Gibson Les Paul vs Epiphone Les Paul: features and differences

Gibson Les Paul vs Epiphone Les Paul: features and differences
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In this review we make a detailed comparison between the Gibson Les Paul Standard vs. your budget version of Epiphone. We do a deep analysis of the differences and their relevance, breaking down all the myths and telling you the truth about the differences between these great guitars.

The legendary and unique Les Paul tone

Everyone knows very well that if you want to get that fat, sweet sound from Slash, Gary Moore, Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, and so many other guitarists, you need a Les Paul. The Paula is an instrument used by guitarists of all genres, from blues and jazz to rock and metal, such as Zakk Wylde. But not always our pocketbook has the capacity to face an investment of several thousand dollars. This is where we wonder if with an Epiphone we can get the same results.

Undoubtedly this is one of the most controversial and most debated topics by guitarists and that is found a lot in any guitar forum around the world. 

Gibson acquired Epiphone in 1957, which was a competitor that was at a similar level in quality. From that moment on, Epi became Gibson’s second brand, and today it is the budget version for those who do not get to a “real” Les Paul.

Gibson Les Paul Standard

Comparison between Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul specs

Both models have detailed specifications on their respective websites. While we take the current features of the Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul, they are changing over the years. But these differences are generally subtle, so in order to analyze the differences between the two instruments, beyond the year of manufacture, this analysis will also help us. Let’s see the overview of the key specifications of both models:

Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul Standard Specs Comparison Chart.

As you can see, there are no big variations in the specifications of both brands to the naked eye. But let’s dive a little deeper into the specs and features of each of the musical instruments, and find out what real differences are, which are important, and which are not.

Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul prices

On Gibson’s website the Les Paul Standard has a sale price of USD 2,499, while on Epiphone’s website the Les Paul Standard has a value of USD 599. In line with the value of a high-end and a mid-to-low-end musical instrument respectively.

Epiphone Les Paul Standard

Objective: identify which one meets your needs

When we compare these two guitars only with the price, we have a big difference between them, and based on this we can define expectations regarding each one. Let’s take a closer look at the different specifications of these cool musical instruments, and see what causes this huge price difference and find out whether or not it is really justified for you.

It is important that we analyze this from the personal perspective of each one, while some may be mere students, others may be professional guitarists. The needs and requirements that each one may have for an instrument can change radically, therefore, we will not find a single answer, but there will be as many answers, as there are guitarists with different characteristics.

Woods used by Gibson and Epiphone

Les Paul Body and Neck

Mahogany, the wood that Gibson uses for body and neck, is a relatively expensive species, with outstanding audio in the mids and lows, but not in highs. For this reason, in its design it is added the maple top, another high cost wood, especially the flamed type used in high-end instruments, to add high frequencies and thus obtain the brightness and definition of mahogany. does not have. 

The Epiphone Les Paul Standard features neither a mahogany nor a maple top like the Gibson. Use Luan or other mahogany substitutes, and a decorative sheet of flamed maple normally. Although it has a similar tone, the tonal differences for a developed ear are noticeable, especially in clean audios, while in audios with Drive or Distortion, these tonal differences are really very difficult to identify.

Mahogany-like Epiphone wood with a striped pattern.
Mahogany-like Epiphone wood with a striped pattern.

Guitar storage box

Regarding the storage room, we cannot confirm the material currently used by Epiphones. Although in some places it reads that Epi has been using Pao Ferro. 

In recent years, the rosewood movement has become incredibly difficult with the requirement of CITES paperwork and the use of certain types of rosewood has been banned. However, this restriction was partially lifted at the end of last year -2019- for which we cannot confirm how the Company will proceed in this regard.

The Pao Ferro is a sustainable wood replacement from South America, which looks and feels similar to rosewood with a few minor differences, such as a tighter grain resulting in a slightly brighter shade. We could say that this species of wood is tonally between rosewood -rosewood- and ebony -ebony-.

Conclusions of the wood comparison

It should come as no surprise that here we find the most important difference between the two guitars, since it is the basic raw material of the musical instrument.

Using different woods for a really trained ear can be very important. While for an untrained one, such as a beginning student, these differences will be very difficult to identify, especially if it is played with saturated audios.

