Epiphone, as you probably know, is owned by the legendary guitar manufacturer Gibson. Up until that purchase though, it was Gibson’s main rival. Originally known for its mandolins and archtops, it eventually changed into producing affordable alternatives to its parent company’s models, such as the Les Paul. These designs were quite successful, and many artists, including top musicians such as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon from The Beatles, The Edge from U2, and jazz guitarist Joe Pass, preferred them to the more expensive guitars made by Gibson. Even now, contemporary artists such as Gary Clark Jr and Matt Heafy of Trivium rock out with their Epi models on stage. On a much smaller scale, my Joe Pass Emperor model has accompanied me on countless hours of practice and gigging during my university days.
I had the chance to test drive an affordable entry model recently: the Les Paul Limited Edition Special I. I’ve received three guitars in different finishes, and I’ve filmed a video of my impressions and showcasing their tone (in different settings) and versatility.
The spirit of the Les Paul
True to its name, the Epiphone Les Paul delivers a simple 2 humbucker guitar. These pickups double the coils to produce a louder, thicker sound than the single coil versions. When played with a minimal amount of gain or overdrive, they produce a warm, beefy tone perfect for jazz lines and classic rock accompaniments. With some hair, they produce some of the most satisfying crunch tones guitarists crave perpetually. With thick overdrive or distortion, they sing with massive sustain and personality. Although the particular models in this guitar aren’t the most complex sounding, they get the job done, in any situation.
Being a Les Paul style guitar, it features a 24.75 inch scale which is slightly smaller than Fender’s 25.5 and offers easy playability and bending—ideal for younger players starting off on the electric. The neck is also on the smaller side, especially when I compare it to my Gibson models. This makes these Epiphones a breeze and a joy to play.
Other specs include a basswood body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fretboard. It features no carved maple top usually found on regular, more expensive Les Pauls. The absence of this feature and the selection of basswood help to lower production costs. The classic trapezoid and block inlays are replaced with dots (which I find quite refreshing actually), and a very nice dark binding wraps around the neck.
The tuning pegs’ stability is hit or miss, unfortunately. It’s probably due to the affordable nature of the instrument, but angled headstocks are notoriously hard to keep in tune. Make sure you either have a tuner nearby or some nut lubricant to make your playing experience more enjoyable. Down the road, you might consider upgrading to locking tuners; an upgrade that is well worth the low price of admission!
Three wonderful finishes
The Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Special I guitar is offered in three different finishes, two of which salute Gibson’s history. All three of them are worn, meaning they are slightly faded and transparent, something I feel most guitarists will enjoy. The tactile sensation is quite enjoyable also, presenting a satin feel on the body and neck.
The first variation, black, is the least adventurous of the three, but still holds up well and features an understated, yet elegant presence. Black also matches with all colors, so the fashion minded guitarist will enjoy this one!
Next, the worn cherry finish is a lovely homage to one of Gibson’s most beloved colours. Although the sunburst isn’t present on this model, the fiery red is very eye-catching, and fans of Jimmy Page and company will be able to easily channel the raw energy associated with that particular imagery.
Finally, the TV Yellow finish is a sight to behold (and is my favourite of the three options). It’s so easy on the eye that I still find myself scrolling through my pictures of it in my studio. The origins of the colour’s name are also interesting—and are at the centre of an ongoing debate amongst guitarists. Some state that TV Yellow refers to the colour used to finish a certain model of cabinet that housed televisions back in the 50s.
Others believe that Les Paul himself commissioned Gibson to build him guitars in this colour for his TV work. This colour would counteract the distracting glare that his white guitars would produce in the black and white screens of the time. At this point, it seems that it is lost lore to anyone but Gibson employees, but what I know for sure is that this wonderful colour looks amazing in your hands, on a stand, or hanging on a wall.
Affordable, yet built to last
This guitar is ideal in a couple of situations. First of all, for a first time buyer, the price and specs are excellent. With a small, comfortable neck and a 24.75 inch scale, this will be an inviting home base for inexperienced hands. Being able to handle jazz, pop, and all shades of rock, it’s quite versatile. As you can see in the video, it also plays very well with different pedal and amplifier combinations.
It’s also an excellent guitar to grow with. It’s no secret that guitarists love to tinker with their instruments. As you cultivate your style, you’ll probably want to also. Some popular upgrades include changing the tuning pegs, the bridge, and pickups. This is the perfect affordable platform to experiment with.
Also, for guitarists that already own another type of guitar (such as a stratocaster, telecaster, hollow-body, etc), this is a very affordable entry point into the magnificent world of Les Paul style tones. If you are looking for something to complement your single coil tones without breaking the bank, look no further.
Source of Inspiration
The Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Special I guitar is impressive, especially when you take into account the price tag. What surprised me the most was that I had an easy time extracting riffs, melodies, and solos from this guitar. Finding inspiration to build songs also came naturally. Not all entry level guitars award that kind of individuality.
Check out the Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Special I (coming soon online at Best Buy) and other Epiphone products on Best Buy’s website.