Les Paul Traditional vs Standard: Which is better (including Pro V/50s/60s)

The Gibson Les Paul is without a doubt, one of the most famous guitars ever made. Not only is it a massively popular instrument amongst guitarists, but in its own right, it has become something of a pop culture icon. 

If you’re familiar with the history of the Les Paul, there’s a good chance you know about the many variants, but if you’re a newer player, or just new to the Gibson brand, you might be wondering what the differences are, particularly when it comes to the Les Paul Traditional vs. Les Paul Standard.

Because of the continuous evolution of the Les Paul, certain models go in and out of production, while others remain in production, but are redeveloped with entirely new specs from time to time. Case in point, the Traditional and the Standard; the Traditional is now no longer manufactured, while the current Standard now boasts a similar spec to the now discontinued Traditional.

In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be exploring the differences between the old Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Gibson Les Paul Traditional, and comparing them to today’s Les Paul Standards, and the new Traditional Pro V.

Basic Info Comparison

Les Paul Traditional Basics

The Gibson Les Paul Traditional was a model designed to be more like the original Les Paul models of the ’50s. It was made in response to Gibson customers’ demands for something closer to the vintage models that for years had been skyrocketing in price.

Les Paul Traditional Pro V Basics

The Gibson Traditional Pro V is the only “traditional” variant on sale today, and interestingly enough, it’s not particularly traditional at all. It’s weight relieved, it has push pull coil split/tap, and it uses TradBucker pickups.

Les Paul Standard Basics

The previous generation Les Paul Standard was similarly built and equipped to the Trad Pro V, insomuch as it had a weight relieved body, coil splitting pickups, and even locking tuners.

Les Paul Standard ‘50s/’60s Basics

The Les Paul Standard ‘50s and Standard ‘60s (full review here) are the Standard models available in today’s lineup. Each is designed to closely mimic the Les Pauls of what were arguably the most iconic decades for the model. Today’s Les Paul Standard ‘50s is extremely similar to the Les Paul Traditional, with its thick ‘50s neck profile, and its ‘50s Burstbucker PAF style pickups. 

With the ‘60s Standard, you’re also getting a vintage style model, although the neck is noticeably slimmer than the ‘50s Standard.


Main Model Differences

Gibson USA 2018 Guitars - Les Paul Standard vs Les Paul Traditional

On the surface of things, it’s pretty tough to call out the differences between the Les Paul Traditional models and the Les Paul Standards. It’s not until you get into the macro view that the differences start to become apparent.

Here’s a quick roundup of the main areas of difference between the Les Paul Traditional and the Les Paul Standard.

ItemLes Paul TraditionalLes Paul Traditional Pro VLes Paul Standard (Pre 2019)Les Paul Standard ‘50s/’60s
Pickups and Electronics‘59 Tribute HumbuckersTradbucker pickups with Coil Split/Coil TappingBurstbucker Pro Pickups Coil Split/Coil TappingChoice of BurstBucker Pickups with period correct wiring, or P90 Pickups with period correct wiring
Neck Profiles‘50s Rounded Asymmetrical profile with compound radiusAsymmetrical profile with compound radiusChoice of Vintage ‘50s or SlimTaper

Misc Features

Les Paul TraditionalLes Paul Traditional Pro VLes Paul StandardLes Paul Standard ‘50s/’60s
AA Figured maple tops

Vintage speed knobs with dial pointers
Weight relieved body

Locking tuners
AAA Flamed maple tops

Cryogenically treated frets

Locking Grover Rotomatic tuners
Standard Grover Rotomatic tuners

PLEK ‘d Frets

Pickups

The Gibson Les Paul Traditional is fitted with a pair of Gibson ‘59 Tribute humbucking pickups. They are a great option for those who want a traditional PAF-style sound. ‘59 Tributes have a warm, smooth tone with plenty of clarity and definition.

The Traditional Pro V model gets TradBucker pickups, with coil tapping and splitting. With coil splitting engaged, the pickups effectively become single coils, which leads to some pretty unique tones, as the Les Paul is never (with the exception of P90 models) fitted with single coil pickups. With coil tapping engaged, the output is significantly reduced, giving a true vintage tone with a less prominent mid range.

The old Les Paul Standard (pre 2019) is equipped with Burstbuckers, just like the current Standard models, but with the addition of coil splitting and tapping, as found on the Trad Pro V.

The Standard ‘50s and ‘60s Les Pauls are available with Gibson Burstbucker pickups. These are humbucking pickups that are also designed to emulate the famed PAF pickups on the original guitars. They have a fantastic frequency response, with a smooth bottom end, a fat mid range, and sparkling highs.

On the ‘50s Standard, there’s also the option to choose P90 pickups on the Gold Top finish. Many don’t know that the Les Paul actually started out being equipped with P90s, but they were eventually superseded by PAF humbuckers. With P90s installed, the Les Paul Standard dishes out a gnarly growl when pushed hard, and unbelievably crystalline cleans with the volume rolled back.


Neck Profile & Fretboard Radius

Understanding Guitar Neck Shapes

Les Paul Traditional

Being ‘50s inspired, the Traditional had a ‘50s Rounded neck. This, like the neck on the Standard ‘50s, was a bit of a beast, and was a pretty polarizing feature. It added a lot tonally to the guitar, particularly when it came to sustain, but the size was something of a turn off for many.

Les Paul Traditional Pro V

The Les Paul Traditional features an asymmetrical neck profile. These are one of the more contemporary shapes, and are designed with the intent of being fast and comfortable from top to bottom. Not everybody enjoys the feel, but for those who do, the benefits can be night and day.

Ultimately, the neck width is not uniform from the bass side to the treble. It is slimmer by the treble side strings, effectively making it easier to wrap your hands around the neck. Asymmetrical necks are often favored by players with small hands or shorter fingers.

In addition to the asymmetrical neck, the Les Paul Traditional also features a compound radius. Unlike most fretboards which have a uniform radius from top to bottom, compound radii start smaller (rounder) at the top by the nut, and they gradually get flatter until the point at which the neck and body meet. This makes them great for players who play both lead and rhythm parts, as there’s a nice rounded surface for chords at the bottom end of the fretboard, and a flatter playing surface for soloing down by the upper frets.

Les Paul Standard 

The earlier Les Paul Standard was, like the Trad Pro V, equipped with a thin, fast playing Slimtaper asymmetrical neck, which differs from the standard D shaped Slimtaper on the Standard ‘60s.

Les Paul Standard ‘50s/’60s

The current Les Paul Standard, being available in 2 distinct versions, offers 2 completely different neck profiles.

On the Standard ‘50s model, the neck profile is Gibson’s “Vintage ‘50s”. This is very much a “love it or hate it” type of profile due to its immense girth. Many compare this neck to a baseball bat, and they aren’t entirely wrong. It’s a big, fat neck, that players with big hands tend to love, although if you’re a beginner, this is one of the most unforgiving shapes out there.

The Standard ‘60s model gets the SlimTaper profile, which is one of Gibson’s fastest shapes. The width to thickness ratio is carefully matched all the way down the neck, with just 1/10th of an inch of difference in the width between the first and twelfth frets. It’s widely considered to be the easiest playing neck fitted to any Gibson, and it’s suitable for the widest range of players.

Both the Les Paul Standard ‘50s and ‘60s feature regular 12” radius fretboards. 12” is generally seen as the best middle of the road radius, striking a good balance between comfortable chording and choke-out free bends at the upper frets.


Features

Gibson Les Paul Tone & Volume Control / Knob Tutorial / Guitar Lesson

Les Paul Traditional 

The Les Paul Traditional was intentionally devoid of stand out features. The point of this model was to get back to basics. Of course, the equipment installed was all top quality, with the usual array of Gibson Deluxe tuners, Tune-O-Matic bridge, and of course those delightfully vintage sounding ‘59 Tribute pickups.