Characteristics of the guitar neck

The frets on both guitars are Medium Jumbo in size, giving you that nice, tight, low-action feel that allows you to stretch -bending- the strings at the 12 “radius fingerboards on both models.

Nibs in Gibson neck.
Nibs in the valances of Gibson guitars

A more aesthetic than functional detail is that the Gibson has nibs, plastic edges of the valance that continue as an extension of the fret, while the Epiphone the fret continues until the height of the binding. Although for a fanatic of aesthetics it may be considered something relevant, for us, this difference is not.

One difference to consider at the tonal and tuning level is the nut, while Gibson uses Graphtech, Epiphone uses plastic. This does mean a tonal difference and better tuning, since the graphite allows the string to slide better and does not bind. Luckily, the nut is an easy upgrade to do on a low cost Epiphone.

Epiphone neck, frets and valances without nibs
Epiphone fretboard, frets and valances without nibs

Finishes, a factor many times ignored

After woods, this is probably the most important difference and it cannot be reversed, at least at a low cost.

Finish Tonal function

The most important difference is that in a high-end musical instrument, the finish fulfills not only a protective and aesthetic function, but a more important one, which is a tonal function. For this reason, the big brands consider it a critical and fundamental process, which makes the quality of the instrument.

While there are many who claim that nitrocellulose is better than polyurethane for tonal purposes, there is a fairly general consensus that the greatest tonal difference is generated by the thickness of the final lacquer layer, while the material used itself influences in a minor way.

Of course, nitro has a better aesthetic, and surely better musical properties, but we believe that the relevant difference between a well finished instrument and a badly finished one is more in the thickness of the paint than in anything else. Thus, a thin layer will allow the guitar cabinet to resonate and vibrate better, while a thicker layer will function as a formwork that limits its vibrations regardless of whether it is Nitro or Poly.

Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plus Top
Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plus Top

High-end guitar finishes vs mid- and low-end instruments

Making fine finishes requires a more skilled and more expensive workforce. The finishing process consists of painting, sanding and polishing. With thick layers you have a greater margin when sanding and polishing, without the risk of exposing a lower layer of lacquer or even the wood of the body and neck itself.

In this way, the low and medium range instruments usually tend to have thicker layers of paint, since they are not made by qualified personnel and more sophisticated tools as a fine finish requires.

So the finish on the Gibson Les Paul Standard is not only better because it uses nitrocellulose lacquer, while the Epiphone Les Paul Standard uses polyurethane lacquer. But, fundamentally, for the quality of the process and the consequent thickness of the paint.

Gibson Les Paul Standard Heritage Cherry Sunburst
Gibson Les Paul Standard Heritage Cherry Sunburst

Guitar hardware

Tune-o-Matic Bridge

The bridge, without a doubt, is the hardware that most influences the tone of the instrument.

While at first glance the hardware looks similar, the difference between these two sets of hardware is important and lies in the quality of construction and materials used. Gibson’s ABR-1 Tune-o-matic bridge is constructed of better alloys than Epiphone, positively impacting the tone and sustain of the guitar.

Gibson Les Paul ABR-1 Tune-o-matic bridge
Gibson Les Paul ABR-1 Tune-o-matic bridge

Lower cost hardware is often die cast with a zinc alloy that is softer than the typical steel hardware found in more expensive guitars. Thus, the zinc alloy hardware will be softer and plated with stainless steel. This will reduce the sustain and high frequencies. On the contrary, the stainless steel hardware is harder and will have better sustain and will bring out the high frequencies better.

Tuners Machine and Pegs

The tuners are also better quality on the Gibbie. While the Epiphone Grovers are not bad, they are not of high quality and are below the Vintage Deluxe used by Gibson, this does not impact the tone of the instrument, but it does affect the tuning of the instrument, an aspect by no means minor.

Les Paul electronics

A very important aspect of guitars, and often overlooked, is electronics. Electronics have a high impact on tone, not just because of the pickups, but also the pots and capacitors. So much so, that fans of vintage instruments pay fortunes for these components from the 50’s and early 60’s.

Pickups

PAF type pickups on a Gibson Les Paul.

