December 16, 2009
The Epiphone 1959 Les Paul brings the holy grail in reach for those without pockets deep enough for an original or a Gibson Custom version.
|Download Example 1|
Neck pickup, Vol. 6, Tone 7
|Download Example 2|
Bridge pickup, Vol. 7, Tone full
|Clips recorded with Marshall Haze 40 in Sound Studio on a Mac using Digidesign MBox2 (Sennheiser e609; Colossal 15' Brooklyn cable).|
Enter Epiphone, a division of Gibson Musical Instruments, which in addition to offering a wide variety of its own instruments is also well known for producing lower-priced, official versions of some of the same models Gibson makes—including the Les Paul, which Epiphone licensed directly from the man himself. It was Paul’s desire from the beginning to have his signature model made by both companies, and this Special Run Collection release coincides with the illustrious guitar’s 50th anniversary. It also comes complete with Gibson pickups and a reproduction of the brown Lifton case that the originals came in.
At first glance, the Epiphone ’59 Les Paul Standard is a beauty. The AAA-grade flame top stands out proudly, and there’s a very attractive grain pattern in the mahogany body. In order to save on cost, the flame top is a maple veneer that is attached to a solid, carved maple top. While the body itself has a nice, deep grain, holding it up to the light shows it to be comprised of four pieces of mahogany joined together, as opposed to one or two. It’s hardly noticeable, but can be detected if you really look for it. I’m a huge fan of larger Gibson-profile necks, and this particular one didn’t disappoint. It’s rather beefy, but not quite as large as a ’58 profile, and certainly not as thin as the ’60s slim taper shape. It was very comfortable running up and down the neck with my hand, and even more pleasing not to find any sharp fret ends. Apart from the action being a little too low, even the setup was pretty good right out of the box. Speaking of great things about the neck, the Epi ’59 Les Paul Standard also sports a long tenon, which is one of the construction features of classic Gibson instruments that helped them achieve their legendary sustain qualities. This extra wood in the neck joint gives the two more coupling, providing more resonance. Even though the famed long tenon is employed in its construction, the neck is still comprised of three pieces of mahogany. I believe that a better sound could be achieved with just one piece. Electronics-wise, the instrument shares much in common with its Gibson brethren, sporting high quality CTS pots and Burstbucker 2 and 3 humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions, respectively.
Oh, That Sound
The original 1959 Les Paul Standard is closely associated with the sound of an overdriven vintage Marshall stack (although some players, such as Mike Bloomfield, attained incredible tones out of Fender Twins and Bassmans). Strapping on the Paul, I plugged it into a 1973 Marshall Super Bass head into a Bogner 4x12 cabinet with four Celestion Vintage 30s. Jumping for the train immediately, I cranked the head in true Marty McFly-fashion and hit an open G chord. With incredible detail, the Marshall emitted an extraordinary overdriven tone, with complete authority and even top end. Rolling the volume knob on the guitar down caused the tone to transition smoothly from higher gain to lightly overdriven tones, thanks to the great taper of the CTS pots inside.
However, since the guitar bears the ’59 Les Paul Standard namesake, it’s fair to say that one of Gibson’s Custom Shop models will likely please the ear a little more. Those instruments have great resonance, even unplugged, which the Epiphone version simply cannot fully achieve. Don’t get me wrong, this Epi is an outstanding instrument, with tone and solid construction that’s miles above their standard Les Paul models, but some vintage purists will desire the fuller tone of the Gibson. For example, the neck position of the Epiphone, while having a nice, clear tone in a clean amp setting, has a somewhat dull quality by comparison when overdriven. There’s a slight but noticeable lack of midrange—one that I haven’t heard with this exact same pickup in an actual Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Turning down the tone knob to roll off the highs to compensate helped a bit, but not vastly. To be perfectly honest, the Epi ’59 Les Paul Standard reminds me a lot of Epiphone’s now discontinued Elitist series. These guitars, which included models such as the Les Paul Custom, Standard and ES-335 DOT, where made with much higher quality materials and construction methods than many other Epiphone instruments, and were only around for a short period, which ended in 2008. I was a big fan and was sad to see them go. The Epi ’59 reissue shares a lot in common tone-wise with the Les Paul Standard in that line, so if you missed out on the Elitist series I highly recommend checking this one out.
The Final Mojo
The Epiphone 1959 Les Paul Standard is an excellent guitar in its own right. It’s difficult to criticize some of the cost-cutting features of this particular Les Paul. Epiphone has gone out of their way to provide as close to a ’59 Les Paul Standard guitar as was possible while still keeping it under the $1000 mark, and each of the trade-offs is defensible. While it would have been nice to see a one-piece neck, a one-piece (or even two-piece) body, or a solid flamed maple top, the addition of those would have most unquestionably put the pricing into the ballpark of a Gibson instrument. I don’t feel that the lack of those features should deter too much from the guitar, however. This release from Epiphone certainly deserves a look, especially if you were a fan of their Elitist line. If you’re interest is piqued, I’d recommend you jump on one fast. Epiphone has only produced 1,959 of them, in conjunction with the year of the original iconic Gibson model, so they’re sure to become collector’s items in the future.
you’re in the market for a good, inexpensive Les Paul and missed the boat on an Elitist model.
you’re a stickler and nothing short of a Gibson Custom Shop model (or the real thing) will suffice.
Street $899 - Epiphone - epiphone.com