Epiphone Les Paul vs Gibson Les Paul Guitar Review
Epiphone or Gibson: Which Les Paul is for You?
The Epiphone vs. Gibson debate may be the hottest topic on guitar forums around the internet. Guitar players have a lot of questions: What’s the difference between an Epiphone and a Gibson? Is Epiphone as good as Gibson? Should I buy an Epiphone now or save for a Gibson?
If these issues are on your mind this review may be able to help clear things up.
But here's a little preface before we get into the meat of the matter: There is no universally correct answer to the Epiphone versus Gibson dilemma. On one extreme you have the Gibson purists who wouldn’t dream of soiling their hands with an Epiphone. They consider the Epiphone crowd unsophisticated and naïve.
Then there are the laid-back Epiphone folks, happy enough to play a decent guitar. To them, the Gibson people are all cork-sniffing elitists and they don’t get what the fuss is all about. For a guitarist in the middle, which is most of us, it can be a little maddening when you’re trying to get honest answers.
You can choose a side if you want to, but it’s probably better to keep an open mind. I’ve played guitar for a long time. I’ve owned both, and been very happy with both. In fact, many Les Paul lovers own a few of each. Epiphone and Gibson guitars are both great instruments and each has their strong points.
The bottom line is about making the choice that is right for you. A new Gibson Les Paul will cost several thousand dollars, whereas an Epiphone Les Paul will be a fraction of that price. There are both among the best guitar brands in the world. So how do you choose?
It’s a big decision, so let’s get down to it!
You may already know this, but Epiphone is owned by Gibson. That means Epiphone is licensed to use the Les Paul name, and follow Gibson’s specs. That makes an Epiphone not only the best Les Paul copy out there today, but in many ways a real Les Paul. Does that mean an Epi is pretty much the same as the Gibson? Nope.
Gibson guitars are made in the USA and of much higher quality when it comes to materials and construction.
In contrast, Epiphone Les Pauls are built overseas. This accounts for some of the price difference between the two, but it goes a bit deeper than that.
Both guitars appear pretty identical at first glance. In fact, they look similar enough that unless someone is at a close enough range to see the name on the headstock, or they’re a guitar geek like some of us, they probably aren’t going to know the difference.
So that’s a good thing to get out of your head from the beginning: Except for a very small percentage of musicians and guitar nerds, most people aren’t going to know or care if your Les Paul is an Epiphone or a Gibson.
But there are a few aesthetic differences for those who look closely enough. The Epi headstock has a different shape, the body is not quite as thick, and, for guitars with a sunburst finish, the wood underneath isn’t as pretty as their Gibson brother’s.
Gibson / Epiphone Construction Specs
Gibson and Epiphone both construct their guitars using a similar combination of tonewoods: a mahogany neck set in a mahogany body with a maple top. But they’re not quite the same. Gibson uses higher-quality woods, and their tops are solid maple where the Epiphone has a thinner top, and often incorporates a veneer.
The electronics and hardware in the Gibson are superior as well, and less likely to wear down over time. Gibson Les Paul Standards feature Gibson's powerful Burstbucker pickups. Historically, Epiphone pickups have been good, but do not match the depth and clarity of the Gibson’s.
However,the Epiphone PRO series features the new ProBucker pickups, and these do an impressive job of narrowing the gap between Gibson and Epiphone.
Epiphone has also done a great job of improving their switches, jacks and other hardware over the years. It seems Epiphones are more and more becoming a good alternative to the Gibson Les Paul.
The Gibson Les Paul is a bit heavier than the Epiphone, but all Les Pauls are weighty.
Gibson makes their fingerboards out of high-quality rosewood or ebony, and they are beginning to experiment with some other woods in order to ease the impact on the world’s rosewood resources.
Epiphone makes their fingerboards out of rosewood as well, but the pieces usually are not as pretty.
From this information it’s pretty clear that a Gibson Les Paul is superior to an Epiphone in construction and quality. But that doesn’t mean Epiphones are bad! Gibson guitars are among the best in the world, so Epiphone has a lot to live up to.
The Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO
If I were going to recommend one guitar for someone who wants a Les Paul but isn’t convinced they should spend too much money, it would be the Epi LP PlusTop PRO. There are many affordable Les Pauls out there, but this one, I think, is one of the best examples.
It’s a great way to get a real Les Paul without missing a mortgage payment. I’ve owned a few in the past, but the versions I’ve played recently are even better. I think the ProBucker pickups have really narrowed the gap between Epi and Gibson, and judging from the comments I get on this article and others it appears a lot of guitar players feel the same way.
This article covers the main differences between a Gibson and Epi LP, and those are apparent in the PlusTop PRO. It also has a coil-split function for the pickups which is pretty cool, and comes in some really beautiful finishes.
The LP Standard PlusTop PRO is a solid instrument that sounds and looks like a Les Paul should, and it comes in at a fraction of the cost of a Gibson. Amazing!
The ProBucker pickups sound fantastic, and they're a big step up the Alnico Classics. Epi has made other improvement in recent years, pushing them closer in quality to Gibsons.
I’ll extend my praise to the LP Custom PRO as well. It has the same ProBucker pickups, and in true LP Custom style comes in some classy finishes.
The basic Epiphone Les Paul Standard is a fine guitar too, but it does have the old Alnico Classic humbuckers. These aren’t bad, but I don’t think they are up to par the ProBuckers. Still, it’s one the best electric guitars under $500 you’re going to find.
The Les Paul Guitar Sound
The Gibson Les Paul sound is legendary, and some of the best guitarists in the world play them. No doubt you can name a dozen guitarists that play a Les Paul whose tone you’d love to cop. From Zakk Wylde to Jimmy Page, this guitar has shaped some of most amazing sounds in the history of rock music.
I’m guessing you don’t need to be further convinced of how awesome a Gibson Les Paul sounds. If you didn’t already know this you probably wouldn’t be reading this article!
But the real question is: Does an Epiphone Les Paul sound just as good as a Gibson?
The answer: No! But, with a difference in price of a few thousand dollars, you have to ask yourself if the Gibson sound is worth that much more to you. Epiphones sound really, really good, and they do indeed have that deep, rich Les Paul sound, but of course they are not on par with a Gibson.
The new ProBucker pickups have really improved the Epiphone Les Paul Standard. But, to me, the sound differences still come down to two basic factors:
- Clarity: It may be the quality of the electronics, or the wood, or a combination of both, but Epis simply don’t have the same definition to their sound. Sometimes they can be a touch boomy in the low-end. This issue is much less pronounced in the higher registers.
- Resonance: You want to feel it in your gut when you play a chord on a Les Paul. This is something that should even come through when the guitar is unplugged. With the Epi this isn’t quite there. Perhaps this is more a sign of the greatness of the Gibson rather than a shortcoming of the Epiphone.
Again, the Epi sounds great, but it’s just not a Gibson. The reasons for the differences are obvious. Body materials and construction, pickups, thickness of the wood in certain areas, all of these points make an Epiphone cheaper than a Gibson, and influence the tone.
Is it a $2000 difference? I say no, but that’s up to you!
Below: Guitar World Reviews the Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO
There are definitely some reasons someone may prefer an Epiphone over a Gibson.
First of all, Epis are beautiful guitars. They look every bit a Les Paul, down to the shiny chrome hardware and vintage tuning pegs and pickguard. As stated earlier, don’t let the name on the headstock make up your mind here. What other people think does not matter.
Second, I’m a firm believer that your hands and style have a huge influence over your tone. Think Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen would sound bad playing an Epi? Of course not. So if you want to get down to it, a guitar is just a tool to express yourself with.
Why pay several grand when you can get an effective tool for a quarter the price?
Finally, every guitar has its own personality. Some Epis sing as sweet as any Gibson, and some Gibsons sound like the worst Epi. If you can find the right Epiphone it’s like striking gold.
Sure, you have a better chance of finding that gem in the Gibson lineup, but there’s that price thing again. Don’t count the Epi out until you’ve tried a bunch and you’re convinced you’ll never find one to meet your liking.
