Ten Great Non-Gibson Les Paul-Style Guitars
The Gibson Les Paul is such an iconic guitar one can hardly believe that at one time it was thought of as somewhat of a flop. Well, the Beatles were overlooked by some record companies before they revolutionized rock and roll music too. Sometimes it takes a few years for the masses to see the value in things.
Even when Gibson dropped the original maple top, single cutaway Les Paul in favor of what would become known as the SG, they won by realizing they had two hit solid body guitars they could market. So it is no wonder so many imitations exist for the Les Paul. The Les Paul guitar is as American as a Chevrolet Corvette. It is built for looks and to scream, and is coveted all over the world.
Lawsuit Les Paul guitars?
When you start to learn about non-Gibson, Les Paul-like guitars, you wind up learning about lawsuit guitars. People use the phrase a lot to describe Les Paul copies made in Japan. Some of those being very fine copies with their own characters. They've got a cult following of their own.
There wasn't an actual lawsuit by Gibson against any Japanese guitar manufacturer. There was only the threat of a lawsuit, and a huge lot of guitars people describe as lawsuit guitars. The term covers more models of copied American guitar than just the Les Paul. Someone could be discussing lawsuit guitars and be referring to copies of a Stratocaster or Telecaster.
Strangely enough, and as time has passed on, Gibson filed a lawsuit against Paul Reed Smith for his PRS singlecut guitars, and Tom Anderson for his Bulldog guitar. Neither of which are copies of the Gibson Les Paul at all. Rightly, the lawsuit against Paul Reed Smith failed. Tom Anderson, being less equipped to fight mighty Gibson in courts of law, simply stopped making his Bulldog.
Why Buy a Les Paul copy?
First of all, none of the guitars here are counterfeits. In order to counterfeit a Gibson Les Paul, someone would have to make a fake Les Paul that literally said Gibson on the headstock. You had best believe such guitars exist. In fact, there are many many Gibson counterfeit guitars out there. Hopefully you'll never be so unfortunate to buy one at a price which would befit a legitimate Gibson Les Paul.
The counterfeiting hardly stops with cheap copies that have gone all the way to where they label the thing Gibson. There are many Japanese manufacturers who have done Les Paul copies, and rightly labeled the guitars with their own names, and some of those manufacturers have been counterfeited. The Tokai Love Rock Les Paul copies, for example, have been counterfeited by Korean manufacturers.
One could think this some sort of circular justice. But it must be terrible to pay for something and get shafted with a counterfeit. The purpose of this page, however, is to discuss some of the honest Les Paul copies, the kind where the manufacturer is proud to display their own name on the guitar. But not all the guitars discussed here will be straight up copies of the Gibson Les Paul in the manner of which Tokai and others are known for.
The lawsuit guitar Les Paul copies are increasingly hot commodities. The reason for this is some of them offer a very fine amount of value at a low cost. Collectors are increasingly on the lookout for the Japanese Les Paul copies, and so are players. The biggest reason folks will want to own a nice Les Paul copy, though, is because they own a genuine Gibson Les Paul, but don't want to take it out to play in some dark, smoky dive bar where they've been booked to play.
There are others still who simply do not like Gibson as a company. They have grievances against the organization as a business, but by golly, they still love Gibson guitars. They just don't want to do business with Gibson. Well, these guitars would all provide the Gibson vibe without involving someone in the profits of Gibson.
The purpose of this article is not to be an exhaustive presentation of Les Paul knock offs. The purpose here is to provide information for persons interested in the subject. Most of what is listed here is less expensive than either new or used Gibson LPs, but not all are. This article is also a companion page to The 5 Best Non Gibson Brands of Les Paul Guitars.
1. Yamaha Studio Lord and Lord Player Les Paul copies
The Yamaha Studio Lord is very much what could be said to be a lawsuit guitar. What everyone should know about Yamaha as a brand is they make seriously good stuff sold at seriously nice prices. There is a lot of value to be had in any Yamaha guitar for what you pay for it. These guitars, as it goes, will all be used.
There are some things which need to be known should one be eyeing a Yamaha Studio Lord out on the used market. First of all, you want yours to have the faux Gibson 'open book' head-stock. These are highly collectible and useful guitars. The build quality is very good.
The second thing you need to make sure you know is concerning the nomenclature of the model. The Studio Lord guitars will have a two letter and three number model, such as SL500. Obviously the SL stands for Studio Lord, and the number after the two letters tells you how high the build standards were. The higher the number and the better the guitar.
