be used at the end of the year instead of ebony as fretboard material in Custom and Supreme versions, this material is made out of compressed paper impregnated with phenolic resin.
6. Pickups for Gibson Les Paul
Originally, all Les Paul guitars get equipped with proprietary Gibson pickups that produce classic sound in overdrive. However, their potential is clearly insufficient for modern heavy music styles, and so many guitarists upgrade their guitars with powerful humbuckers designed for high gain.
We have tested the most popular bridge pickups with ceramic magnets – DiMarzio Super Distortion, Seymour Duncan Invader, Bare Knuckle Warpig, Bill Lawrence L-500XL and Gibson 500T. As the selection criteria we used the output signal power (resistance of the coils) and frequency response specified by most manufacturers that enables the Les Paul to fully reach its potential.
The equipment used in testing included Gibson Les Paul Custom Koa and tube amplifier Marshall JCM 2000 TSL 60 TubeTone Platinum+ Mod (6Н2П-ЕВ + EL34 tubes, internal wiring and cables by Vovox, 7/10 gain in rhythm channel and 5/10 gain in solo channel, Celestion Vintage 30 speaker, stage volume 120 dB). The pickups were wired according to instructions on manufacturers websites, because each brand has its own color scheme. The distance from the bridge pickup to open strings was 0.08" (2 mm).
It should be mentioned that the described advantages and disadvantages of the tested models are totally true only when the models are installed to Gibson Les Paul. When the pickups are used in guitars of different design and wood, the results may differ, because pickups transfer sound primarily from the wood adding to it just various coloring (signal equalizing), therefore, an extrapolation of the information obtained might turn out to be wrong.
Gibson 498T – serially installed to Gibson Les Paul Custom and has classic humbucker sound with increased output signal. When playing riffs, the guitar lacks overdrive density and lows, when played solo, the sound is very sharp and clear.
+ flat mids, bright highs, high clarity
- absence of lows, single conductor design in stock version
DiMarzio Super Distortion – first ever humbucker for replacing stock pickups produced in 1972. It is the pioneer of heavy metal and is a sort of the standard to compare all other high gain pickups with.
Originally, the modern Super Distortion version was bought, but because of its poor characteristics an authentic single conductor humbucker of 1970’s was later bought on the secondary market. The original features rectangular legs instead of triangle ones and additional holes in the top plates through which one can see coil wiring.
When comparing by turn pickups with the “same name”, the difference in sound was tremendous. The new Super Distortion could boast only 4-conductor design, absence of microphone effect, stressed upper mids and very fast ceramic attack that results in better clarity in the middle strings. However, the original pickup sounded much lower, deeper and brighter than the modern one, and it had all the frequencies balanced. The new pickup can be considered only as a modern version of the stock Gibson retaining existing overdrive character, but the authentic DiMarzio pickup produces a totally different sound – punchy, deep and cutting-through gain. The original pickup surpasses the modern replica practically in all characteristics. As a result of this, we used for comparison the authentic single conductor version, which in half an hour is easily rewired into a 4-conductor version.
It is interesting to note that the modern DiMarzio Tone Zone and Air Zone, which are analogs of the Super Distortion with alnico magnets (a classical one and one with an air gap between the pole pieces and the magnet), have similar "unauthentic" frequency response with a predominance of the upper mids to the detriment of sound density. At the same time, having experience of playing on vintage pickups X2N, Tone Zone and Evolution on other guitars made of mahogany, in comparison with Super Distortion they can be ranked as follows: X2N boosts very much the lows and mids in overdrive, which results in the guitar losing its attack and clarity; Tone Zone is on the verge of boosting, producing the deepest lows and the fattest mids, but more smoothed highs and attack, and also having coils with different winding (dual-resonance design) that produces a "double-voiced" sound of the pickup and richer overtones; Evolution has a comparable signal output power and mids, but has not so deep lows and brighter highs, as well as dual-resonance coils, and is perceived as a whole more shrilly and sharper without losing density.
+ deep lows, strong mids, bright highs, high clarity
- microphone effect at a high volume in high gain
Seymour Duncan Invader – the most aggressive pickup from Seymour Duncan with 3 ceramic magnets. Its frequency response is similar to authentic DiMarzio Super Distortion with the exception of shifting the accent to upper mids area, which subjectively makes the sound more aggressive, and slightly better clarity. Thanks to its large pole pieces, it fits both the guitars with fixed bridge and the instruments with tremolo systems. All in all, in its tone this pickup is designed mainly for playing heavy metal rather than classic hard rock. On the other hand, fans of the original Gibson sound would be better suited with the ceramic Duncan Custom model that has slightly scooped mids and raised highs retaining punchy lows unlike Invader that also comes as an covered version.
+ deep lows, sharp mids, bright highs, very high clarity, universal center-to-center distance of pole pieces
Bare Knuckle Warpig – the most powerful pickup from Bare Knuckle equipped to order with a golden cover. Also comes with alnico magnets that result in a deeper but less sharp sound. In comparison with authentic DiMarzio Super Distortion, it has slightly less lows and highs but the fattest mids among all tested models. Thanks to its stressed upper mids its sound is similar to Seymour Duncan Invader. At the same time, Warpig has the highest gain clarity and articulation as well as a fast ceramic attack. All in all, by the character of its overdrive this pickup is ideal to hard rock and demonstrates the merits of Gibson Les Paul in the best way adding aggressive modern sound to it.
