Gibson has played around with the Les Paul formula for half a century now, with both great and not-so-stellar results at times. So it goes when you’re tinkering with one of the most iconic guitars of all time. One of the smartest and most successful twists on Gibson’s flagship axe was the Les Paul Studio—an more-affordable, less-fancy, but arguably just-as-elegant Les Paul variation that’s remained one of the company’s best-selling guitars of all time.
Les-son in Tone
A lot of familiar Les Paul Studio features remain in the newest model. The time-tested combo of a mahogany body with a carved maple top is still used for the body construction, and it shares the new Modern Weight Relief chambering pattern with this year’s Les Paul Standard. But since it’s a Studio model, there’s no binding to be found anywhere on the body or fretboard. The tuners are Klusons, which lends a vintage air, and you’ll find 490R and 498T humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions, respectively.
On this most recent iteration, however, the set quarter-sawn mahogany neck is capped with a 22-fret Granadillo fingerboard, inlayed with pearloid trapezoid markers, and carved in a slim ’60s profile. American guitar makers use Granadillo a lot more often these days, but it’s been a staple of by South American luthiery for centuries. It’s a denser material than rosewood, but resonates beautifully and has a bright tonality—which is why it’s a popular wood for instruments such as marimbas. Over time, it tends to darken to the shade of Honduran Rosewood.
More significantly from a tone-shaping perspective, Gibson eschewed standard volume pots on the new Studio for push-pull coil-tapping units that enable access to snappier tones. And while they were at it, Gibson also expanded the finish options by adding a few new vibrant editions, such as iverness green, radiant red and the pelham blue finish of our review guitar.
The 498T bridge pickup—which its relatively hot at 13k-15k output range is especially well suited for coil tapping mode. It has fantastic snap in the highs, but also has an unexpectedly powerful midrange.
Legendary Tone with a Twist
Pumped through a Mesa/Boogie Multiwatt Dual Rectifier and an Emperor 4x12, the Studio delivers muscular clean tones for chording and gingerly-picked melodies. The guitar is also blessed with brawn aplenty, and the 490R and 498T pickups both display a penchant for strong attack and a rich midrange, which makes them great for traditional, rock-oriented Les Paul applications.
The real difference in the guitar is the sounds you get from the pickups’ coil-tapped modes, which are impressively full and vibrant. The 498T bridge pickup—which its relatively hot at 13k-15k output range—is especially well suited for coil tapping mode. It has fantastic snap in the highs, but also has an unexpectedly powerful midrange—perfect for players that love Les Pauls with P-90s—and a tighter low end that helps overcome the muddier tendencies of the Les Paul breed.
Overdrive tones were thick and luscious through the Mesa’s overdrive channel and the guitar remained responsive and dynamic when I dug into the strings—making it easy to coax thick overtones and harmonics. In this kind of setting there’s plenty of classic Les Paul tone on tap, but with slightly more modern edges to the highs—especially with the 498T bridge pickup switched in. In general, the bridge position performed best at lower gain settings, where it reveals a complex midrange and thick, rope-like attack that’s great for biting rhythmic single notes.
The new Les Paul Studio continues to be a fantastic choice for budget-minded players looking to get a piece of the Gibson USA pie. It delivers the throaty tones that you would expect from a good Les Paul, along with some impressive coil-tapped sounds that really expand the range and versatility of a guitar that’s already an impressive value, not to mention a sweet looking take on a classic. Les Paul purists may take exception, but their protests won’t change the fact that this is one superb all-around rock machine.