I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Which Les Paul?
Epiphone makes some outstanding Les Pauls for beginners and intermediate players. For those who are unwilling or unable to take the plunge on a Gibson they offer a legitimate alternative. These aren’t just Les Paul copies. Epiphone is owned by Gibson, so that means their guitars are the real deal, and they are sanctioned and approved by the company that started this whole Les Paul thing.
You probably already knew all of that, though. Which Epiphone Les Paul you should choose may be a little less obvious to you. They make a bunch of them, and that’s good. No matter where you are on your musical journey you’ll find a guitar that’s right up your alley.
Of course, first, you have sort through all the info and learn the differences between the various Epiphones. That may not be so easy if you are a beginner or an intermediate guitarist. Should you go with the most cost-effective option, or it is worth it to spend a little more?
This article can help you figure it out. Here we’ll look at three of the most popular Epiphone Les Pauls: The Special II, the LP 100, and the Studio. They are all super affordable, but each is aimed at a slightly different level of player. By the time we are done, you will have a better idea of which guitar is right for you.
In my opinion, Epiphone is one of the top electric guitar brands in the world. These three guitars are a big reason for that. So let’s check them out!
Les Paul Special II
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is a guitar aimed at newbies. In fact, I think it is at the top of the list of best electric guitars for beginners. It comes in at under $200, and it sounds great for a budget instrument.
The Special II has many of the hallmarks of its Gibson namesake. It features a single-cutaway Les Paul-style body that's comfortable to play but not too heavy for beginners. It has a pair of humbuckers: Epi’s 650R at the neck and 700T at the bridge. In the classic LP style, the pickups are controlled via a three-way switch. There’s a rosewood fingerboard, Tune-o-Matic bridge and the Special II even comes in some great sunburst finishes.
But the Special II also departs from the standard Les Paul design in a few significant ways. It is, after all, a budget-level guitar! The neck is a bolt-on, not set and glued. And where a basic LP has two each volume and tone controls, the LP Special II only has one each. Most notably, the body is thinner and lacks that iconic curved contour.
Don’t let any of that put you off, though. If you are a beginner you should be seriously considering the LP Special II. Sure it cuts a few corners to keep the price down, but it’s a great instrument for starting your career as a guitarist.
More on the Les Paul Special II
Les Paul LP 100
If you are a beginner looking for an instrument that's a notch above the typical starter guitar, I suggest the Epiphone Les Paul 100. The Les Paul 100 shares a few similarities with the Special II. It too has a Les Paul-style body and a bolt-on mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. It even has the same 700T and 650R humbuckers. But when it comes to construction and electronics, the LP 100 is a notch above.
The 100 has a thin maple top, similar to a standard Epi Les Paul. We see the three-way switch is in the correct position, and it has the required two-volume and two-tone control layout. It even has a pickguard. With these features, the LP looks much more like a Les Paul. But what about sound?
The pickups and tonewoods are the same, and the guitar bodies are roughly the same size. As far as sound is concerned, the players for whom these guitars are intended probably won’t notice a huge difference. But there is a difference when it comes to control and management of sound, and here the LP 100 has an advantage with its more complex electronics.
While it is a little more expensive than the Special II, the LP 100 is also very affordable and a great choice for beginners. If you have a few extra bucks to spend on your first guitar, consider the LP 100 over the Special II.
The LP 100 is also a slightly more sophisticated instrument, which means you won’t need to upgrade as quickly. I think it also means this is a good guitar for adult beginners or those who wish to get back into playing guitar without spending a lot of money.
More on the Epiphone Les Paul 100
Les Paul Studio
In the Epiphone Les Paul Studio, we see some serious upgrades from the LP 100 and Special II. It’s still a very affordable guitar, but certainly what you’d consider an intermediate-level instrument.
Of course, it has a mahogany body and neck, but here the neck is set like a Gibson Les Paul, not bolted onto the body. Set necks are glued into a pocket in the guitar body, and they offer better sustain and resonance.
The pickups are open-coil Alnico Classics, a significant upgrade from the ceramic pickups on the LP 100 and Special II. Ceramic pickups are typically a little more harsh and buzzy, especially in budget-level guitars. Epiphone’s Alnico Classics are aimed at nailing that classic Les Paul tone.
You’ll also find upgraded hardware and electronics, an area where Epiphone seems to really have put their focus over the past few years.