So far as I have been able to find out, the Studio Lord guitars go up to the SL800 model. These are extremely nice guitars with push-pull pots on them. All the bells and whistles.
Before the Studio Lord Yamaha made Les Paul copies and called them Lord Player guitars. These are the same guitars as the Studio Lords, just older. The Lord Player guitars work the same way with the model numbers. An LP500 being a better build quality guitar than an LP300. Seems obvious the Lord Player name was a bit too close to Gibson's Les Paul name.
How good are the Yamaha Studio Lord and Lord Player guitars? Very, very good, my friend. They are also increasingly collectible and thus, desirable to own and to play. As can be expected many owners of these guitars also own or have owned Gibson Les Paul guitars.
The verdict seems to be the pickups and electronics are not so good as Gibson. So should you get a Studio Lord or Lord Player guitar below the 800 series, you could always have some nice aftermarket pickups of your own choosing installed to liven the guitar up.
The biggest question, the most important one concerning these Yamaha Les Paul copies concerns Tokai Love Rock Les Paul Copies. The question, of course, is which is best, is it Tokai, or is it the Yamaha?
2. D'Agostino Les Paul copies
D'Agostino guitars are very difficult to find information on. They were produced from the years 1977 to 1992. Apparently their place of production or country of origin changed several times over those years. As a rule of thumb, it is good to know that any guitar made in Japan is going to be thought of as a much better guitar than one made in Korea.
There are absolutely D'Agostino guitars made in both Japan and Korea. Pat D'agostino, was an American who had been employed with Gibson. He wanted his own guitar company though, and so he got himself one. The D'Agostino Benchmark series guitars were the cream of the crop, and those were built in Italy.
D'Agostino guitars as a company produced copies of many popular guitar forms, and of course, they produced Les Paul copies as well. Some of these were set neck Les Paul copies, others were bolt neck Les Paul copies. Again, some were built in Japan, some were built in Korea. The Japanese guitars are always going to have a higher asking price. D'Agostino kept production numbers low so as to maintain the quality of guitars bearing his name.
D'Agostino Les Paul copies are known to be of great quality, and also very heavy. These guitars are not chambered, and could weigh as much as ten pounds. So they've got a very late 50s Gibson vintage vibe to them.
3. The Heritage H-150 and Alex Skolnick guitars
When I was a kiddo I used to hang out with my grandfather a lot. And the man never stopped talking, mostly he talked about guitars, mandolins, and fiddles. Sometimes he talked about guitarists, but mostly he was into the instruments themselves.
So I had heard all about Kalamazoo, Michigan; and the guitars made there. The Gibson guitars manufacturing operation in Kalamazoo, Michigan was something I had heard all about. Well, Gibson for reasons of their own, decided to close that factory, and relocate it to Nashville, Tennessee. But not everyone who worked at the Kalamazoo factory wanted to move to Tennessee, so they parted company with Gibson, and formed their own Guitar company,the Heritage guitar company.
Heritage guitars are in no way to be considered 'lawsuit guitars.' They make a clear break from Gibson in the design of the headstock. And literally, the people who founded Heritage had been the very people who made the Gibson Les Paul guitars to begin with.
A lot of the people who own a Gibson Les Paul are persons who will become irate should someone suggest their D'Agostino, Yamaha, Tokai, etc; are equal guitars. The Gibson Les Paul owner invested a nice chunk of cash into their guitar. They're inclined to be very proud of it. I get that. If I owned a Les Paul I'd be posing for photos with the thing myself. Well, when it comes to the Heritage H-150, you've met your match.
The Heritage guitar company makes a small batch of guitars every year. They spend a lot more man on guitar time with each guitar than Gibson does. The Heritage H-150 guitar is much more of a hand made guitar than all except the most expensive Gibson Les Paul models. Besides the H-150 you may see Alex Skolnick models. The Alex Skolnick guitar is just an H-150 with a different finish, and Alex's preferred Seymour Duncan pickups. The Heritage H-150s, so far as I can find out, all come with Seymour Duncan pickups too.
4. The Hohner L59 Professional guitar
The Hohner L59 Professional is thought to be the best of the many Les Paul copies the company had made. Of course these guitars are meant to be recreations of the holy grail Gibson 1959 Les Paul guitars. Nobody thinks they are as good as any of the Gibson 59' reissues, or by any stretch of the imagination, a literal 1959 Les Paul. They are, however, thought to be very nice Les Paul copies.
The complaints are all the same. The electronics and pickups aren't up to Gibson quality, but they aren't bad. The tuning machines aren't nearly so good as what Gibson uses. Well, these guitars can be had for little, and the hardware can be upgraded.
