Gibson Les Paul Standard Review
A not-so-standard Standard offers a multitude of sonic options.
The Gibson Les Paul has seen many permutations since it was introduced in 1952 as a two-P-90 goldtop. In sonic terms, the new 2019 Les Paul Standard might be the most versatile. Besides its foundational two-humbucker voice, the new Standard has coil tapping for P-90-like tones, coil splitting for S-style single-coil sounds, an out-of-phase setting, and the ability to select outer and inner coils. Inside the control cavity, there are five DIP switches that select the tapped or split sounds, activate a high-pass filter for each of the pickups, and suppress volume spikes from string attack while plugged into a DAW. That’s a lot of versatility for a model that began life as something called “the Slab.”
I Shall Be Relieved
Since 1982, many Les Pauls have been less slabby than their progenitors. That’s when Gibson began using weight relief in guitar bodies, which is important for typically beefy Les Pauls. My ’68 Standard, for example, weighs 12 pounds. Our review guitar is a mere eight pounds and features Gibson’s mahogany “ultra-modern weight relief” body. So, the 2019 Standard has a sold core through the center of the guitar, but nine small offset chambers optimally placed around the perimeter lighten the load. This design is less prone to feedback than a fully chambered 6-string.
Our review model came in the unlikely shade of blueberry burst, but, with its flame-maple top, it’s actually quite handsome. The guitar is also offered in seafoam green, and more traditional heritage cherry sunburst and transparent amber finishes.. The neck is mahogany in a slim asymmetrical taper that was a snap for me to play, since I favor thinner, late-’60s style Gibson necks. The scale is 24 3/4", there’s a compound 10"-16" radius rosewood fretboard, 22 smoothly finished low frets, acrylic trapezoid inlays that substitute nicely for mother-of-pearl, and a Tektoid nut with a 1.695" width. The frets are cryogenically treated, though the benefits of low temperature treatments on guitar components are far from proven. (See scientist and bassist Heiko Hoepfinger’s May 2016 “Bass Bench: Myths and Facts of Cryogenic Treatment.”)
The hardware is chrome, including the Nashville-style Tune-o-matic bridge and the solid Grover locking Rotomatic tuners. A cream-colored switch washer and pickguard come inside the traditional Gibson Les Paul hardshell case. And elegant cream binding surrounds the guitar’s body and neck.
Confessions of a Les Paul Junkie
I once owned five Les Pauls—if you count a Les Paul Special as part of the family. Today I’m down to three: my ’68, the Special, and a 1993 Les Paul Classic (which weighs merely 10 pounds). In the interest of an apples-to-apples comparison, I swapped between my vintage Standard, the Classic, and the 2019 version for a couple hours, using a Carr Vincent amp, which can produce a variety of both American- and British-style tones. I also took the 2019 Standard on a gig, where its finish and sound drew the admiration of other players.
Onstage, I toggled merrily between the BurstBucker pickups’ humbucking and very S-like single-coil tones—which I discovered were my favorite settings for this instrument, and I really dug the guitar’s tuning stability and sheer fun factor. I also dug using a single-coil for the neck and a humbucking setting in the bridge, which gave me more bite than a junkyard dog. And did I mention it played great?
My backroom shoot-out revealed an interesting tonal difference. The 2019 Standard has a less-rich midrange profile than either my ’68—which I consider a template humbucking Les Paul—or the Classic. This was not the case with the Gibson Modern Double Cut Standard I reviewed last year, which matched my ’68’s tone and kicked butt in the high end. So if you’re looking for the bold honk and throatiness I associate with Les Pauls in the 2019 Standard, you might need the help of a pedal to get it. That said, the new Standard matched my older instruments in their luxurious sustain.
It’s also a fine-sounding guitar in its own right. And the DIP-enabled HP-4 High Performance Circuit provides copious tone options. In every setting except the P-90 mode and the outer single-coil setting, the tones were clear, shimmering, and pleasing. I found the P-90 sound of the tapped coils less edgy and colorful than I’ve come to expect from real P-90s, and the outer coils in single-coil mode were relatively tinny on their own. That’s not the case with the interior single-coil tones, however. With the DIP switches for both pickups set to split and the bridge tone control pulled up to inside mode, I was able to dance between LP and convincing S-style tones (including hum) simply by pulling up the volume top hats. Flipping the pickup selector to the middle position canceled the single-coil hum, because the pickups are wound in reverse polarity to one another.
Make Way for Ducklings
The out-of-phase setting provided a super-cool quack—perfect for bringing the funk. In another twist, with the third and fourth DIP switches engaged to kick in the high-pass filter, the guitar’s high end remained crisp and present as the volume on the pickups was rolled back. I did try DIP switch 5, which suppresses loud spikes while recording, when I plugged into my PreSonus AudioBox en route to GarageBand. But I have never had a problem with crazy volume hops and couldn’t detect a difference.
Obviously taking off the control plate on the back of the guitar to access the DIP switches wasn’t something I wanted to do on a gig—especially since they are tiny and quite deep in the cavity—so I concocted my default setting before taking the stage. Mine was humbuckers switchable to single-coil mode via the push/pull volume controls with the high pass filters permanently engaged—in other words, the first four DIP switches all set to on.
At $3,399 list, the 2019 Les Paul Standard isn’t cheap. But it offers a lot of tone shaping for the price. Not all the tones kill, but the winners murder like ninjas—if not always in the manner a classic Les Paul. If you’re hunting for impressive sonic quality and versatility in a superbly playable, well-built instrument, the 2019 Les Paul Standard might be your quarry.
Watch the First Look: