Price paid: C$ 100
Purchased from: Long & McQuade
Features — 7
China, 2005, well used guitar. Gloss white poly finish, 22 frets which feel medium in size and a tad wide. Mahogany body, single cutaway, bolt on mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard. Tune-O-Matic, White poly finish. 2 passive uncovered high output ceramic humbuckers, master volume, master tone, three position switch. Tuners are generic stamped tuners. Didn't come with anything else other than a some free scratches and dings. Rating it a 7 because in some instances it would be nice having independent volume and tone controls but that's only if you're super anal over your sound or have some mismatched pickups. Doing volume swells with it is very difficult due to the placement of the volume knob but on the plus, it is hard to accidentally hit it when playing as I often do with guitars (ex. strats). No nonsense guitar and I appreciate this.
Sound — 6
Let me first start off by saying that I picked this guitar up as a joke but when I plugged it in I was shocked at how easy it picked up harmonics (it was almost impossible not to get them). It also sounds seriously chunky, full bodied and ready to kick ass. This is great when playing alone but I anticipate all the low end might cause some problems when mixing with other instruments. The pickups track well when doing fast runs which is really important. Under gain, the bridge pickup is great, I have no qualms about it. Squeals like a pig and has this deep metal rhythm tone. Chords aren't too distinguishable under gain but this is to be expected from such a chunky pickup. It doesn't accentuate your pick attack which can be a pro or con depending where you're coming from. Clean it lacks any real character, very dull sounding as expected from high output ceramic humbuckers although I have heard worse and most humbuckers (unless low output) aren't too great for strumming chords anyway. So as expected, these just sound awful and plunky when played clean. Arpeggios are more bearable but aren't anything to write home about. If you lower your volume on the guitar then it starts becoming more usable. It would not be my first pick for clean sounds...closer to my last next to an EMG-81 which even that would be better. The neck humbucker, like the bridge, is very full sounding which is great because you don't want another bridge pickup sound in the neck position. It's got a nice midrange character to it, I just think it is slightly overshadowed by all the low end. If you like ice picky lead tones in the neck, then you'll really need to work an EQ pedal. It also lacks a bit of the hollow bubbly sound I like in neck pickups when doing fast runs. Not a huge concern as this isn't a Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan pickup. Clean it can actually sound good but much like the bridge, it isn't something spectacular. Arpeggio's sound good with the right amp but strumming isn't its forte in any situation. As far as crunch goes for both pickups, they don't handle it too well. Overpowering and lacking any dynamics. The volume taper isn't uniform mostly kicking in near the 0-3 range, but the tone knob seems to fair better. Compared to Jackson stock humbuckers, Epiphone's 650R and 700T sound more rich and thick compared to a more balanced tone of Jackson. Overall, it may seem like I'm tearing the sound of the guitar apart but I actually do like the sound a lot and have no intention throwing in new pickups. It's just a mean, no-nonsense, thick sounding guitar which will handle whatever you throw at it. If you can't make it sound good, then you probably won't be able to with more "booteek" pedals and aftermarket pickups.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
The previous owner set it up in Drop C which was a bonus for me - too bad he didn't know how to set the intonation (which thankfully, it does well). The guy didn't noodle around with the pickups which is also good. The nut is a plastic piece of **** and 10's bind to the nut which make it very annoying as this is what is causing it to go out of tune too quickly. If you aren't afraid making the nut larger, shaving some graphite in the nut, and minimally wrapping your strings it can hold tuning very well. Otherwise, it goes out of tune after a single song. Not too bad, I've been to shows where people rocking Fenders and Gibson's retune after every song. The guitar is finished with a thick layer of poly. Good thing is that you really don't have to worry as much about any humidity or temperature changes with such a finish. Bad side is if you don't keep a light touch on the guitar then your hand will stick to the back of the neck as you move up and down the guitar. Do I wish it were an oiled finish? Yes. Does it make much of a difference when playing - not really. The neck isn't properly positioned in the neck pocket with a sizeable gap, and the neck heel has a crack in the finish (can be expected in bolt on guitars over time). Action is medium bordering on high, despite that it is very