Will Epiphone’s latest collaboration with the popular blues man impress or leave me turning back to the sea of LPs out there?
Cost: $799.00 from Reverb.com
Overview & Final Score: 8 out of 10
Another year, another Joe Bonamassa and Epiphone collaboration! While this partnership may not be on the cutting edge of things, they did churn out a wonderfully high quality here. Their take on the Black Beauty Les Paul features 3 ProBucker humbuckers, standard LP volume and tone pots, and a 3-way selector switch. What separates it from a normal wiring harness is that the middle position is the neck and middle humbucker, out of phase with each other. Turning to the hardware side of things, a Locktone bridge and tailpiece pair nicely with Epiphone’s Historic tuners and a dual action truss rod. Sporting a Mahogany body and neck, the fretboard is Ebony, with 22 medium jumbo frets, ivory binding, and a Graphtech NuBone nut. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive spec sheet and stunning looks with the gold binding and hardware accenting the dark black body, neck, and headstock. I’m a big fan of the pearloid block inlays.
The unquestioned highlight of this guitar is the sound. Epiphone knocked it out of the park with these ProBucker pickups, which are sweet and rich sounding. I really like the middle position, which is the Black Beauty mod, providing a bit more aggressive, almost cranked single coil-like sound. Despite being not as thick of a sound as the humbucker neck tones, it still really cuts through the mix well when soloing over some chords or a riffs. When it comes to the more traditional neck and bridge settings, you get exactly what you want. It sounds so close to real deal Gibson Les Paul and is just incredibly satisfying to play when plugged into a cranked amp. Truth be told, this was a lot like the Epiphone Les Paul Modern I played in that it sounds a lot better than some Gibson’s I’ve tried. It’s full of sustain and natural projection and the pickups are noise free. I think the demo really speaks for itself, the guitar just sounds amazing under all sorts of gain and effects or just clean into a sparkling Vox amp.
The action was phenomenal out of the box, which really impressed me considering Epiphone has recently had spotty set ups. On the same topic, there were no high frets, no fret buzz, and the neck was smooth up and down the fretboard. As always, the tuning stability wasn’t perfect, it really never is on any Les Pauls, but it was certainly stage ready. I’m sure someone would argue for locking tuners to be added, but the nut was well cut and the neck was straight which means the tuning problems aren’t from lack of build quality. Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty is comfortable to play though, and doesn’t even feel all too heavy when strapped and played standing up. It’s definitely a beast of a guitar, but it’s an easy beast to tame.
Finish & Construction: 8
Similar to the playability, there’s a lot to like here. It’s not only gorgeous, with the gold and black aesthetic making look like something out of the Gibson Custom Shop. You really don’t sacrifice any of the fit, feel, or finish with this Epiphone and it’s more than quenching my vintage Gibson thirst. Make no mistake, this is a premium guitar for a sub-$1000 price. Epiphone’s haven’t always been this high quality, and this one feels likely to take a beating in the studio or on stage. I’m afraid a lot of the audience who would want this guitar will keep it more for wall art/collection purposes, but the Black Beauty is a player’s guitar at a very appealing price point. Digging in deeper, the finish was spotless and so was the binding, with real attention to detail and no signs of poorly routed wood or cut binding.
Part of me is a big fan of the price point and quality, because this is something that’s really been missing from the Gibson family of brands. It hits that MIM Fender-area where you can get everything you could ever want from a domestic, high end guitar but under $1000. On the other hand, as great as this guitar is, it isn’t necessarily all that exciting and it’s not nearly as 21st century player-friendly as the Les Paul Modern was.
It’s a step back in time, which is great. Obviously that’s Joe Bonamassa’s schtick, so it just loses a point or two in my opinion because Epiphone/Gibson weren’t already lacking guitars that were a step back in time. But you are getting a phenomenal guitar at the end of the day with this Black Beauty, which could go toe to toe with any Gibson LP Studio for way less money. Plus, you do get an absolutely killer hard case! There’s a lot to like and I certainly would love to add this to my quiver,
Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Collectors, Cash Strapped-Gibson Fans, High Gain/Metal Players