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5 Best Gibson Les Paul Guitars With Alternative Tops in 2016

Updated on March 18, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

 Gibson Les Paul Standard Mahogany Top
Gibson Les Paul Standard Mahogany Top

The Gibson Les Paul first hit the market in 1952. Ted McCarty, John Huis, Les Paul himself, along with some others, collaborated and got the thing produced. The guitar did not stay the same, not by a long shot. They tried a lot of different styles of bridges, tailpieces, and various kinds of pickups.

Les Paul, the man, was a tinkerer. He was forever messing about with things, and so the guitar with his name on it was being changed up, and often. Les Paul has been deceased for some years now, but the guitar which bears his name is still being produced with new options. Les Paul may be gone, but that famous guitar of his is going to be around for a long time to come.

The design elements almost always present on a Les Paul guitar were the 24.75" scale length, the mahogany body with a carved maple top, two pickups, two tone, and two volume controls, and a set mahogany neck. As time has gone on, virtually every last one of those essential design elements has been changed on one particular model or another. The purpose of this page is to take a look specifically at the newer editions of Gibson Les Paul guitar that do not have a carved maple top, but a carved top of some other wood.

Why Have an Alternative Wood Top on a Gibson Les Paul?

People who own Gibson Les Paul guitars are generally in love with the things. They fawn over them, take pictures of them, and upload them to Facebook groups, or whatever it may be, for all to see. As often as not, it seems, people who own Les Paul guitars own more than one of them.

The Les Paul owner is as often fixated on the appearance of their guitar as they are with how it sounds when played. You see a lot of situations where it is "show me yours, and I'll show you mine." Everyone loves to compare their great LP to another one. The figuring of the top is frequently something fawned over, as is the quality of the finish.

With an alternative wood used on the top of a Gibson Lester, one distinguishes themselves from the crowd in two ways. That alternative carved top will have everyone a body knows wanting to have a look see at it. Then, after the oohs and the ah's have been done with the eyes, everyone is going to want to hear how the guitar sounds. They'll all be keen on how it compares and contrasts with the standard variety of LP with a maple top.

There is then the issue of how collectible the instrument is. Every Gibson Les Paul is something one should treasure. They're desired all over the world by millions and millions of persons. As the years go on, they can be thought of as fine wines. You've heard people talk of a vintage year for a wine? Same thing with LPs. These with the alternative woods for tops may be discontinued at any time, and this could cause a particular model to become somewhat of a legend. Like a cask of Amontillado.

Les Paul Standard Mahogany Top.
Les Paul Standard Mahogany Top.

1. Les Paul Standard Mahogany Top

The combination of a mahogany body with a maple cap on the body of the LP is well known and loved. The maple cap cleans up and establishes a crisp high end tonality. The maple top brightens the tone.

So what happens when instead of maple Gibson uses mahogany? You get a darker sound. In general and for the most part Mahogany will be a deeper mellower tone vs Maples crisper more open tone. Now, not everyone has the same level of hearing. If you can't hear a difference between a mahogany top and a maple top LP, then it stands to reason the only factors that matter insofar as a purchase are the visual aesthetic appeal one holds for you over the other, and the prices.

Two identical guitars, made by the same guy, on the same day, with wood from the same trees are bound to sound somewhat different. That's the beauty of an instrument made from organic materials. My experience is the mahogany top Les Paul guitars sound warmer. The original Les Paul Custom models of the 1950s were all mahogany, and those are some of the most sought after guitars in the world. So these mahogany top Les Paul guitars are anything but new or experimental.

These are chambered guitars. So, in other words, they are relieved of some weight. The pickups are Burstbucker Pros and these are hot wound PAF style pups. The hotter wound pups provide more bite and more gain via the Alnico 5 magnets. These are limited edition guitars, and were produced in 2016. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not they'll be new batches in any given year as we go forward. Expect to spend twenty five hundred bucks for a new one.

