Sound — 9
This guitar sounds solid, thick, earthy sharp and smooth all at the same time when it's overdriven and you've set it up properly. Personally I set the treble volume to maximum, nanomeg volume to minimum and Rhythm volume to minimum when playing it overdriven. This does two things: firstly is means that all the gain is channeled cleanly through the treble pickup so you get a really thick classic-rock sound without the nanomeg interfering, and it sounds beautifully smooth yet sharp. Alternate picking as well as finger picking, hybrid picking and legato playing are all possible as the pickups are wired to receive everything; the second thing turning the nanomeg volume down does is unique, Switch to that while on a fully driven gain channel and all the gain goes away but the volume and the clean tone remains, like a foot-switch. This is because the pickups are still receiving the signal from the guitar but all of the 'rough' noise has been washed out. This makes quick switching between guitar overdrive and clean tone possible with the tone Switch on the guitar. Be aware that I use it for the tones that I like so I can't vouch for everybody, but I'm struggling to think of a tone this guitar can't produce save for effects pedal-induced stuff. I've played a Zakk Wylde with EMG active pickups that produced less gain. That's my opinion though and I don't fiddle the tone much so I don't have a 'full deck' yet. It's deal a good first hand though.
Overall Impression — 9
I play heavy metal, classic rock, blues, jazz and the occasional bit of classical and funk. This guitar meets my demands for all of these styles. There I very little more that I could ask of this guitar other than the whammy bar requirement, but that's me being picky. I also checked Gibson's stock, they have no equivalent guitar, so it's unique to epiphone. If I lost it I would get another in a heartbeat. If it was stolen, I'd probably fall into depression for a while as it's already become one of those 'special few' guitars, you know? Those couple that you look at and think "sure it's got a bad name on it and there are other that I could get thousands for selling, but this is the one I've got, and this is the one I want".
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've played it live while switching vigorously between clean and gain on the guitar rather than the amp and it's still working fine, and gave me what I needed for the performances. The strap buttons haven't fallen off, which is always nice, as it's usually a nice surprise on some guitars. I've used high volume and high gain and both and it's survived so far. Finish hasn't peeled or faded despite a knock due to me being careless by accident. I would happily turn up at a gig with just this. I use a guitar with a whammy bar so I personally Wouldn't use this exclusively but it's apples and oranges really. Anne Wilson from Heart uses these exclusively for her live performances nowadays though.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
The guitar was set up very well. Some guitars I've played have the action set too high, particularly on Gibson and gibson-style guitars. This wasn't set up badly, the neck feels very nice to play on, and joy of joys this guitar has been cured of the oldest Les Paul curse in the book. Les Paul's are generally as heavy as granite, but because of hollow spaces inside the guitar to enhance the nanomeg sound it's probably the lightest guitar I have. Wood feels of a good quality, the strings were a bit thinner than I'm used too but I'll soon change them anyway. The only other thing that I can think of that might be a flaw of this guitar is simply that it's an Epiphone rather than a Gibson so it wouldn't sell for much, but I wouldn't want to sell it anyway. It's definitely a part of my live 'kit bag' now.
Features — 10
The Les Paul Ultra II is a 22 fret guitar made by a company called Epiphone, which is generally regarded as a sub-contractor of Gibson. The tuners on the guitar feel that they are of a good quality, and it has the usual 4 dials on the front of the guitar for volume and tone adjustment. But this is where the similarities end between this and a regular les paul. This guitar has two sets of pickups; the usual hum-buckers for treble and rhythm which are from the same maker Gibson use for their Les Paul guitars, and a nanomeg setup for the neck of the guitar. For those who are wondering what I'm on about, nanomeg pickups are a system of pickups laid underneath the fretboard and are particularly useful on Acoustic guitars for a clean sound. This means the this guitar has the ability to function as a fully electric and a semi-acoustic. This may lead to some confusion as there are three volume dials on the front and one master tone, so I'll describe it as if I'm looking down at it while it's strapped around my neck. The top-right dial is nanomeg volume, top-left is treble pick-up volume, bottom left is rhythm pickup volume and bottom right is master tone control. I'll talk you through how to use these in the sound section, but needless to say that makes this a seriously versatile guitar, in the same way that giving a man a third arm makes him better at juggling. Individual EQ for the nanomegs is on the back of the guitar. Finish on mine is cherry sunburst and quite nicely finished, and the neck is bolt-on, giving it a solid earthy tone. That's about it for features but there's enough of them. Important note: nanomeg pickups are always active on all channels so to hear them without interference turn on pickup to zero and turn nanomeg volume to desired level.