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Epiphone Les Paul Guitar

THE HISTORY OF the Les Paul goes back a long way. As long ago as 1952, guitars with that title were being produced by Gibson, named after one of the pioneers of the solid-bodied electric guitar. Everyone laughed at Les Paul when he sawed an Epiphone cello guitar in half, inserted a "log" of wood in between, rebuilt the guitar around it, and claimed the result "sustained forever". Gibson themselves were particularly sceptical, initially refusing to put their name to the design. But with the success of Fender's Telecaster, the company had a change of heart, and the first Les Pauls duly appeared as Gibsons.

Amazingly, the Les Paul flopped. It looked like an old-style, solid-bodied version of any standard cello guitar, whereas Fender's models were stylish and up-to-the-minute. Not until the mid-'60s did the Les Paul's fortunes improve. It was just about to be axed (ahem!) by Gibson, when suddenly people like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton stumbled upon an unbeatable combination: the Les Paul's high-output pickups mated with small Marshall and Vox amps to produce beautiful, highly musical distortion. After that, the Les Paul had a golden decade, outselling every other electric guitar, Fenders included.

Les Pauls have never been cheap, however. For anyone with a limited budget, the chances of owning an instrument sporting the man's legendary signature have always been slim. Until now, that is, with the introduction of the Epiphone Les Paul, a low-priced guitar with the look and, to a certain extent, the feel of its more expensive namesake.

The main reason for this instrument's affordability is that it's built in the Far East. And although that shouldn't necessarily mean any compromises in build quality, Gibson have covered all bases by attributing it to "Epiphone by Gibson" - so the instrument has the prestige of both names, but not quite the je ne sais quoi of a "pure" Gibson.

The design of the Epiphone is based loosely around the mid-'50s Les Paul Special, but with an arch to the front of the body. This isn't a copy of any particular Gibson, more a combination of the best features from a few.

Without scratching the paint off, I'd hazard a guess at this guitar being made from mahogany - it's certainly heavy enough and it does have the kind of "acoustic" sustain you'd expect from a guitar made from that wood.

Twin humbucking pickups sit in black surrounds which match the rest of the hardware. The pole pieces are fixed as they are on most budget instruments, and while adjustment would be nice, it isn't essential for this guitar, the response across the strings being even enough.

EQ and volume are looked after by four pots - a tone and volume for each pickup - and selection is via a three-way toggle. Believe it or not, there are some people who claim that if a guitar doesn't have a five-way toggle switch, it "ain't rock 'n' roll". Yet the three-way can be just as versatile, since you can mix the two pickups using the volume controls when the toggle switch is set to the middle position, and preset the lead level and flip straight to it - and back again.

The bridge is fully adjustable although the saddles are a bit excessive in height. I could have done with lowering the action a touch but the bridge was flat against the body, so there was no room for further adjustment. With a bit of work on those saddles, though, it would be possible to get it down that bit more.

As with Gibsons, the neck is glued into the body, the join hardly visible under the copious layers of paint. The neck itself has the kind of feel that the old Gibson necks had: wide and deep and, to these fingers at least, just as fast as modern "speed" necks.

The Epiphone has only one cutaway and the neck joins the body at the 16th of 22 wide oval frets. Even so, access to the last fret is as easy as on a lot of double cutaway guitars I've tried. One major contributor to this is the smoothness of the body/neck joint; it's a couple of millimetres thicker than my '55 Les Paul, but the heel of the neck is set further into the body so it needs less hand-stretching to get to the top.

Personally, I don't go much for the edge binding on the rosewood fingerboard. It's too thick, and although that makes the neck wide - with no chance of pulling the top E string off the board - there'd still be more than enough room for even the most heavy-handed player, had it been left off.

The nut is what has become the norm for Korean-made guitars - plasticky and somewhat ill-fitting. The truss rod cover looks nice though, with its "Les Paul" legend in gold. The headstock is, I think, better on this Epiphone than most Gibson equivalents, being smaller and more to scale with the rest of the guitar. The Epiphone logo also looks neat.

A final look at the headstock reveals a set of adjustable but unremarkable machineheads - they function well enough, but I'm not sure black doesn't make them look a bit on the cheapo side.

It might seem unfair, but I find myself directly comparing the feel of the Epiphone with my Gibson. It's a closer race than you'd think. The balance and acoustic properties of the Epiphone aren't far off the Gibson's, the action is smooth, and the fat frets gave the fingerboard a positive feel - though the string spacing could be a touch on the wide side for some players.

The pickups don't sound as fat as the rest of the guitar suggests they might, and while the sound is certainly "giggable", it tends to lack the warmth associated with a guitar bearing the name Les Paul. On the positive side, though, you could scrap the pickups and upgrade them when funds permitted: the body would definitely be worth it.

And that really is the essence of the Epiphone. There aren't many budget guitars I'd consider to be long-term investments, but this one merits more than just consideration. What started life as a fairly cheap guitar could very easily become a pro instrument, by adding to it as time went on. The guitar itself is basically good - certainly not a million miles off its Gibson namesake - and although the Epiphone's looks aren't exactly high fashion, fashions rarely last.


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Gear in this article:

Guitar > Epiphone > Les Paul

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Electric Guitar

Review by Eddie Allen

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