Jeztone Guide: How to buy a Gibson Les Paul !

I often see people on web forums asking advice on buying a Gibson Les Paul. There are many opinions on this, but having gone through the experience several years ago and managing to find a guitar that was both well made, well finished and well priced. I’m as qualified as anyone to offer my two penneth worth.

  1. There are many myths surrounding modern Gibsons however it is worth noting that their quality control is and always has been a bit patchy. So its probably worth avoiding buying a ‘sight unseen’ guitar over the internet.  A quick survey of my friends and family highlighted how different LP’s can be. My brothers Standard is nicely finished, but has a really light fingerboard and one of the machineheads is not quite seated at the right angle, the singer in my bands LP Studio has really sharp fret ends, a mates Les Paul Standard has a build up of paint by the serial number. Another friends LP Custom has a glue splot under the tailpeice and is heavier than any guitar I’ve tried.
  2. Do your own research – Opinions are like arseholes, everyones got one. Go onto Gibson’s own website and look at the models and see what interests you, buy some magazines as the dealer adverts with give you a good idea on both prices and the range available.
  3. Choice is everything – Don’t go to a dealer with only 2 guitars to choose from, you need a dealer with a good amount of stock, some dealers like Peter Cooks or Coda’s don’t rely on finance deals to sell guitars, therefore they tend to pile them high and rely on a fast turnover. These places tend to be keener on price as they don’t want a pricey guitar hanging on a wall for months on end.
  4. Try everything – Even if the guitar is not in a colour or the exact model of Les Paul you want, remember modern Standards have a choice of 50′s rounded or 60′s slim taper necks, try both and see what you get on with
  5. Awww its heavy – As mahogany is the predominant material of an LP, they are usually heavy, but as wood has its own inconsistancies this can vary from 8.8 – 10lbs in weight. Don’t be a pussy this is part of the guitars charm, you can always buy a broad strap to distribute the weight.
  6. Go on a ‘weekday’ - Guitar shops are usually busy on a Saturday. If you show up on a Tuesday morning wanting to try a £1200 guitar, you will probably get a better standard of service and less pressure to buy.
  7. Make sure you get to play it through a ‘proper’ amp – I’m amazed that dealers are so thick as to make you try a grand plus guitar through a £100 amp. However this is common place (my brother has made 3 attempts to buy a PRS McCarty in recent years, everytime he gets to play through a Line 6 Spider or other such cheap amp, he feels underwhelmed by the guitars tone and always walks away this even happened at Music Live in 2005 on the PRS distributors own stand whewre he was forced to play a 2 grand guitar through a cheap Crate amp), don’t stand for it. You wouldn’t test drive an Aston Martin with 2 star petrol in the tank would you?
  8. Fit and Finish - look for build ups of paint around the headstock, neck body join. Also binding check for dings and finish on the binding, especially where the neck meets the body. Hold the guiter up to the light and look for any scratches in the finish.
  9. Does it play well? – Try the guitar un-amped, listen to the notes ring out, do they sound clean. Play Harmonics all over the neck, Play avariety of stuff on it, both clean and dirty use all the pickups, check the switch, volume & tone controls for any crackles.
  10. Rosewood Fingerboards – Apart from Customs and some limited editions, the fingerboard will be Indian Rosewood. This should be the same colour as fruitcake, a rich dark reddish brown. If it’s the colour of pine its been harvested young and is too dried out, walk away. Look at the fret ends, are they sharp? Are they sat in the binding properly?
  11. Don’t let the dealer sell you the guitar he wants – Avoid the assistants agenda, I’ve seen an assistant in a well known West End Guitar shop try and tell someone that the wiring in a Les Paul Classic had inferior quality cable to the Les Paul Standard. This is bullshit, there is no magical superior wiring on Gibsons production line guitars. However the dealers agenda was to push the customer into paying another £300 for a similar guitar. Don’t be conned.
  12. Try more than one dealer, also look at Loot/Admag adverts. Ebay can be useful, but I would always try the guitar before you commit to a purchase. Beware of people  trying to sell you an ex artist guitar, if it’s real they will have a letter of provenance and some history. Beware of fakes, rebadged Epiphones or Tokai’s etc.
  13. Take your time and try lots of guitars – I spent a week and looked at about 20 guitars in total. In the end I wanted a Wine Red LP Classic. After not being able to find a Standard with a decent finish and dark rosewood board. I had a choice of 2 ‘Classic’s', one in Copper and a common Honeyburst model. In the end the honeyburst won. I think the shop assistant was annoyed that I’d spent a working day choosing an instrument, including going for lunch halfway through. But remember its your money, not theirs. Take your time and if in doubt, walk away.

One thought on “Jeztone Guide: How to buy a Gibson Les Paul !

  1. Well said, but as often happens, I also have two cents to add. An item not to be overlooked is the position of the bridge components. The bridges on very old LP’s where carefully placed. When care is taken, the string notches in the saddles will occur on center of the saddle and centered over the adjustment screw. This does vary slightly but only a bit. Check the positon of the strings down the neck. Look for even spacing of the strings and look at where the E’s are in relation to the edge of the fingerboard. If the strings are spaced properly, next look at the strings as they pass ove the pickups. They should be evenly spaced over the pole screws. They may not be directly over the center of each screw but they should be evenly spaced. That is to say that if one E is slightly to the outside of center of a its pole on a given pickup, the other E should be similar. Next look at the bridge and stop bar. If the neck-to-body angle is set correctly and the action is set proper, the tailpiece should be almost against the body. The bridge should be slightly higher with the E’s just about touching the bridge. Many players like to lower the tailpiece so that the strings press against the bridge. This supplies more string tension but the guitar was not designed to be set up this way. Since set up is subjective, the following is a guideline. With the action set up “normal”, the bridge should be quite low, the tailpiece should almost rest on the body, and the E strings should just clear the rear of the bridge. A guitar with too much neck-body angle will require the bridge to be set high and likewise, the tailpiece. This is what you want. It makes for the best coupling and of course, this is how the guitar was intended to be made. Another facet that compounds this problem is the carved top. The neck-to-body angle is the major component but if you look closely, you will see that the bridge and tailpiece fall on a portion of the carving, not a flat plane. Overall, the LP is a difficult guitar to make consistently. It seems that years ago when Gibsons where manufactured in Michigan, the builders could achieve this consistency. However, Nashville and computer operated saws and routers have made all of that history.

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