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Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone Electric Guitar Review

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.

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.

Devilish Details

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.

The Verdict

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


Watch the video review:

Buy if...
you crave the punch of lowered tunings but aren’t willing to sacrifice treble and mid response.
Skip if...
you prefer single-coil-fueled bari tones.

Street $1389 - Gibson -