The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Is Epiphone the Best Les Paul Alternative?
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is an excellent affordable alternative to the Gibson Les Paul. As you surely know, the Gibson Les Paul is one of the top guitars in the world and has a storied history going back decades.
The problem is, a great guitar like the Gibson Les Paul comes at a price a bit too steep for many musicians. They are totally worth it if you can swing the cash, but some of us simply can't.
Fortunately, Gibson puts out outstanding versions of their classic guitars through their Epiphone brand. Epiphones feel like Gibsons, sound almost like Gibsons, and look fantastic.
If you're playing one onstage nobody but other guitar geeks will know it's not a Gibson. It's nice that they cost only a fraction of what a Gibson Les Paul goes for too! An Epiphone isn't just the best Les Paul copy, it's a real Les Paul.
But, of course, they are not Gibsons. There is a reason Gibson is known as one of the top American guitar companies.
The Epiphone vs Gibson debate will not likely be settled anytime soon. Still, every Epiphone Les Paul I've ever owned was a quality instrument, and I've always highly recommended them. But there are some other guitars in the running for the title of Best Gibson Les Paul Alternative.
In this post, we'll take a look at the Epi LP and other alternatives to the classic Gibson Les Paul, and in the end, you can decide if you still think you need to drop a bunch of cash on a Gibson.
Top 10 Les Paul Alternatives
Here is my list of the best alternatives to the Gibson Les Paul:
- Epiphone Les Paul Standard
- ESP LTD EC-1000
- PRS SE 245
- Schecter Solo II Custom
- Jackson Monarkh
- Kiesel California Single Cut
- Washburn Parallaxe
- EVH Wolfgang Special
- Gretsch Electromatic Jet
- Agile AL
Read on to learn more about each guitar. Remember, this is based on my opinions and experiences. Always check with the manufacturer's website for the most up-to-date info on their instruments.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
In the past, even the biggest Epiphone Les Paul fans had a couple of complaints. Firstly, the electronics we're sometimes lacking. Not that the hardware and electronics weren't up to par with what you'd expect from a guitar in its price range, because if you were an intermediate guitarist even back then it was tough to beat an Epi LP.
Secondly--and this is the thing that I always felt separated Epiphone from Gibson--the pickups were subpar. They were always among the best electric guitars under $500, but not up to Gibson standards by a long shot.
Those days are gone, and now Epiphone offers a serious alternative to the Gibson Les Paul. A few years back, Epiphone revamped its lineup to closer match Gibson's '50s and '60s models. There's also a really cool 1959 model, loaded with Gibson Burskbucker pickups.
The '59 Les Paul is a classic. This guitar is for those who love the Gibson sound, look and feel, but not so much the price tag. While there are a bunch of Les Paul in the Epiphone catalog to choose from, this one would be my choice.
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If you love the look and sound of the Gibson Les Paul but don't have the cash, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is the best alternative to your Gibson dreams you're going to find!
Non-Gibson Les Paul Alternatives
In my opinion, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is one of the best intermediate-level electric guitars out there and a great option for those looking for an affordable Les Paul. But what else is out there that can compare to Gibson and still save us some cash?
For a guitar to be a valid alternative to a Gibson Les Paul it can't just look the part, it also has to meet certain criteria. In my opinion, here are the most important specs:
- Mahogany body
- Mahogany neck
- Single-cutaway design
- Rosewood or Ebony fingerboard
- Fixed bridge
- A pair of passive humbuckers
There are a lot of cheap guitars out there that meet that criterion, but that's not what we're looking for here. We want a quality instrument that will sound great and look good doing it.
And, there are some companies that make great Les Paul copies, but let's face it: If you want a Les Paul you should get an Epi or Gibson. There are other options out there, and here are a few of my favorite guitars that make the cut:
The ESP-LTD EC-1000 is a remarkable guitar in its own right, but how does it stack up against the Gibson Les Paul? It has the mahogany body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fingerboard we want, and some models have a maple top.
In my opinion, the EC-1000 is one of the best guitars for metal. ESP LTD takes the Les Paul concept and builds on it, giving us a more modern single-cut guitar with impressive options such as EMG pickups. And it doesn't hurt that ESP is known for making custom guitars to the demanding specs of professional musicians. This is a guitar company that knows how to put out a quality product.
However, same as with Epiphone, we're not going to see the thick carved maple cap here as featured on a Gibson.
Same scale, type of bridge, and general design as a Les Paul, though the EC-1000 features 24 frets instead of 22. The EC-1000 also comes in a Custom model and a few other really cool options, including those with Floyd Rose tremolos if you want it.
When it comes to pickups, there are a few options here as well. You can go with active EMGs on some models, but others have more Les Paul-ish choices. There are EC-1000s with Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers or models with Seymour Duncan pickups.
PRS SE 245
There are a lot of PRS fans out there that might take exception to calling these guitars an alternative to anything. PRS is one of the top guitar makers in the world, and like Gibson they have a reputation for excellence. However, their single-cutaway designs give guitarists who like that style a serious choice between these two guitar giants.
