There are some things you approach to review with more than a touch of caution. Objects so iconic, so embedded in your own cultural history that you run the risk of trying to review everything this guitar has ever meant and not just what it is now. And the epitome of this? The Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Just think those words and what flashes across your mind? Clapton’s Beano, Kossoff, the Mighty Zep, Slash the Stoke Dynamo, poor, wonderful Peter Green and the priceless Gary Moore. And if it is tough to review it, how do Gibson reinvent it?
The easy way would be for Gibson to churn out the same instrument, year after year, and for many years, this is what they did. All those 90’s Standards that were perfectly acceptable but lacking in magic, the 80’s Standards that were so often train wrecks. But over the past few years, Gibson have been more adventurous in their ambitions for their flagship, introducing innovations to what always appeared the most conservative of guitars. And for 2015, they have really pushed it, some of these changes the faithful will like, others are going to be much more controversial. Another thing they have pushed is the price – the UK street price is £2,599. That is a lot of money, this Standard is not just competing against it’s own history, but against pretty much every elite guitar out there.
On first appearance it looks incredibly like….a Les Paul Standard. The version I’m playing has a Heritage Cherry Sunburst nitro finish over a flame maple cap. The maple is described as an AA grade affair but I rather like it: it’s subtle and understated. The finish is a little different. I’ve recently reviewed a Les Paul Studio that had a flawless finish on it, this Standard’s finish is less impressive with a little sinking into the grain. After a year or two, this would not matter, but on a new guitar at this price? I was slightly disappointed especially after so many recent Gibsons have impressed me with their flawless finishes. I know that you expect Gibsons’ to have their QC quirks, but can you imagine PRS or Tom Anderson letting a similarly-priced guitar go out with anything less than a perfect finish? The maple cap has an “enhanced” curve to it, which gives an attractive sweep to the top and the cream binding is immaculate – it’s a very pretty Standard indeed.
The mahogany body (a beautiful two-piece lump of wood) has modern weigh relief, involving elliptical routing in the body, the result is a comfortably medium weight that balances very well and – in theory – still has the full-on LP tone.
Hardware is a chrome plated tune-o-matic unit with titanium saddles ( a nice touch) which all looks very nice. There is a clip-on pickguard which….clips on and ….clips off again.
Pickups are very high spec Burst Bucker Pros controlled by 2 volume and 2 tone pots. There is some clever wiring here, with coil-splitting and out-of phase options as well. But there is more, pull up the bridge tone knob and the bridge pickup output bypasses the tone circuit and goes direct to the output, this promises a very focused and powerful bridge tone.
The one piece mahogany neck has an asymmetrical slim taper, with more meat under the bass side. It’s considerably slimmer than I would normally go for on a Gibson but it took very little time to get used to it and within the hour I felt very at home. The one piece rosewood fingerboard is lovely, smooth and comfortable, matching the beautiful fretting job. Every one of the 22 frets is perfectly seated and polished and the general set up was fantastic – Gibson have been using the Plek machine to set up their guitars for some time but I’ve noticed a big improvement since 2014 – Gibsons seem to be instantly insanely playable now. The trapezoid inlays are faultless and like the body, neck binding is spot-on. One controversy is that the fretboard is wider, with more space under the top and bottom Es to allow more comfortable bending. The extra width is very subtle and if you’ve ever played a nice old Ibanez Artist then you’ll feel right at home but even the most ferocious narrow-neck devotee will quickly get used to the extra real estate.
I’ll go into more detail on playing feel later, but this is a very, very good neck and positively wills you to launch into huge, huge bends.
Now things get very 2015 – the brass adjustable zero fret…..I really like it, it works superbly on the LP Studio and it provides an extra degree of control and adjustment, allowing the nut to be raised or lowered. And I like brass nuts (add suitable punchline here), I’ve got enough early 80’s Japanese guitars to know that they add something to the tone.
Carrying on to the headstock, you have the 100th birthday Les Paul scrawl (I do not like this – would you draw on the forehead of Anne Hathaway?) and mother-of-pearl tuning pegs attached to…….that blasted G-force tuning unit. I accept that it works much better than the Min-e-Tune it replaced and that it does add the ability to instantly change your tuning….but it just seems wrong to have it on a Standard. And there are no options here, you buy a 2015 Standard, it comes with the G-force, there is no choice. I would have been happier with having the G-force as an option for those who wanted it and good old-school tuners for the rest of us.
This is a pretty, well appointed guitar with some great touches (pickups, superb neck, zero nut) and some more….controversial ones (hello G-force). In part 2 of this review, we’ll plug it in and see what it sounds like.