easy to play. Fretwork isn't the greatest but I've seen worse on far more expensive guitars and you really can't have high expectations at this price point. At worst you'll enjoy more sustain, better tone and (depending on the player) easier bends with higher actions. The frets seem to be a wide medium type so they don't feel like train tracks when doing slides. There are by no means vintage height (yuck!) but a far cry from even medium jumbo's you play on most Stratocasters. If you press hard, your fingers will drag on the fretboard if you're used to extra jumbo frets. I haven't seen the fret material shave off yet which is great as I flake off the nickel from frets in single sittings but I haven't had this guitar for more than a year so its durability in this department is yet to be determined. Personally, the width of the neck is great as really wide necks tend to be less ergonomic for me and harder for shredding. The thickness of the neck is adequate and it sports a symmetrical slim taper D profile. Nothing fancy like a PRS or EVH Wolfgang profile but it doesn't fatigue my hands which is all I really need. Chord work feels good, but you might prefer something more chunky to fill your hand if you mostly do that. Shredding on it is effortless and bends feel extremely comfortable given the 12" radius and neck profile. I don't feel like I need to put in nearly as much effort with wide vibrato compared to my Jacksons or Ibanez guitars. Some people complain about the upper fret access especially with the bolt on neck but I can tell you that this is a nonissue, even if you have a wrist injury like me and prefer SGs over LPs. The bridge is secure and has zero tilt. The guitar was easily the heaviest guitar in the store next to the bass guitars and an Epiphone Les Paul Custom. My back hates me but it's 8 lb of pure mahogany goodness which laughably was heavier than a bunch of Gibsons I picked up! It also was far more heavy than the other newer Epiphone Les Paul Special II's that were in the store and this reflected in its heavier tone as I tried four other Special IIs. The other newer models felt lighter, and sounded more thin, but also resonated better. This guitar had a deeper sound. Regardless, it sustains great and the knobs feel real smooth with no snap crackle pop. The jack is solid and doesn't wiggle. The finish of the guitar is a gloss white. It's now turned more vanilla due to its exposure to light which I don't mind.
Reliability & Durability — 6
I'm sure I could defend myself in a physical altercation with this guitar's heavy weight and thick poly finish. I doubt you'll be able to put a dent in this thing unless you really mess up. The hardware seems like it will last although the fretwork is probably due for a refret given this particular guitar is 10 years old. This is problematic as the gloss poly finish goes over the side of the fretboard and will likely crack when refreted. Who's idiotic ideas was this? Seriously? This really decreases the lifespan of the guitar and I have no idea how I'll fix this problem. Hardware does not show any signs of oxidation and the chrome finish is still like new, not revealing the copper zinc base. I have no problem depending on this guitar at a gig because it just does the job. No buzzing with regards to the electronics. No fancy parts, it's just a bolt on mahogany neck on a mahogany body with six strings and a tune-o-matic bridge. I might be worried if the body was made out of poplar and finished really thin like a rubbed finish - but this is not the case.
Overall Impression — 8
This guitar is by no means a perfect guitar but I love it. Its simplicity and humble nature of it which gets to me. Much like a Gibson Les Paul Junior, its limitations is what forces you to appreciate it and become more creative how you use it. You don't have fancy wiring options or even perfect sounding pickups, fretwork or a slick neck. It's a guitar with six strings and two pickups which you've got to make sing. That's what I love about it. You learn to dive deeper into it. I mostly do solo work from Andy James, Pantera, Black Label Society, Five Finger Death Punch, Ozzy Osbourne and this guitar can do it all minus Floyd Rose stuff. Probably my favorite feature is how easily the harmonics are picked up on the guitar as well as the crushing heavy tone this guitar has. Reminds me of a Seymour Duncan Invader or Dimarzio Super III sound. It screams metal! What I hate most about it is its stupid plastic nut which I'll be replacing ASAP and the poly over the side of the fretboard making the refret a nightmare. I've owned Gibsons, Fenders, LTD, Epiphone, Dillion, Squier, Ibanez and Godin guitars and this has its own special little place in the family. If I lost it or it got damaged I'd be pissed. I'm not sure I'd buy it again simply because I don't like the newer Epiphone Les Paul Special II models (fretboard is some sticky synthetic material which doesn't feel or look like real rosewood, basswood body..LPs should have mahogany, $250 CAD is a little much).