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5 Best Non Gibson Brands of Les Paul Guitar

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In the early 1950s Lester William Polsfuss was one of the handful of best guitarist in the United States. But he wasn't just a guitarist, he was also a bit of a craftsman; and he fancied making himself an all solid body electric guitar. He did so, but it didn't turn out so well. The true professional guitar builders at Gibson got with Les, and the Gibson Les Paul was born.

Leo Fender was already making the first successful solid body electric guitar. Gibson was a much more established manufacturer of guitars. Surely their all solid body electric would be superior? Well, it was and it wasn't. Depends on who you ask, as what is the best guitar is a question like 'how long is a rope?' There is no right answer. But economics and ergonomics are very real things. The two intersected with the Gibson Les Paul. The thing was too expensive and too heavy. Especially were those two problems apparent when one has compared the beast to a Telecaster.

Keith Richards in 1965 with a Gibson Les Paul
Keith Richards in 1965 with a Gibson Les Paul | Source
Eric Clapton around 1966 with his Gibson Les Paul which was stolen.
Eric Clapton around 1966 with his Gibson Les Paul which was stolen.

The original Gibson Les Paul guitars were slightly ahead of their time

Before the term rock and roll was used to describe a form of music, Les Paul was playing that music on a Gibson Les Paul. The less expensive and much lighter weight Telecaster was being used all over the nation for country and western music. But the Gibson Les Paul wasn't being purchased much at all.

Oh, some of the great Black American blues men were using the Gibson Les Paul in their music, but white Americans weren't into their music. White boys in England were becoming completely transfixed by what white America ignored.

By 1960 the poor selling Gibson Les Paul was changed into a very different guitar, the Gibson SG. But they were still calling it a Les Paul, and continued to do so until they ran out of truss-rod covers with Les Paul's name on them.

Well, those white boys from England, the ones who were seriously into the African American bluesmen. Those boys started playing the original Gibson Les Paul guitars. It was around 1964 when Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones was playing one. Then some young hotshot named Eric Clapton got himself a 1959 Les Paul and blew people's minds with the thing.

By 1970 everyone in the world wanted a Gibson Les Paul. The original heavy and expensive ones. Gibson would start making them again, but so would a lot of other people. Where there is a market for a thing, the invisible hand will move the people towards filling that need, and everyone benefits.

An Orville Les Paul

So who makes the best non-Gibson Les Paul?

I'd venture to say Gibson makes the best Les Paul guitar. But who makes the best non Gibson Les Paul copy? Well, how long is a rope anyway? I suppose a rope is twice as long as half its length. Something like that.

The purpose of this page won't be to say this one is better than that one, but rather, my purpose here will be to provide some options. Perhaps someone has a legitimate problem with the business practices of Gibson or Epiphone, but still wants that Les Paul look and sound. Also, the question of what and who is good in copying the Gibson Les Paul is a very legitimate question for a guitarist to have an answer to.

You know how it goes. You pay several thousand dollars for a great Gibson Les Paul, and suddenly the idea of traveling and playing in rowdy bars with the thing is worrisome to you. A lot of guitarist love their best guitars like they are family members. So maybe you are in the market for something you can find used and less expensive which is also good enough to replicate your Gibson on a stage or over at a friend's house.

This article will cover more than five models of guitar. We'll cover five manufacturers who make Les Paul like guitars. The best of Epiphone is really very good, but we won't be talking about Epiphone here because they are, of course, a part of Gibson.

What about an Orville Les Paul? An Orville Les Paul is as much a Gibson as any guitar that says Gibson on it. Orville guitars are authorized by Gibson, built in Japan using all Gibson materials, and sold in Japan for the Japanese. An Orville is a Gibson. Anyone who says otherwise is confused about the matter. So to be clear, an Orville is a Gibson in every way, and if you find one for sale, you should probably get it, as it will sell for less but have the same quality. The name Gibson seems to have some sort of magic attached to it, but the magic is rather a thing in the mind, not the guitar.

A Les Paul guitar is like a recipe. It's no different than any cake or pie. If someone gathers the highest quality ingredients and follows the recipe as faithfully and exactly as its originator, then there is no reason their Les Paul will not be every bit as good as Gibson's.

The Norlin Era

One of many things which needs to be said here is the deal with Gibson having gone through some years when their product quality slipped below the previous standard. When Gibson was owned by 'Norlin' the quality of Gibson guitars, by almost all accounts, was less than before, and less than the quality of new Gibson guitars.

