Gibson Les Paul Shootout with Mike Rock

The Gibson Les Paul occupies a special place in the guitar world. But the earliest Les Pauls—from the late ’50s and ’60s, exist in a particularly special place. The legend goes that early Les Pauls were made with the finest craftsmanship, the most powerful specs, and the sweetest aesthetics. So when Gibson attempts to recreate these near inimitable guitars, you take notice.

Mike Rock, Sam Ash’s own Les Paul expert, took the time to sit down with three Gibson Les Pauls, to compare, contrast, and analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly of each. He included two “reissues” the Standard ’50s and Standard ’60s, and a Les Paul Modern.

Here’s Mike’s take on these new, classic axes:

Les Paul Standard ’50s

This is the closest thing to a perfect ’50s reissue Les Paul that Gibson has ever produced in a production model. This Standard ’50s axe isn’t an exact replica of a ’59 Les Paul, but it showcases some of the best features from that era—and the overall character.

The body of this guitar is solid mahogany, with no weight relief. It’s got nickel hardware, as opposed to classic chrome hardware. The bridge is a threaded rod ABR-1, instead of a Nashville, which is countersunk to prevent it from bending over, like the original ’50s models. The neck has a 12″ radius, with a classic thick, chunky feel, and a 1 11/16 nut width. The headstock is taken straight out of the ’50s, with a very reasonable 17 degree angle and Deluxe Kluson tuners with single rings.

This Standard ’50s Les Paul has classic knobs and covered humbuckers. It’s also got a hand-wired control cavity with Orange Drop capacitors. The Alnico II pickups are nicely matched, with a Burstbucker 1 at the neck and a slightly higher-output Burstbucker 2 at the bridge.

This model is perfect for the player who wants to get close to the fabled ’59 Les Paul without going to the Custom Shop.

Les Paul Standard ’60s

This is another model which is about as close to the original as Gibson’s ever released. This ’60s styled Les Paul has a solid mahogany body without any weight relief or chambering. There’s a thinner, Slim Taper neck profile, which has a bit more of a modern feel.

This Les Paul also has an ABR-1 bridge with threaded rods, which is countersunk, giving the bridge additional stability over the original. The knobs are reflector top with ’60s style, plus it’s got acrylic crown marker inlays, and Grover Rotomatic tuners, for extra tuning steadiness.

The Les Paul Standard ’60s showcases 61T and 61R pickups, with Alnico V magnets. These afford a bit more output and a more powerful high-end than the pickups in the Standard ’50s model. This guitar is quintessential Les Paul – simple, powerful, and great in all respects.

Les Paul Modern

The Modern is a high-performance Les Paul for today’s guitarist. It has a mahogany body, with ultra-modern weight relief, and a maple top. The neck is solid mahogany as well, sporting an asymmetrical Slim Taper and modern contour heel, which affords unprecedented access to the upper frets.

The Les Paul Modern has a genuine, bound ebony fretboard with a compound radius, lined with real Mother-of-Pearl trapezoid inlays. It’s also got an aluminum Nashville bridge instead of the traditional ABR. The guitar is decked out in chrome hardware, like most models post-1966, which is brighter and shinier. Atop the headstock, the Grover Rotomatic tuners with locking mechanism look and work rock-solid.

This Modern axe has clear, top hat control knobs, which stick out with a new aesthetic and give a nice edge to this LP. Underlying them is four quick-connect, 500k Audio Taper pots. The volume pots coil-tap each Burstbucker Pro humbucker, turning them into P-90s. The top tone control is a phase switch and the other tone knob is a true-bypass switch, which removes any other switching in the circuit and runs your sound straight out, unadulterated, from the bridge pickup.

The Modern is the perfect marriage of classic Les Paul style and power, with today’s technology and functionality.

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