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Epiphone Les Paul vs. Gibson Les Paul Guitar Review

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Both Epiphone and Gibson make great versions of the Les Paul. Which guitar is best for your goals and budget?

Both Epiphone and Gibson make great versions of the Les Paul. Which guitar is best for your goals and budget?

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!

Quality Comparison

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 they have a 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.

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.

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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 Stamdard

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 Les Paul. 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 both the '50s and '60s versions of the Epiphone Les Paul. Today's Epi LPs are meant to match the Gibson lineup.

I’ll extend my praise to the LP Custom as well. It has the same ProBucker pickups, and in true LP Custom style comes in some classy finishes.

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 the 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 the 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, the 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!

Defending Epiphone

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 ax 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.

Les Paul Facts and FAQ

Here are a few more interesting facts you might ponder when considering how closely the Epiphone Les Paul is related to a Gibson.

Is an Epiphone a Gibson?

Gibson owns Epiphone. They are a different company, under the Gibson umbrella.

Who Invented the solid-body electric guitar?

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.

When was the first Les Paul guitar made?

The first Gibson Les Paul was eventually created in 1952. Earlier, Les Paul had approached Gibson about marketing the solid-body electric, but they rejected his ideas. Only when Fender started to capitalize on the solid-body electric did Gibson bring Paul in and begin collaboration on the now-famous guitar that bears his name.

When was Gibson founded?

Gibson was founded in 1903, but Epiphone has been around longer than Gibson. Epiphone had already been making instruments for almost 20 years and had made a name for itself.

When did Gibson buy Epiphone?

The two manufacturers were major competitors throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, but when Epiphone fell on hard times in 1957 Gibson bought them up.

Who founded Gibson guitars?

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

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are the pickups on an electric guitar the most important thing when it comes to sound?

Answer: 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.

Comments

Robert D. Hardison on June 29, 2020:

An Epiphone Les Paul with genuine Gibson Pickups or a Gibson from China with Genuine Gibson Pickups with bone nuts and bridge sound exactly like a $3K Gibson made in the USA. I have had both. The solid wood has nothing at all to do with the sound as Les Paul himself told 2 different guitar magazines.

Stephen White (Not Steven White from below comments) on February 25, 2020:

I currently own nothing but Epiphones. I have a standard Les Paul, a standard Les Paul bass, an SG 400, and a custom pro Les Paul. I have nothing but praise for these guitars. I've had the Gibson's as well and they are great guitars, but either I've been extremely lucky in my picking of my Epiphones, or they are just as nice as their Gibson cousins. Back when I had several guitars, 9 to be precise, I offloaded my Gibson's because I knew that I could get a higher price than I could for my Epiphones. The fact that my Epiphones were as good as my Gibson's made that decision a very easy one to make. That's just my opinion, but I don't regret keeping my Epi's over my Gibson's.

Preston Flanders on January 17, 2020:

I've owned both Gibsons and Epiphones. Here's my 2 cents. Pre about 2016 or so Epi was crap. Terrible quality control, just pure junk. That is totally not the case anymore. They have VASTLY improved their quality control. To me, if you stick to the Epi Les Paul Plustop Pro and the Epi Les Paul Tribute Plus you are getting a darn good guitar for the $. I own a Tribute Plus and it has all Gibson electronics and 57 pickups for $849 new. Yes, please and thank you! I got mine used for about $600 and swapped out the plastic nut for bone and boom...I had a dang good guitar that I would put up against anything Gibson in the $1,800 range. Is Epi as good as Gibson USA. No, but if Gibby is a 10 in quality control and sound (being generous here), then Epi is probably an 8.5. I personally think Gibson WAYYYYY overcharges for what you get. They are basically hoping their name will be enough to get you to the pull the trigger. If you just have to have that Gibson name on your headstock, then get it...but you're paying through the nose for that name.

Tim Staffell on December 13, 2019:

Gibson guitars are made in the USA and of much higher quality when it comes to materials and construction. Not necessarily. Some Gibsons are appallingly constructed in comparison to the best Japanese Guitars

Guitar Gopher (author) on November 04, 2019:

Hi Keith - I like the Tributes just fine, at least the ones I've played. I only have a couple of issues. First, I don't know why Gibson can't use a mahogany neck on the Tributes. To me, an LP should have a mahogany neck. (If you are getting a 2018 I think they did have mahogany necks, but you might want to double check that.)

Second, they seem a little expensive for what they are. If you are getting a 2018 at a good price this might not matter to you either.

I think they're great guitars. Those are just my two small issues. As usual, what is important is that you love it. Good luck!

Keith Darling on November 02, 2019:

Quickly, I'm going to purch6a Gibson Les Paul Tribute around the 1st of the year.

Yesterday, while driving through a small town, I found a 2003 Epiphone Les Paul Standard. They were selling at 40% off. With a SKB, ATA FLIGHT APPROVED CASE, I spent $150!!!

Now, it's got its share of scratches and needs a few repairs, I pulled out the Pickups to find Epiphone 57 Classic N and B...Neck and Bridge....not to mention, it had Matte/Satin finish on the Neck!!! Plus a Slim Taper!!!

I weighed this Guitar because it sure was HEAVY....12lbs 11.8oz.

Plugged her in and OMG, WHAT A GUITAR.

I've played HISTORIC "AAA's" that where nowhere close to this Guitar!!