Les Paul Traditional Pro V

The Les Paul Traditional Pro V, being designed as a player’s guitar, is full of features to promote playability. Besides the asymmetrical neck and flexible pickup arrangement, it also features a weight relieved body. This means that it has a number of chambers hollowed out of the mahogany portion of the body, thereby noticeably reducing the weight. This makes a huge difference for those who play live, as holding a 10lb+ Les Paul for any length of time is far from comfortable.

In addition to the weight relief, the Les Paul Traditional also benefits from factory fitted Grover locking tuners. They add additional reliability to the already rock solid Grover Rotomatic tuners, and speed up string changes significantly.

Les Paul Standard

The previous version of the Les Paul Standard was similarly equipped to today’s Trad Pro V. It had a weight relieved body, with several chambers routed into the mahogany to reduce the overall weight. In addition it even had locking Grover tuners.

Les Paul Standard ‘50s/’60s 

The Les Paul Standard’s most notable feature is that it gets treated to a PLEK fret dressing at the factory. With a PLEK treatment, a CNC machine perfectly adjusts and levels the frets, leaving the crowns perfectly polished and aligned to a degree of accuracy that no luthier, no matter how experienced, could ever achieve. The result is an incredibly playable feel.


The History of the Gibson Les Paul

The Gibson Les Paul: A Short History, from Creation to Custom Shop

The Early Years

Les Paul was a guitarist who began experimenting with electronics in the 1930s, looking for a way to make his guitars louder. His experiments led him to develop one of the first solid-body electric guitars, which he designed with Epiphone in 1941. This new guitar, called “The Log” had a single pickup and was very heavy and by all accounts, extremely uncomfortable to play. 

Some years later, Les had become an internationally acclaimed player, and Gibson reached out to him to become the face of their new guitar. Les Paul and the Gibson engineers tweaked the design, and the first Les Paul model was born.

Fender had already had success with solid body electric guitars and Gibson wanted a piece of that market, so in 1952, the first Gibson Les Paul was first introduced. The original Les Paul featured a mahogany body with a maple top, two P-90 pickups, and an adjustable bridge. The guitar saw initial success, but this success rapidly dropped off around 1960 as the much lighter and more ergonomic Fender Stratocaster gained in popularity.

In 1961, due to declining sales, the Les Paul was completely redesigned into what we now know today as the Gibson SG, and the original was discontinued. Fortunately for the original Les Paul, Eric Clapton picked up the guitar that would come to be known as “Beano” in June of 1965. 

The incredible tones from this guitar had guitarists scrambling to replicate Clapton’s sound, and there was such high demand for the original Les Paul design that Gibson eventually put it back into production in 1968.

The Modern Era

The popularity of the Les Paul continued to grow throughout the ’70s with the hard rock scene. Its humbucking pickups were ideal for the high gain tones of the day, and the huge sustain contributed to some of the most iconic solos of all time.

In the early 80s, during the emergence of modern metal, the Les Paul lost favor to instruments from other brands that made pointier guitars like BC Rich, Jackson, and Ibanez, although it remained popular amongst blues and jazz players. However, in the late ’80s the Les Paul saw yet another renaissance, largely thanks to the likes of Slash, who prominently used the LP during the golden era of Guns ‘n Roses.

Today, the Les Paul is more popular than ever with players of all genres. Gibson has put on a marketing masterclass, and truly cemented models like the Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Traditional as aspirational guitars – premium models that many players dream of owning.


Famous Les Paul Players

The Les Paul has been used extensively by countless legends of practically every genre, but a few stand out above the rest.

Billy Gibbons

Billy F Gibbons Demos The New Gibson 1957 Goldtop Reissue VOS

Billy Gibbons, aka Reverend Willy, is the lead guitarist for legendary rockers, ZZ Top, and is one of the most accomplished guitarists in rock history. His playing has influenced generations of musicians, and will likely do so for many years to come. Gibbons is best known as a Les Paul user, and is rarely found without his 1959 Standard, which he nicknamed, “Pearly Gates”. 