When and what exactly is the Gibson Norlin era? This is a very complicated question to answer. Ted McCarty left Gibson in 1966, and things started going downhill a bit with the loss of the master luthier Ted McCarty. But this was still before Gibson guitars was owned by 'Norlin.' We can tentatively here define the Norlin Era as the period from 1966-1986. During that time period some of the Gibson guitars produced were vastly inferior to previous and subsequent years. Most especially bad were the Gibson acoustic guitars in this era.

None of this is to say a Gibson built between 1966 and 1986 is a bad guitar. What is accepted as true here is that a lot of guitars left the Gibson factories during those years which should not have passed quality control standards. There were still some very fine guitars made during those years.

When the build quality of a legendary brand like Gibson slips, people take notice and fill the void. This is exactly how Tokai,Edwards, and the rest came to be so well known and venerated for making amazing replica Les Paul guitars.

A Tokai 'Love Rock' Les Paul copy

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This is a Tokai Love Rock LS48

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Japanese Tokai Love rock LS-75 guitar review

Tokai LS95 Love Rock vs Gibson Les Paul

The people at Tokai in Japan are so damned good at making copies of American guitars there are literally fake Tokai guitars. Fakes of copies are out there. Tokai has long been revered for their amazing copies of Telecasters, Stratocasters, and Gibson Les Paul guitars.

The Tokai copies of a Gibson Les Paul come in different names. The original Tokai Les Paul copies were called 'Les Paul Reborn.' These were manufactured from 1978 to 1979. In 1980 Tokai changed the name to 'Reborn Old.' Somewhere down the line the name changed again to 'Love Rock.' All of these guitars are lumped into one specific title by many, 'lawsuit guitars.'

The changes in name had to do with threats of a lawsuit from Gibson. Whether there ever was a lawsuit is something I've not been able to determine. In any event, the Tokai Gakki folks literally went to work for Fender and built Fender guitars in Japan at one time. While those are thought to be good guitars, the ones with the Tokai name on them are often thought to be better still.

What you need to look for the most in any Tokai guitar, whether it be a Tele or Strat or Les Paul copy is where it was made. The ones made in Japan are always superior guitars to the ones made in Korea. Tokai did have guitars made in Korea, and then there are fake Tokai guitars which are made in Korea.

With Tokai guitars the model numbers tell you how fine a guitar you are looking at. The higher the number, the better the guitar. So a Tokai Love Rock LS60 is a slightly less quality instrument than is a Tokai Love Rock LS75.

You study up online about these made in Japan Tokai copies of Gibson and Fender guitars, and you will quickly see many many people say their Tokai copy is a better guitar than the Gibson or the Fenders. The cult of Tokai is growing, and these guitars are selling for ever the more money in shops and online.

So if these Tokai Love Rock Les Paul copies are so damned good, who's a famous player who plays one? Billy Gibbons, the big bearded Texas guitarist and singer for ZZ Top is famous for playing an actual Gibson Les Paul he refers to as his 'pearly gates' guitar; but he very frequently also plays a Tokai Les Paul copy. It can be incredibly hard to spot such a thing. The guitars are built to be exactly like the Gibson, and so you'd have to be able to read the head-stock of the thing or have Billy Gibbons actually mention it. That Billy often plays one can be verified all over.

What do these guitars cost? Well, there are loads of factors involved. The made in Korea ones sell for not a lot. You can get one used for around three hundred dollars. The older made in Japan ones sell for a lot more. Then as was already mentioned the higher the numbers in the model # the more quality went into the build of the guitar. I'm seeing some of the most decked out Tokai Les Paul copies used for over a thousand dollars.

An Edwards Les Paul

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An Edwards Les Paul Custom

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Edwards Les Paul vs Gibson Les Paul

Edwards Les Paul guitars by ESP

ESP is one of the biggest manufacturers of guitars and basses on the planet. The company is bigger than some may realize, as it encompasses a lot of different brands. ESP is a Japanese company, but they have branches in California, and in places like Indonesia and China too.

It should go without saying, but products made in China and, or Indonesia tend to be lower quality and mass production stuff. The things made in the USA and, or Japan are much more hands on and the build quality and product materials will be much superior. These are generalizations, and are rather more true than not.

ESP's Edwards brand of instruments are all intermediate level to totally professional level guitars. These are all nice guitars when they say Edwards on them. But like Tokai, they come in varying levels of quality. I have not listed ESP Edwards underneath Tokai here to say they are less good than Tokai. I am not doing a better or worse page here in that way.

The Edwards 50s Tribute Les Paul guitars are well known to be exceptionally high quality Les Paul guitars.Another Edwards model of much esteem is the Edwards Les Paul Custom. For less than what a lot of Gibson Les Paul guitars cost, one can land an Edwards and possibly have a superior instrument.

