Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul Standard “Norm Burst” Review
Deliciously vintage details distinguish an affordable Les Paul that delivers authentically old-school performance, too.
Recorded with Friedman BE and custom-built tweed Deluxe-style amps.
0:00 – Bridge pickup, into Friedman BE lead channel.
0:45 – Switch to neck pickup.
1:02 – Bridge pickup, into clean-ish tweed-style amp.
1:14 – Both pickups.
1:25 – Neck pickup.
A well conceived, impressively executed, and affordable take on a star artist's vintage Les Paul. Many authentic vintage-style details. Articulate in overdriven contexts.
Thinner neck profile might turn away some players, despite vintage accuracy.
Epiphone Limited Edition Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul “Norm Burst"
Joe Bonamassa is among blues-rock's most visible guitar-playing ambassadors. That stewardship role has led to more than a few pieces of gear marked with his imprimatur over the years. The newest, the $699 Epiphone Limited Edition Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul Standard “Norm Burst," is impressive for the price. But it's an excellent guitar by any standard, that, in its beautiful, bright cherry burst finish, begs to be played, much like a seasoned vintage instrument does.
It helps that Bonamassa used one of the most iconic guitars from his own overflowing collection as inspiration for this Les Paul. The “Norm Burst" handle comes from the hallowed San Fernando Valley shop Norm's Rare Guitars, where Bonamassa picked it up. The original is a stunning Les Paul to say the least. And something about its exquisiteness clearly inspired Epiphone to look after the vintage-style details in this version.
The most basic features and specs of the Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul are classic and familiar: a mahogany body with maple top, mahogany set neck, 24.75" scale length, 12" fingerboard radius, and dual humbuckers aimed squarely at PAF-style tones. Some changes to the formula are subtle. For instance, the AA-grade flame cap is a very thin maple veneer covering a thicker maple section, which is, in turn, affixed to the solid mahogany body. It does nothing to diminish the beauty of the guitar, however, and it's a great way to achieve the look of a pricey flame top without the expense.
Other details are more exacting. The long-tenon neck joint, Mallory tone caps, and 1960-style gold top-hat knobs with silver reflector inserts will please authenticity sticklers. The Epiphone also features a '50s wiring scheme—a reconfiguration of the tone pot wiring that many players prefer for its additional high-end clarity and more accurate tone-control performance. The guitar's pickups, a set of Epiphone ProBuckers, use alnico 2 magnets. (Original Les Paul PAFs used alnico 2, 4, and 5 magnets. Alnico 2 magnets typically deliver the warmest tonality and lowest power of these three types.) They also feature period-correct-sized bobbins, and measure 8.51k ohms in the bridge pickup and 7.86k ohms in the neck unit.
Like many modern guitars in this price class, the Epiphone substitutes Indian laurel for rosewood on the fretboard. Otherwise, the neck features Epiphone's '60s SlimTaper profile—a thin and ostensibly “fast" shape with a flat-ish back that purportedly replicates the feel of Les Pauls and other Gibson models from 1960. It's discernibly thinner than the profile that distinguishes Les Pauls from just a year earlier. Personally, I find this thinner shape more fatiguing on the left hand after a long session, and prefer Les Pauls with chunkier, more rounded '50s neck shapes. Many players will, no doubt, beg to differ. That said, this guitar played superbly right out of the case. At 9.2 pounds, it's classically Les Paul-hefty. Thankfully the street price includes a very nice Lifton-style hardshell case.
Before you ever plug it in, the Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul feels lively, responsive, and resonant. That translates to a crisp, well-balanced sound once an amp enters the picture. Played through a Friedman Small Box head and 2x12 cab, a Carr Lincoln 1x12 combo, and several patches on the Fractal Axe-Fx III via studio monitors, the guitar sounded just like a good Les Paul should. But it also delivers tones that verge on sounding like a great Les Paul when you really get things dialed in.
The sound of a vintage Les Paul barely needs explaining, but this Epiphone speaks in that iconic voice very convincingly. There's lots of articulation when you pair it with overdrive from amps and pedals alike, lending plenty of harmonic interplay that adds sparkle to saturation and makes it a pleasure to dig in and play hard. Like any PAFs, these pickups are predisposed to a little grit even at clean amp settings. But the slightest attenuation of the volume cleans things up enough for rich jazz and country sounds. On the other side of the crunch spectrum, the Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul acquits itself impressively well, excelling at power-chord rhythm, singing lead excursions, sizzling blues-rock, and even chunky vintage-metal.
The Limited Edition Joe Bonamassa 1960 Les Paul is a great value—particularly when you consider how much vintage spirit it possesses. It delivers most of the classic sounds and performance attributes players would want from the format. Individual tastes about neck shape might determine whether it's the perfect affordable Les Paul for you. But it's impressive that any perceived issues in the guitar's performance were primarily down to personal taste rather than build quality or execution. And most of these preferences are the things that fall by the wayside once you turn up and play with abandon—an environment where this Les Paul is right at home.
Watch the First Look: