The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Epiphone Les Paul Custom
The Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO electric guitar is an affordable instrument with a look and sound that might surprise you. This review details my most recent encounter with the Epi Les Paul Custom, an event that altered a few of my long-held opinions.
I've always known this Epiphone is a solid choice for intermediate guitarists, but as I found out it has a few tricks up its glossy sleeve.
The Gibson Les Paul Custom is my favorite guitar of all time. If some kind of anti-guitar dictator were to take over the world and decree that guitarists could only own one guitar for the rest of their lives, but it could be any guitar they wanted, this would be an easy choice for me.
Unfortunately, evil dictator or not, like many players there's no way I see a Gibson LP Custom fitting into my budget anytime soon. I have no doubt they are worth every penny of their asking price, and the ones I've played were amazing, but for now I am forced to admire from afar. This is a guitar that comes in at a street price of many thousands of dollars.
Lucky for us there is Gibson's budget brand Epiphone, and their version of the Les Paul Custom. This baby comes in at a fraction of the cost of the Gibson LP Custom. It also comes along with the requisite questions and comparisons to its big brother Gibson. In fact, some players consider the Epiphone Les Paul as viable alternatives to Gibson.
The intent of this article is to help clear up some of those questions.
You know Gibson makes great guitars, but how does this Epiphone stack up?
When it comes to Epiphone Les Pauls I've owned a few over the years, including some Customs. I like Epiphone guitars, and I've never been one to turn my nose up on them as an inferior brand. They are what they are: good guitars for reasonable prices. And for those of us who don't have the cash they are a smart choice.
Not so long ago, I wrote an in-depth post on the Epiphone vs Gibson Les Paul Standard. The same basic things hold true for Custom vs Custom, and both guitars share the same design standards of all Les Pauls:
- Mahogany Body
- Mahogany Set Neck
- Maple Top
- Rosewood Fingerboard
- Tune-o-Matic Bridge with Stopbar
- Dual Humbuckers
- Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch
So what's the difference? In a nutshell, an American-made Gibson will have better attention to detail and quality control, better woods and materials used, a more solid fit and finish. They are simply better-made, better-sounding guitars.
I've always thought one of the main deciding factors between the two guitars was the pickups. Gibson pickups like the 498T/490R set excel at clarity and warmth, where Epiphone's Alnico Classics never quite had the same character.
However, veteran players seem to have a lot of good things to say about Epiphone's ProBucker pickups lately. Epiphone has also made some serious improvement to their hardware and electronics over the past few years.
I've been impressed by what I've seen, and with all of this in mind I made my way to a well-known musical instrument chain store to check out the reinvigorated Epiphone Les Paul Custom.
Before I get into that, check out how some veteran guitar players reacted to Epiphone's ProBucker Challenge:
Epiphone ProBucker Pickups: The ProBucker Challenge
Epiphone Les Paul Custom vs Gibson
In the guitar shop I found my target, but ended up staring up at a pair of guitars. The Epiphone Les Paul Custom was on the left, the Gibson Les Paul Custom on the right, and both in Ebony.
Honestly, from a distance of ten feet or so these two guitars were difficult to tell apart, and I've been playing guitar for quite a while. This is why I always tell people not to worry about the peer pressure of playing a certain guitar brand. Most people, especially those who don't know much about guitars, will not know or care what kind of guitar you are playing.
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Of course there are differences if you care to get picky. Epiphone headstocks are shaped a bit differently. In the past I would have said Gibsons generally appear thicker, but I think that difference has narrowed a bit. Of course one major difference is the price!
The bottom line is, both of these guitars look amazing, and unless you want to get down to small details the Epi is plenty pretty enough.
Of course you know sound is another issue altogether, and I needed to get my mitts around this Epiphone and find out what the fuss was all about.
It's worth noting that there are a few different Les Paul Customs in Epiphones lineup. You'll see several signature models by famous Epiphone players, along with the very cool Les Paul Custom Classic.
