Big G returns with plenty to talk about
Gibson has announced the full line up for its 2016, and there are a few changes to talk about. Rightly or wrongly, the 2015 range was perhaps less favourably received than it would have hoped for. Take a look on any of the prominent guitar forums or groups and you’ll probably find a whole host of opinions and, it would be fair to say, not all of them positive. The decision to feature the upgraded G-Force tuning system on every model met with a mixed response, with players who didn’t want to go down the auto-tuning route left without much to choose from.
However, underneath all the hype and rhetoric, lay an perfectly decent, highly playable range of guitars. More open-minded players found that the G-Force system, which features tiny servo motors built into the tuners that tune the guitar for you, was actually pretty cool and had the dual benefit of saving you time and also tuning extremely accurately. The models themselves were quite interesting; the Les Paul Deluxe was a particular highlight, mixing a pair of 70s vibe mini humbuckers with an active boost and coil tapping, giving it a level of tonal versatility not usually associated with a Lester. But, for whatever reason, the guitar-buying public definitely felt Gibson could do better than its 2015 vintage.
It was with this in mind that the company has taken itself back in time and shown it can listen to its communities and give them what they want. 2012 marked one of the best years in Gibson’s history, in terms of both range and in sales, and it is to this year that the company has sought inspiration for its 2016 line up.
What they’ve done with this new range is effectively split it into two. At one end, you have the Traditional range, which delivers a selection of its famous guitars without any of the electronic trimmings associated with 2015, while at the other end sits the High Performance line up.
The Traditional range features the usual Les Pauls and SGs, along with a ’68 Flying V reissue and ’68 Explorer reissue. The guitars all feature manual tuners, which will please some sections of the guitar community, along with traditional neck widths and all come in the kind of colours you’d expect from Gibson.
A total of five different Les Pauls, including the rather baroque looking Les Paul CM, add a touch of variety to the proceedings. Of particular note in the Traditional range is a 50s reissue Les Paul Special Goldtop. These guitars were part of the 2012 range, however only in a limited run and only available through selected non-UK retailers. Having owned one, I can say that this is a tremendous guitar. It features the classic dark back, along with two exposed humbuckers, vintage tuners and tonnes of charm. Happily this guitar will be available more widely this time around, so is well worth checking out. There’s just something cool about a Goldtop Les Paul, and when the cost of a Standard runs into the thousands usually it makes this one even more appealing.
Sadly lacking from the initial 2015 line up were the Flying V and Explorer. Perhaps due to their awkward headstocks ruling out any kind of G-Force integration, the famous rock and metal guitars were missed by many. Happily, both now return in 2016 in the shape of 1968 reissues. The Flying V features an all black colourway, none more metal, while the Explorer comes in its iconic cherry red colour.
Gibson has made a bold move in reintroducing non G-Force guitars into the line up. The impression was that G-Force was here to stay on every guitar, so these new Traditional models show that Gibson recognises not every player wants it on their guitar. It could be argued that G-Force was simply ahead of its time, and in the future you might see more players coming round to its charms. There’s no denying its a well-engineered solution to many players’ problems, but making the entire range G-Force only was always going to be a bold move.
Don’t sound the death knell just yet though. Just because G-Force wasn’t universally welcomed doesn’t mean it was universally rejected. Plenty of people, myself included, quickly warmed to its capabilities and wouldn’t want this particular chapter in guitar innovation closing before it’s had chance to grow. Gibson recognises that which is why lining up alongside the traditional range is the new High Performance roster.
The High Performance range features most of the same guitars as the Traditional range, yet each comes equipped with a few features and capabilities designed to elevate it slightly above. The High Performance guitars all feature an improved G-Force tuning system, adjustable titanium nut, slightly increased neck width (for a larger playing surface and less string hang) and superior electronics.
It’s an interesting strategy from Gibson. By effectively introducing a range above a range, the Gibson 2016 roster cements its position as a guitar builder of the highest quality, yet also one which listens to its public and tries to give them what they want. If you weren’t put off by the 2015 models, and indeed saw benefit in some of its more modern features, then you’ll find in the High Performance line up a selection of Gibson’s famous guitars tailor made for you. If, on the other hand, you were put off by the inclusion of certain things in 2015, you can rest assured the company has taken those feelings into consideration with the introduction (or should that be reintroduction) of models bereft of any controversial fixtures and fittings.
It may be that some see the decision to make G-Force a non-mandatory inclusion is an admission that it failed. Alternatively, it may be that Gibson recognises it should at least have allowed players to make the choice over its inclusion, or not, for themselves. Either way, Gibson isn’t one of the biggest and best at what it does for no reason. It knows each year players will come calling for a strong line-up designed to show off the best of what this famous organisation has to offer. And, where 2015 left some feeling a bit cold, 2016 is sure to mark a return to form and long may it continue.