This Epi, I'll be keeping for a ling time.

On to the Tributes, I'd love to know you opinion on this Guitar.

They changed the Specs in 2019 so I will be buying a used 2018 or earlier to make sure that I get the Slip Slip Taper Matte/Satin finish Neck.

For some reason, I can't play Hi Gloss Necks...my hands stick like glue!!

The older Tributes are the only Gibson Les Paul I could ever afford!!

Love my Epi but will be buying a Gibson to pass down to my Grandson...hopefully, he'll learn to play....he's only 6 months old!!!...lol...

Looking forward to your opinion on the Tribute!!

Thanks!!

Steven White on September 18, 2019:

I have Epi SG Pro. Initially the guitar was dreadful. I would consider it to be not a real instrument at all. Not worth playing however I stuck with it and decided to work on it. I levelled the frets many of which were uneven. Then I got a new neck pickup with alnico II magnets. I rewired to a 50s style sg wiring. After all this it has become a real instrument. I would say that the basics were there to be had like the right woods and half decent pick ups one of which is still in it. However epiphone wiring was wrong and very bad indeed and guitar lacked care & attention to detail like fret-crowning work. I would like to now compare it to a Gibson sg to see how it measured up. Its probably better than a Gibson now! What epiphones lack seems to be how the guitar is finished because these seem to be where shortcuts are made and in the General wiring up of the pots. If you're prepared to sort these issues out Epiphones can make or become true instruments.

Guitar Gopher (author) on August 24, 2019:

@seb - That's just not true. Try it yourself. Go to a guitar shop and grab ten guitars off the wall. Different guitars sound differently unplugged, and it is often a good indication of how an electric guitars sounds when plugged in.

And paint most certainly makes a difference, especially when it comes to nitro vs poly.

seb on August 23, 2019:

"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."

What are you smoking? you can't hear a tone difference unplugged unless you use some kind of device to capture and analyze the sound.

"Even the paint makes a difference" ?? yeah the paint changes the tone..lol

Mark Stuart on August 16, 2019:

I bought the Gibson to pass it on to the future generations. I’m not a great player but it’s easier to play good guitars than not

Wizweird on August 02, 2019:

Played my dad's jazzmaster for afew years, then one cold February night, I stand there catching flys,while ,on stage, this 7+foot tall alien was shooting bottle rockets out of the headstock of his lp custom, andaling some sounds I'd never heard before.fast forward many years..I still have the 65jazzmaster,and a 68bandmaster reverb..but longed for that Les Paul custom. I went about 40years, never having a new guitar till I saw the original epi ultra..in cherry sunburst,as well 500 bicks later I'm opening that new box like a kid, and I can honestly say, when I saw that LP, I gasped...my first new guitar...40years later.That lp sits about three feet from my chair, and I play it a ton. Don't even plug it in...also found a new tele, the Nashville one with two Tex mex tele pickups and one strat.I feel now I can go anywhere, and sound good with all types of tunes. Don't be stuck up but thatEP you'll never be sorry.

Guitar Gopher (author) on July 19, 2019:

I agree, Tim. There are a lot of incredible guitars on my list, just waiting for me to win the lottery. But until that happens I'm glad Epiphone is around.

Tim Warf on July 18, 2019:

I've been a LP guitar fan my whole life, and I bought an Epi Plus Top Pro last year. I absolutely love this guitar, and wish I would've bought one years ago. I thought I'd never be able to afford an LP, because I had misconception that Epi was a cheap knock off. I was so impressed by the finish I didn't even put the pickguard on it.

As for the pickups, I replaced the ProBuckers with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Set. The jury is still out on that decision, but I'm considering putting the ProBuckers in the LP II Special I bought first if I don't put them back in the PTP.

All of that being said, I'm sure I'm not the first person to say "if I ever win the lottery, I'll get that Gibson Custom Shop hand aged LP Standard". In all honesty, though, I'm not sure part of the reason why Gibson is facing some of the difficulties they have faced the past few years aren't a direct result of the quality of the Epiphone products at the WAY more affordable pricing.

Michael Lickley on July 03, 2019:

Much fertilizer in this review. What is a "better quality wood" for example. What if any are the effects of using a 3 piece instead of a 1 piece. These things are a matter of cost. If you buy all the mahogany in the world that has the width to make 1 piece bodies, you use this to separate yourself from those that use lower priced wood. Money is not a guarantee of quality. I have never seen a worn out pot on a guitar, broken due to impact or dirty, never worn out. It does not matter what wood an electric guitar is made of you don't hear the wood, electric pickups don't hear at all. They convert changes in a magnetic field into changes in voltage, send it to an amp that converts it into sound. The stiffer and denser the material is the longer the vibrations of the strings will last. This is why tuning forks are made of metal instead of pasta.

Paid2Play on June 12, 2019:

There is a lot of false information here. I love Les Pauls. I have 3 Gibby's (a 1978 Standard, a 1974 Custom, and a 2010 Studio Faded) and an Epi - plus a PRS, a Fender Strat, a Carvin, and a Parker. Every guitar is unique. Even the same model by the same brand varies from guitar to guitar. Unless you have plenty of money saved or have roadies that take care of your equipment, I would recommend an Epiphone LP to anybody that loves LP's and the classic tone of quality humbucker p/u's. (Or a good used 2008-2012 LP Studio Faded w/Burstbucker Pro's if you know where to look and you're willing to wait)