PRS is one of the few American guitar companies out there who are legitimately competitive with Gibson. Of course, their prices are competitive too. So a few years back PRS launched the SE lineup, and just like Epiphone they are able to bring us more affordable guitars with their legendary brand name.
PRS guitars are unique. They feature different scale lengths than the standard Gibson or Fender designs, and many PRS instruments feature their well-known double-cutaway body shape.
The single-cutaway PRS SE 245 is enough like a Les Paul to call it an affordable alternative, but different enough to say you're marching to your own drummer. It has a mahogany body and neck with a maple top, rosewood fingerboard and PRS open-coil humbuckers.
Back in the '90s it seemed like everyone was hanging up their Les Paul in favor of a PRS guitar. They are worth checking out if you want something sort of like a Les Paul, but with its own well-earned reputation.
The SE series makes PRS instruments affordable to intermediate and working guitarists.
Schecter Solo II Custom
Many Schecter guitars are geared towards metal and heavy rock, but they have a few models in their lineup that walk the line closer to that classic Les Paul vibe. The Schecter Solo II Custom is one of them.
The Solo 6 body style is offered as an alternative to many Schecter guitars that otherwise come in their classic C-style body design. It's a single-cutaway shape and if you are a Les Paul fan you're probably going to dig it.
Like ESP-LTD, Schecter builds on the single-cutaway, dual humbucker concept with active pickups, whammy bars, and some cutting-edge finishes and graphics.
However, the Solo II Custom comes with PAF-style humbuckers, and features some pretty colors and designs that are more classic than radical. There's the mahogany body and neck, but here we see an ebony fingerboard, which will be slightly brighter in tone.
The Schecter Solo II Custom is a great alternative to the Gibson Les Paul for guitarists looking to save a little cash, and make their mark with a unique guitar. As for Schecter in general, I've always thought of them as a guitar company that delivers instruments that seem better than their price would indicate. In my opinion they are one of the best values in the guitar world today.
You might also consider the Solo II Standard. However, I'd prefer to drop the extra cash on the Custom. The pickups and design have more a 'Paul vibe in my opinion. Check out both and see what you think.
More Non-Gibson Les Paul-Style Guitars
Here are a few more guitars that didn’t make the top of my list. They may be a little off the beaten path, but I do think they are worth checking out.
- Jackson Monarkh: Like most of what Jackson does, the Monarkh has a decidedly heavy vibe. Jackson is among the best guitar brands for metal, and if you need a Les Paul for extreme music the Monarkh is a good choice.
- Kiesel California Single Cut: Keisel makes custom guitars to order, so if you want a totally unique instrument this is the way to go. Their guitars are top-notch, but they can get a little expensive too, since you are choosing your own woods, finish, hardware, etc.
- Washburn Parallaxe: This is another Les Paul-style guitar that’s built for metal. The Parallaxe has a cool shape, and even cooler features such as Seymour Duncan SH2/SH4 pickups.
- EVH Wolfgang Special: Admittedly the Wolfgang is a little out of place here. I consider it among the best guitars for shredders, but it also has a warm basswood body, arch top and available ebony fingerboard. So, it’s not as un-Paul-like as you might think
- Gretsch Electromatic Jet: This is an affordable version of the Gretsch Jet, and the Les Paul alternative you might consider if you are into more of a retro vibe.
- Agile AL Series: Agile guitars are available through Rondo Music, the same company that gives us SX basses. They’re attractive and affordable, and many players really love them. Check them out if you are looking for the best bang for your buck.
Why Choose a Les Paul Alternative?
Some of us have no choice but to settle for a lower-priced guitar. But there are others among us who can afford a Gibson but play an Epiphone anyway. Why?
There are few things prettier than an American-made Gibson Les Paul, and they are truly among the best guitars in the world. If you own one you'd better care for it and watch out for it in gigging and practice situations.
Some players don't like to deal with all of that. If you instead play an Epiphone, or another affordable Les Paul, you don't worry so much about it getting lost or stolen, and you won't freak out if it gets dinged.
That fact that the Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop Pro and the other guitars in this article are good enough to gig with means your Gibson can stay safe at home.
Other guitarists don't care a whit about gigging or recording or playing in bands. For some of us who consider ourselves hobby players, something like an Epiphone Les Paul is the perfect guitar. If you're only playing for your own enjoyment, why spend more than you have to?
As a 30-year guitar veteran I wouldn't hesitate to play an Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop Pro in a band situation. If you want a Les Paul, Epiphone Les Pauls are the best alternatives to Gibson.
If you want something like a Les Paul from a great brand like Schecter, PRS or ESP-LTD, you have some great choices as well.
Your Opinion on Les Paul Alternatives
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.
John Hawk on March 09, 2020:
I bought a used Epiphone Slash which is a plus top with Seymour Duncan APH pickups. I’ve owned a few other Les Pauls and I currently own 14 guitars...I’m 70 and have been around awhile. Anyway, I took the Epiphone out on one of my rare gigs these days and it played great, sounded great and looked great. It isn’t an expensive guitar but, its a very good one. It will not however make you a great player.
