Back to basics for 2016 range
The jury probably remains out over Gibson’s bold decision to equip each and every guitar in its 2015 range with G-Force, its controversial (in the guitar world, at least) electronic tuning device. Critics felt this was too radical for the previously conservative company, in the conservative world of guitars, and its perhaps fair to say the range wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Well, you can’t say they haven’t listened because their new 2016 range has effectively been split into two tiers; a top tier featuring all the bells and whistles (and yes, electronic tuning systems) and a secondary tier featuring all the models you’d expect from Gibson, shorn of the extra frippery.
They’ve found inspiration in their line up from 2012, their most successful year of recent times, by re-introducing certain models from that range, including some which were limited run or dealer-specific. Not sure if these ‘new’ models count as re-issues but still, this is great news for players who felt left out or disinterested by last year’s vintage. The new models look, feel and, most importantly, play exactly like you’d expect a proper Gibson to play. Hurrah!
As you’d expect, the new range is well-stocked in the Les Paul department. But with so many different models, it can be hard to decide which 2016 Gibson Les Paul is best for you. Fear not! Help is at hand. Here, we’ll talk through some of the key models, features and characteristics to help you decide.
The ‘Standard’ range
So called because they are the benchmarker, the line in the sand, the guitar against which all imitators compare themselves; the Gibson Les Paul Standard is the mainstay of the range and the first port of call when analysing the new line up. So, what’s different from 2015? Well, for a start, there’s no electronic tuning. Gone is the G-Force, replaced by a crazy feat of mechanical engineering whereby you tune the guitar by turning these metal pole things which, in turn, make the string tension tighter or more loose. Insane. Wonder if it’ll catch on. Anyway, glibness aside, you can see plainly that the new Standard range is a return to the Gibson we all know and love. The raised brass nut of the 2015 range has gone, replaced with a more recognisable Corian nut, while the rosewood fingerboard has a slightly different radius which Gibson believes players will find more comfortable over longer playing sessions. The classic maple top and AAA-grade mahogany body are in place as you’d expect, providing the sustain and tone you demand, while traditionalists will be pleased to see they’ve reverted back to the original mother of pearl logo and branding across the headstock.
Not everything has been binned off from 2015 though; one of the undeniably welcome features was the ability to coil split the pickups, offering a new level of versatility for a Les Paul. There’s also the push/pull phase control, activated by pulling the bottom tone control, which gives that incredible Peter Green-type tone in an instant. Pickups take the form of Burstbucker Pros, giving you searing highs and crushing lows with sustain and clarity in spades. Job well done. Worth a special mention is the Heritage Cherry Sunburst model which, sans pickguard, just screams out Slash. Simply stunning.
The ‘Traditional’ range
The 2016 Traditional range is another which benefits from the stripped back – certainly in comparison to 2015 – approach. Again, gone are the fancy electronics, replaced with more traditional ‘Traditional’ features, so to speak. While largely similar to the Standard in many ways, the Traditional range features more vintage-flavoured pickups in the shape of ’57 Classic humbuckers which, while not as gain-heavy as the Burstbucker Pros, do allow you a more classic vibe, perfect for blues and rock music.
The ‘Studio’ and ‘Tribute’ ranges
As Gibson’s entry-level Les Paul, the Studio range has to strike a balance between great quality features and specification, and a price-point reasonable enough to tempt people in. Don’t assume entry-level means low-quality though. It’s still got the famous logo on the headstock after all, so a certain level of excellence, reliability and performance is expected. The 2016 Studio range has it in spades, along with a few new additions in the form of a Tribute range which is sure to excite people. Chief among them is the inclusion of a genuine dark-back Goldtop 50s Tribute Reissue, which is quite simply gorgeous. This particular variation was originally a limited run, dealer-specific model from 2012. What this meant was that if you weren’t able to track one down, from a very small number of overseas retailers, then you had a real struggle on your hands. Those people who did get one found themselves in possession of a wonderfully raw guitar, free of unnecessary features, which was exceptionally good fun to play. There was also a P90 equipped 60s Tribute Reissue from the same year which also joins the 2016 line-up which, when you factor in the welcome return of ‘regular’ Studio Les Pauls, makes for an extremely versatile range geared for pretty much any style you could think of.
It feels strange announcing a new range from Gibson without a stack of new and innovative features. If anything, they’ve taken last year’s range and actively looked to take things away, leaving a much more focused range of guitars. Looking in context though, compared to what came with the 2015 range, it feels like this kind of reverse progress is actually a good thing. Gibson has clearly given the players who felt put out by the 2015 range something to consider and that in itself is worthy of a pat on the back. Yes, we’ve seen most of the ‘new’ guitars before and yes, there’s no real new ground being broken here, but under the circumstances I’d say that’s a positive thing. They’ve clearly decided to use that horrible phrase ‘back to basics’ but from what we’ve seen, its a great strategy. They’ve gone back to what makes Gibson great. It’ll be interesting to see how this new range fares once its out in the wild, so to speak, but, by producing a range like the 2016 line-up, they’ve given themselves the best chance of redemption in the eyes of the guitar-buying public.