And Epiphone doesn't stop with the standard Les Paul model. They also feature higher-end guitars like the Les Paul Ultra III, an upgraded axe with a price tag still lower than a Gibson.
On the other hand, they feature budget-level guitars like the Studio and LP-100. These instruments come in at prices almost any guitar player can afford, so if you really want a Les Paul Epi gives you a way to grab one.
Gibsons has a few relatively affordable options as well, such as their Faded Series instruments (see my 2016 LP Studio Faded below). They cut a few corner to make them more more wallet friendly, but they are still America-made Gibsons.
Is An Epiphone a Gibson?
I’ve already explained how Gibson owns Epiphone. They are a different company, under the Gibson umbrella. So, does that mean an Epiphone is a Gibson, or not?
You tell me! Here are a few more interesting facts you might ponder when considering how closely the Epiphone Les Paul is related to a Gibson.
- Les Paul, not the guitar but the guy whom the guitar is named after, is credited as the inventor of the solid body electric guitar. He built the first prototype he called “the Log” in the Epiphone factory in 1940.
- Paul approached Gibson about marketing the solid body electric, but they rejected his ideas. Only when Fender starter to capitalize on the solid-body electric did Gibson bring Paul in and begin collaboration of the now-famous guitar that bears his name.
- Epiphone has been around longer than Gibson. When Gibson was founded in 1903 Epiphone had already been making instruments for almost 20 years and had made a name for itself.
- The two manufacturers were major competitors throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, but when Epiphone fell on hard times in 1957 Gibson bought them up.
- Orville Gibson, one of the founders of Gibson, started out making mandolins. Today, vintage Gibson mandolins and banjos can go for tens of thousands of dollars on the open market.
That's some interesting info, and we've come pretty far in this article, but I know why you're really here. Let's not delay the big question any longer.
Which Les Paul Should You Get?
I hope you haven’t read this far looking for a clear-cut answer! The decision is yours alone, and only you can weigh the facts and make the choice. But if you’re looking for opinions, here are a few:
You should buy an Epiphone Les Paul if:
- You’re a hobbyist guitarist who plays for your own enjoyment.
- You’ve always wanted a Gibson Les Paul but can’t justify the price.
- You’re a part-time pro and you don’t want your good Gibson to get stolen or damaged at a gig.
- You intend to whip out the soldering iron and make some modifications.
- You are a young guitarist just getting started in a band or as a serious musician.
- You love Les Pauls but think its silly to spend three grand on a guitar.
You should buy a Gibson Les Paul if:
- You’ve played an Epiphone for a while and it’s time to move up.
- You’re a professional musician.
- You’ve always wanted a Gibson and finally have the cash.
- You want your new guitar to stay in the family for generations and possibly increase in value.
- You’re such a tone freak that nothing else will do!
All of that said, ultimately it’s up to you! I hope this article has helped you make your choice. Whichever you decide on, a Les Paul is a great instrument that you’ll no doubt love. Epiphone or Gibson? Come back and let me know what you decided in the comments section!
Epiphone Les Paul vs Gibson Les Paul
Which guitar will you choose?
Questions & Answers
Are the pickups on an electric guitar the most important thing when it comes to sound?
If I were to put the parts of the guitar in order of importance when it comes to how much they each influence sound, I would put the pickups at the top of the list. The pickups, more than any other component of an electric guitar, have the power to shape the sound. They drastically influence the character of an instrument, and they are extremely important, along with the capacitors and the rest of the electronics inside an electric guitar.
But other things are important, too, such as the tonewoods chosen to build the instrument. When I say this, some guitar players immediately take it as some kind of challenge against pickups and electronics, but that’s not the point. Yes, pickups may matter more than anything, but other things matter, too. The wood. The nut. The bridge. The way the neck is attached. The body cavities inside the guitar. Even the paint.
An electric guitar isn’t some artless electrical thing thing like a toaster or microwave oven - it's a complex machine, and someone has put a great deal of thought into the design. Yes, the electronic technology is important, but so is the craftsmanship. Pickups may matter the most, but I think everything matters. To whittle the factors that influence the sound of an electric guitar down to the pickups alone is extremely over simplistic.