Will Gibson’s newest Les Paul stand up to our strict standards?
Overview & Final Score: 8.6
Well the day has finally come where Gibson has sent me a guitar to review. Quick personal tangent, this guitar really makes me feel like I “made it” in the guitar review world. Nevertheless, Gibson’s rise in 2020 started on the back of the Epiphone re-launch and continues here with the new 2020 line of USA models. Gibson’s Les Paul Studio 2020 is powered by coil tapped 490R and 498T humbuckers with otherwise standard wiring configuration (2 tone, 2 volume, 3-way selector). The Mahogany body is even weight relieved beneath the figured Maple top, making it a real comfortable departure from heavy LP’s of the past.
The Mahogany neck features a return to Rosewood fretboards (yes!) and 22 medium jumbo frets. The neck shape is a slim taper, that still feels like a classic Gibson, just with a bit more utility and comfort than your vintage baseball bat. I fortunately received one featuring the gorgeous “Smokehouse Burst” finish featuring gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. This LP Studio sports Grover Rotomatic tuners, Gibson’s Nashville tune-o-matic and stop bar tailpiece, and a lovely soft shell case as well.
No surprise here, it sounds like a Gibson Les Paul and I mean that as a compliment! The neck pickup is creamy, bluesy, and has all that warm goodness we’ve come to associate with Gibson. While it is no ’59 burst, these LP Studio guitars really sound like the real deal, even though they are the more affordable end of Gibson USA. While this guitar is weight relieved, I didn’t really feel any loss of sustain or resonance compared to other, full weight Gibson’s I’ve played.
The bridge is obviously more bright and aggressive, and in my opinion provides the real Gibson tone that I’ve always loved and tried to emulate. Huge, classic tones pour out easily from Led Zeppelin to The Clash and everything in between. Gibson seems to have (rightfully) prioritized a return to the vintage blues and rock basis that made the brand famous. This guitar is perfect for the sounds you expect to get from it, and honestly had a few atmospheric licks up its sleeve. However, it definitely isn’t the most versatile guitar for maybe clean Jazz sounds or rhythmic chiming sounds. But if you’re buying a Les Paul Studio from Gibson you probably know what you’re getting and will not be disappointed! Oh and the in-between setting on the 3-way selector switch was maybe the best I’ve ever heard from a Les Paul. I usually strictly avoid that setting but it was a real charm here.
Lastly I want to speak about the coil cuts. It is a really great feature that they’ve included here as it certainly makes the Studio a bit more versatile, but they weren’t the most impressive. The neck one sounded far more “coil split”-like than the bridge one. In fact, I could barely tell the bridge cut was anything more than a volume reduction. Not a major problem, but just something to think about and maybe I just got a dud.
Les Pauls have not always won me over because of their feel and Gibson has a well recorded history of quality control and tuning stability issues. However, this guitar has far superior tuning stability to my 2011 Gibson Les Paul. I was really happy to see this and I assume it is because they’ve put more effort into perfecting the nut and how it is cut on each model. Furthermore, the G string still goes out of tune fairly often, which is just a known and respected flaw in Les Paul construction. This isn’t ideal, but I can certainly live with it in return for the huge upgrade in playability on my older Les Paul. The action was great out of the box, and I really liked the feel of the slim taper neck. It sat comfortably in my hands, with some of that baseball bat chunkiness as you move around the neck.
Finish & Construction: 9
This is where Gibson is really making me happy in 2020. This Les Paul Studio is just built so much better than some of the 2010’s Gibson guitars that I’ve played and owned. The fretwork was great, the finish was spotless, the nut was cut correctly. Everything seems to be pointing towards increased quality control coming out of Gibson. Their PR faults aside, this certainly made me think that Gibson is on its way back to the top of the guitar world. Even if the guitar is far from the perfection of higher end Gibson models, it feels so good to get an off the shelf, relatively affordable Les Paul with a Gibson logo that feels great. The lightweight construction also should appeal to many players (like myself) who prefer to swing a light Fender guitar around the stage. Smokehouse Burst is also just such a beautiful finish, with more depth and nuance to the color than I’ve seen on older burst models. I’ve been super critical of Gibson but they earned praise with this one.
To be fair, there are some many great Les Paul guitars out there for less than the price of a Gibson. That Howl Sirena 3 I reviewed is one of them. However, I’m ultimately impressed with how Gibson seems to have put the attention to detail back into these lower priced Studios. While Les Paul studios have typically been the biggest offenders during Gibson’s leaner years, they got this one right. Overall you can get a real Gibson Les Paul with only a few minor, modern upgrades, for under $1500. That’s a win for everyone who can’t afford Customs, reissues, or vintage Gibson’s. Sometimes the name on the headstock does matter and if that is the case for you, Gibson has worked towards winning you back with this 2020 Les Paul Studio.
Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, High Gain, Players Looking For Lightweight Les Paul, Versatile Players