Gibson Limited Edition Les Paul Standard Mahogany top features:

  • Top Wood: Mahogany
  • Body Wood: Mahogany
  • Neck Wood: Solid mahogany
  • Truss Rod: Les Paul
  • Neck Profile: Slim Taper
  • Peg Head Logo: Mother of Pearl "Gibson"
  • Nut: Tektoid
  • Nut Width: 1.695"
  • Fingerboard Wood: 1 Piece Rosewood Dark
  • Fingerboard Radius: 30.48 cm / 12”
  • Fingerboard Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Pickups: Gibson Burstbucker Pro
  • Tuning Keys: Grover Locking Kidney
  • Tuning Ratio: 18:01
  • Bridge: Tone Pro Tune-o-matic with Tone Pro stop bar tailpiece
  • Output Jack: 1/4" mono with dual tip contact
  • Knobs: Amber Top Hat
  • Case: Hard Shell Brown

Les Paul Standard Figured Walnut
Les Paul Standard Figured Walnut

2. Les Paul Standard Figured Walnut


2016 saw just one hundred and fifty of these guitars made. Figured walnut is increasingly popular with guitar builders. It's becoming a tonewood for bodies of acoustic guitars, and a top wood for its figuring in solid body electric guitars.

The figured walnut isn't the only special wood used on these guitars. They've got ironwood fingerboards. What is ironwood? That's a very good question, and one I've no answer to. The thing is, the term 'ironwood' is used all across the world to denote the stoutest wood in the region.

I've seen these guitars and handled them, picked some stuff on them, and I can't tell a difference in the wood from rosewood other than it being a bit more brown in color. It certainly matches the walnut insofar as visual aesthetics go. A rosy piece of rosewood would have likely clashed with the walnut cap. I think such a line of reasoning is exactly what the folks at Gibson used to decide upon ironwood.

The pickups here are some of the best Gibson makes, and does Gibson make any bad pickups? Nope. These are the '57 Classic and '57 Classic Plus pickups. This is a four thousand dollar guitar, and as already mentioned, there were only 150 produced in 2016. So happy hunting.

Gibson Les Paul Standard Figured Walnut top features:

  • Top wood: Walnut
  • Body wood: Figured Mahogany
  • Body finish: High gloss
  • Neck shape: '50s profile LP
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75 in.
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Ironwood
  • Radius: 12 in.
  • Fret size: Medium
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Nut width: 1.69 in. (43 mm)
  • Neck: 57 Classic
  • Bridge: 57 Classic Plus
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-matic with titanium saddles
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Chrome Color Tuning machines: Grover locking
  • Number of strings: 6-string
  • Special features: Tonewoods
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Truss-rod tool

Les Paul Redwood
Les Paul Redwood

3. Les Paul Redwood

Redwood isn't much red. You can't blame the people at Gibson for any of this. The wood is quite brown, but you can see the figuring is very distinct from the figured walnut, and that's what is going to be most important here, the figuring of the wood and its distinction from other woods, and other Les Paul guitars.

The tops on the Les Paul Redwood are made from ancient redwood trees felled over a century ago. Though the guitar may be brand-new, the natural age of this redwood helps the guitar react and sound like a great vintage instrument. Because of the finite nature of these tonewoods, the production run of the Les Paul Redwood is extremely limited. Only a small number of these electric guitars are being produced for worldwide distribution. And because there simply aren't the materials to build more, when these guitars are gone, they're truly gone.

Like the figured Walnut LP, the redwood Lester uses an ironwood fingerboard. In fact, the only difference here at all is the use of redwood instead of walnut. I suspect few will be able to detect a difference in tone between the walnut guitar and the redwood guitar, and if you can, it's probably not so much to do with the top wood used. All guitars are unique snowflakes, after all, and these are quite expensive. Four thousand bucks. Expect a warmer tone than a LP with a maple top.

