Perhaps The Best Epiphone Les Paul, Ever. Very Good Value.
I had owned a very nice Gibson Les Paul Custom Deluxe, which I purchased brand new with hard case, from a brick and mortar store in 1976. It cost me a whopping $583. Yep! Five hundred eighty three bucks, a sizeable figure in those days, but only a small fraction of what it would cost to buy the equivalent Gibson model today. I don’t recall placing it on a scale, but that Gibson LP was really heavy! It had a relatively wide and thick neck, was beautifully finished in nitro cherry sunburst, gold hardware, and an actual ebony fret board. It had wonderful tone. Unfortunately, I had to sell that guitar during a period of financial downturn. I wanted another, but as prices rose I couldn’t justify the expenditure. Nice Gibson LPs are very pricey today, and I feel that the basic models lack essential elements of quality. Anyway, to satisfy my LP desire I purchased an Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus, in Black Cherry, based on the many positive customer reviews found at numerous online guitar sales sites. The new Epi compares favorably to my cherished Gibson, with nice tone and feel, although the neck is significantly slimmer, with perhaps a bit less solidity, and the weight, which Sweetwater had posted as near 9 pounds, seems lighter (a good thing). In fact, the guitar’s body seems a bit thinner than the Gibson, but that may be my recollection rather than fact. For some reason, Epi LPs have always looked smallish to me. The Epi is well balanced; it feels good due to its narrow, small LP body and short scale, and acoustic guitar players may find it surprisingly comfortable due to the height of the strings over the bridge pickup, and string spacing that feels wider at the bridge than it does on many solid body electrics. Tone is good, and the coil splitting provides a clear, buttery tone that I really like. The big-knobbed Grover tuners feel great on one’s fingers; very comfortable and easy to turn. The mustache headstock is different than on some other Epi guitars, and it doesn’t look awkwardly long! In fact, this headstock looks Right! Epi would be wise to use this headstock and tuner combination on the entire line. Overall, the Epi’s finish is quite nice, and appears durable. The case, while not protective enough for an airline’s cargo hold, seems sturdy, lightweight, and easy to carry. It has a small accessory pocket for strings, tuner, and strap. It is lockable, cradles the instrument better than most gig bags, has an angled and padded back support, and offers some knock protection. Unfortunately, the case I received must have been very new, and it stunk something awful, probably from the glue used to affix the lining material. I had to remove the guitar and allow the case to air out for a couple of weeks, safely propped open, and with a few dryer sheets inside. The case smells better now, but you’d never mistake it for a rose bouquet. The guitar had gone through Sweetwater’s 55-Point Checkup, and all of the pots and knobs and parts seemed to be in good shape. Everything worked, but the guitar needed setup tweaking. The truss rod required adjustment, the bridge was a little high, and the intonation was off on several strings. The fret board needed cleaning, as evidenced by the staining of my fingertips during the first 10 days of ownership. The setup adjustments are simple, and anyone with hands and patience can do them. However, the guitar would not stay in tune, even after playing and stretching the strings for a week. It seems that friction at the nut and the bridge saddles was preventing free movement of the strings while tuning, so the strings would tune to pitch, but relax during play, and notes would go flat. The stock strings have good tone, but are wound somewhat abrasively, and a more tightly woven string set would probably have been a better factory choice. This Epi uses an ABR-1 type of bridge, similar to those on older Gibsons, but the saddles’ casting and string slots are somewhat rough. Why the manufacturer didn’t make an effort to eliminate nut and saddle friction is anyone’s guess, but a few minutes' effort on the owner’s part is well rewarded. If you’re having issues with the guitar holding tune, you might do as I’ve done. Try nut lube under the strings at the nut and saddles first, and if that doesn’t solve the tuning issue, you might smooth the nut and saddle slots lightly using fine abrasive cord from StewMac or another source. If that effort, with the lube afterward, still doesn’t do the trick, you might replace the nut and/or saddles with Graphtech items. I bought a Graphtec nut and may install it, but it doesn’t seem necessary now after smoothing and lube. If the saddles are loose, you can source small springs to install over the screws ahead of the saddles, but first assure that the bridge wire is seated in place. After the nut and bridge components, the only other likely reason for not holding tune would be loose tuners, and there is no apparent slack in the Grovers on my guitar. The guitar’s price, while higher than many other Epi guitars, is fair for what you get, especially when compared to the Gibson-branded LPs. In my personal opinion, this particular model Epiphone is a genetic member of the Gibson family. It uses Gibson parts and has Gibson tone. I’d prefer a slightly thicker neck, but that’s personal preference from owning Martin acoustic guitars, and most will like the modern slim-taper of the Epi neck, as it is both smooth and fast. Overall quality of this Epi Les Paul Tribute Plus is high, and it feels and sounds like a mid-range Gibson Les Paul. In fact, the only thing that may dissuade customers from buying is the country of manufacture. I almost didn’t buy this guitar simply because Epiphone doesn’t build it in North America, and we’ve lost too many manufacturing jobs to inexpensive labor markets overseas. I had to justify my purchase by rationalizing that an American retailer would benefit from the sale. Would I rather have a Gibson inlay on the headstock? You bet, but if value and quality for money spent is what you’re after, then you’ve found it in this Epiphone, imported or not.