What’s the difference between Les Paul models?

The Gibson Les Paul is a true icon. For over 60 years, the Les Paul has been used by some of music’s most legendary guitar heroes, and has played an essential part in forming the rock sound that we all know today.

It is arguably one of the most renowned guitar designs in the world. With only the Fender Stratocaster in the same ballpark of fame, the Les Paul has a long and rich history, with many models available today.

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Written by

Elliot Stent

Identified for its classic single-cutaway body design and dual humbuckers, Gibson pioneered the use of Mahogany in guitar construction with their game-changing Les Paul model. Players have revered the Les Paul for its thick, gnarly and harmonically-rich tones, making it the optimal workhorse with enough versatility to transcend a range of musical styles.

With the recent release of Gibson’s 2018 USA lineup, the Les Paul range has never been so diverse. And that is why we’ll investigate the main differences between the Les Paul models in Gibson’s impressive catalogue in this extensive article.

Not only that, but we’ll also take a close look at some of the more affordable Epiphone Les Paul models available too. If you want all the prestige of a Les Paul but at a more attainable price, these are a great shout!

History of the Les Paul

The origins of the Les Paul guitar go back all the way to the 1950s. Gibson’s then CEO Ted McCarty enlisted the help of renowned musician Les Paul to collaboratively design a solid-body electric guitar that could contend with Fender’s Stratocaster.

As a prolific musician always looking to push the boundaries and pioneer new ideas, Les Paul tried to combat and rectify issues he’d faced with other instruments and resolve them with this new design. Frustrated by the feedback he experienced with his electric hollowbody guitars, his motivation to help construct a guitar that could prevent this was high on his agenda.

Unveiled in 1952 and still in production to this day, the Les Paul model is arguably Gibson’s biggest success. With a full Mahogany construction, a Rosewood fingerboard and a 24.75” scale length, the Les Paul was adored for its great playability and big sound, mostly attributed to its pickups.

With the original model sporting a pair of P90 pickups, from 1957 Gibson decided to offer the Les Paul Standard with dual humbuckers for improved sonics and to lessen feedback. Subsequent models however have featured different configurations, including a triple-stack of humbuckers in early Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars.

The Les Paul Range

Since its inception, the Les Paul has largely maintained its iconic design in terms of aesthetics and construction. However, it has undergone many tweaks over the years, with the Les Paul design existing within many of Gibson product ranges to accommodate different players and budgets.

In the rest of this article, we will take a closer look at Gibson’s vast range of Les Paul models to help you distinguish which guitar is right for you! We won’t include any of Gibson’s Custom Shop or Limited Run models, however we will look at the Les Paul models within Gibson’s sister brand Epiphone.

As the only company that can manufacture officially-licensed Gibson designs, Epiphone craft Les Paul guitars that are modestly-priced but amazing for the money. So for those that are looking for an excellent Les Paul guitar without spending above £500-£600, we’re confident that you’ll love Epiphone Les Paul instruments.

The Les Paul Standard is the flagship Gibson model. Available in two different iterations as part of the 2018 range, the Standard has been Gibson’s poster boy for decades. With the 2018 models featuring cryogenically-treated frets to lessen wear over time (true across the whole 2018 lineup), they also boast a raft of other innovative features and design elements for the forward-thinking musician.

With the Standard used by some of the biggest names in the rock world, such as Slash, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and more, there’s a reason for this instrument’s legendary status!

The regular Standard model doesn’t stray too far from the design of the late 50s, with similar aesthetics and features. However, with updated electronics and hardware to meet the demands of professional players, the Standard has enough starpower to satisfy both serious working guitarists as well as purists.

With a classy AAA flamed Maple top adorned on a weight-relieved Mahogany body, the Standard has a stunning look and a suitable weight for gigging guitarists. A Mahogany neck with a Rosewood fretboard retains the classic Les Paul construction, with a “slim taper” profile providing optimal playability and comfort.

The Burstbucker Pro pickups scream a convincing PAF-style character, delivering thick, warm and full-bodied tones that can tackle almost any style of music. And with all 4 pickup controls having a push-pull function, these hide amazing tone-shaping options to give you even more versatility! Coil-taps provide you with single-coil sounds that are perfect for funk or country, whilst the phase reverse can tweak your EQ to expand your tonal palette even further. However, the “pure bypass” is the ace up the Standard’s sleeve, routing the pickups directly to the guitar’s input for a truly transparent, unaffected tone.

Gibson Les Paul Standard on Andertons T.V.

