Here’s the final result of our columnist’s purchase of two Epiphone Les Paul SLs—both in turquoise. It’s a simple and sleek slab guitar with a P-90 in the neck and a mini-humbucker in the bridge, versus the dual-single-coil stock version. Will Ray now has six of these guitars, which, at about $100, are good for projects.
When it comes to mods, sometimes two guitars make a better one.
I’ve always liked Gibson Melody Makers. The guitar was a Gibson student model during its original 1959 to 1971 run, and could be bought used for a song. The downside of those original Melody Makers, to me, always seemed to be the pickups, which were arguably the weeniest single-coils Gibson ever put on a guitar.
But a lot of guys would buy Melody Makers and simply replace those single-coils with humbuckers and have a hot-sounding instrument. I’ve owned quite a few over the years.
One day I thought, “Why not just swap out the bad parts of both and make one sweet SL?”
In 2017, Epiphone came up with what looks like its own version of the Melody Maker, called the Les Paul SL. I became aware of the guitar when fellow PG columnist John Bohlinger featured it in one of his First Look videos. It seemed so cool that I knew I had to get one, so I started looking around eBay.
Les Paul SLs were going for around $100 new, and I found a turquoise one for $99 with free shipping. I bought it. It played great, but just like my old Melody Makers, the two single-coil pickups sounded pretty thin. So I set it aside for future mods, and my chance came a while later after I bought another turquoise SL on eBay, which had already been modified with a P-90 in the neck and a mini-humbucker in the bridge.
This guitar’s headstock reveals its mixed Epiphone/Gibson lineage, with the angled ’stock and “Les Paul” lettering hewing to the historical build and look of the Melody Maker—the model that inspired the SL.
But when I received it, I was greatly disappointed. The neck had a lot of buzzing on the fretboard and the bridge’s mini-humbucker was weak and sounded terrible. Now, I had two SLs collecting dust.
One day I thought, “Why not just swap out the bad parts of both and make one sweet SL?” I took both guitars apart and decided that since the modified guitar already had the extra routing for the larger pickups, I would simply swap necks rather than pickguards. So I did. It wasn’t that hard. After playing the new guitar for a week, I confirmed that the weak-sounding mini-humbucker had to go. So I bought a generic alnico 5 mini-humbucker off eBay for $25 and installed it.
The key to improving the playability of the guitar Ray favored was to swap out the neck with its harder-to-play sibling. While that might be a challenge with most Gibsons and Epiphones, which typically have set necks, this model has a 4-bolt neck joint.
It was easy, because the pickguard and body were already routed out for a mini-humbucker. So, after putting everything back together, I plugged it into an amp and was finally satisfied. I now had it all: a guitar that played and sounded great. Listen to my MP3. You can hear the sweet neck tones from the P-90, and the growl from the bridge mini-humbucker.
Bottom Feeder Tip #478: Despite my problems with the Epiphone SLs, I now have six because I think they are excellent guitars for projects—just like the old Melody Makers used to be. They’re cheap, they’re lightweight, and they have tons of potential. So is it a keeper? Yeah, for now it is. And who can argue with a cool turquoise guitar?