Epiphone Les Paul Custom Sound and Play: My Impression
I plugged into a Peavey 6505+ 112 Combo and jammed away for a little while. I have to admit I am impressed with the Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO. As I said before I've always liked Epi Les Pauls, and the ones I've owned were good guitars, but this Epi felt like a Gibson. That's a big deal to me, because I've always been more comfortable with Gibson necks, where Epi necks felt a lot wimpier.
There's still a bit of a divide between Gibson pickups and Epiphone, but the new(ish) ProBuckers are a huge leap forward. Better clarity and richness than the old Alnico Classics, and the push-pull coil tap is a nice bonus. Very good!
It has always been my opinion that set-neck guitars can get a little muddy if they don't have decent pickups to pull out the subtle higher frequencies that can get crushed under all that mahogany.
I tested the Epiphone Les Paul Custom with heavy distortion, bluesy overdrive and clean settings. The bridge pickup had significantly improved bite compared to Epis I've played in the past. The neck pickup sounded round and full, like an LP neck pickup ought to.
It also sounded good with the volume knob backed off, which in itself says a lot about the quality of the ProBucker pickups and the electronics.
My overall impression of the Epi Les Paul Custom is very high. I can see playing this guitar onstage or in the studio. If you don't have the means to spring for the Gibson, this guitar is a serious contender.
More on the Epi Les Paul Custom PRO
Why Choose Epiphone?
It pained me to leave the Les Paul Custom behind, but I was sufficiently impressed and have since vowed that the Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO would be my next guitar.
It's also awesome that my wife was there, so she could see that by buying this guitar I am saving us thousands of dollars.
And she says I don't pay enough attention to the family budget!
And that's really the bottom line when it comes to Epiphone guitars. Is the Epiphone Les Paul Custom up the same standard as the Gibson LP Custom? Of course not! But for about a quarter of the price it gets you the same awesome looks and a similar sound. And, you can still make your mortgage payment.
Many players insist Epiphones are much better values than Gibsons, and in many ways I can't disagree. With Epi you get a very good guitar for a very good price, and they are certainly among the best electric guitars under $1000. With Gibson you get an excellent guitar, but you pay for it.
Some players don't feel the difference in price is worth it when you consider the quality of Epiphone instruments, and that makes a lot of sense.
In the end, you have to play what inspires you. If you love the look and sound of the Gibson Les Paul Custom but it simply doesn't make sense to part with the cash, the Epiphone version is an outstanding choice. The Epiphone Les Paul Custom PlusTop PRO sure impressed me, and it may be just what you need.
Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO Poll
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Robert Thomas on August 30, 2019:
Just ordered a Custom Pro - confusion over phase reversal/tone push pull seems likely with this model watch out!
Guitar Gopher (author) on December 12, 2016:
Congrats, Hector! That's an awesome first guitar and you won't have to upgrade for a long, long time.
Hector on December 12, 2016:
I have commented on your ep Lp vs Gibson Lp and I was looking at some ep LP and foun a epiphone les paul custom pro ebony and thought it looked beautiful and chose it as my first electric guitar
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 29, 2015:
Hi Cesar. I think the big difference to consider between the two guitars is the pickups. Both have a ProBucker 3 in the bridge, but the Traditional is open coil, and that should make it sound a little hotter. The neck pickup on the Traditional is a Alnico Classic Pro, once again open coil. I don't know why they chose this pickup instead of the ProBucker 2 on the other Les Paul Pros, but I have to assume they were going for a more classic sound.
So, does either guitar sound *better*? That's a matter of opinion of course. I think the Traditional, as its name suggests I suppose, is intended as more representative of a classic Les Paul, where the Custom is obviously taking full advantage of those awesome modern ProBucker pickups.
Good luck in your decision! Personally, I think I'd love either guitar.