It is not necessary to clarify that it is where more tonal differences can be generated within everything that is the electronics of the instrument. So, this is another important aspect where Gibson clearly stands out above Epiphone. While some components may be of medium-high quality on Asian guitars, the main electronic component, which is the pickup, is Epiphone brand, inferior in quality to Gibson.

Capacitors and Potentiometers

All five capacitors tested, a combination of old models and NOS

The same can be said for Capacitors. The Gibson is equipped with a set of Orange Drops caps that are considered the standard when it comes to chasing tone. The Epiphone will once again have lower priced and generic capacitors installed.

On the side of the Potentiometers, both guitars have a good quality of products, making the difference in this component not relevant.

Capacitors for guitar controls.

Conclusion on electronics

Lower priced guitars may sound muffled, not as bright, and fuzzy relative to higher priced ones.

The audio is less defined and more pasty, meaning that the audio of the different strings is mixed, losing quality and dynamics of the audio.

However, do not worry about this difference, as this can be easily corrected and not by too much money. You can buy a good quality PAF type pickup set and some brand name capacitors and have your Epi improve its audio noticeably, approaching the tone of the Gibbie.

Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plus Top.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plus Top

Accessories and other

Gibson always includes a hard case with their tall models like the Les Paul Standard. This is reflected in the price. Epiphone does not provide a case, with few exceptions. But of course, it can be purchased separately if you want to protect your precious Les Paul. The quality of both cases is excellent and quite similar.

The addition of a case would be a nice “touch”, however this would mean a price increase of approximately $ 100. In any case, you can buy rigid cases of the brand or not, to properly care for your instrument.

The Gibson Les Paul also includes an accessory pack containing a truss rod adjustment tool and some cleaning supplies. The Epiphone Les Paul only contains the tensioner adjustment tool. Clearly, this is not a relevant difference.

Summary and comparison of Gibson vs Epiphone

After comparing these two guitars side by side, have we found differences to justify the difference in price? As we anticipated at the beginning of the analysis, there really is no single answer.

An underdeveloped ear like that of a beginning student will not really enjoy the quality differences between the two instruments, while an experimenting ear will feel these differences clearly and noticeably. So, in principle, we can say that if you are a student, the difference in silver will not be justified, while a professional or experienced guitarist will consider that it is worth the additional expense to get a “real” Les Paul.

Of course, if you have the ability to afford a Gibson Les Paul, then buy it for yourself. Even if you don’t feel the differences today, in time you will. 

Gibson Les Paul Standard

On the contrary, if you want a Paula but your budget is limited, don’t worry. The Epiphone version will serve you very well. In addition, with a not very significant investment you can achieve great results. An additional $ 100 to $ 200 will go a long way toward getting good quality pickups like Gibson, DiMarzio, or Seymour Duncan. This will dramatically improve the tone of the guitar. You can also add other modifications, such as bridge changes, capacitors and even a nut that will allow you to further improve the tone of your viola.

So, beyond the objective factors, there is a subjective factor, your hearing, your taste, your fingers. Thus, although this guide is a fundamental step for you to make the correct choice, the most important step of all is that you test the guitars and decide based on what you feel and hear from each one. Even a Gibson Les Paul can sound better than the other, and so can the Epiphone. Even a Gibbie may not inspire you at all, and an Epi may make you feel an attraction that makes you not want to let go of the guitar.

For more information, head over to Gibson.

Related Articles: Epiphone Les Paul Standard Tribute 1960 – Review.

You can share opinions or also chat about this and more with other musicians in our comments section.


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2 thoughts on “Gibson Les Paul vs Epiphone Les Paul: features and differences

  1. Have owned 2 Gibson SG’S. I recently bought an Epiphone SGstandard 1961 re-issue with tremelo arm and was surprised how similar the two are. The updated tremolo was comparible to my Fender strat. I use a line 6 amp so with the variation of sounds the quality rivals the Gibson for a quarter the price. I’m sold and happy with my choice

    1. Patrick, I had a SG Epiphone G-400 with a SD Aph-2 (Slash) set, and it really sound great!
      I have the feeling that the Epi SG gets closer to the Gibson sound than the Les Paul ones.

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