The new Standard in tonal versatility
By Phil O'Keefe
The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars ever released. The first Les Paul models were introduced in 1952, and the "Standard" model was unveiled in 1958. Today many players and vintage guitar experts consider the 1958-1960 Les Paul Standards to be the finest electric guitars ever made. They're certainly among the most desirable, if the stratospheric prices for them on the vintage market are any indication.
Fortunately, Gibson still makes various Les Paul models today, and while some of the higher end models are not exactly cheap, unlike some of their vintage ancestors, they cost considerably less than the price of a modest house in the suburbs. I recently had the opportunity to check out one of Gibson's latest Les Paul models - the 2014 Les Paul Standard - which sells for a bit under three thousand dollars, as opposed to the three hundred thousand that a '59 Standard might cost you… and they're far more alike than the huge price discrepancy might lead you to believe, although there are some differences and modern touches on the latest Les Paul Standard that make it even better than ever.
What You Need To Know
- While the "feel" of a neck is a matter of personal preference, I really like the one on the 2014 Les Paul Standard. The scale length is 24.75", and the mahogany neck features Gibson's SlimTaper profile and 12" fretboard radius, making it exceptionally comfortable to play. The fingerboard is dark and evenly colored rosewood with perfectly fitted figured acrylic trapezoid inlays.
- The 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard, like all 2014 models, has a limited edition 120th Anniversary banner inlay at the 12th fret celebrating Gibson's 120th year. The fingerboard is bound with cream colored binding, as is the top of the body, as you'd expect on a Les Paul Standard.
- The 22 medium jumbo frets are cryogenically treated to increase their wear resistance. The frets are expertly leveled and polished, and the intonation and entire setup of the guitar was perfect right out of the box.
- The headstock has a gold silkscreened Les Paul model logo and a inlayed mother of pearl Gibson logo. The truss rod cover is stamped ETune. The nut is black TekToid, and the slots are precision cut with the PLEK system. The neck width on the review guitar is 1.700", measured at the nut. The neck is slender from front to back, measuring only .800" thick at the first fret.
- The mahogany body is given Gibson's modern weight relief treatment - essentially chambering the body by routing out some carefully chosen areas in order to lighten the guitar's overall weight. Unlike some Les Pauls that I remember from the 70s that could best be described as boat anchors, this one is reasonably light, weighing in at just a bit under nine pounds. It's also quite resonant. I don't know if that's partially due to the chambering, or just the very high quality wood that was used in its construction, but whatever the reasons, this guitar is quite lively and toneful, even when played acoustically.
- A carved maple cap on top of the mahogany body is a hallmark of classic Les Paul design, and the 2014 Les Paul Standard features a drop-dead gorgeous, highly flamed AAA maple top. You have to see this thing in person to appreciate it fully, as pictures really don't do it justice.
- The review guitar is finished in what Gibson calls Honeyburst, which reminds me of a faded cherry sunburst, with the red shades slightly subdued. In addition to Honeyburst, the 2014 Les Paul Standard is also available in Rootbeer Burst Perimeter, Ocean Water, Tobacco Sunburst Perimeter and Heritage Cherry. I really like the Honeyburst finish, with its darker reddish-brown side edges, and warm golden center. The back of the guitar is finished in a walnut color, including the neck. The nitrocellulose lacquer finish is deep and rich looking, highly glossy, and absolutely flawless.
- The 2014 Les Paul Standard comes equipped with a pair of Burstbucker Pro humbucking pickups. These are similar to the vintage Gibson PAF humbuckers, but use AlNiCo V magnets instead of AlNiCo II, giving the guitar's tone a bit of extra edge and brightness.
- A quick glance at the Les Paul Standard shows the expected three-way pickup selector switch and four (gold speed) knobs that you'd expect a Les Paul to have, with one volume and one tone knob for each of the two pickups.