These Edwards guitars should go for around a thousand dollars new, and one could land a great one used for between five and seven hundred dollars.

A Greco Les Paul Custom

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Greco vs Gibson Les Paul comparison

Greco is yet another Japanese manufacturer of Les Paul copies. And again, Greco like the others have made many many different Les Paul copies. Some better and some worse, and there are copies in between.

At one time Greco made Les Paul copies but did so using a Guild-like headstock. But when you're making a copy, you may as well go all the way, and so Greco went to using Gibson's trademark 'open book' head-stock. Greco Les Paul guitars come in flavors just so -EG, EGF, EGC, PC, RR, and JS. What does any of that mean. There is a nice Wikipedia page about Greco where you can get the lowdown on that.

The primary complaint by persons who've had a Greco Les Paul is the finish is too thick. Also, Greco makes some guitars in Korea, and those are always thought less good than ones made in Japan. The cheaper Greco Les Paul guitars come with a poly finish. The more expensive ones a nitro finish.

There are also a lot of variations on the necks. The Grecos are made to copy the Gibson Les Paul in particular years. Some years Gibson made thicker necks than other years, and the Greco mirrors correspond to that. The feel of the neck will have an incredible impact on how any particular person feels about a guitar.

Some of the Greco Les Paul guitars have set necks like Gibson guitars. Others have screwed in necks. Also, less expensive ones may have three piece necks.

With Tokai, Edwards, and Greco - these Les Paul guitars may be modeled after a 1950s year model, or they may be modeled after a much later date Les Paul. Some will have chambered bodies for weight relief. Others will weigh quite a lot for not being chambered. The big lesson here is there are so many of varieties with these brands, if you look hard enough you will find what you are looking for, and pay less for it than a comparable Gibson.

A Burny Les Paul Custom

Burny head-stock and logos

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Burny Les Paul Custom Lawsuit 1979-80

Burny guitars are another Japanese make. Burny and Fernandez are essentially the same company, but Burny makes the Gibson copies while Fernandez makes the Fender copies. There are quite a lot of rock, metal, and punk guitarist who use Burny guitars. We're talking about the kinds of persons who could afford any guitar on the planet, but they use a Burny. So there are some very qualified endorsements.

Again, as with all other makes previously discussed here, Burny makes less expensive copies of the Les Paul, and much more high end and high quality copies of the Les Paul. With the Burny Les Paul copies, should there be binding between the fretboard and the neck, the guitar is a higher end one.

One painful thing which must be said here is some of these Burny Les Paul guitars are really Tokai Les Paul guitars. What I mean by this is the Fernandez and or Burny guitar company has no factories of its own, but instead uses other OEM factories. Some Fernandez or Burny guitars were built by Tokai. As with all other makes of Les Paul copy listed on this page, the ones which say Made In Japan are going to be vastly superior guitars to ones made in either China or Korea.

The best of the Tokai guitars are being bought up every day. People have really caught on to the quality offered by Tokai. Some of the high end Grecos and Edwards guitars are also heating up on the market. Burny high end Les Paul guitars are not as sought after. So you could get a real deal on one, and especially should you happen to land one literally built in the Tokai factory. When were Burny Les Paul guitars built by Tokai? The information I've been able to locate indicates this happened in 1978-1979. But this is only some of the Burny guitars.

Another factoid which will be useful to know here is the earliest Burny Les Paul guitars were labeled as such. What I mean is they said 'Les Paul' on them. Clearly that was pushing the limits of integrity there, so they changed the title of the Les Paul to 'Super Grade' guitars.

An Ibanez Les Paul copy

Ibanez Les Paul Custom "THE lawsuit guitar"

n the early 1970s, American guitar manufacturers (particularly Gibson, Fender, and Martin) were experiencing a steady decline in production quality while more Japanese- built guitars were showing up in the American market. By the mid-‘70s, these Japanese guitars consisted of mostly blatant copies of popular American designs and the quality was much better than people wanted to admit. In 1977, Gibson sued the Elger Company (the distributor of Ibanez instruments in the U.S. at the time) and demanded they stop producing copies of their instruments, specifically their headstocks.

An Ibanez Les Paul copy with bolt neck in excellent condition will run you about $500 these days (prices are up, as their reputation is growing). Set neck models run anywhere from $800 and up. These are great clone guitars, even the bolt-neck ones. The "Custom Agent" set-neck models are worth from $1,000-$1,500 (or more for rarer versions/colors) and a set-neck Professional with a vine neck (the "Randy Scruggs" model) will run you $1,500 to $2,500, or even more. There are a few even rarer models that can be worth more than $3,000.