The construction of the L59s is very good. Mahogany body with solid maple top with a flame maple veneer. Set neck construction. The L75, one level down from the L59, is a bolt neck construction guitar.
At one time the Hohner Les Paul copies were made in Japan. Production has since moved to Korea. There is much debate and discussion as to which factory in Japan produced the Japanese Hohner guitars. Should you see a Hohner Les Paul copy with MOP inlay on the headstock, this seems to indicate the guitar was made in Japan. The guitars with gold script on the headstock are the less good Korean ones.
I've also seen persons claim their Hohner L59 was made in Germany. I've also read that at one time Hohner guitars were made in Taiwan. When I'm able to compile more exact information, I will do so here. What seems to be plain truth now is that Hohner and Cort guitar manufacturing are one and the same.
Concerning serial numbers on Hohner guitars, you can't decipher them. You see a Hohner L59 somewhere, or any Hohner, and you see the serial number starts off with a 76, for instance, or an 81, or any number that would seem to suggest a year; don't buy into that. There is no rhyme or reason we know of insofar as Hohner serial numbers go. So you see or own an L59 which starts off in the serial number with a 76, well, it could be the guitar was made in 1976, but if so, it is only a coincidence in the serial number. The guitar could have been made in 86, or 1990 and still have that serial number.
5. The Prestige Heritage Elite guitars
Prestige guitars are made in Korea. To be very honest here, I've never actually seen one except in magazines and online. Prestige guitars are not associated with Heritage brand guitars. They use the word heritage in their models of guitar quite often. I do not think this was meant in any way to confuse them with the Heritage guitar company.
The Prestige Heritage Elite guitar is one hell of a fine looking Les Paul type instrument. It is not a Les Paul copy, as you can see the body shape is a little different, but there is no doubt the guitar is meant to be another Les Paul competitor. The Prestige guitar company is a Canadian company. They have access to all the finest woods in Canada, and they ship them to their Korean manufacturing plant.
This is the nature of globalization in the guitar marketplace. The assembly in Korea allows for these guitars to be sold at fantastic prices. Were these manufactured in Canada, they'd probably be priced at least three times as high.
Whatever your aesthetic preferences are, the Prestige guitar company has something to please you. The Prestige Heritage Elite is also available in black finish. There are many options, pretty much all conceivable options. And these guitars are sporting Seymour Duncan pickups. It's one of those situations where you should shout, shut up and take my money!
- 24 3/4” scale length
- 1 11/16” nut width
- Abalone bound mahogany body
- Carved AAA Grade quilted maple top
- One piece mahogany neck
- Abalone bound rosewood fingerboard
- Floral vine fingerboard inlay
- Mother of pearl prestige logo & decal
- Seymour Duncan SH1-59 (neck) SH4-JB (bridge) Humbucker pickups
- 2 Vol. / 2 Tone / 3-way toggle controls
- Tune-o-matic bridge & stop bar
- Grover tuners
- All gold hardware
- Available in natural sunburst & ebony finishes
6. The Paul Reed Smith SC 245
When you think of Paul Reed Smith solid body electric guitars, if you are like me, you think of their thick, creamy tone. Look, coming up with the right words to describe guitar sounds can be challenging. But PRS guitars have a definite tonal profile. I bet a lot of people who are into guitars could take a blindfold test and listen to several guitars, and pick out which one was the PRS.
Paul Reed Smith guitars are known for other things besides their tonal character. They are known for stupendous flame top beauty too. The famous '10 tops.' What we're talking about are those flamed and otherwise figured maple tops Paul Reed Smith seems to have an endless supply of.
Listen, the top end Gibson Les Paul guitars go for over eight thousand dollars. For half of that amount you can get a PRS SC245. The PRS singlecut 245, at half the cost, can't be thought to be a lesser guitar. It could be thought the better guitar. And for the money, there is little question it is the better guitar.
The wide fat neck and Kluson tuners resembles a 50s era electric guitar with the look of the original PRS Singlecut. Constructed with a flamed maple top, mahogany body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, wrap around tail piece and soapbar. This guitar has a scale length of 24.5 inches, making it a slightly shorter scale guitar than the Gibson Les Paul.
Again, these guitars are no attempt to copy the Les Paul. They certainly do not sound like anything Gibson makes. PRS SC245s sound much more modern and exhibit clear definition string to string, up and down the fretboard.