- However, this year's Standard has a few hidden switches that are not as obvious. In fact, each one of the four knobs actually has a push / pull switch built-in. Pull up on a volume control and a tuned coil tap for the corresponding pickup is engaged, allowing you to get single coil tones. The tuned coil tap manages to keep the volume from dropping drastically when engaged like some coil tapped pickups do, which is really sweet. The neck pickup's tone control switch puts that pickup out of phase, allowing you to get those Peter Green tones. Pulling the bridge pickup's tone control up kicks the guitar into Pure Bypass mode, with the bridge pickup routed straight to the output jack, with the volume and tone controls completely bypassed.
- The control cavity is unshielded, but hum and noise are really not an issue with this guitar. The wiring is clean and neat.
- The amount of tonal options afforded by the electronics and switching is pretty amazing, and makes this the most versatile sounding Les Paul I've ever played. Gibson's website has an entire article dedicated to showing how you can get 13 different sounds from this guitar by using various switch combinations.
- The 2014 Les Paul Standard comes equipped with Min-ETune robotic tuners. At the other end of the Cleartone coated strings you'll find a chrome TonePros locking Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece. Larger than usual strap buttons help keep it safely attached to your strap. While I was initially skeptical about the need for robotic tuning machines, I was glad to see it installed on the 2014 Les Paul Standard since I have really come to appreciate the advantages that Min-ETune has to offer, such as increased tuning speed and the ability to quickly switch to alternative tunings. For my in-depth thoughts about Min-ETune, be sure to check out my full Min-ETune review.
- The case that comes with this guitar is quite solid, with a brown vintage-style exterior complete with gold and black Gibson logo. Inside it's nice and plush, with plenty of cushioning for the instrument, which fits perfectly. The interior lining is pink, which will probably be less apt to show dirt over the long haul than the white lining Gibson was using for the cases on some of last year's models.
- It's not exactly inexpensive. In fact, many working players may have to work hard and / or save up over time (or make payments) to be able to afford one. Then again, this is a heirloom quality instrument that, with a little love and care, will easily last for the player's lifetime - and probably their kid's lifetime too.
- There's no pickguard included with the 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard. I realize that pickguard on / off is a matter of personal preference; heck, I pulled the guard off of my Epiphone Casino because I thought it looked and played better without it, but I must admit to having a personal preference towards leaving the guard on when it comes to Les Pauls. In this case, you don't have a choice - if you want a pickguard, you'll have to add it, which means drilling a couple of small holes. If that doesn't bother you, you can get a genuine Les Paul pickguard from Gibson - they sell it as an accessory. You'll need the mounting bracket too. The pair will cost a bit under $30. However, I think I understand why Gibson may have decided to leave the pickguard off of this year's Standard. By doing so, more of that gorgeous top is visible, and with wood that nice, who wants to cover it up?
What a wonderful guitar! Gorgeous cosmetics aside, the playability is excellent, and the resonant and lively nature of the 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard yields a wonderful responsiveness that makes it one of those guitars that practically beckons you to pick it up. You'll want to do so often - it's a blast to play. It chirps, squeals purrs and roars, all in response to the player's command. It's a very player-friendly guitar.
This may just be the most versatile Les Paul Standard yet. The Burstbucker Pro pickups are really strong, and coupled with the extensive switching capabilities, there is a unusually large number of tonal possibilities to explore. The innovative Min-ETune robotic tuning system allows for a similar level of flexibility in terms of tunings, and you can store and quickly recall any of 18 different tunings (six of which can be user-defined) with just a button push or two and a strum or two of the strings. While it's not inexpensive, the craftsmanship of this guitar is impeccable, and so is the quality of the materials that Gibson used in its construction. It's a beautiful guitar that is bound to be treasured by those who acquire one, and destined to be a future vintage classic. Get one now while you can because, who knows? Someday they may cost as much as a condo…
Musician's Friend 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard online catalog page ($5,014.00 MSRP, $2,942.00 "street")
Gibson's 2014 Les Paul Standard product web page
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.