Paul Kossoff

Gibson Custom Shop Paul Kossoff 1959 Les Paul • Wildwood Guitars Overview

Paul Kossoff was a British guitarist and lead guitarist of the band, Free. Throughout his career, Paul continued to rely on his beloved Gibson Les Paul, which went on to become one of the most storied guitars in music history – the Kossoff Burst Les Paul. Even after he passed away in 1976, Paul’s legacy as one of the greats lives on through his music, and of course his iconic guitar. 

Slash

Slash | The Slash Collection

Slash is one of the most instantly recognizable guitar players in history, largely thanks to his distinctive style and of course, his Gibson Les Paul. Unlike many of the famous LP users, Slash isn’t known for consistently using the same guitar throughout his career. One of the most interesting Slash Les Paul facts, is that the guitar he’s best known for, his “Appetite era” Standard, wasn’t actually a Gibson at all. Rather, it was a replica made by a California based luthier by the name of Kris Derrig.

Jimmy Page

"Pick of the Day" - 2009 Gibson Jimmy Page #2 and 1994 Marshall 1959LTD

Jimmy Page is one of the most iconic guitar players of all time. Page was the lead guitarist for the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin. Since then, he has become famous not only for his unique style and soulful playing, but also for his choice of instrument; a classic Sunburst ‘59 Les Paul. Like many players, he did use several guitars, but his beloved ‘59 was always considered to be his number 1. 

Eric Clapton

Eric clapton gibson les paul tone

Eric Clapton will forever be considered as one of the greats. Throughout his career, he has experimented with a variety of different musical styles and genres, always pushing the boundaries of what can be done with a guitar. While today he’s best known as a Strat player, in his early days he rose to fame with “Beano”, a ‘60 Les Paul he bought while he was playing with the Bluesbreakers. This guitar came to define Clapton’s sound at the time, and inspired countless guitarists who wanted to get that iconic tone. Some even consider Clapton the savior of the Les Paul, crediting his use of the instrument as the reason for its increase in popularity and subsequent return to production.

Joe Perry

Introducing The Joe Perry Gold Rush Les Paul Axcess

Joe Perry and Aerosmith had minor success in the early ‘70s, but the band shot to fame almost overnight after the release of their groundbreaking album Toys in the Attic. This album featured some of Perry’s most iconic guitar solos, played on his Gibson Les Paul, a guitar he has become devoted to throughout his career. Perry’s personal number 1 guitar is a genuine ‘59 Standard, serial number 9-0663, which makes it an extremely valuable guitar today.


Final Thoughts on The Les Paul Traditional vs the Les Paul Standard

No matter which Gibson Les Paul you opt for, you’re getting into a guitar with decades of history and heritage. Countless pros have relied on it for their signature sounds, and we have no doubt that countless more will do so in the future.

To help you decide between the Les Paul Traditional, Les Paul Traditional Pro V and the Les Paul Standard/’50s/’60s, you should consider the following; If you’re happy to shop pre owned, and you want a more modern guitar with playability and ergonomics at the forefront, the Les Paul Standard is the better choice. It offers weight relief, locking tuners, and coil splitting/tapping pickups amongst other features, making it a truly modern interpretation. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for more of a classic Les Paul tone, with the huge bottom end, neverending sustain, true PAF tones, and the figured maple top sunburst aesthetic, the Les Paul Traditional is definitely the one you need to go for.

For new guitars, the Les Paul Traditional Pro V is the way to go if you’re looking for something more contemporary. If you’re looking for a more authentic vintage sound and feel, look towards the Standard ‘50s/’60s models.

Simon Morgan

Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and and played the local scene throughout his teen years before life got in the way. Favorite Genres: Blues, Classic Rock, and he’s not ashamed to admit - Emo

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