Out of all these Japanese guitar manufacturers who were making absolutely blatant copies of the Gibson Les Paul, it was Ibanez who got sued. You should ask yourself why that would be. I would suggest it was because Ibanez was making a product that was a copy better than the original by Gibson. At least the Ibanez was better than what Gibson was making at the time of the lawsuit.

Ibanez was a guitar manufacturer in transition at the time. They eventually rose as a company to where they had no need for mimicry, and that is where they still are today. Ibanez makes outstanding guitars. But that isn't to say they haven't also been guilty of selling some guitars that weren't worth the asking price. I suppose it is a human condition. There have been some complaints concerning the quality of the pickups found in some of the Ibanez Les Paul copies. But pickups can always be upgraded.

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Comments 25 comments

Vinnie V 6 months ago

D'Agostino Les Paul. One of the BEST lespauls I have ever played.


Dean 6 months ago

What about Heritage? Probably the best non Gibson Les Pauls. Norlin technically was Gibson from '66-'86 and produced some subpar guitars, but many great ones. My '81 Les Paul Custom is easily the best Les Paul I have ever played.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Do you think I should change the title to something like Best Japanese Les Paul Copies? I think I might.


Kevin 6 months ago

Orville by Gibson are better than just the plain Orville


ghgf 6 months ago

good job..


ScottM58 6 months ago

Tokai is no joke I can definitely say that.I've never played their Les Paul copy but I have played an early 80s Strat copy by them and I have to say

it blew my Squire Strat from the same period away - and I LOVED tyhat Squire.The Tokai shocked me at how much it felt like a 50s Strat.Anyone whose ever had the pleasure of playing one can tell you how substantial they feel in your hands.So well crafted and balanced and comfortable,and of course they sing like birds. I would LOVE to try a Tokai Paul.


dneidt@gmail.com 6 months ago

I have a VEGA version. It sounds ok but the neck seems to bend or wiggle. Can you tell me anything about this guitar?


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Wesman Todd Shaw 6 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

The Vega LPs are made in Japan. Some of them are set neck guitars, and those are probably higher quality than the ones with bolt on necks.

They are pretty comparable to the ones listed in the article, and it would not surprise me to find out they were made in a Tokai factory.


Joe 6 months ago

Hohner Professional made some pretty sweet Les Paul copies. The cherry burst L59 is a great guitar!


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Wesman Todd Shaw 6 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Absolutely, Joe. I wanted to put Hohner in this article, but couldn't find enough information as easily as I would have liked.

But there is always another article to do.


Joe 6 months ago

I have one that I bought 20 years ago, I love the guitar. You are right though, they are extremely hard to gather information on. I'd be curious as to what you could find.


Paul Syson 4 months ago

I have a 1989 Les Paul Standard I bought new for £625 from Peter Cooks in 1989, I tried every Les Paul he had in stock this was the first I tried and after trying the rest bought the first lol I also tried a Fernandez Les Paul which was good but was £390 and would have needed some Gibson or SD pickups to really get there and it came without a case and the Gibson came with a wonderful Gibson Protector case, weighing it up the Ginno seemed better value and I have not regretted my decision since even though after a few years the bridge Bill Lawrence PU died replace with and SD custom and since replaced with a Gibson PU... however my first decent guitar was an Ibanez SG from the lawsuit era that I bought in Germany for £35 back in 1971 it was a great guitar and regret to this day selling it, back then a mate had a 60's Gibson SG with P90's I tried that out and hated it and much prefered my Ibanez go figure .


Paul 4 months ago

You seem to have forgotten about the Epiphone Elite/Elitist range but although not exactly a copy as Epiphone are owned by Gibson, still great guitars at half the price of a real one.


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Wesman Todd Shaw 4 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Thanks Paul - I took the stance that everyone knows already that Epiphone and Gibson have (almost) always had a business relationship; but that the rest of the article was new information.

Or at least the hope was there was information compiled here which would be useful.


Rick 4 months ago

What do you know about the "History" brand of Les Pauls?


mark snelling 3 months ago

There was never ACTUALLY a lawsuit against Ibanez, merely the threat of one.


Staffan 3 months ago

Hallo.

Nice articel. I bougth a used Ganson LP in the erley 90 in Sweden. Can you say something about Ganson?


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fpherj48 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Wes...I see you have wandered away from Baseball for a while & gone on to guitars. While I sure do love baseball and GEE-tar music, you are an absolute encyclopedia of guitars.....I admit to knowing not much at all.