The standard variety PRS SC245 is enough guitar for anyone. But the upgrades include a higher grade of beautiful maple '10 top' for an additional seven hundred bucks. Then to upgrade from dot inlay fretboard positioning markers to the 'birds in flight,' costs a little more than four hundred additional dollars. These are purely visual aesthetic upgrades which won't affect the tonality or play-ability in any detectable way.
The specifications listed below are merely a suggestion. They are typical, but not absolute. These guitars are available in a wide variety of finishes, all of them beautiful.
- Top Wood: Carve Figured Maple (Flame)
- Back Wood: Mahogany
- Number of Frets: 22
- Scale Length: 24.5 inches
- Neck Wood: Mahogany
- Fingerboard Wood: Bound Rosewood
- Neck Shape: Pattern
- Fingerboard Inlays: Birds
- Headstock Inlay: Rosewood Headstock Veneer with Inlaid Signature
- Bridge: PRS Two-Piece
- Tuners: Phase III Locking
- Truss Rod Cover: ‘SC 245’
- Hardware Type: Nickel
- Treble Pickup: 58/15 Treble
- Bass Pickup: 58/15 Bass
- Pickup Switching: 2 Volume and 2 Tone Controls w/ 3-Way Toggle Pickup Selector On Upper Bout
7. Collings City Limits Deluxe
Bill Collings out of central Texas is a man very much similar to Paul Reed Smith in vocation. Collings has historically focused more on boutique steel string acoustic guitars, but he's thrown his very large hat into the arena of solid body electric guitars too now. You know one thing for certain, and that is every guitar with the Collings name on it is going to be as perfect as it possibly can be.
The first thing you notice about the Collings City Limits guitar is its shape is somewhat offset from that of the Gibson Les Paul. The proportions are decidedly different for this singlecut, maple top guitar. Collings seems to be competing directly against the high end PRS SC245. There are long forum posts in guitar forums concerning whether the PRS or the Collings guitar is the better guitar.
The Collings City Limits guitar is a boutique solid body guitar in the style of a Les Paul. Paul Reed Smith used to have the boutique market down cold, but his company has grown. Collings is still a small manufacturer, and the general consensus is because the Collings guitars get more man on guitar time in the building process, that they are thus more perfect guitars. What is bothersome to me is the suggestion that PRS guitars have slipped in quality.
I think it is perfectly natural to compare the Collings City Limits to the PRS SC245. In an ideal world a player gets to test both guitars before deciding on one. But these guitars are different from each other in a number of ways besides the body shape and dimensions. The scale length is a little longer. For some persons scale length is extremely important. For others it is not so much.
You can easily see the Collings guitar has a stop tail piece and adjustable bridge. This is not always the case with the PRS guitar. There is no better or worse here, just personal preference. Then there is the matter of the pickups. The Lollar Imperial humbuckers in the Collings CL are lower output than most of the PRS SC pickup options. Jason Lollar pickups are premium aftermarket pickups available as an option with many boutique guitar makers. The output of the pickups is a matter of taste, not superiority.
These Collings City Limits guitars fall into the same price range as the PRS SC245. They are available in many fine finishes, and the cost goes up with the figuring of the maple top, and the beauty of the finish. Below are specifications which serve only as a template or approximation, as there are many options available.
- Solid Honduran Mahogany top, body, and neck
- Grained ivoroid top/neck/peghead binding
- High gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
- Single bound "Haircut" headstock
- Ivoroid body, neck, and peghead binding
- Black/White Top Purfling
- 15 degree headstock angle
- Ebony fingerboard
- Long mortise and tenon neck joint w/contoured heel
- 22 Frets, neck joins the body at the 16th fret
- Medium-Fat "C" neck shape
- 12" Fingerboard radius
- 1 11/16" Bone nut
- 24 7/8" Scale length
- Medium 18% nickel-silver fretwire
- Mother of pearl Parallelogram fingerboard inlays
- Fully adjustable truss rod
- Custom ivoroid pickup rings and top hat knobs
- Dual Lollar standard Imperial humbuckers
- 1950's style wiring scheme
- CTS 500K pots and Xicon caps
- Switchcraft toggle switch and output jack
- Tonepros AVR-II bridge and tailpiece
- Nickel Gotoh SG301 tuners w/vintage-style buttons 1:18 ratio
- Recommended string guage .011"-.049"
- Collings deluxe hardshell case by Ameritage
8. The Tom Anderson Bulldog guitar
The Tom Anderson Bulldog guitar is available only on the used market. Gibson sued Paul Reed Smith and lost. Gibson threatened to sue Tom Anderson, and Anderson, unwilling to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight Gibson, simply stopped making the Bulldog guitar.
