The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
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.
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.
The Best Les Paul?
DaveK1661 on November 24, 2019:
I played an Epi LP100 for years. As Epiphone goes, it's a low end guitar, a real beginners axe. When I decided to upgrade, I tried the top end Epiphone Customs and a Les Paul 50's tribute. the Epi was truly beautiful, a very good looking guitar for around $500, the Gibson Tribute model was around $800. Its as stripped down as you can get in an American made Les Paul, and it's really heavy, almost 9 lbs. It's set up with the 490/498 pick ups and came with a super luxurious gig bag (no hardshell case). Comparing the sound through an Orange Crush 20RT (my practice amp of choice) I had to go with the Gibson. Gibson sounded fuller, clearer, compared to the Epi which to me sounded muddy in the bottom end and tinny at the top. I think (just my guess) the difference is better electronics in the Gibson. Some people aren't fans of the 490's, but to me, they sound great- certainly better than whatever Epiphone is using. If you want to play a Les Paul but are strapped for cash, I'd suggest looking for a good used Tribute model from 2016 or 2017. Just my opinion, wanted to share.
Guitar Gopher (author) on October 19, 2019:
@HalfNoteMan - I like the direction Gibson is going in with the 2019 models, but I think they still have a little ways to go before they win back many of the folks who have been put off over the last few years. I think they need to stick to their iconic models (with only a few variations) and keep price under control, and they seem to have taken a big step in that direction this year.
HalfNoteMan on October 16, 2019:
Love to hear your thoughts on the 2019 lineup from Tribute's, Studio, Classic. The few classic's I've seen in person were super heavy models.
I'm considering a Tokai which seem to be well made and have quality components if you can get over the brand.
Pedro Cardoso on September 25, 2019:
In my last post, 4 months ago, I was having problems choosing the right Les Paul Studio for me.
The store dv247 (music store) made huge sales on Gibsons and they had the 2016 Studio's at 722£, the 2017 at 779£ and the 2014 Premium at 699£.
I was going to buy the 2016 motel but, by the end all the cheaper ones sold out and I grabbed a 2017 for 779£.
I bought it in black and comes with a brown hard case.
I absolutely love it. I am not sure if the guitar is really worth RPP of almost 1200£ but for 780£, I think I got a really good deal.
Plugged in to my Amp sounds amazing.
The only thing I don't really like is the sound in single coil mode. I was expecting the guitar to have a bright sound as in a Strat, but it is very dull and muddy.
I really don't care about coil splitting; it is something that came with the guitar, but I wouldn't ask for having it.
I bought this guitar to use the power and melody of Gibson humbuckers. And they absolutely shine.
Guitar Gopher (author) on April 29, 2019:
Hi Pedro - I believe the Studio Pro has push/pull coil split and some slightly different hardware. I don't think any of that would matter to me.
I'm not sure the BurstBuckers have more output, though they are close. (there are charts you can search for that show the relative output of Gibson pickups). To me they sound more open and like they have more articulate highs and mids, which may make them seem like they have more output. The 490R/498T sound a little darker.
This is just my opinion. I've have owned Les Pauls with the 490R/498T set and I currently have the 2016 Faded with the BurstBuckers.
As for what you should do, you seem to like the BurstBuckers more but you're second guessing yourself because you feel like you ought to like the 490R/498T pickups more for the style you play. I can only tell you, while I love the older Studios with the 490R/498Ts, I have never been disappointed with the BurstBuckers for metal and hard rock. Are the 490R/498Ts "better" for hard rock? Meh, maybe, just because they are a little more mid/low focused, but certainly not enough for me worry about it.
So, I guess that's the best advice I can give. If you like the BurstBuckers in the Studio Pro 2014 I wouldn't worry about it getting the job done for hard rock. I put mine through either a Marshall DSL or Peavey 6505 and it sounds great.
Both are great guitars and I'd have trouble choosing too. Good luck with your decision!
Pedro Cardoso on April 28, 2019:
Thanks for your article. It is one of the best articles on this topic.
I have some questions for you.
I am going to buy a new Gibson Les Paul Studio and I found an amazing deal a LP Studio 2016 and another on an LP Studio 2014 Pro.
1 - Apart from the pickups, is there any difference which would make you choose one over the other?
2- In 2011 I bought a Gibson Les Paul Worn Brown, which I sold 1 year later. I loved the guitar and the pickups (Burstbucker Pro). Should I go with the 2014 Pro, since it has a Burstbucker pro in the bridge ?
