The Gibson Les Paul is certainly one of the most successful and popular guitars ever made. So it is also the most imitated. Likewise, probably more guitarists' arguments, pro and con, have been inspired by the Les Paul in all its guises (we here at SI have been involved in a few ourselves). In order to clear at least a narrow pathway through this undergrowth we got this test together.
Not everyone will agree with our ideas, methods and conclusions (some may even say that we're adding fuel to the fire), but these tests should be taken as a departure point for serious thinking — a copy is not a copy is not a copy (necessarily). There ARE differences, which will become more evident as you read our test results. These differences do not always relate to price; the cheapest does not have to be the worst, nor is the most expensive invariably the best.
So what makes a good guitar? Subjectivity, of course, rears its ugly head — but there are certain objective criteria which every potential buyer should take into account. Fret intonation, smooth machines, effective controls and the like should count for more with the serious musician than pretty cosmetics and tons of abalone inlay. Nevertheless finish and cosmetics are important because they give a clue to the manufacturers' excellence of production and materials, and to their quality control.
So. Now read on.
rrp: £192-89 ex VAT.
Bolt-on neck, two humbuckers, ivory coloured, solid, gold-plated hardware.
Distributors: James T Coppock (Leeds) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-67% RD-62% JH-82% PM-38%
'Everything about this guitar is average, nothing exceptional.' RD
'Sluggish, didn't like it.' PM
'Looks a bit flashy, but feels good. Good range of sound.' JH
'Very good machines/nut, sounds a lot more expensive than it probably is. Good effort.' DB
Very flat camber on fingerboard, fret ends have been left a bit sharp, nut is nice, but the string spacing is a little constricted. Action okay — endstock, however, has been set too low. Cheap and nasty knobs. Cosmetically quite well presented, but the inlay is off centre on the head. Machine placing a bit careless. An average to good copy, perhaps a little overpriced.
rrp: £195-29 ex VAT.
Glued-on neck, solid body, two humbuckers, brown gloss, gold-plated hardware.
Distributors: Gigsville, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-63% RD-57% JH-88% PM-45%
'Well-finished, good sound.' PM
'Strings particularly bad, sound reasonable and quite gutsy. Not a bad guitar for the beginner.' RD
'Controls excellent, looks very alright. Good range of sound, good feel — plenty of bollocks.' JH
'Nicely made, cheap knobs, fretboard good. Average sound and good balance.' DB
On close inspection the attention to detail on this guitar is much better than average, although the cheap knobs do let down the immediate appearance. The woods and the lacquering are particularly well done. The purfling is unusually fine — comparable to Gibson and Kimbara. 'Backwards' bridge. The rosewood fret-board was nicely done, especially the frets, the binding, the nut and the pearloid block inlay. Construction of the guitar is unusual in that the mahogany is divided horizontally through the body in two layers, rather than the more usually bookmatched planks. Altogether a finely crafted guitar, which is let down badly by the supplied strings and the machines which should, on a guitar of this quality and price, be Schallers. Good value for money, comparing well with the top-line copies.
rrp: £104-89 ex VAT.
Bolt-on neck, built up body, two humbuckers, light tobacco sunburst, chrome-plated hardware.
Distributors: James T Coppock (Leeds) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-35% RD-37% JH-22% PM-48%
'Liked the slim neck. Okay, tuning didn't seem too good.' PM
'Fret intonation typical of a cheap copy. Less than good.' RD
'A cheap guitar (or ought to be). Tuning rough, badly set up. Thin sound, but okay-ish for beginner.' DB
Neck joint crude, nut crude and sharp. String spacing constricted. Body particularly thin, bridge 'backwards'. Cheap and nasty knobs, likewise machine heads. This guitar is badly finished, there is graunch and adhesive all over the nut and upper frets. The truss rod case is screwed down carelessly off-centre. Surprisingly this ought to be quite a nice pleasant guitar, the neck falls well in the hand, the fretboard is smooth, and cambered more roundly than is usual but nevertheless comfortably. The frets are quite well finished and dressed and the weight balance is good for a light guitar. Where this guitar falls down badly is in the final manufacturing details, setting up and the supplied strings, which are too heavy. Fair value for money and, with an hour's setting up, a reasonable beginners' instrument.
rrp: £115-51 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck, built up body, two humbuckers, sunburst, gold-plated hardware.
