There used to be a couple of defining Les Paul features - the single cutaway to the body and two humbucker pickups. The former allows the fretting hand to reach high up the neck and the latter provides the thick crunchy tone. But there are no such rules in today's LP market. Even Gibson make a double cutaway P90 pickup model! This is great for us guitarists, as there are so many radically different guitars to play.
Les Pauls are usually associated with Gibson and their offshoot company Epiphone. But many brands and luthiers have been inspired by the classic design to make their own variants. This 'best of' list includes the likes of EastCoast, Ibanez, PRS, ESP and Chapman. Each brand have their own unique spin on things, honing in on a niche market or musical style.
Blues is a surprisingly varied genre. Musicians have played the blues over decades. Along the way it's been mixed with heavier rock, funk and jazzy elements.
For the sake of simplicity, here are the best Les Pauls for a classic blues style. Most of these guitars either have vintage-voiced PAF-style humbuckers or P90 pickups. Standard alnico humbuckers have more in common with early LP's PAF pickups than any other pickup type. They sound warm, smooth and dark. Great for rhythm playing.
Alternatively, the single-coil P90 pickups bridge the gap between your classic single-coils you'd find on a Strat and the hotter humbuckers. P90s are known for their balance of brightness, clarity and drive.
EastCoast GL20 on Andertons T.V.
Like blues, you don't want to go over the top on gain. Unless you're playing in a jazz fusion band, most of the music you'll be playing will require smooth cleans for the rhythm section. Low output pickups are where it's at. While many jazz-oriented guitars have hollow bodies to highlight depth and resonance.
If fusion is your thing, you'll want an LP that can deal with higher gain whilst retaining a full dynamic range. Listen to the likes of Allan Holdsworth or Return To Forever for reference. Opt for some hotter Alnico III or IV pickups.
You might be wondering who in the 'classic' jazz world played a Les Paul. Well, Les Paul! For most of his work he used a custom LP with low impedance pickups. These required boosting, which is a bit of a hassle. But there are plenty of guitars equipped to deliver a similarly musical tone.
Epiphone Les Paul SL on Andertons T.V.
Rock music is the Les Paul's safe space. You can't go wrong with pretty much any Les Paul in this territory. Crank the bass, stick an overdrive pedal in front of your amp and voila.
If you're after a modern rock tone like the Foo Fighters, Queens of The Stone Age or Incubus, you'll need some alnico IV or ceramic pickups. These create a tighter, more direct tone and can handle high gain.
A modern neck profile like a slim 'D' or 'C' shape would help if you're attempting technical playing styles. Most of these modern Les Pauls aren't as heavy as their classic counterparts thanks to body chambering.
Gibson 2019 Les Paul on Andertons T.V.
The Les Paul shape was adapted for metal early on in its life. The metal giants of the '80s popularised LPs within their circles. No genre was safe.
With most modern alternatives fitted with humbuckers, slim necks and jumbo frets, even shredders can feel comfortable playing a Les Paul. Brands such as Chapman, Ibanez, ESP and PRS produce a number of high-quality LP lookalikes, encompassing many of these contemporary features.
Most metal Les Pauls are fitted either with ceramic passive pickups or active pickups to deliver a high output and tight high and low-end frequencies.
ESP E-II Eclipse on Andertons T.V.
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