Great Value for Money, can modify it for even better results.
I recently bought the Honeyburst Epiphone Les Paul Standard Pro made in China. So far, I'm really happy with it. Quality is great, plays well and sounds good. I had a really close look at the Gibson Les Pauls to see what you get for paying five times as much. I cannot see a readily discernible difference in quality doing a visual inspection. So hat's off to Gibson for making a great product for people on a budget. Even if there were NO differences between the two brands, people with money will still want the US-made Les Paul because of the history and pedigree.
At my local store, I looked really closely at the neck relief and action (i.e. string height) and bridge height between the Epi and Gibson Les Pauls, and I see lots of sample to sample variations on both. The neck is such that to get the factory Gibson 3/64 and 5/64 string height (1st string to 6th string) on both Gibson and Epi, the resulting bridge height varies from sample to sample, and with many samples I checked (yes, I used a metal ruler to measure string height), you could lower the bridge all the way down and either just barely get to factory string height or not at all (that's right, not at all). I also noticed fret buzz on both Epi and Gibson at the same string height.So there's definitely sample to sample variation here with respect to the neck and or body. Note that Epi's standard string height is a little higher than Gibson, but offhand, I cannot think of a reason not to lower it to Gibson specs, and I have so lowered my strings.
The tribute model doesn't come with a pickguard. I thought about it, but decided a pickguard is a must. I never hit the finish with a pick, but without a pickguard the last three fingers of my right hand would touch and rub the finish, so over the course of time, there will be wear marks. Some say it'll show your love of playing, as you will have been caressing it for years, instead of keeping it for show and tel. I just think it'll look old.
So I would suggest people do a careful inspection before they buy. I feel fortunate so far to get a guitar sample that seems to be constructed well. I was looking to see if there was anything around in my local guitar store that was better (before the 30 day return policy expires) but couldn't find it. With all the Gibson Les Paul snobbery (I guess anyone with a Gibson will insist upon its superiority to the Epi), I know from personal inspection there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Epi. As far as tone goes, as long as you play distorted (as opposed to clean), it's all about amp tone, not guitar tone, and you will not be able to discern guitar tone. I would expect a slight difference in tone due to the slight differences in construction between the Gibson and Epi (former has maple, the latter only a veneer) if you run the amp completely clean. But note that this Epi has a solid mahogany back, so you get that much closer to the original sound compared with a weight-relieved version.
So in summary, to all those with an Epi Les Paul and worried people will look down upon them for not having the US version, I say forget it, concentrate on making the music, and feel good that you were a wise shopper to purchase something that offers great value for money.
Update: Some of the bridge screws started to vibrate because the retaining wire wasn't pressing against them enough. So I removed the wire with needlenose pliars and bend it in a U-shape so that it would press more against the bridge. It does the trick, but I think the Epiphone bridge (it says Epiphone on the back) is inferior in design to the Gibson one, which has springs on each screw.
I installed 8-38 strings (really good for people who have or are worried about getting tendonitis - don't worry about tone, because as long as you're playing distorted, it all sounds the same), and found that when setting intonation (I used the tuner on my Line 6 Spider 4 amp), the 3rd string couldn't be tuned fully because the saddle had reached full travel. So I removed the wire, removed the saddle, turned it around, and re-installed.
I tried replacing the stock knobs with the Gibson knobs. Won't work. The knobs cannot be seated low to the body, in other words, they stick up too high from the body. Also, you need a lot of strength to push the knobs onto the pot stems that I felt you're risking damage to the pots. Moreover, when you try to remove the stock knobs from the push-pull pots, the stem will come off completely from the pot, and when you click it back on, it's not so secure anymore so that when you pull the knob in normal operation, the whole stem will come off again. So as much as one would like the speed dial knobs, it doesn't work. Just stick with the stock knobs. On the bright side, they look like the vintage 1959 les paul knobs. By the way, if you don't like the positioning of thr stock knobs, you can adjust them. For instance, you can push them all the down so they actually touch the body, or bring them up really high (so it's easier to grip for pulling up) and if they appear warped when you turn the knobs, you can just apply some sideways pressure at the edge to straighten out the knobs.
The screw head on the lower part of the pick guard is not flush with the pick guard. It sits up a little, so it maye bother your hand when it brushes against it. When I get a chance, I will take the pick guard apart and countersink the hole a little (be careful) so that the screw head sits more flush.
Update: I replaced the stock strap button with Schaller Nickel ones (by the way, the hardware on this guitar is nickel-plated, not chrome-plated - Nickel has a yellowish color, and chrome a bluish color). Because the Schaller screws are thinner, I had to drill the Schaller button hole and file down the Epiphone screw so that I could use the Epi screw).
I also replaced the big screw in the middle of the pick guard, because on Epi and Gibson LPs, that screw sticks out, it's not flush. So I put in a smaller screw so it's not sticking out.
I replaced the bridge with the Gotoh GE103BT (remember to get the nickel one, not the chrome), because the stock bridge may buzz from the loose screws caused by the retaining wire being a little loose. Very nice new bridge, no buzzing to worry about. You simply remove the stock bridge and bridge pins (don't remove the metal hole connectors in the guitar because it will damage the wood holes). Screw in the Gotoh bridge pins and put the Gotoh bridge on top. One thing I noticed is that the underside of the Epi bridge which contacts the bridge pins is rough with flashing from the injection molding, so this may impact the tonal quality. I sense that the sound improves by being more solid and powerful with the new bridge.
In case you're wondering, the Epi bridge pins fit snugly into the holes of the Epi guitar so that if you turn the guitar upside down, it probably won't fall out. But the Gotoh bridge pins have some play in the Gotoh bridge. You can't move the bridge once you're strung up, and I suppose the reason Gotoh did this is to help with installation for those whose guitar bridge holes weren't drilled accurately.
The neck pickup went virtually dead one day...two weeks after I bought the guitar. What little volume there was could be controlled by the bridge pup volume knob. This happened intermittently a few more times, so I opened up the back, removed and reconnected the three mechanical connectors many times each to help clean the contacts, used alcohol as well on the connectors, and the problem is now solved. So beware that the connectors are a weak link in the electrical chain because it's a mechanical connection as opposed to a hard solder joint.