3- In 2016 I tried a Gibson LP Faded identical to the one I had had and compared it against Gibson LP Tribute 50s which 490R and 498T, as the Studio 2016 T.
Strangely I liked the Faded more, since the burstbuckers had way more output.
According to what I've read, the 490 series are very good for distorted and aggressive sound, so how come the burstbuckers were way more powerful ?
4 - Last, I love playing rock and hard rock. Which one is better for that?
Many thanks for reading this.
Guitar Gopher (author) on February 21, 2019:
@Jorge - I walked into a guitar shop back in 2016 with the intention of buying a Epiphone PlusTop PRO and walked out with a Gibson LP Studio Faded. Today I would not have made the same decision. 2016 was a great year for the Faded LPs, but since then they've gone up in price and down in appointments.
If Gibson still produced the same Faded Studio around the same price point as back in 2016 I'd recommend it over the Epiphone. As it stands, under $1000 I'd probably be looking at Epiphone, and there is nothing wrong with that.
My opinion of course.
Jorge Saldaña on February 20, 2019:
I love to buy the les Paul studio fade, but my budget don't let me do it I like the Epi les Paul standard for my money
David Hutchinson on December 23, 2018:
This is such a drooling fanboy plug. Most ordinary unwell heeled players don't have a whole warehouse of Les Pauls or Epiphones or the chance to A/B them as you say you did. All this Gibson BS is just Hype. I'll stick to my Harley Benton Les Paul types. In fact Harley Benton is the musicians friend offering the basic qualities and a chance for you to upgrade parts and make the guitar your own. The established brands are overpriced.
Robb on May 07, 2018:
The Studios are prone to catastrophic neck failures.
I have played in a variety of "cover" bands over the years and have played a small variety of guitars. I have settled into a quiver of Epiphphones.
My main gigging ax is a highly modified Genesis. I had a custom made pre amp installed that's only visible from straight above, combined with coil splitting pickups I can get any sound I need. I've even been accused of dubbing because I made sound changes so extreme without swapping guitars.
Granted, someone looking for a guitar on the cheap isn't going to spend another 500 or 600 gutting and rewiring it. But for a beginner who is serious about getting out there, I say dropping 4 or 5 bills on an Epi and another 4 or 5 bills on guts is a far wiser choice. Especially since your going to have to repair the neck and or headstock 5 or 6 times over the next 4 years on that Studio.
And check this out, a few years ago,when I had the Genesis refretted, I also had the fretboard inlays redone with the classic Epi two tone type and added the Epi flower to the headstock. So now it's a one of a kind.
So if I had done it all at one time, I might have spent 3K. Not bad for an incredibly versatile, durable and unique guitar
Radicaldelusion on April 20, 2018:
I had a 1990 Gibson Les Paul studio. The headstock cracked, and I had it repaired. A year later, it cracked again, I then had it repaired again, but the person who did it did not do a good job so it once again cracked. At this point, I decided I needed a back up Guitar so I got an Epiphone Les Paul Standard Top Pro. For $600, this guitar is amazing in quality. It looks and sounds beautiful. The LP Studio models of today do not compare in quality to the 1990 i had. That one was IDENTICAL to an LP Standard, except for the decorative binding. Same hardware, pickups, translucent finish showing the wood grain, etc.
I have since had the headstock repaired again on the Les Paul studio, and it was done by the top guitar repair person in the region. It has now stayed for five years and that guitar sounds as good as it did the day I bought it. However, I am very happy with the Apple ph I have since had the headstock repaired again on the Les Paul studio, and it was done by the top guitar repair person in the region. It has now stayed for five years and that guitar sounds as good as it did the day I bought it. However, I am very happy with the Epiphone Standard Top Pro. While an expert musician could probably pick out some differences in sound, I would say this is as close to the real thing is you can get. And, the differences in tone between this and an American version don’t mean that this sounds bad, just a little bit different. I would highly recommend an Epiphone for someone who wants a Les Paul live, but does not want to risk damaging or losing their $2000 Gibson guitar. So now, I keep the American at home and/or in the studio, and the Epiphone I bring with me on stage
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 29, 2017:
@Eli1109: If you have the budget there is nothing wrong with starting out on a Gibson Les Paul Studio. It's an awesome guitar - sounds amazing and easy to play. No setup headaches as with with a guitar with a complicated bridge, which is a good thing for beginners. A little heavy, but not a big deal.