+ acceptable lows, fat mids, flat highs, best clarity
Bill Lawrence L-500XL – the most powerful pickup from Bill Lawrence. Equipped with two rail pole pieces, which makes it universal for fixed bridges and tremolo systems. Its sound is most nonstandard in all tested line – highs that grate on the ear and pretty good lows are combined with totally scooped mids. And the pickup gets microphone effect even at the middle gain, and when shifting over to high gain the amplifier produces whistling even when playing. Another upsetting thing about it is it’s plastic legs with inch thread that easily gets overturned. All in all, this pickup is designed exclusively for heavy metal.
+ high clarity, universal distance of rail pole pieces
- nonstandard frequency response, microphone effect at high volume even at middle gain, plastic legs
Gibson 500T – the most powerful pickup from Gibson. Its sound is similar to stock model 498T having even more powerful output signal, which makes it dirtier when playing passages. All in all, having experience in comparing various Gibson pickups including authentic 57 Classic and 57 Classic+, one could say that none of these models have necessary lows, which does not permit Les Paul to fully reach its potential in overdrive.
+ flat mids, bright highs
- absence of lows, dirt shows up at high gain
You can find more information about Gibson pickups at:
7. Helpful Advices
After a guitarist has bought a Gibson Les Paul guitar, he should do the following:
1) It is advisable to replace the strings with a set of 10-50 gauge or more;
2) Screw the stop bar into the body to full depth;
3) Set the strings height (0.08"-0.1" (2-2.5 mm) above 22th fret), adjust the truss rod sag (0.06"-0.08" (1.5-2 mm) above 12th fret), adjust the scale, tune up the height of the pickups (0.08"-0.12" (2-3 mm) from the open strings), set the level of the adjustable pole pieces by the radius of the fretboard;
4) Replace volume potentiometers 300K with 500К, possibly, with splitting humbuckers into single coil.
All in all, when buying an expensive Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop, it is best to consult professionals
8. Serial Numbers
Gibson Les Paul serial numbers from 1977 to 2013 had been a combination of YDDDYRRR(R) (for example, 81230456 is the guitar 456 produced on day 123 of 1980). Starting from 2000, instead of the first figure 0 they put figure 2 on some guitars (for example, 21784012 is the guitar 12 produced on day 178 of 2004). During the coexistence of factories in Kalamazoo and Nashville, the former used the RRR numbering 001-499 until closing in 1984, while the latter used 500-999 numbering until 1989.
Starting from 2014, Gibson Les Paul serial numbers have been a combination of YYRRRRRRR (for example, 150000234 is the guitar 0000234 produced in 2015).
The Custom Shop division used its own numbering CS YRRRR(R) (for example, CS 34567 is the guitar 4567 produced in 2003 or 2013 year). It is important to point out that until 1999 the custom guitars had no CS abbreviation. Starting from 2007, the round Custom Shop logo on its headstock was replaced by a plain Gibson Custom sign. Custom shop guitars are supplied with COA (Certificates of Authenticity).
Figures in the brackets (R) provisionally show that the instrument serial number can have an additional digit (starting from 2005).
Most of the Reissue serial numbers have the format of M YRRR, where the first figure designates the year of production of the original similar to numbering guitars of 1950’s, and the second figure designates the year of production of the reissue (for example, 0 4123 is a reissue of 1960 produced in 1994 / 2004 / 2014 with number 123). In early Reissues, up to 1993 (Pre-Historic period), the first figure in the format YRRRR did no designate the year of production of the original but designated the year of production of the reissue itself (for example, 81234 is the guitar 1234 produced in 1988). By the way, serial Classic has a similar serial numbering. The newest authentic True Historic of 2016 have serial numbers in the format of RM YRRRR (for example, R9 62345 is a reissue of 1959 produced in 2016 with the number 2345). At the same time, starting from 2015, the Standard Historic specification reissues of 1959 and 1960 have the designation of CSM YRRR (for example, CS9 5789 is a reissue of 1959 produced in 2015 with number 789). Starting from 2004, chambered reissues have had prefix CR (Chambered Reissue). In its turn, the Collector's Choice series is designated with CC. Some of the reissues of 1960’s are numbered as YYRRRM (for example, 002348 is 1968 Custom produced in 2000 with number 234).
It should be mentioned that there are some exceptions to these rules that occurred at various years in various Les Paul versions (for example, earlier Custom Shop, anniversary Centennial etc.). Also, prior to unification of designations in 1977, serial numbers algorithms changed regularly. In particular, in early 1977, the first two figures were 06, in 1976 – 00, at the end of 1975 – 99, from 1968 to early 1975 cross stochastic numbering was used. The Made in U.S.A. sign had been pressed in the headstock only since 1970 (except for limited Reissue and serial Classic).
Also, some limited versions and signature models (25/50 Anniversary, Black Widow, Collector's Choice, Alex Lifeson, Ace Frehley, Zakk Wylde etc.) have their own serial numbering.
You can find more detailed information and check serial number of your Gibson Les Paul at:
Authored by Vlad X & Jin 2014-2018 (Moscow, Russia)