Gibson Les Paul Studio vs. Standard vs. Epiphone Review
The Legendary Les Paul
There are few guitars more popular than the Gibson Les Paul. The instrument is an American icon, and the Les Paul sound is a driving force in just about every music genre. They’re made in the USA to extremely high standards of excellence, and Gibson’s attention to craftsmanship shows through in the tone, look and feel of this amazing guitar.
However, such an elite instrument does not come cheap. A new Gibson Les Paul Standard will cost you a big chunk of cash, and that puts the guitar out of reach for many hobbyists and up-and-coming musicians. Make no mistake: A Gibson is worth every penny. But what do you do if you simply don’t have the coin to get yourself a Gibson Les Paul?
You can go the Epiphone route. The Epi Les Paul Standard is an outstanding guitar for the money and comes in at only a fraction of what you’d spend on a Gibson. But there is another option.
In the 1980’s Gibson decided to produce a version of the Les Paul without all the bindings, inlays and other shiny things that account for some of the cost of a Les Paul Standard. The result was the Gibson Les Paul Studio, a less impressive Les Paul to be sure but still a Les Paul through and through.
Over the years the Studio has improved in quality to the point where it has now become a valid second option for guitarists of any skill level. And at around half of what you’d pay for a Standard, it’s much easier on the budget.
But the Les Paul Studio still comes with a decent price tag, especially compared to the Epiphone. This presents many guitarists with a problem. Do you spend the cash on a Gibson Les Paul Standard, save some money and go with the Epiphone, or split the difference and choose the Les Paul Studio?
Gibson Les Paul Studio
I suppose I should say from the start that I’m a huge fan of the Les Paul Studio. This is a conclusion I’ve arrived at after three decades of playing guitar, and handling all kinds of Les Pauls from both Gibson and Epiphone, and more than a few copies along the way as well.
In my opinion, the Les Paul Studio is one of the best values you'll find in the Les Paul world. At a cost of about half of a Standard Les Paul, and a little more than twice what an Epiphone runs, cash-wise it’s firmly planted in the middle of the Les Paul controversy.
So what makes the Les Paul Studio such a great value? For starters, the Studio isn’t built overseas in some outsourcing factory like Epiphones are. This is a real USA-made Gibson, and that means a lot as far as craftsmanship and attention to detail.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the Gibson Les Paul Studio and compare it to the Les Paul Standard and the Epiphone Les Paul in construction, sound, and value.
I've owned four different Gibson Les Pauls over the years, including my current guitar, and I'd guess three or four Epiphone Les Pauls. I can tell you that the right choice for you depends on many factors, but this review should help you figure it all out.
This article is based on my opinion, of course. Consider it a starting point, from which you can do your own research and draw your own conclusions. And, as always, check out Gibson and Epiphone's websites for the latest specs on their products.
More on the Les Paul Studio
Tonewoods and Construction
Like a Gibson Les Paul Standard, the body and neck of the Studio are made of mahogany, and the top is carved maple.
Epiphones, too, have mahogany bodies and necks and maple tops, but they do not have the same high-quality tops as the USA Gibsons. Instead, the translucent-top models have a maple veneer, which is more for appearance than sound.
Mahogany is a deep, resonant tonewood, and responsible for the Les Paul growl. But without the thicker maple cap the overall sound can muddy up a bit. You may notice that the Epiphone Les Paul doesn't isn't quite as articulate as the Gibson Les Paul Studio, and this is a big reason why.
Does the Gibson LP Standard have a thicker body than the Studio? This is a subject of much debate, but generally, if you’re comparing two guitars from the same year they ought to be close. The Epiphone is a bit thinner, but the difference between the Gibson Standard and Studio isn’t much to be concerned about.
The '50s Les Paul Standard
Pickups and Electronics
The Studio uses 490R/498Ts pickups set. Both the '50s and '60s Standard now employ variations of the Burstbucker pickups. My Les Paul uses Burstbuckers Pros, and I have come to like them a whole lot. In fact, I'd say they've surpassed the 490R/498Ts as my favorite Gibson pickups.
Both pickup sets are going to get you that fat, thick Gibson tone you’re looking for, and both have the clarity and punch for leads, rhythm and whatever else you plan to do to your guitar. I like the Burstbuckers, but I never had any complaints about the 490R/498T set.
With the basic Epiphone Les Paul Standard you’ll get a pair of Epiphone Alnico Classic humbuckers. These are good pickups on a guitar in this price range, but they don’t hold a candle to either Gibson set. This doesn’t make Epiphone bad. It’s just another example of how USA-made Gibsons shine.
However, higher-end Epiphones like the Les Paul PlusTop PRO and Les Paul Custom PRO feature upgraded ProBucker pickups. In my opinion, while not on par with Gibson pickups, they are head and shoulders above the old Alnico Classics.
If you are considering Epiphone, go with the PlusTop PRO. The ProBucker pickups are outstanding for a guitar in this price range.
