With a history going back all the way to 1955, the Gibson Les Paul Special has been a popular fixture in the lineup ever since. It was originally introduced as a mid tier model to sit between the student grade Les Paul Junior and the high end Les Paul Standard, but thanks to its unique tones and incredible all round performance, it has gained a cult following all of its own.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review we got to spend some extra time with the LP Special, the guitar that we named as our Editor’s Choice in our roundup of the best P90 guitars. In this extended coverage, we’ll be going into detail about the aesthetics, features, build quality, tones, and overall performance of this amazing guitar.
If you’re in the market for a guitar with P90 pickups and budget isn’t an issue, we think you’ll really love this Gibson – keep on reading to learn more about it!
Gibson Les Paul Special: Who Is This For?
The Gibson Les Paul Special is a premium US made guitar that we think is best suited to intermediate and advanced players. The price point is well above that of a typical beginner guitar, and its chunky ‘50s style neck is quite prohibitive for less experienced players.
Guitarists with more experience, however, will appreciate the huge tonal range, pro quality electronics, and the high end fit and finish.
Appearance / Features / Controls
The test guitar we received came in the iconic TV Yellow finish – arguably the best color for a Les Paul Special. It looked fantastic, and it was abundantly clear that incredible care and attention had gone into the fit and finish of this guitar. If you’re not into the TV Yellow, it also comes in a Vintage Cherry finish.
As expected from a Les Paul, it was made with all mahogany. Being a Special, it had a slab style body – this means that unlike the Les Paul Standard, there was no maple cap. This kept the weight down by comparison, with the guitar weighing just 7lb 11oz.
The neck was also made with mahogany, and of course, had set construction. It had a Vintage ‘50s profile, which is a notoriously chunky shape. It’s not the most forgiving for newer players or those with smaller hands, but if you like a substantial neck, they don’t get much better than this.
Topping the neck was a fantastic rosewood fretboard, which both looked and felt great. It had 22 medium jumbo frets, which like many new Gibsons, had been PLEK treated at the factory.
The assortment of hardware was all of the usual high Gibson standard. It had Gibson Deluxe Tuners, a Graphtech TUSQ nut, and a wraparound bridge.
Finally, as for the electronics, it came with a pair of incredible Gibson P90 pickups, a 3 way selector switch, hand wired pots, and period correct Orange Drop capacitors.
Performance / Sound
Starting with playability, we actually found the Les Paul Special to be a real joy to play. Despite the gargantuan depth, the neck had a real worn in vintage feel that made it a lot more comfortable than you’d think.
The nitro finish was also a big contributor to the sublime neck feel. It never felt sticky, and as time goes on and the lacquer starts wearing away, it will only get better. In fact, it wasn’t just the neck that the nitro improved – we felt it gave us a much closer connection to the guitar in general – it’s hard to explain until you actually feel it, but that barely there finish makes a world of difference.
Being so much lighter than a traditional Les Paul, we found that it was incredibly comfortable to hold for longer periods of time, especially when standing – something working musicians will love about this guitar.
Tonally speaking, the LP Special was an absolute riot. This model hasn’t changed much at all since its first introduction in 1955, and for us, this is one of the best things about it. It had a raw, vintage quality to the tone, albeit with more modern reliability and better resistance to the 60 cycle hum that plagues single coil pickups.
The Gibson P90 pickups used in this model are some of the most versatile we’ve ever encountered. They’re able to handle high gain like humbuckers, and yet, they can still clean up like traditional single coils.
In the neck position it was warm, and surprisingly thick sounding. It was clear and articulate, and served up some nice crunch when played with high gain, and when running through a clean channel was exceptionally sweet sounding.
The bridge pickup delivered big across the board – epic lead tones with everything from aggressive overdrive through to crystal clear country sounds. It was super responsive, and all it took to completely change up the sound was a slight roll back on the volume pot. With the tone knob down it retained its clarity well, and when we dimed it, it stayed full-sounding, without even a hint of brittleness.
Other Guitars to Consider
The Gibson Les Paul Special is a team favorite at KGR, but there are still some other great options to consider. If you’d like to take a look at some alternatives before going ahead and buying, check out some of our other favorite P90 models.
If you’re set on a 2 pickup model, but the Les Paul style body isn’t your thing, then the Gibson SG Special might be a great choice for you. Like the LP it’s all mahogany, but of course, it has the iconic double cutaway SG body, with beveled edges for improved comfort. Another key difference is the SlimTaper neck, which is significantly thinner than the Vintage ‘50s profile – this makes it a much more forgiving guitar for newer players, or for anybody looking for a faster playing model.
For those who don’t need 2 P90 pickups, the Gibson Les Paul Junior is a solid alternative. It’s another slab body Les Paul with a single cutaway, and a Vintage ‘50s neck, with the main difference being the absence of a neck pickup. It has a single P90 in the bridge position, and delivers a surprisingly wide range of tones. It’s even lighter than the Special, making it a great option for gigging players looking for a comfortable P90 guitar.
Final Thoughts on the Gibson Les Paul Special
The Gibson Les Paul Special is a unique guitar that offers the vibe of a Les Paul, but with an edgy twist. It’s a raucous guitar with an incredible tonal range – it does everything from country to punk, and sounds amazing in the process.
It’s a beautifully made guitar, and aesthetically speaking, is one of the best looking on the market. The feel is absolutely incredible, and the playability is amazing. If you’re looking for the best P90 guitar on the market, we honestly don’t think we could think of anything better than the Gibson Les Paul Special.