You are really kicking out hubs like crazy, amigo. Good for you. looks like you've taken a very serious HP attitude. Making piles of money I'll bet.

Do you & Guitar Gopher exchange discussions?? Keep smiling and strumming! Effer


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Wesman Todd Shaw 2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Paula, I bet I made an entire fifteen cents for the two months I wrote about baseball every day. And I'm a very po boy. So I dropped that. Watch as much of it as I can though. Love baseball.

I read Guitar Gopher sometimes because he absolutely knows what he's talking about, and his opinions about things are 100 percent genuine and informed. And obviously, I'm interested in the subject.

Only once did I ever want to write a thing about a thing - and found he had already done it. So I didn't try to outdo him or anything like that. The subject is so huge we shouldn't ever have a competition problem. He's an actual musician whereas I'm more an encyclopedic person who can play, but is essentially a recluse.

But eventually I'm going to have to branch out again into other topics. I'm not by any means making much money, but I got paid every month here for over a year without ever logging on. So I also kinda feel like I owe the website network some good work.


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Wesman Todd Shaw 2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Staffan - I wish that I could. I've never, so far as I know, seen a Ganson guitar in my life.

To me that's a wonderful thing. Because in this increasingly global marketplace there are makes and models without end I've never seen. What it means is there's always more guitars and guitar manufacturers for me to learn about. And eventually I'll see a Ganson for myself.


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Wesman Todd Shaw 2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Rick - I probably know less than you do. I used a few different search engines when you first posted the comment, and found next to nothing.

On one of the major LP oriented forums there was a thread with a picture, but the picture wasn't especially distinct, and revealed no clues. There was also precious little to read.

Once a body has held a guitar in his hands and played around on it a bit, he can get a very good idea how good it is, especially if he's been exposed to all the other usual suspect manufacturers.

Is it possible the History brand is a kit guitar? I don't know. I wish I did know.


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fpherj48 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Wow...no kidding? You made pay out monthly for a year w/o being here? That simply proves your hubs are totally amazing...which I always told you anyway. I can't believe you didn't yield a lot more from your baseball hubs!....

.I haven't written in months. Stuck in a rut, writer's block.......Actually I'm quite pissed at HP. Anger chokes up my muse & she freezes, just like the Ice Queen. When I'm angry, I'm meaner than a Mama bear protecting her babies. .LOL. I don't know Wes, I try to warn people not to piss me off, so I just don't know what to say about the people that piss me off anyway, except, "May they rest in peace." I'm so glad you're back here where you need to be! I missed you. You're my only boy toy.....I swear! LOL


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Wesman Todd Shaw 2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

To be perfectly honest about it, I think the best thing to do is 'top five' or 'top ten' sort of articles. So with the baseball autobiographies I was doing I realize that doesn't work. I should have been doing them like 'top five best right handed pitchers' That kind of thing.

Also, these comments may self destruct in the next couple days. LOL. Because you're supposed to moderate them to where only on topic comments are on a page - cuz Google says so. yadda yadda yadda.

I know one thing for sure, Paula, were I getting involved with DEBATING people here I'd get kicked off the site. I stay hell and gone from those topical forums and articles which seem to invite a debate or controversy. I get too angry and frustrated, and completely unproductive for getting involved in arguing politics, religion, and philosophy or economics.


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fpherj48 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

You are 100% correct about writing on the Top 5 or 10 something....also...by all means delete the nonsense & personal chit chat! We must keep the Google gods happy....or so they say!

Bye bye!


J Carrick 7 weeks ago

It always amazes me how anyone gets suckered by a brand name. Orville v Orville by Gibson for instance. OBG's were fitted with US pick ups and wiring harnesses, but the Japanese kits in the standard Orvilles weren't too bad! That said, most players I know mod their Instruments in some way. My 92 Orville LPS is a beast, Slash Alnicos, Jonezy wiring kit, Grover pegs, bone nut and a custom floating bridge! Guys who don't know, will say 'oh, you have a Les Paul fake then?' Then you explain what it is they're looking at, and that's followed by 'yeah but it's not a real Gibson' Then you explain, again...and that's followed by 'so, it's like an Epiphone Les Paul then?' So you try again...and again until you finally snap and just hand them the guitar and say 'just try it out, tell me what you think?' Every time I've done this, I get one or all of these responses. 'Man, this has got some weight to it, great action, WOW, this thing sounds amazing, as good if not better than a US Gibson, where can I get one and would you sell it to me? So if you've never played one and you get the opportunity to buy one, do it. You won't regret it!

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    Wesman Todd Shaw1,016 Followers
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    Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.



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