James Hennings on December 29, 2019:
I have a 1970 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, Epiphone Les Paul and a Fender Squire......the Gibson is beyond comparison to either of those 2
sammy owens on July 20, 2019:
I have a 1991 USA Strat,single coils, 2012 Mexican Tele with P90s, 2013 Gibson LPJ & a Agile 3000,,and of those 4 guitars I perfer the Agile.
Shihab on June 23, 2019:
Eastman guitars are amazing
I would say as good as a Gibson
Brian Donnelly on June 01, 2019:
I bought an Agile 2000 7 yrs ago. For me spending $310 w/ HSC was perfect. I don't play lead but the humbuckers are clear. I would recommend Rondo to anyone.
unm4sk on January 12, 2019:
Louis on December 16, 2018:
I think Wolf guitar is a better alternative to all of them. I hope to own a real Gibson someday.
Kurt Arpeggio on March 10, 2018:
I have a Gibson and an Epi Plustop Pro. The differences are few. The binding on the epi doesn’t cover the fret end but the fit is plenty comfortable. And the pickups, sound fantastic but not the same as the Gibson. Muffled and muddy in a side by side comparison, but less noticeable when played alone.
J. on January 19, 2018:
I own a Epi Standard pro, and a 76 Gibson LP Custom ( a good one! Norlin snobs). While the Gibson does sound the best, and only by a small margin..I'll say 5-10% if you want to quantify it.. The Epiphone plays so much better, my hands just get excited when I play it, and adding some good Duncan's (Alnico 2 pro) brought it really close to my Gibson (which has a Duncan Seth Lover). Basically my point is a $500 dollar guitar is within range of the tone of my $2500+ Gibson and Kills it on play ability. Needless to say, I play the Epiphone 10x more than the Gibson at this point. The current Epiphones are exceptional value, They just need some better pickups to really "get there".
Dave on April 04, 2017:
The LTD EC401vf is a better value than the ec1000 comes with a maple top and either the seymour JB/59 combo or the newer model with the Dimarizo set. I have one of these made in korea and a LP traditional pro and play the 401 more than my LP.
Tom on May 31, 2016:
This is very similar to the quality of wine discussion. I cured many friends organizing blind tests of wines. Most of friends had been converted to the nice taste drinkers. If I organize a blind test between Epiphone and Gibson the result will be purely statistical. Both brands provide equal quality of sound those days... The other thing is brand and prestige. So you pay for prestige. I've got Gibson ES-175 and it was faulty. I played Epi LP Traditional Pro last time and it was fantastic. You will find opposite examples too.
BUT if I ask better player to play on any instrument and worse one on the same instrument you will recognize the difference after a milisecond. So rather go and spend your time practicing than spend your money on the paint on the headstock. In the result you will be better musician with more money. IMHO of course
Michelleuk on May 30, 2016:
Saying that all Epiphones are bad quality, terrible guitars or "cheap copies" etc is an incredibly naive and uneducated comment.
There are a large number Of Epiphone guitars that will blow the Gibsons out of the water in every department.
There are a lot of VERY VERY good Epiphones out there, but of course you have to have a little luck in finding one.
But the same can be said for Gibson too, there are VERY many terrible Gibson guitars and you have to be lucky to get "A good one".
I am a pro player and recording artist for over 35 years and own many guitars including customs, Gibsons, Fenders etc, but I always go back to my faithful sweet playing and sounding Epiphone LP Standard.
The problem is that many see the Gibson guitar as the "holy grail" of guitars and will accept no critisicm of them, blindly following and worshipping the headstock logo.
The secret to true joy and freedom in the guitar world which opens a whole world of possibilities is to get over the "Mojo" that you think a guitar has simply because it says "Gibson" on the end.
If you can get over that restraint then you will become a more wordly and wise individual.
Tiago Ferrari on May 13, 2016:
I think people usually dont understand the reasons to buy an Epi, as they try to compare it with guitars sometimes 2x/3x its price. Some people simple cannot raise mor money, and need something solid.
IMO, Epi is the one of the best guitars in its price range, a great neck, a rich sound, and you can upgrade it later if you want to. Its just perfect for the type of players you mentioned above.
Guitar Gopher (author) on January 04, 2016:
Thanks Dean! Solid advice.
Dean on January 03, 2016:
I'm not impressed with ANY Epiphone Les Paul ever made, even in the slightest. That said, Gibson since 1985 isn't any better.
I would say look at Heritage, ESP (not LTD, the necks basically need resets as they're often at the wrong angle), or the Godin Summit Classic HB, which are better made guitars than Gibson, and in the case of the Godin, significantly cheaper. Myself, I will likely sell my Les Paul for a Godin lgxt, which is 25.5" scale, but the same woods as the Les Paul and should sound very similar.
Guitar Gopher (author) on February 03, 2015:
I can't say I agree, Raffi, but thanks for adding your opinion!
Raffii on February 01, 2015:
Epiphone is very bad quality. Many no name guitars have better quality than Epiphone.