The Les Paul has the distinction of being one of the most iconic guitar designs of all time. It’s also fair to say that it has earned its reputation by being one of the more expensive models on the market. If you’re trying to get some of that Les Paul vibe without having to take out a second mortgage on your house, then the Epiphone Les Paul Studio may just be the model that you are looking for.
Epiphone (owned by Gibson, by the way) has manufactured a number of killer Les Paul models over the years. They look, play, smell, and feel just like the real deal – some players may not even be able to tell the difference in a blind test. That’s certainly true with the Epi LP Studio. You’ll find pretty much all the same features, build quality, and playability of the Gibson model, all at a much more affordable price point.
Let’s take a deep dive into all that this classic Epi model has to offer – to us, it’s easy to see why countless players have taken advantage of all that the Epiphone Les Paul models have to offer over their more expensive bigger (but not necessarily better) brothers.
The Epiphone is arguably just as good as the Gibson counterpart at half the price.
It is a killer guitar that sits right at the sweet spot of the Epiphone line-up, having a perfect balance of price and features. The guitar sounds just as good as the higher-priced models. The hardware has been upgraded and now has no weak points.
So who is the Studio for?
The new Epiphone lineup has meant that there’s a guitar for everyone, but it’s also made it harder to choose. The Studio isn’t up there with the Standard or Custom as a flagship, but it’s also head and shoulders above the 100 and other beginner guitars.
If you’re an intermediate player looking to pick up a great bang for the buck LP, the Studio is perfect. It’s a solid Les Paul with great hardware that feels comfortable and plays great. In addition, the price point makes it ideal as a platform to replace the pickups and be on par with Gibson’s offerings.
LP Studio History
Launched in the early 80s, the Les Paul Studio was named as such because it was for the studio musician who wanted the sound of a Les Paul without paying for any of the extra binding, AAA tops, or other flashy visual flair that adds nothing to the tone. Shortly after its introduction in the early 80s, the Studio became the choice for the discerning but slightly cash-strapped player.
The Epiphone model continues where the Gibson lets off. While there’s no point in rehashing the Gibson Vs Epiphone debate (something we’ve covered previously), the Epiphone does a fine job of being a more accessible version of the Gibson. While naturally, the hardware isn’t flagship quality, you’re also not paying flagship prices. However, Epiphone still delivers the best value for money of any brand (especially when you look at their acoustic guitars).
The studio sports the Famous Les Paul single cutaway shape with a 24.75″ scale length body (more on scale length here). As with any LP, it has the familiar mahogany body and mahogany neck pairing that has long been a standard feature of all Les Pauls, arguably giving the guitar its distinctive sound. The top is a maple veneer as opposed to Gibson’s standard maple cap. This basically means it’s a sheet of maple glued to the top instead of being a thick piece of maple.
However, whereas the Studio used to sport a rosewood fingerboard, it now features a Pau Ferro fingerboard. This has been the material of choice for many manufacturers since CITES laws made rosewood less practical. The neck is a comfortable 1960s SlimTaper D profile with a 12″ radius, sports 22 medium jumbo frets, and a GraphTech nut.
Additionally, the new Studio comes with trapezoid inlays just as its Gibson counterpart – the Epiphone having dispensed with the dot inlays of previous models, making it visually indistinguishable from the Gibson (once you ignore the headstock).
The guitar also features the LockTone ABR Tune-o-matic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece combo, which, paired with the Grover 18:1 tuners, gives the guitar excellent sustain and tuning stability. It’s also a breeze to change strings, as opposed to through body models, which can be a pain to deal with.
Epiphones have always fallen on their electronics, making them “just” an upgrade platform for many guitarists, but lately, they have stepped up their game. The Studio sports an Alnico Classic humbucker in the neck and an Alnico Classic Plus humbucker in the bridge.
Previous Epiphone Studios were open coil, meaning the pickups had the covers removed, making them somewhat brighter and hotter. In this edition, the covers are back on, making the Studio sound more like the Standard.
The guitar has the standard three-way switch and two volume/two tone setup with 1″ potentiometers. There is no push/pull coil tapping available on the Studio – for that, you’ll need to upgrade to the Standard. That being said, many people buy a Les Paul to be a Les Paul, and tapping it into a single-coil version of itself isn’t of interest.
Finally, for finish options, you can go classic black, smokehouse burst, Alpine voice, or for an extra $100, an amazing wine red finish, though that $100 puts you in the neighborhood of the Les Paul Standard 50s, which is arguably a much better guitar.
Sound and playing feel
Les Paul himself was fond of saying, “Epiphone always made a good guitar,” and the Studio is no exception.
First off, the guitar is noticeably lighter than its Gibson counterpart, which makes it comfortable both sitting and on a strap. Personally, I always put a lot of stock in how a guitar sounds unplugged, and the Studio does not disappoint. The mahogany body gives a rich, full tone. The Pau Ferro fingerboard gives a warm and clear attack.
The 60s slim taper is, of course, a matter of preference (some rather a thicker 50s neck), but it is super comfortable, and the hand-set neck joint feels sturdy, giving you the access you’ve come to know from a Les Paul.
Plugged in, the Alnico Classic humbuckers are clear and throaty, particularly when you play them with some gain, though they don’t quite have the extra bite you get with the Probuckers that Epiphone puts in their higher models.
Probuckers are Epiphone’s version of Gibson’s Burstbuckers and are the top-of-the-line Epiphone pickups, but the Alnico Classics are a fine pickup for the money.
The neck pickup provides a familiar muscular and warm vintage sound that works for jazz and blues in equal measure, while the bridge has that meaty mid-range attack that makes any Les Paul a rock machine.
Other Epiphones To Consider
While the Studio for sure has its place, it’s in that funny position in Epiphone’s revamped lineup where $50 to $100 in either direction will get you a very different guitar. Let’s take a look.
The Les Paul Classic is only $50 more, for which you get some nice upgrades and some really nice color options.
The fingerboard is a slightly lighter Indian Laurel, and the tuning pegs, while still Grovers, are the slightly higher quality Rotomatic. The guitar comes with two Alnico Custom Pro humbuckers, which are open coil, meaning they have no covers and thus are brighter and clearer than the Studio’s. You also get binding and some beautiful tops. The Honey Burst, in particular, is one of the most striking guitars in the new Epiphone range.
Check out the price and reviews at Sweetwater.
Taking a step in the other direction, we find the Epiphone Les Paul 100. Coming in about $150 less than the Studio, you’re really moving out of “affordable” territory and into “beginner.” The Les Paul 100 features a mahogany body, an Okoume neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. Instead of the GraphTech nut of the higher models, you have a plastic nut, which will give intonation issues. The sealed tuners are a marked step down from Grovers. Finally, the 650R/700T humbucker set is vastly inferior, giving anemic and muddy tones.
So Should You Buy an Epi LP Studio?
Epiphone has always had a reputation for being the “cheap” version of Gibson, but with the recent Epiphone Les Paul line revamp, they have added some killer guitars. The Studio is a fantastic guitar that stands on its own two feet. The hardware is excellent, the pickups punch above their weight, and the guitar feels great. If looks are important, you can easily bump up to the Classic, but if all you want is that Les Paul growl from morning to night, the Studio is your guitar.
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