Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Electric Guitar Review
July 19, 2011
The electric baritone guitar has been popping up on pop, rock, and country records for almost as long as the standard 6-string. Brian Wilson was a huge fan, utilizing its unique tone and capacity for lower tuning registers to help create the expansive textures of many classic Beach Boys cuts. Danelectro baritones were a staple of Nashville recording studios. And players as diverse as Pat Metheny, Peter Buck, and Duane Eddy have used electric baritones as a secret weapon of sorts. It’s also found favor among modern heavy rock and metal players, most notably Staind’s Mike Mushok and Metallica’s James Hetfield, the latter of which used one for rhythm tracks on “Sad But True.”
Gibson built 6-string basses decades ago, but only in the past decade has the company combined the qualities of the baritone guitar with their classic Les Paul design. The initial run was a short one, but they’ve revisited the concept with the new limited-edition Les Paul Studio Baritone—and the results are no less impressive than they were the first time around.
Despite the original Les Paul Baritone’s short life on the market, it found a lot of fans. After it went out of production, prices for the original pewter-finished instruments more than doubled the original price. The demand is rooted in much more than novelty and collectability, though—the marriage of Les Paul humbucker heft and the long scale makes the Les Paul Studio Baritone a unique and formidable sonic tool.
This new bari Les Paul has a lot in common with Gibson’s original release. It employs the same 28" scale, which means its one-piece mahogany neck is a full 3 1/2" longer than a standard Les Paul’s. This keeps the string tension tight in lower tunings such as C (C–F–Bb–Eb–G–C), B (B–E–A–D–F#–B), and A (A–E–A–D– F#–B), while retaining the percussive snap and low-end tightness that you lose when tuning a standard-scale guitar down that low. It’s a sound and feel that cannot be completely replicated by simply throwing a heavier set of strings on your regular Les Paul and dropping the tuning.
Because of the extra 3 1/2" in scale length, two additional frets have been added, giving the Les Paul Studio Baritone a 24-fret, two-octave runway. Like the first Les Paul Baritone, the neck’s profile is the company’s standard rounded ’59 shape. And the body is finished with a thin coat of nitrocellulose lacquer for maximum resonance and wood breathability.
The guitar’s chambered, two-piece mahogany body is remarkably light, thanks to internal tone chambers. Because of that and the longer scale, I expected it to be neck-heavy. But it remained balanced when I adjusted the strap to tilt the neck a little higher than the body. The beautiful two-piece maple cap is finished in Honeyburst—the only color available at this time—and the edges are stained a lovely golden hue that gives the guitar a subtly luxurious vibe.
Gibson made some very practical changes to the electronics in the newest Baritone. The original version had 490R and 498T humbuckers with alnico 5 magnets and metal covers. However, because a prominent treble response can give baritones a more balanced sound and keep the inherently pronounced low-end frequencies tight and audible while adding detail and emphasis to highs that would otherwise be a dull thud, Gibson installed a pair of uncovered ceramic-magnet humbuckers—a 496R in the neck position and a 500T bridge pickup—this time around. The 496R and 500T are much hotter and brasher sounding than the vintage-voiced 490R and 498T in the original, but their ability to handle low frequencies and enhanced highs alike gives them an edge over their lower-output predecessors.
Lay It Down
I tested the Les Paul Studio Baritone by plugging into a Bogner Brixton head and a Bogner 2x12 cabinet. I couldn’t help belting out some power-chord-fueled metal riffage, and the sound was tight and huge, with the thick, solid midrange that Les Paul’s are known for and highs and upper mids that cut through like a bolt of lightning over the thundering low end. Rather than an overbearing, sludgy tonality, the guitar sounded firm and full, with the low end serving as a foundation for the mids and highs rather being the dominant quality. Tonally, this guitar is very balanced, despite its specialized function.
The Baritone came strung with Gibson’s standard .013–.060 baritone strings and tuned to the key of C#. Intonation was spot-on, and the superb setup made the guitar exceptionally playable. The extra scale length made the thicker strings feel as slinky as .010s, and playing one-and-a-half-step bends in the middle of the neck was almost effortless—so much so that I had to be careful not to bend double stops too sharp. It takes some mental recalibration to get used to the added neck length, but the guitar’s playability of the instrument speeds the process considerably.
The Baritone’s comfort and surprising ability to handle note separation led me in very unexpected directions. From downtuned metal, I moved to bluesy single-note runs and arpeggiated rock melodies, and the amount of detail and bounce in every note was astonishing.
I spent the next hour recording an impromptu song in the vein of the Cure’s “Burn,” with its chugging, sixteenth-note pattern, to see how the LP Studio bari fit in a band mix. I coaxed a glistening clean tone out of a Bogner Barcelona 40-watt combo—which was surprising, considering the 500T’s hot output—and the guitar sat beautifully in the multitrack mix. Not only did it make a great complement to the two standard electric guitar tracks, it also lent more definition to the bass track. The tone was even more expansive when I switched to the neck pickup. However, the 496R can sound so big that I found myself wishing for a coil-tap switch. Some of the best baritone-guitar recordings were made with single-coil-equipped guitars after all, and their piano-like qualities—especially on the low strings—can make a baritone much more manageable in the studio.
Gibson’s new Les Paul Studio Baritone is much more than a flash-in-the-pan rock/metal machine—and it’s more than a Nashville studio tool, too. It’s a vibrantly tuneful and wide-ranging guitar that can work in countless musical settings thanks to its versatile tones and inviting, familiar-feeling ergonomics. Though a coil-tap function would give the well-matched pickups even greater range, careful manipulation of the Volume and Tone knobs yields a variety of usable sounds. If you’re looking for tones that are even more burly and muscular than a standard Les Paul, this unique instrument can definitely deliver.
Watch the video review:
you crave the punch of lowered tunings but aren’t willing to sacrifice treble and mid response.
you prefer single-coil-fueled bari tones.
Street $1389 - Gibson - gibson.com