Oh Henry! Gibson's Les Paul BFG
October 10, 2007
The truth is, Henry presides over all things Gibson, and who am I to argue? I know guitars, not business, and I’m unable to look back fondly on the Norlin-era stuff that was available when I started playing. In fact, I level the majority of my current Fender-bias squarely on my first Lester; a particularly heinous, 4000- pound LP Deluxe, made from approximately 40 pieces of mahogany.
No matter how you feel about Gibson’s press policies, at least thank them for not making crap like that anymore. And to specifically give Henry props, he greenlighted the BFG, and for that, if I may paraphrase the title from one of my favorite books, “God Bless You, Mr. Juszkiewicz.” This is one of the first non-vintage-reissue solid bodies I’ve been excited about in ages, and it just happens to be the most inflammatory thing to hit rock n’ roll since the Sex Pistols. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but the BFG has been the cause of more than a few fervent forum postings.
The majority of the ruckus is due to the BFG’s Flintstones-meets-the Stooges (yes, the band) styling, which is even more pronounced in person than in photos, making the selection of Cheetah Chrome to promote the BFG more than appropriate. The CNC marks on the top aren’t as pronounced in person as they seem to be in photos, and the lack of a truss-rod cover and wooden knobs just screams punk rawk. Apart from having to admit that I am now part of a coveted demographic group, it appeals to me.
I hesitate to compare the BFG’s spartan appointments to the space-age minimalism of the Telecaster or the plain-Jane handsomeness of Martin’s D-18, but it does fit in with that utilitarian group as the tattooed, ex-biker uncle with a heart of gold. I’ve never had a penchant for satin finishes, but the dull finish works here, adding to the nobullshit vibe of the guitar.
Speaking of no BS, the guitar comes about as well equipped as a survival knife – which is high-praise indeed. It features a P-90 at the neck, a Burstbucker 3 at the bridge, one tone and two volume controls, 3-way pickup selector switch, and the second most critiqued aspect of the guitar after its appearance – the kill switch. This enables the quick on/off effect heard on the fadeout of Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing,” without having to kill the volume on either pickup, invariably ending with your forgetting to turn it back up before embarrassing yourself on the next tune. The BFG ships with the standard Stopbar/Tune-o-matic bridge setup, and sports Grover tuners. Various finishes have differently treated hardware, with Distressed Black Chrome on the Trans Black and Trans Gold finished models, and Gun Metal on the Trans Cherry units.
The factory setup was decent, with one minor niggle – the G and B strings were binding a bit at the nut. Another nit to pick is that no one went around the edges of the guitar with a sander or router to take the edge off, rewarding enthusiastic strumming with a sharp pain in the forearm, although it could come in handy for cheese slicing. Luckily, my generous belly saved me from suffering the same fate from the back edge. The action was set to factory specs: 5/64” at the 12th fret on the bass side, 3/64” on the treble, with no fretting out or buzzing after dropping the action down to 3/64” on both sides.
The neck was nice and straight, sporting .004” relief measured at the 8th fret, although this could be attributable to the remnants of Tropical Depression Erin, which was keeping things damp around here. The intonation was pretty far off, but thankfully, no odd moves were needed to get it dialed. Something else that seemed peculiar was the height of the Burstbucker 3, but this was mostly a visual hiccup due to the lack of pickup surrounds. There is plenty of black tape around the windings to offer protection from any errant picking.
I’ve always put a lot of stock in how a guitar sounds unplugged, and the BFG sounded great; really woody, articulate and loud, like a rock n’ roll machine even before being amplified. Plugging in the BFG took nothing away from the unamplified vibe, with both the BB3 and P-90 adding rather than taking away from the guitar’s solid fundamental tone. It took me a while to quit trying to change pickups via the kill-switch, which is relegated to the spot traditionally occupied by the pickup selector. Each pickup has its own volume control while the single tone knob serves double duty. This didn’t bother me, but hardcore LP fanatics may take a while to adjust.
The neck position P-90 is phenomenal, offering up really great tones, suitable for roots rock, blues, even some jazz, although I felt like a proper git when attempting “Take Five” on something this primal. The neck pickup would be apropos for protoblues, proto-rock – pretty much proto-anything. The Burstbucker 3 also matches well with the BFG, with its medium output being a great match volume- wise with the P-90. The sound of the two pickups combined was a real treat, adding the BB3’s warm, crunchy definition to the P-90’s hollow-ish mids. I honestly figured part of the review process would include envisioning replacement suggestions for the stock pickups, but the P-90 and BB3 suit the hot-rod aesthetic really well.
The Final Mojo
The BFG is first and foremost a rock n’ roll machine, the Les Paul equivalent of a primer-black ’32 flathead Ford, galvanizing opinions in much the same way. Either you like pinstripes on primer or you don’t. If you have the SuicideGirls bookmarked, and you play “Trash” by the New York Dolls when scoping out a new amp, check this out. If you buy guitars based on their tops, give this one a pass. It just won’t make sense.
Gibson Guitar Corp.
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