It is important to note that the Studio is not so much intended as a step up from the LP 100 but as a more affordable version of the Epiphone Les Paul Standard. That means it is like a Standard without the binding, block markers on the fretboard, pickup covers, and other cosmetic appointments.
This is a great guitar for intermediate players looking to make move from their beginner’s instrument. It is affordable but certainly good enough to use in a band.
It is also a smart choice for beginners who know they are going to stick with the instrument. You won’t need to upgrade for a long time, and you’ll start out on a better quality guitar.
Epiphone Les Paul Special II, LP 100 and Studio at a Glance
Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Mahogany or Okoume
700T / 650R Humbuckers
3-way Toggle, 1-volume, 1-tone
Epiphone Les Paul LP 100
Mahogany or Okoume / Maple Top
700T / 650R Humbuckers
3-way Toggle, 2-volume, 2-tone
Epiphone Les Paul Studio
Open-coil Alnico Classic Humbuckers
3-way Toggle, 2-volume, 2-tone
Locking Tune-o-matic w/stopbar, GroverTuners
Note: Epiphone began using okoume as an alternative to mahogany on some models a few years ago. In my opinion this isn't a big deal. It keeps the guitar affordable, and still sounds really good. Remember that specs can always change, so be sure to check before making a decision.
Are Epiphone Les Pauls Good?
Yes, In my opinion, they are. Because Epiphone is known as a budget brand that makes Gibson designs there will always be those who wonder if they are really worth it. It’s a valid question, and I can only answer for myself.
There was a time when I would have told you they were okay budget guitars, or good enough if you couldn’t afford a “real” Les Paul. Or, I would have told you to get an Epiphone Les Paul and upgrade almost everything about it. However, I think those days are gone.
In recent years Epiphone has put a lot of effort into stepping up their game. They’ve improved jacks and other electronics and hardware issues that gave guitarists fits in the past. With the addition of their ProBucker pickups they’ve shortened the gap between the Gibson and Epiphone sound.
The truth, in my opinion, is that these are really good days for guitarists looking for quality, affordable gear. Yes, I know Epi has raised the price on the Les Paul PlusTop PRO and other instruments, but I also think those guitars have moved up from mid-level instruments to instruments perfectly acceptable for pro players.
There are some great Gibson Les Paul alternatives out there, but I think Epiphone is at the top of the list. This is why I always recommend them. Not everyone has three grand to drop on a Gibson, but thanks to their Epiphone brand we can get a great guitar for a sane price.
Choose Your Epiphone
So how do you decide between the LP 100, the Special II, and the Studio? These guitars are the reason Epiphone is one of the top electric guitars brands for beginners. Here are my thoughts:
- The Special II is, in my opinion, a smart choice for absolute beginners. It is priced right and it sounds good. Even though it misses some of the checks for that basic Les Paul look and feel, it is close enough for a first instrument. You’ll probably want to upgrade to a better guitar in a year or so, but if you're looking for something to get you going the Special II is a great place to start.
- The LP 100 is a little more expensive, but also a great guitar for beginners. It is closer to what you’d expect from a Les Paul in both looks and performance. It is a slightly more advanced instrument, and I think a newbie will get more mileage out of it before they need to upgrade. It’s also a smart choice for adult beginners or those looking to get back into guitar playing after a long absence.
- The Studio takes everything to another level. This is a solid intermediate-level guitar with the sound and performance to get things done in a band situation. You may consider it as your first serious guitar after your beginner kit, or dedicated beginners may want to skip the starter guitar altogether and start off with the Studio. You won’t need to upgrade for a long while.
Good luck choosing between the Epiphone Les Paul 100, Special II, and Studio. I hope this review was helpful!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Anomynous on April 28, 2019:
Actually the Gibson LP is the copy. The original LP was made by Epiphone.
Michael James (author) on September 28, 2017:
Hi Carlos. I went back to double-check some specs and pics just to be sure. The Epi Les Paul Studio has a set neck. Possibly you are thinking of the Studio LT? If so, that's a slightly different guitar.
Carlos on September 27, 2017:
Good article but only one note: the Epiphone les paul studio have Neck Joint: Bolt-On; Recessed bolts with tapered type heel joint, and you said that " no bolted onto the body" maybe is my bad English! Regards