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO
Fretboard tonewood is a touchy subject for Gibson these days. Like many guitar manufacturers, they’ve been tiptoeing their way around some increasingly strict regulations on tonewood imports.
Quality rosewood has long been an ingredient for great tone, especially when it comes to fretboards. But high-quality rosewood is getting tougher to find, and Gibson is taking some steps to source other materials.
Epiphones still use rosewood in their fingerboards, but this isn’t the rich, deep wood we would have seen in USA-made Gibsons only a few years ago. The Gibson LP Standard does still use quality rosewood for its fretboard, at least for now.
For the Studio Gibson experimented with a granadillo fingerboard a few years back. What the heck is granadillo? I had to look it up, but apparently it is a pretty decent rosewood substitute that has many of the same characteristics. Gibson had also been trying baked maple as a rosewood substitute.
Thankfully, they've moved back to rosewood, so you can expect the same great fretboard from a Les Paul Studio and you'd see in the Standard version. (I'll note that the fretboard on my 2016 Studio Faded seems a little thinner than those on LPs I've owned in the past.)
But what if you're thinking of an older model? History will be the judge when it comes to some of these tonewood experiments Gibson has been conducting over the past few years. However, if they didn’t think it sounded good they wouldn’t use it, and players seem happier with the granadillo fingerboards than they were with baked maple.
In my opinion, I’d prefer the more direct rosewood substitute of granadillo over baked maple. Baked maple seemed a little too bright for a Les Paul.
So which sounds better, the Standard or the Studio? Can you tell them apart? Sound and tone are such subjective things. Instead of taking my word for it, or anyone else's for that matter, decide for yourself. Go out and play both guitars and then come back and let me know what you think in the comments. Which sounds better?
How about the Epiphone? You already know it isn't going to sound as good as a Gibson, but is it passable? Again the answer to this question depends on the taste of the player. To me, the Epiphone Les Paul sounds better than just passable. It's a good-sounding guitar, but it's just not fair to compare it to a Gibson.
The main difference I hear with an Epi is lack of clarity, especially in lower notes. We're back to tonewoods, and that maple cap that helps keep the mahogany from getting boomy on the low end. But Epiphones definitely don't sound bad, and for the price their sound is a bargain. In my opinion, they are among the best alternatives to a Gibson Les Paul you are going to find.
The Gibson Les Paul Standard is a beautiful guitar. The point of the Les Paul Studio was to skip a lot of the fancy parts of the Standard and bring down the price. That’s why they call it the Studio—because you use it in the studio where nobody knows you’re playing an ugly guitar, and you save your pretty Les Paul Standard for the stage.
The Les Paul Studio forgoes the binding around the body and the fretboard. You’ll find Gibson’s speed knobs instead of the traditional Les Paul controls. In the past, Studios did not have the pretty translucent maple tops you’ll find on Standards, instead of using less-pretty maple and a solid color finish.
That's not true anymore. In fact, while I admit I've preferred the solid colors, the Smokehouse Burst finish on this year's Studio is one of the best bursts I think I've seen on a Studio.
As it turns out the Les Paul Studio is definitely not an ugly guitar, and many players (myself included) find them downright gorgeous. It may not be a classic Les Paul, but it still looks pretty sharp..
How about Epiphone? The Epiphone Les Paul goes out of its way to look good, and hopefully that will help you forget it’s not a Gibson. It does a fine job at it, too, employing much cheaper methods of getting the Gibson Les Paul Standard look.
Epiphones are pretty guitars, and the average person will not know the difference between an Epi LP Standard and a Gibson. They’ll just know you’re playing a guitar that looks like other guitars they see on TV.
That’s exactly what Epiphone is going for, and a big part of what makes the Epiphone Les Paul Standard such an outstanding value.
How to Choose Your New Les Paul
So how do you pick between the Gibson Les Paul Studio, Standard, Faded and the Epiphone Les Paul? If you have the cash, your decision is made. Of course, you need to go with the Les Paul Standard. If you really have the cash, go for the Les Paul Custom. The Custom is the ace in the Les Paul lineup, but that’s a subject for another time.
If you’re looking to grab a real Gibson at the lowest cost possible, go for the Les Paul Faded. It’s a huge step above an Epiphone for a relatively little difference in cash. I’m excited to see where this guitar goes from here, and if it may unseat the Studio as the best Les Paul you can get for the money.
Until then, the best value, I say once more, is the Studio. It’s a beautiful guitar that sounds incredible, and comes at a cost of half of what a Standard goes for. It’s a great deal and has become a classic based on its own merits.
Then there is Epiphone. The Epi LP Standard is a great guitar for the money, but not in the same league as a Gibson. The Epi Les Paul Custom is a similar story, only prettier. If you are an intermediate player or a hobbyist who has better things in life to spend money on besides guitars, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Epiphone. In many cases, the Epiphone Les Paul really is the best option.
You have a choice to make: Gibson Les Paul Studio, Standard, Epiphone Les Paul Standard, or the new Gibson Les Paul Faded? It’s a wonderful problem to have, and I hope this article helped you choose.