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2008 Gibson Les Paul Standard Review

November 11, 2008

2008 Gibson Les Paul Standard
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Hartman Germanium Fuzz engaged at end of clip
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Recorded with a 1981 JCM 800 2203 head straight in, through a 1960B 4x12 with V30s.
SM57 right on the cone, Neumann M49 in onmi for the room.
I’m a Les Paul guy. Been playing them for years and years, and to me nothing touches a great one. They represent a cool factor to the highest degree and have been a staple of rock since the beginning. From Jimmy Page to Ace Frehley to Slash, the Les Paul is the prototypical rock guitar and icon. Over the years Gibson has made many variations on the Les Paul, and with the Custom Shop, VOS, Inspired By, and so on, there are a lot of Les Pauls to choose from. However, a real Gibson Les Paul doesn’t come cheap by any means. With a list price of $2609, the 2008 Les Paul Standard is not inexpensive as far as guitars go, but in the Gibson line it certainly is not at the top of the price range. Let’s dig in and see what Gibson has put together for the new 2008 Les Paul Standard.


First Impressions
The ’08 Standard represents many of the familiar aspects of a Les Paul, but also brings some new things to the table. Features include a chambered body, enlarged neck tenon, Bourns pots, TonePros locking bridge and tailpiece, Neutrick locking output jack, straplocks, an asymmetrical neck shape and a Plek guitar setup. Pulling the LP out of the case I immediately noticed its weight. Having a ’74 LP Custom as well as an ’03 R8, the guitar felt pretty light. This is obviously due to the chambering, or weight-relief. That said, it didn’t affect the tone adversely to my ears. In fact, acoustically the guitar has a very balanced tone with plenty of shimmer and depth. Over the time I had the Standard, I grew very accustomed to the weight and actually rather enjoyed it when playing for long periods of time.

The TonePros bridge adds stability and increased sustain and is a welcome addition to the guitar, as many of us already upgrade our Les Pauls with TonePros bridges. Probably the most significant improvement to me was the out-of-the-box setup. Having the guitar Plek’d at the factory, I was able to tune up the LP in a few seconds and get right to playing. Though the B and G strings had some light buzzing from the nut up to the 5th fret, I can’t discredit Gibson here because the guitar traveled from Nashville to my home in Scottsdale, Arizona, so a minor truss rod adjustment was all that was necessary. It was without a doubt the best set up Les Paul I’ve played out of the box.

Aesthetically, the 2008 Standard looks great. The review guitar had a beautiful, lightly flamed top in a Heritage Cherry Sunburst finish. The fit and finish on this guitar is excellent, showing no paint flaws, poor fret dressing or hardware issues that I could see. Gibson dropped the pickguard from this model, which is really just a choice you’ll have to live with. It didn’t bother me, and it isn’t the first time Gibson has shipped a Les Paul without one.

Also, the guitar ships in a very nice Gibson USA hardshell case with a white padded interior.


Plugging In
I had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with the ’08 Standard at the studio. Incidentally, I also had my ’74 Custom (stock) and my ’03 Murphy R8 with Sheptone Tribute pickups on hand throughout to see how the ’08 held up to the others. To start with, the new neck profile feels great. It’s not as thick and chunky as a ’58 profile, but certainly not as thin as a ’60. The asymmetrical shape was very comfortable to my hand, and it felt natural with enough wood to get a strong handle on the guitar. The idea behind the asymmetrical shape is to have more meat on the bass side of the neck, tapering off slightly on the treble side. It works. The frets were finished perfectly and didn’t have any high or low spots up and down the neck. And as I’d mentioned, the intonation was dead on due to the Plek, and the setup had a very comfortable and low action.

Plugging into a JCM 800 half-stack showed that it sounds very much like a Les Paul, but with a twist. The chambering brings it slightly into a Les Paul/ES-335 hybrid territory (an 80/20 ratio, I’d say). It’s hard to put a definition on that sound but it definitely brings a little bit of a semi-hollowbody guitar tone. Not a lot, but enough to notice the difference. Comparing it to my ’03 R8 I felt the Standard didn’t have as much bite and muscle to it, but that may have also had to do with the pickups. Tonally, the Burstbuckers are a bit rough. Not necessarily a sweet or defined sound to my ears, but more aggressive and slightly darker. They sound like a higher gain pickup than they are, and were a bit more muted sounding when compared to the ’03 R8 and quite a bit darker than the ’74 Custom. That said, when I recorded with the guitar I didn’t notice as much of a discrepancy in the tone as when all three were being played live. Pickups and tone are very subjective, so even though they wouldn’t be my first choice, another player might find the Burstbuckers to be a perfect complement to their style and amp choice.


Oddities
There were a few choices that left me scratching my head, the first being the Neutrik locking jack. In an era where innovative devices like Snap-Jack allow for easy decoupling of the cable to prevent stress damage on the instrument, or to stop an amp from toppling over, the locking jack just doesn’t make sense to me. In twenty years of playing Les Pauls, I’ve never had a scenario where the cord came unplugged from the guitar. Somebody at Gibson wanted to make damn sure that cord wasn’t getting pulled out! It became a nuisance to me every time I went to unplug the cord, and it seemed like an unnecessary addition.

Another oddity is the semi-transparent control cavity cover. It’s as if Gibson wants to highlight the fact that they now employ a PCB to handle all of the electronics. All pots are mounted directly to the PCB, and the pickups, switch and jack are all plugged in with connectors, not soldered. Perhaps this is a time and cost-saving move, but it brings up a variety of issues. What happens if you want to change pickups or a pot goes out? What if you want to make modifications to the circuit?

Finally, the pots felt cheap and flimsy. That could be due to the fact that they had nearly no resistance to them or that I knew they were directmounted, but that didn’t affect the taper or the tone to my ears.


The Final Mojo
Aside from some of the issues pointed out, I really enjoyed this guitar. It represents a new model with some welcome updates (the Plek setup being the highlight to me), as well as a few oddities. However, the new ’08 Standard is still very much a Les Paul and should be considered if you’re looking for a moderately priced new Les Paul.
Buy if...
you want an updated and moderately priced Les Paul.
Skip if...
you''re a traditionalist.
Rating...
4.5
MSRP $4009 Street $2609 - Gibson - gibson.com

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