Price paid: £ 440
Purchased from: Andertons
Features — 9
- Built in 2013, made in China
- Mahogany cutaway body with quilt maple top
- Mahogany thru-neck with rosewood fingerboard, 14" radius and 42.7mm nut width
- 24.75" scale, 6 strings and 24 jumbo frets with mother-of-pearl inlays
- Gibson USA 498T bridge pickup, Gibson USA 490R neck pickup (passive)
- Bridge and neck volume knobs (both with coil taps), bridge and neck tone knobs and 3-way toggle switch. All knobs with mother-of-pearl inlay tops
- Locktune tune-o-matic bridge, Locktune stopbar tailpiece and Grover 14:1 tuners
- Weighs 8.7lbs
- Available in black cherry and heritage cherry sunburst
- Supplied string gauge 10-46
I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of Les Pauls - the awkward upper fret access and my usual preference of contoured bodies being a main turn-off - but after trying this guitar out on a whim I suddenly fell in love with it. The body is about as thin as you'll find for a Les Paul, and the 14" neck radius instead of the traditional 12" results in a much faster neck and arguably the easiest-to-play Les Paul that Gibson or Epiphone has ever made.
Sound — 9
The 498T and 490R pickups were one of my major attractions to this guitar - these pickups often appear in high-end Gibson Les Pauls, and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson uses them in his signature Les Paul too. Low output and high in dynamics, these pickups can cater for almost any genre - the 498T in particular chimes sweetly for the blues enthusiast, bites fiercely for the hard rocker and articulates aggression with perfect clarity for the shredders for whom lactic acid shall not pass. It's not the warmest of pickups and is more classically oriented.
The 490R isn't quite as high standard, with clarity and warmth fading slightly in higher gain levels, although this is more likely due to the (for a Les Paul) unusual position of the pickup - having 24 frets instead of 22 forces the pickup nearer the bridge. It's a compromise that might put some LP purists off this guitar, but it's a minor setback compared to the upper fret access you get as a trade. Having coil taps on both pickups expands the sonic palette significantly - both individually produces Strat-like bridge and neck tones respectively, producing even more attack and chime if there wasn't enough for you already.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
Whilst I could go on forever about how good the sound of this guitar is, a few drawbacks become apparent when you examine the rest of the guitar. The factory setup was average at best, with quite high action and several strings badly intoned - however after having it setup the action and playability is the best of any guitar I own. The tuners are, quite simply, good - not bad, not great, just good. They'll hold you in tune very well for general rhythm playing, but after too much bending and vibrato they'll stop being so kind and may lurch violently out of tune. It's only a very occasional issue, but one that needs looking out for
The guitar's biggest fault lies in the electronics. The wiring on the neck pickup appears to have been done haphazardly - the volume quite often seems to roll off, and sometimes cuts out altogether, and required a lot of knob maneuvering to restore it back to full power. There's also sometimes a noticeable silent lapse between switching pickup positions, something I've not experienced on any other guitar I own, and the inconsistency of the problems sometimes leave me wondering what might develop next.
Reliability & Durability — 7
Whilst the quality of finish on the body of the guitar is excellent for the price range, examining the back of the guitar shows an obvious difference in finishes between the body and the back of the neck. On the plus side, the build quality of the guitar is generally solid and feels very sturdy as you'd expect - it definitely feels like it would survive touring without major aesthetic damage - although one of the glued-on pickup inlay tops did fall out on arrival.
Tonally this guitar would work equally well live and in the studio once it's electronics are fixed - it's extremely versatile tone palette would suit a function band guitarist perfectly, and would easily compete with it's boutique brethren when recording a blues, rock or punk album - possibly metal too, but for a heavier sound they might want to consider the EX instead. It's not a guitar you'd trust to perform without a hitch however, so keep that tuner turned on throughout.
Overall Impression — 8
- Great pickups for the price
- Extremely wide variety of tonal options
- Very fast neck
- Upper fret access far superior to most Les Pauls
- Tuning stability for lead work unreliable
- Factory setup is poor, would definitely send to a guitar tech on arrival
- Neck pickup tone not what you'd expect from a Les Paul