Cesar on July 29, 2015:
Hi, thank you so much for the review. I was wondering how do you feel this one compared to the epiphone les Paul traditional pro. Is the sound better? Im planning to get one of these, would appreciate your feedback
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 26, 2015:
Hi epitribute. I do really like the ProBuckers. I think they are better than the old Alnico Classics by a bunch. I so want to say they are as good as Gibson pickups . . . but I just can't! You'll probably find the ProBuckers a touch hotter than the '57 Classics, but it really comes down to clarity and articulation, and that's an edge I think Gibson pickups still have. The Tribute plus is a good hundred or two bucks above the Custom, depending on the finish you want. But it also has a few things going for it beside the Gibson pickups. Pull-pull switching between series and parallel for the humbuckers, locking tuners, (Epi says) an improved maple cap. All of these things are a step up from the Custom.
Both guitars are fine choices, but realize you aren't comparing two equal instruments. You're comparing one very good guitar (Custom), to one that's a little bit better (Tribute). Good luck and I hope you love your new guitar!
epitribute on July 25, 2015:
Hello! Nice review man, very informative. I'm deciding between this epiphone custom pro and the epiphone tribute plus. They are similar in price but their differences eludes most of us guitar noobies. You should do a review on the tribute plus too, or a comparison between both of them.
For example, how does the pups on the Tribute Plus (Gibson USA 57 classic) compare with the Probuckers on the Custom Pro? I think that's the main attraction of the Tribute Plus, so I (and I'm guessing many others) would like to know if the Gibson pickups are really that much better than the Probuckers? (I'm talking about classic rock, heavy rock, some metal, etc.).
Guitar Gopher (author) on June 26, 2015:
Congrats on your Epi LP Custom, nspdx! They're beautiful guitars, and sound great with the ProBuckers. I try to be careful about what I hear and read regarding Gibson tonewoods, or any other brands for that matter. I go by what they say on the spec sheet. There are always rumors floating around, and I too have seen somewhat reliable sources claiming a mahogany top vs a solid mahogany body. According to Gibson's site, the LP Custom has a maple top. The Epi Custom, they say, has a maple veneer. What's really going on under the hood? Unless you want to put a saw to your Epi, I guess we have to take their word for it. :-)
nspdx on June 25, 2015:
thanks for the thoughtful post. Your thoughts were helpful in my purchase of an Epi LP last year. I had a trad pro for a minute and then a plus top for a bit. I ended up with the alpine white custom pro. I like it a lot. They are really sharp looking guitars and mine is a player. Very clean construction and great tone. Did you manage to pick one up yet? Also, from what I've read both the Gibson and Epi customs have solid mahogany caps, not maple like a Gibson standard or alderesque wood and veneer like Epi standards. Just what I've read, could be wrong...
Guitar Gopher (author) on October 11, 2014:
Hi Mark. I don't think there is an inherent difference in quality. The only differences I can see are cosmetic. The Custom has some nicer appointments, the headstock inlay and that gold hardware. The PlusTop has the pretty veneer that shows under the paint.
They are both great guitars, and I don't think you'll regret getting the PlusTop PRO. You can always get a Custom some time in the future! :-)
However, be aware (and you may already know) that there is a difference between these two guitars and the Epi LP Standard plain top. That guitar still uses the older-style Alnico pickups.
Mark on October 11, 2014:
First of all many thanks for this review, excellent as always. I was thinking about Custom too, but finally ended up with a Standard Plustop Pro (simply love Honeyburst). Hence my question: according to the Epi web page they are exactly the same (wood, hardware, electronics etc.) and I thought the differences come down to the finish only. Is there anything else? (quality?)
Guitar Gopher (author) on August 24, 2014:
Thanks guitaristguild! I think the Tribute Plus is a nice step up from the PlusTop PRO. You never know what the future might bring! :-)
guitaristguild on August 24, 2014:
Nice review, found it very informative. Do you plan on doing one for the Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus?