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How Do Les Pauls Differ from Each Other?

How Do Les Pauls Differ from Each Other?

A Les Paul is a Les Paul, right?

When you decide you want a Les Paul, there are a certain number of things you really expect you’ll be getting. We all know that famous, curvy body shape. We know the baseball-bat neck profile, the meaty pickups and the famous headstock. But the fact is that within the mini-category of Les Pauls, there are a bewildering number of options available to you.

A lot of these options centre around a number of key variables. Finish, hardware, and price. So many variables within that. Let’s take a look at what makes a Les Paul a Les Paul then.

Les Paul Standard

Gibson Les Paul Standard
The Les Paul Standard is the highest spec ‘standard’ model (i.e. not custom shop or limited edition). Effectively, it is the evolution of the original Les Paul model. In the late ‘50s it gained its characteristic humbuckers, and in ’59 and ’60, sunburst finishes.

The Standard is the flagship of the range. Not the best in terms of spec, not the most expensive, or the most eye-catching either. But the Gibson Les Paul Standard is the guitar players have flocked to in their thousands (millions?) over the years, and with good reason.

Typical features

  • Mahogany back and carved maple top with quarter-sawn mahogany set neck.
  • Burst Finishes (current range also features plain finishes, however).
  • AA or AAA flamed maple top (‘burst finishes).
  • Modern weight relieved body (mahogany body is chambered with modern pattern).
  • Twin humbucker pickups.
  • Trapezoid inlays.
  • Body (front) and neck binding.
  • Tune-o-matic bridge.
  • Grover tuners.
  • ‘60s neck profile (slimmer).

Les Paul Custom

Gibson Les Paul Custom

The Les Paul Custom was the second Les Paul model to be launched, in 1954. It was conceived as a more luxuriously appointed, ‘tuxedo’ model, for black-tie events.

Mostly seen in either the aforementioned Tuxedo black, with gold hardware to let people know you’re not messing about, or the gloriously-named Alpine White, these are certainly high-class guitars. They’re versatile too; despite their glamorous appearance, we’ve seen plenty of Les Paul Customs thrashed around at serious metal shows, partly on account of their sheer heft providing the kind of sustain that’ll make the hairs on your neck stand up. But then they’re equally at home on the lap of a jazz or blues player, who revel in that warm neck pickup goodness.

Typical features

  • Mahogany body with carved maple top, and quarter-sawn, single piece mahogany set-neck.
  • Solid, opaque finishes (commonly ebony or white, though other finishes are available).
  • Front and back multi-ply binding, plus headstock and neck binding.
  • Weight relieved with strategically routed holes (original models were solid).
  • Tune-o-matic bridge (the Custom was the first to feature this).
  • Twin humbucker pickups (490R and 498T on current model).
  • Block inlays.
  • Tulip tuners.

Les Paul Traditional

Gibson Les Paul Traditional

The Les Paul Traditional may look a lot like a Les Paul Standard, but there are several key differences. Essentially, it’s designed to be more like an older Les Paul Standard. Sort of…

Typical features

  • Mahogany body with carved maple top, and quarter-sawn mahogany set-neck.
  • ‘Burst finishes (other finishes also available).
  • Flamed AA maple top on ‘burst finishes.
  • Solid mahogany back – no weight relief.
  • Twin humbucker pickups (PAF style ’57 classics on the current model) with Orange Drop tone capacitors.
  • Body (front) and neck binding.
  • Tune-o-matic bridge.
  • Trapezoid inlays.
  • ‘50s neck profile (chunkier).
  • Tonepros tuners.

Les Paul Studio

Gibson Les Paul Studio

The Les Paul Studio was launched in the ‘80s, offering a more pared-back Les Paul model aimed at gigging players who didn’t want to take their prized Standard to gigs, or who didn’t want to pay for premium aesthetics when it would be used in a Studio. It is, however, a ‘full-fat’ Les Paul in every other sense.

What you get here is a slab of mahogany, often with a maple top, with no binding or other fancy fripperies. The Studio range is all about the tone. It’s pure Les Paul goodness, at a price tag which is more sensible than some of its more hifalutin brothers and sisters.

The Les Paul Studio range often serves as the entry point to the range. The path between Epiphone Les Paul Standard and Gibson Les Paul Studio is well-worn, and not without reason. Players making that journey find a guitar that feels familiar yet serves as a step up in terms of build quality, tone and durability. Put simply, it takes a lot to break these guitars.

Typical features

  • Mahogany body with carved maple top, with quarter-sawn mahogany set-neck.
  • Pared-down aesthetics – typically solid finishes (though current range also features vintage sunburst).
  • Modern weight relief.
  • No binding or flamed maple top.
  • Twin humbucker pickups – Modern Classics range (490R and 498T).
  • Tune-o-matic bridge.
  • Trapezoid inlays.
  • ‘60s neck profile.
  • TonePros tuners.

See our website where for a full range of Gibson Les Pauls, or call our stores or customer service team (01925 582420) for more information or advice.

About The Author

Joe

Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.