Gibson Limited-edition Les Paul Redwood features:

  • Top wood: Redwood
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: High gloss
  • Neck shape: '50s profile LP
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Yes
  • Neck finish: Gloss Oil
  • Fretboard Material: Ironwood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Nut width: 1.69" (43mm)
  • Neck: '57 Classic
  • Bridge: '57 Classic Plus
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-matic with titanium saddles
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Chrome Color Tuning machines: Grover locking
  • Special features: Top wood
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Truss-rod too

Les Paul Sunken Treasure
Les Paul Sunken Treasure

4. Les Paul Sunken Treasure

Sinker wood and Sinker mahogany are newer terms you hear about when you study fine guitars. What is being referred to here are logs so dense and heavy they sank into rivers, lagoons, or whatever body of water was nearby. Most mahogany floats, but the densest logs will sink, and stay sunk. This and the fine craftsmanship and hardware used make this another LP going for around four thousand bucks.

It's the height of guitar fashion to recover sunken mahogany logs. This helps to conserve mahogany, and buddy, bet your sweet whatever, mahogany is on the road to becoming a highly restricted, if not full out endangered kind of wood. But what happens with denser logs, are the better? Well, in this conversation what is better and worse is going to be thought of as a matter of opinion. But because the sinker logs are denser, and have spent some years, who knows how many, under water, it's something which is going to be exploited, whenever possible, by builders of fine guitars.

This is why these are referred to as sunken treasures. Every Les Paul is a treasure, these are made from logs which had been sank. The denser mahogany prompted the use of chambers in the bodies. So these guitars have been relieved of some weight. There were exactly one hundred and fifty sunken treasure Les Paul guitars produced in 2016. There is more here than just the sunken mahogany, the fingerboards of these guitars are of bullet wood, and this from logs which also were recovered from rivers and lagoons of Belize.

Gibson Les Paul Sunken Treasure features:

  • Body wood: Weight relieved Mahogany
  • Body finish: High gloss
  • Neck shape: Rounded
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75 in.
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Satin
  • Fretboard Material: Reclaimed bullet
  • Radius: 12 in.
  • Fret size: Medium
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Nut width: 1.69 in. (43 mm)
  • Neck: '57 Classic
  • Bridge: '57 Classic
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-matic
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Chrom Color Tuning machines: Vintage-style Keystone
  • Special features: Body wood, Electronics
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Truss-rod tool

Les Paul Studio Swamp Ash
Les Paul Studio Swamp Ash

5. Les Paul Studio Swamp Ash

Last but not least is a Les Paul a working musician can afford. LP studio guitars don't have all the binding and inlay and fancy pants stuff the more expensive models do, studios are built with one purpose in mind - giving the working musician a guitar that gets the job done at a price that makes sense for everyone.

This guitar is of swamp ash, a wood most commonly used by Fender guitars, and all the many manufacturers who copy Fender. Swamp ash is mostly associated with a springy, breezy, twangy tonality; but this guitar has Gibby humbuckers, and they are going to buck that hum in a manner Mr. Paul himself would approve of.

You can see the dot inlays for fretboard positioning markers are used instead of the typical trapezoids. You can see there is no binding on the body, and this makes it look as though the guitar body was all one big piece of swamp ash. There is no neck binding. When you buy a guitar with less bling, you get more bang for the bucks.

So to be clear, not only is the top of this guitar carved swamp ash, the body is also swamp ashed, and it is chambered for weight relief. This guitar sells for sixteen hundred and ninety-nine bucks. It's going to have a brighter sound, more punch, than typical LPs, and I can attest to this. This is a 2016 limited edition guitar, so we'll have to wait and see if more are produced.

Gibson Les Paul Studio Swamp Ash guitar features:

  • Carved swamp ash top
  • Chambered swamp ash body
  • Mahogany neck
  • 22-fret rosewood fretboard
  • 490R and 498T Alnico II humbuckers
  • 24-3/4" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width
  • 2 volume
  • 2 tone controls
  • 3-way selector
  • Tune-O-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Grover tuners with Kluson style green keys

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