Distributors: Fletcher, Coppock and Newman, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-44% RD-68% JH-93% PM-55%
'A nice comfortable sound with plenty of guts. A fairly good copy, particularly pickups.' RD
'Nice finish, looks like a Gibson. Average sound.' PM
'Feels really good but could look better. Beautiful sustain, full rich sound.' JH
'Unergonomic bridge screws. Nut/machines less than good. Tone controls a bit muzzy, a bit muffled. Average or below.' DB
The neck joint and neck are good, and the fingerboard is flat and wide with good string spacing. Machines are good Schaller copies. Nicely set-up for playing (as supplied). Nut has a couple of sharp corners, and the bridge is set 'backwards'. The pickguard is neither laminated nor bound, and the edge is rough. Controls feel nice, and the knobs are good quality hatbox types. All the wood is particularly good and the lacquering job excellent, although the edge finishing on the cutaway and the upper bout is a little suspect. A very accurate copy, and offered at an extremely attractive price.
rrp: £142-22 ex VAT.
Bolt-on neck, solid ash body, two humbuckers, natural blonde, chrome-plated hardware, ebony fingerboard.
Distributors: Keith Hand Musical Supplies, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-46% RD-78% JH-56% PM-65%
'Very heavy body, hard work to play. Fair sound — could be better.' JH
'Spoilt by fretboard, which was slightly concave and, to my taste, uncomfortable. The sound is solid, reliable and safe. A good solid instrument, obviously made by someone who knows his instrument.' RD
'Nice action, controls a bit stiff. Very good.' PM
'Not a very exact copy, bridge, endstock, and pickup cases different to the LP — quite decent, though. Frets nay so good. Sound deadish, muffled, strings disappointing. Reasonable.' DB
The Italian job in the bunch; all credit to Gherson for the solid ash body. The heel fairing on the joint is particularly comfy and the use of the plastic-cased Schallers is a good touch. However, there seems to have been some discolouration of the ash in the factory under the lacquer. There does not seem to be a serial number anywhere on the guitar. The knobs are definitely a bit naff, though the controls feel fine. The use of the barrel bridge, as opposed to the 'sharp' saddles is good, and the endstock is a substantial lump of metal. There seems to be some shit on the upper frets, and the binding on the lower end of the neck has been smoothed down to almost nothing. The nut is a bit sharp and crude, but the string spacing is quite good. Good value for money.
rrp: £662-22 ex VAT
Glued-on neck, solid guitar, two humbuckers, Schaller machines, black, gold-plated hardware, ebony fingerboard.
Distributors: Norlin Music, (Contact Details).
Scores: DB-68% RD-83% JH-63% PM-47%
'Heavy and good.' PM
'Fret intonation a bit suspect; comfortable and easily adaptable. An obvious quality guitar with a couple of signs of neglect as far as fretting and tuning.' RD
'Heavy body — hard work to play — good on chords. Single note stuff more sluggish. Fair, could bite a bit more.' JH
'Identified! Strings could be better. Frets/board very nice. Could be better for reputation.' DB
A beautifully made guitar. From a materials and manufacturing point of view, no flaws. The ebony fretboard is particularly nicely finished, and the bridge is as it should be: simple, heavy and flexible. It has that crisp look that you identify as quality. String spacing and nut are excellent - the nut grooves are not too deep to cause string buzz. The action is very low as supplied, and the only 'faults' are the weight, which is high, and the strings, which are far too heavy for the kind of music usually played with this guitar, giving a deceptively hard action. Not a perfect guitar, and very expensive. But the original. Keep that in mind for investment purposes.
Copy Guitar Test Pt 1: Guitars A-G, Basses A-F
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!