The Les Paul Express
The Les Paul Express
I have a growing fascination with ¾ sized guitars, it would seem. I purchased a Squier Mini some months ago, and I was impressed by the tones I can get out of it... it in no way sounds 'mini' to me. So with that relatively positive experience under my belt, I was excited by the prospect of owning the Epiphone Les Paul Express. I bought mine at the Fort Wayne campus, along with a Digitech JamMan looper, at the beginning of May 2015. After putting on a fresh set of d'Darrio .10 gauge strings, I proceeded with the setup... first thing I noticed is that the nut is NOT properly cut out of the box... totally acceptable for the price. This is just part of the price you pay for buying a diamond in the rough like this little guy. It wasn't hard to deepen the grooves with a very sharp knife, to the same depth as the nut on my Wildkat, and after an application of Chapstick, the nut performs as well as it probably can for now. Eventually I intend to replace it with something better like graphite or Tusq... that being said about the nut, I found that the tuners work quite adequately, holding tune, and working smoothly. These tuners are a quantum leap in quality compared to the Squier Mini, and a strong reason to choose the Express over the Mini, if you are in the position of having to choose. I am glad to have both however.
The saddles on both guitars are string through designs, identical in setup and operation. I found that on two saddles on the Express (the low E, and the G string), the adjustment screw is so long that it deforms the string when you set the intonation. So far this hasn't resulted in a broken string, but it seems to me that this should have been noticed and corrected quite easily with shorter screws. I find these type of saddles to be adequate, if a bit fiddly, for their purpose, compared to a Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar, but I see no reason to change them, unless it is to get saddles that more closely resemble the Mini's saddles, which can intonate properly without deforming the strings.
Now, the neck. I think that this is probably the nicest feature on the Express. It is as wide as the normal Epiphone necks are, and makes playing far nicer than the toothpick of a neck that the Mini has. That being said, the Mini plays quite nicely as well, but for someone already accustomed to playing Epiphones or Gibsons, this neck will feel really good in your hand.
The pickups sound amazing, particularly for a guitar at this price. While I plan to eventually upgrade these, it is at the bottom of that list. I think a new nut will come first, and then new tuners (14:1 is adequate, but I think I would prefer at least 16:1 Grovers like on my Wildkats), then new saddles. I would actually like to put some P90s in eventually.
In summary, this guitar far exceeds my expectations, which were fairly high, as I am something of an Epiphone fanboy, lol... but I know that despite Epiphone's somewhat (undeserved) sketchy reputation, that the build quality would be high enough to be worthy of at the very least the basic modifications that I am considering. If you do plan on buying this guitar, however, plan on a good pro setup, unless you are willing and able to do so yourself. Half the fun for me is taking underrated gems like these and making them into players... And, as always, working with Sweetwater, specifically Greg Baum, is worth the added expense I have of paying taxes in the state of Indiana. Just being able to roam their beautiful (and currently, vastly expanding) Fort Wayne facility is worth being a loyal customer, let alone as for their world class customer service.