Similar to the regular Standard model, the Gibson Les Paul HP guitars feature a few more modern appointments to satisfy the players that have optimal performance in mind. With recessed neck joints to enable greater access to the higher frets, the HP guitars also feature an asymmetrical “slim taper” neck profile like the Standard, to allow brilliant playability.

A belly scarf gives you even more comfort, so that the instrument rests more naturally when practicing in a seated position. An “ultra-modern” weight-relieved body gives the Les Paul HP guitars an even lighter feel, making them ideal for the stage - especially if 80s-esque acrobatics are your thing!

Other top-class features include the titanium nut, giving less friction at the headstock so that tuning stability is vastly improved. Also height-adjustable to ensure the best possible setup and string action, the material will also provide greater longevity with minimal wear over time. The bridge saddles are also made from titanium, similarly benefitting the overall quality of the instrument. Gibson’s innovative G-FORCE tuning system will always ensure the instrument is perfectly tuned, with the self-tuning pegs accurately pitching the guitar.

Direct-mounted Burstbucker Pro+ pickups are installed from the back of the Les Paul HP, to give a super-clean look and a fuller sound. Based off a classic PAF, these high-output pickups are highly versatile, giving mid-focused vibrancy to not just clean tones but also filthy high gain. With 4 push-pull pots just like its counterpart in the Standard range, the HP also features a DIP switch to give you over 150 reversible instant rewiring options. The tones are almost endless!

Available in a range of wild burst finishes, these sublime-looking guitars truly belong in the 21st Century.

Gibson Les Paul Standard HP on Andertons T.V.

Although the regular Standard model stays close to the original design ethos, the Gibson Les Paul Traditional fully embraces it. Retaining the core construction elements of the earliest models, the Traditional is ideal for the purist of Les Paul connoisseurs.

With no weight-relief at all, the Les Paul Traditional is the heaviest model amongst the Les Paul range. Although not the most comfortable, the Traditional will give you the richest tones with a super-creamy low-end that can deliver Slash-like lead tones. Adorned with a AA flamed Maple top, this guitar has all the beauty and charm of the legendary ‘59 Les Pauls. The fully-rounded neck profile is more on the substantial side, with a vintage 50s feel. This is great for those that love digging into big chords, or for those with larger hands.

With Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups in the neck and bridge positions respectively, the Gibson Les Paul Traditional has an older voice that recaptures the vintage tones of yesteryear. Following a PAF design and built upon Alnico II magnets, the Burstbuckers produce a full-bodied and airy tone that will highlight every dynamic nuance of your playing style, thanks to their low/medium output. However, they also excel with overdrive and distortion, with pronounced upper mids that can really sing in a busy mix.

Gibson Les Paul Traditional on Andertons T.V.

In a similar spirit to the Traditional, the Gibson Les Paul Classic is another model that harkens back to the golden era of the 50s. Also featuring no weight-relief for a more vintage vibe, the main difference between the Classic and its Les Paul counterparts in the 2018 range is that it features dual P90 pickups.

Making it one of the more unique models, the P90 pickups in the Gibson Les Paul Classic will deliver a powerful and punchy tone with more than enough clarity in the mid-range. This makes it suitable for a variety of styles, however the extra bark will really satisfy blues and punk rock players in particular.

With the iconic all-Mahogany construction and a slim taper neck, this guitar bridges the gap between the design of decades past and the modern feel that most players crave these days. Available in a sleek Ebony black, a cool Pelham Blue or an elegant Gold, the Gibson Les Paul Classic oozes class and above all - top-notch tones!

Gibson Les Paul Classic on Andertons T.V.

Despite its lower price tag, the Les Paul Studio is still a full-fat American-built tone machine that has proudly been a part of Gibson's catalogue since 1983. Boasting the iconic tones and features you'd come to expect from a Les Paul, the studio is the best option for someone looking for a great-quality instrument that’s just over £1000.

Like the HP model, the Studio’s body has been “ultra” weight-relieved to lessen the strain on your shoulders and back when playing live. A plain maple top, finished in either a Smokehouse Burst or Vintage Sunburst, gives a rustic old-school look that is sure to appeal to those looking for a more understated guitar.

The Les Paul Studio neck also follows a slim taper profile, happily suiting modern guitarists looking for a fast and comfortable playing experience. However, unlike previous Studio models that lacked binding, the 2018 Gibson Les Paul Studio has a bound neck to give a more-classy aesthetic. With rolled-over frets too, expect no nasty sharp ends digging into your hands when playing fast ascending or descending passages.