The reason I typically recommend guitars in the $200 - $300 range is because most beginners aren't willing or able to plunk down $1500 on a first guitar.
But if you can, go for it! It's a great guitar.
Eli1109 on July 28, 2017:
Hi. I know in the end is up to anyone's personal taste and budget. However, I would like to ask, would you recommend a Gibson Les Paul Studio for someone who has never played a guitar or any other instrument and would like to learn?
Guitar Gopher (author) on February 26, 2017:
Hi Chibson. Aside from aesthetics (binding, colors, knobs, etc) the most notable difference there is the open-coil humbuckers. Same pickups, but open-coils tend to be a sound a little hotter and perhaps brighter. Hope you're loving your new guitar!
chibson on February 25, 2017:
I have a Les Paul Tribute Gold top 2016. I find this to be a wonderful guitar for the money. Got mine at 100 off just cause of the 2017 models. I recommend it but what is the difference between it and a studio model.
Guitar Gopher (author) on November 20, 2016:
Hi CyberReLoad: I hear a lot of people say that about tonewoods, and I just can't agree. I know there are people who claim to have done experiments, but I'm going to continue to trust my ears. I think the wood is a very important ingredient in the sound of both acoustic and electric guitars.
CyberReLoad on November 19, 2016:
the tone wood debate is dead. solid body eletric guitars sound aint caused nor affected by wood, its about everything else, the construction, the placement of pups/brigde/etc. WillsEasyGuitar and Scott Grove on youtube have done pretty good debunking of tone wood and eletric solid body guitars.
i use to belive in tone wood, hence the whole reason i wanted a les paul back in the day. now i have a les paul and i love it and play it every day but i know now the sounds characteristic aint comming from the wood but the design of everything else..
Guitar Gopher (author) on October 12, 2016:
Hi Rick. I just wrote a post last week about this very subject. IMO, tonewoods definitely DO matter. Here are my full thoughts: https://spinditty.com/instruments-gear/Do-Tonewood...
Rick Herron on October 11, 2016:
Something is wrong here. From what I've read, Tone-woods themselves, scientifically do not add to the tonal character of an electric solid-body guitar. The premise of this review is wrong unless it can be proven otherwise. It is acoustic guitars that can suffer. Construction has other significant advantages, disadvantages. This argument has been raging for years and that is why on solid bodies like Fender Strats and Teles, changing out the electronic, pickups and hardware has allowed for the creation so many Partscaster.
Guitar Gopher (author) on February 12, 2016:
Hi TTC12! I owned several Studios of that era and I agree there were great guitars. They changed the design a few years ago, but for 2016 it looks like they've gone back to many of the features that made that guitars so amazing.
TTC12 on February 11, 2016:
my 2004 studio is an awesome guitar. I have owned Custom, Deluxes and Standards - the studio can hang with any of them. LPJ is a great one, too. Seriously want one of those.
Guitar Gopher (author) on May 28, 2015:
That's interesting, Pocono Foothills. I wonder if Gibson could give you some info if you shoot them an email.
John Fisher from Easton, Pennsylvania on May 27, 2015:
I bought a Les Paul Studio in 1983. I have never seen one since that looks like the one that I have. I even tried to do a search on the Internet just to see if I could find a picture of one that looks like mine, and I couldn't find anything.
Guitar Gopher (author) on April 19, 2015:
Sound awesome CEe! Congrats on a great guitar!
CEe on April 18, 2015:
I have a LP Studio Deluxe II in CaramelBurst....2013. A guy I know (who used to work at the Gibson Custom Shop) just did some work on it for me. He was surprised to see a flame top on it....after doing a set-up (including a bone nut), I put it up against a 2015 LP Classic. The guy with the classic offered $1500 on the spot (I paid $900).......I still have it :-)
Guitar Gopher (author) on January 13, 2015:
Perhaps, mpc. The subject of what really lurks under the hood of an Epi LP is oft debated. Epi says Lp Standards have maple tops, so that works for me. However, they surely are not the thick, carved maple caps you'd find on a Gibson. Unless maybe you're talking about upper-level Epis.
IMP, this is all the more reason to play a guitar you love and not worry about specs and reputation.
mpc on January 13, 2015:
You're mistaken! Some Epi Les Pauls have a carved maple top!