Many—if not most—guitar players believe that Epiphone guitars are nothing more than budget versions of the most popular Gibson models. We at KGR are here to tell you: it’s just not true!
The Epiphone Les Paul Custom Pro is a prime example of what we’re talking about. This model proves that many of Epiphone’s guitars need to considered and appreciated on their own merit, and not just looked at as another cheapo knockoff.
With the Les Paul Custom Pro, you’ll find many of the same features that makes a true Gibson Les Paul one of the most iconic guitars of all time—all at a price point that is sure to keep your wallet happy. It’s not a detail-for-detail replica, because you’re not paying for one. That being said, “less expensive” certainly doesn’t mean “not as good.”
Let’s to take a closer look at the Epiphone Les Paul Custom Pro. Put any pre-conceived notions aside, and you’ll start to see what this guitar actually is: a truly impressive model that you shouldn’t hesitate to call your own.
Who is this guitar for?
The Custom Pro line is designed for intermediate guitarists who want to step up their game with a great bang-for-your-buck guitar. The Custom Pro is a great looking and sounding guitar, and the coil tapping gives you a wealth of tonal options. This guitar is also meant for the Les Paul lover who needs a great backup for their higher-priced Gibson, especially going into a bar gig that might be a bit too rowdy for a $4000 guitar.
How does it compare to other Epiphones?
The Custom Pro series is the flagship series of Epiphone’s Les Paul range. While it’s not lightyears ahead of the other models in terms of playability—though obviously the fit and finish is much better than, say, the 100—it shines in how it looks and sounds.
The Custom Pro boasts a AAAA veneer, better hardware, upgraded pickups, binding, and a thinner neck, each of which bring this guitar closer to a Gibson.
Ulimately, the Custom Pro gets you as close as you can to a Gibson, except with “Epiphone” at the headstock instead.
Appearance, Materials, Hardware and Playability
Right off the bat, this guitar looks stunning. It looks like the real deal, and at a way more affordable price than its Gibson counterpart. The guitar comes in three finishes: Alpine White, Ebony, and the limited edition Koa.
The 2020 Custom looks similar to the Gibson, even with the new Epiphone headstock. The finishes are gorgeously done, as is the binding, which goes all around the body, neck and the headstock.
The pickups all come with covers for that classic look. This also changes the sound a little, but that’s how you get that classic PAF sound of the Gibson.
Body and Neck Materials
The body is made from solid mahogany, with a carved mahogany top. The limited edition Koa has a Koa wood top. This wood is very defined and quite dark. It’s almost more red than brown, and it looks beautiful.
The neck is also made of mahogany, and the fretboards are all ebony, which is a very dark and resonant wood. Ebony is a great looking and sounding option for fretboard wood.
Mahogany is popular for guitars because it’s so dense. Dense wood resonates better, and it’s heavier, so it’s got lots of low-end sound. It also gives tons of sustain, which is what Les Pauls are sometimes known for.
This is also the biggest disadvantage with mahogany. Because it’s so heavy, it can get uncomfortable after a while. We recommend a good leather strap, maybe even a bass strap. There’s a reason Matt Heafy from Trivium uses two straps with his signature seven-string Epiphone Les Paul.
The Koa top does little with the sound—it’s just there to be pretty, and it does that job well. Making this a limited run means it increases its value after it’s gone, so this model is very popular.
This doesn’t mean the other two finishes are any less pretty. The Alpine White looks stunning with the gold hardware, and so does the Ebony.
Hardware and Electronics
This guitar comes with Epiphone’s patented Lock-Tune hardware, which is the best hardware Epiphone produces. This hardware is comparable to Tone-Pros or Gotoh, which are both top notch brands.
This guitar also comes with a GraphTech NuBone nut, which is a synthetic bone nut. It’s good they included this, as most issues guitarists have with tuning stability often stem from a bad nut. Too many companies opt for plastic nuts, which are basically garbage. It’s the first mod anyone should do to make their guitar’s tuning more stable. GraphTech is famous for their self-lubricating nuts, which are arguably the best nuts on the market.
The pickups are the famous Epiphone ProBucker 2 in the neck, and the ProBucker 3 in the bridge position. These pickups are incredibly versatile. They can go from vintage PAF sounds to roaring rock monsters at the turn of the volume knob. These pickups are comparable to Gibsons or Seymour Duncan in terms of quality, and come standard in almost all “top-line” Epiphones that have been released the past couple of years.
The Custom also comes with Grover Rotomatic tuners, which are great quality as well. These tuners combined with the GraphTech NuBone nut should mitigate all tuning problems you might find on guitars with lesser quality hardware.