A pair of ‘57 Classic humbuckers deliver a more vintage tone, but are still super-versatile. These medium output pickups will deliver that always identifiable Les Paul tone for the traditionalists, but they have enough bite and power to handle distortion with plenty of attitude. Push/pull coil taps will give you single-coil tones for extra tonal options.

Gibson Les Paul Studio on Andertons T.V.

The Gibson Les Paul Tribute is even more affordable than the Studio, but still packs a punch. With a very retro look, the main physical difference you’ll notice between the Tribute and the rest of the range is its finish. With a super-smooth satin finish, the Les Paul Tribute will serve as a great live instrument, with its neck feeling fast and sleek no matter how much you sweat!

The 2018 Les Paul Tribute also sports a pair of acclaimed Gibson-designed humbuckers - the 490R in the neck and the 498T in the bridge. These medium-output pickups will have no problems delivering that iconic Les Paul tone, but they have enough bite and power to let players of heavier genres enjoy the Tribute series too. Crank up the gain and expect a tight bass response with plenty of saturation, delivering beyond that of most normal PAF pickups.

In keeping with most of the 2018 models, the Tribute also has a comfortable slim taper neck profile for excellent playability, and no weight relief for a classic feel and lots of low-end.

The most inexpensive Gibson Les Paul model in the current catalogue is the Faded. This guitar is a no-frills workhorse, with plain aesthetics and stripped down features. However, that doesn’t mean that the Faded models are bad, as they still have lots of character and versatility.

The iconic features that make it a Les Paul are intact, with a Maple-topped Mahogany body and set Mahogany neck. But much like the more expensive Les Paul Standard models at the upper-tier of the range, the Faded has a weight-relieved body to ensure no chance of shoulder or back pain when playing live.

The pickups in the Gibson Les Paul Faded are different to those featured in the other models. The neck position humbucker is a 490R Modern Classic, which delivers a fat sound but with bundles of upper mid-range sizzle. The 490T in the bridge is bright and harmonically rich, merging well with the darker Mahogany tonewoods for a balanced tone that covers the whole frequency spectrum.

Gibson Les Paul Tribute & Faded on Andertons T.V.

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Epiphone Les Paul Range

Although seen as Gibson's budget brand, Epiphone are an established entity with a vast product range of their own. Most of their Les Paul models are more affordable iterations of their high-end Gibson counterparts, however they also have a number of more unique Les Paul instruments tailored towards particular musical genres and those players.

Not only that, but Epiphone also have a big lineup of signature guitars built to the specifications of their most renowned endorsers. Many of these signature instruments are indeed Les Pauls, and in this next section we'll investigate all of the Epiphone Les Paul models so that you feel more assured about your next potential purchase!

An advantage that Epiphone has over Gibson is their selection of signature models. This means that younger, aspiring players can get their hands on some of their favourite guitarist’s signature gear to feel inspired and sound just like them!

There’s a great variety of Epiphone Les Paul signature models available in Epiphone’s catalogue, with many made for some of the metal world’s biggest names. With signature models for Lee Malia (Bring Me The Horizon), Matt Heafy (Trivium) and Bjorn Gelotte (In Flames), the artists on Epiphone’s current roster shows that the quality of their instruments can meet the demands of modern-day shredders and the rigours of touring.

The Lee Malia model may look like a vintage 70s-inspired Les Paul, but its aesthetics are deceiving. This axe screams powerful tones, with its custom-made Gibson USA B4T-LM humbucker in the bridge position handling high doses of gain with ease. Its old-school vibe makes it a unique model in Epiphone’s range, with classy detailed neck inlays, a bound body, gold hardware and a natural Mahogany finish giving this guitar plenty of nostalgic character.

The Matt Heafy Signature Les Paul guitars are slightly more potent shred machines. With dual EMG active humbuckers to provide all the filth you could ever possibly need, the Matt Heafy standard models are based around Heafy’s original Gibson Les Paul Custom, but with some extra refinements. With black hardware for a more stealthy look, the Matt Heafy signature model features a slim neck with the ‘Axcess’ heel joint, giving you no restrictions when playing the upper frets.

The new for 2017 ‘Snofall’ edition is a lighter affair, almost exactly the same spec-wise to its darker counterparts but in an angelic pure white colour. With a white Phenolic material fretboard, this guitar’s all-white look will stand out anywhere, yet it has no hindrance on your playing with its smooth feel. These models are also available as a 7-string, perfect for the extended-range players.

The Epiphone Les Paul SL is the best "bang for your buck" guitar on the market right now. You can't get much more guitar for under £100, in terms of build, features and style. Just look at it!

Epiphone Les Paul SL on Andertons T.V.

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