There is much heated debate about all of this elsewhere. The Tom Anderson Bulldog isn't any more or less a copy of a Gibson Les Paul than the PRS Singlecut guitars are. But Paul Reed Smith fought the power of Gibson and won. Tom Anderson did not feel like he could keep his guitar manufacturing operation profitable while fighting a corporation as large as Gibson in courts of law.
These things are examples of why some persons don't want to buy Gibson guitars in the first place. How you feel about it all is something you own yourself. Point of fact is a lot of people feel the Tom Anderson guitar was a better guitar than a Gibson Les Paul. Well, you can certainly find them for sale, but the Bulldog is only available used.
The Tom Anderson Bulldog is built much the same as a Les Paul, although its dimensions are different. The body is mahogany with a maple cap, and the neck is mahogany too. This is not a set neck guitar though. The Bulldog is a bolt on neck, and it allows for much more access to the upper or highest frets. There are push pull pots to split the humbuckers into single coil pickups. These guitars are going from three to four thousand dollars on the used market. Who knows, maybe Anderson will give the single cut design another go in the future.
9. The Guild Bluesbird guitars
The old Guild Bluesbird guitars did not have carved maple tops on them, they had carved spruce tops. But somewhere down the line Guild switched to a maple top on the Bluesbird. These guitars look mildly like Les Paul guitars, but they don't sound anything like a Les Paul, and even the older ones had chambered bodies, making them lightweight.
The necks of the vintage Bluesbirds are famous for being inconsistently sized. You see one with a thin neck, the next one you see has a fat neck. The Bluesbird guitars were also available with single coil pickups in them. But those models were titled something other than Bluesbird. Everyone calls them a Bluesbird just the same. The vintage Guild Bluesbirds from the 1970s are available used for around a thousand dollars.
Even the early Bluesbird guitars with the humbucking pickups are thought to be completely unsuitable for hard rock and metal music. They are meant to be Bluesbirds. Seriously. Well, in recent years Guild decided to re-introduce their Guild Bluesbird guitar to the market. Today's version comes with Seymour Duncan pickups. You can certainly rock and roll with those.
The modern Guild Bluesbird currently sells for right at one thousand dollars new. They feature all the classic ingredients of the Les Paul, the PRS, the Collings, and the Tom Anderson. But the modern Bluesbird is manufactured in Asia. The Seymour Duncan pickups are all American though.
- Chambered Solid body with flamed maple top and mahogany back and sides
- Mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard
- Tone Pros NVR2 Locking Tune-O-Matic bridge
- Seymour Duncan USA JB SH-4 with nickel cover bridge pickup, and Seymour Duncan USA 59 Neck SH-1 with nickel cover neck pickup
- Includes Guild Deluxe Electric Gig Bag
10. the Esp Ltd Ec-1000qm
ESP guitars are well known and widely played. Most especially are they used for very heavy metal music. There are now many sub-genres of heavy metal music, and ESP guitars may be the most used brand of guitars in metal music today.
ESP makes a lot of versions of the eclipse. The ESP LTD EC-1000QM guitar is the most prestigious of them all insofar as their standard production line goes. These guitars are available in a number of finishes, and with a lot of different options. The quilted maple top of the ESP LTD EC-1000QM make this guitar visually stunning, as well as very pleasing tonally.
The ESP EC-1000 is priced to compete directly against the Gibson Les Paul Studio. The Studio LP being the entry level Les Paul. The EC-1000 is probably a higher quality guitar because Gibson can get away with less because of their huge brand name recognition. The ESP won't hold as much resale value as a Gibson. One major thing a prospective buyer of either needs to be aware of is the Les Paul Studio has a significantly fatter neck than the EC-1000.
To be perfectly honest here, this ESP LTD EC-1000QM is the best bang for the buck guitar out of all of these. You get more quality guitar for the dollars you spend with the ESP. But of course my opinion is just that, an opinion.
- See Thru Black Cherry Finish
- Quilted Maple Top
- Mahogany Body
- Mahogany Neck
- Rosewood Fretboard
- 24.75" Scale Length
- Thin U Neck Contour
- 24 XJ Frets
- EMG 81 Bridge Pickup, EMG 60 Neck Pickup
- Tonepros Locking Tune-o-Matic Bridge and Tailpiece
- 42mm Standard Nut
- 2 Volume and Master Tone Controls
- 3-Way Toggle Switch
- ESP Locking Tuners
- Black Nickel Hardware