The Custom also comes stock with American-made CTS pots. The pots are smooth and sweep very nicely. The insides are all hand-soldered by trained professionals at the Epiphone factories.
The guitar has two volume and tone controls, one of each for each pickup. This is standard on almost all Epiphone and Gibson Les Pauls, and it’s a great feature to shape your tone right at the source. Using the volume control creatively can really spice up your sound. Turning it down a bit when dialling in your amp will give you a built in volume/gain boost for when you really want to cut through the mix—same thing goes for the tone knob. Turning it down while dialling in will make the sound respond more naturally, and it’ll give you a way to match the brightness between the bridge and neck pickups, as the bridge pickup is fairly bright on its own.
The switch feels nice and is very reliable. Not much more to say here, except it’s a switch and it serves its purpose.
The last thing to mention is that the volume controls are push-pull pots, which makes it so you can split the humbucker into single-coils if you want to.
These guitars are incredibly versatile, and every player will be able to find a tone they like with ease.
Sound and Feel
This guitar feels like a Gibson—and that’s a good thing. It’s an incredibly solid guitar, and the 60’s slim taper neck makes it comfortable going up the neck. All 22 frets are accessible, and playing chords is smooth and easy. The neck is slim, but it’s not Ibanez Wizard thin. It’s got a healthy heft to it, but it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a baseball bat in your hands.
The body is nice and weighty, but not too heavy. Using a good strap is important if you play standing up a lot, as this guitar is just heavy enough to make your back and shoulders ache after a gig.
Epiphone improved on the Gibson design by making this guitar less clunky. It’s contoured nicely, and it’s very comfortable to hold. This style is definitely not as comfortable as say a Strandberg or Ibanez, but that’s not why you’d get a Les Paul in the first place. It’s something ESP is trying to do with their single-cut Eclipses, and Epiphone was smart not to do the same. ESP tries to make their Eclipses more comfortable by slimming the body, and flattening the neck, but all this does is make you feel like you’re playing a Gibson that wants to be a Jackson. It’s got a bit of an identity crisis.
Simply put, this guitar sounds great. The pickups are bright and clear, even with the covers on. These pickups are very unique, and somewhere in between Gibson Dirty Fingers and Gibson PAF’s.
The sound is warm and thick, but has a very nice range. Again, it’s incredibly versatile, as is the legendary Les Paul guitar. It absolutely fits this guitar, and they’re sold separately as well in case you want to put them in a different guitar. How often does it happen that an affordable stock pickup is so good it gets its own production line?
The best way to find out what a guitar sounds like is by hearing it, so here’s a video by Andy Hillier putting the ProBucker up against some very expensive Bareknuckle pickups:
Most people seem to agree that these pickups sound warmer and more “alive” than the Bareknuckle ones, and the BK’s are supposed to be the best pickup brand. Pictures speak louder than words, but sound speaks even louder. This is a great example of why the brand doesn’t say a thing about the actual product, as we’ve seen the past few years with the declining quality of the Gibson’s.
All in all, this guitar plays and sounds absolutely amazing. Some even say that is plays better than the “real” Gibson. The specs on the Epiphone are incredibly impressive for the price.
Other Epiphones to consider
If the Custom is a little out of your price range, there’s always the more affordable but still great Epiphone Les Paul Classic. With different pickups and cheaper hardware, this clocks in for considerably less than the Custom.
This doesn’t say anything about the actual use of the instrument, as it’s still really good. It also makes for a killer “Gibson-inspired” mod platform.
The Classic is literally a classic in Epiphone’s line-up, because it’s been around for a while. This guitar is the top choice for a cheap Gibson-style Les Paul.
Check out the price and reviews at Sweetwater.
The Epiphone Les Paul Modern Figured might be exactly what you’re looking for if you want a more defined look. It has the same specs as the Custom, but with a differently tapered neck and better access to the high frets. This guitar is a whole other beast on its own. It does what ESP is trying to do, but way better.
The finishes are also well built and designed. The AAA veneer looks stunning and the colour fade is extra vibrant. This guitar will certainly make you the focal point on stage.
These guitars also have an exposed natural wood back, separated from the heavenly top with cream binding that stops at the nut. These guitars are in the same league as the Customs, but they’re very different, and very nice as well.
Check out the price and reviews at Sweetwater.
Let’s look at some of the finer points of the 2020 Epiphone Les Paul Custom Classic Pro:
- Burstbucker Pro pickups for clean and crisp tones
- Wide variety of sounds due to coil splitting
- GraphTech NuBone nut for improved tuning stability
- Classic Gibson looks with AAAA top and classic binding
Overall, this is as close as the Epiphone Les Paul line gets to a Gibson, and at less than a quarter of the price. If you get the chance, pick this one up while you can.