So, a couple of weeks ago I’m killing some time in GC, and I start talking to a guy who is looking for his first nice and cheap Gibson. Not exactly analogous, but we start looking at the bottom of the line and work our way up. There are some nice choices out there these days for under a grand. We get up to the Les Paul Traditional Pro and I start admiring the damn thing. Just for grins I play the thing, and it is very well built, and sounded good acoustically. Then one of the better sales guys in the store tells us about the new Trad Pro II with the boost circuit and push/push pots. Plus, it also has the coil split features. New item...None in stock…yet (bummer). I tell the guy, “that is a good guitar at a good price, but wait for the Pro II”. (he does)
Well, damn! I start to think about these, and the idea of a “tool box” beater Les Paul grows on me. I already have my 50th Anniversary Historic R0 with flame and full gloss finish to die for, and it is loaded with ThroBaks and has all upgraded hardware, but who wants to beat on that investment piece? Not me! So I start looking on the web for a store that has one of these new LPTPII models. Found one with a 60’s neck on the way home from work…great! Stopped in and didn’t expect much. There it was…ugly tobacco with a 60’s neck. Nice guitar, overall, but I’m not sold on the color. Average tone, and even though I’m a slim neck kinda guy, the neck was pretty good. Have another one here I can try?
Uhhhh…Then something happened that changed my life forever. There it was. A used Les Paul Traditional Pro II 50’s neck up on the wall that was a nice cherry burst color. I’m not a fat neck fan, but I’ll give it a go. Looks nice. The darker red color on the back and neck is just gorgeous. The moment I put that thing in my hands, felt the neck, and heard the tone and sustain (acoustically) out of that thing, I KNEW it was something special. It “spoke to me”, but it also felt better than any of my other Gibbys. I played the thing for a couple of hours and then “put it on my Spark card”.
When I got it home, I pre-adjusted the pickup height, and I plugged it into my amp for a proper demo. The earth moved for me. Shit! A few more pickup tweaks and…That’s it! That is the old Les Paul sound that I never thought I could ever own. This is no honeymoon phase, and I am serious about this. No new LP I ever heard made this tinderbox honk. It has that special midrange honk that I have heard all my life (going back to the late 60’s). It’s that dry old wood quality that sounds like the wood would “burst” into flames if it got too close to a heat source. No new Lester I have ever owned, or played, came anywhere close to this. This is a fluke (or is it?). And the neck has this perfect roundness to it that feels like a real ’59 neck. Most comfy neck I have to date. And the radius is different…almost like 13 degrees, or something flatter feeling. Nice rolled edges, too. Fantastic low action like old Gibson guitars. The rosewood on this is awesome! The PLEK is great with no “pinging” in the well-cut nut. And the neck finish (now glossy from being played) feels like golden era finish. None of that plastic feeling crap, and no gummy feel either. No buildup on this finish. How is that possible? Very different from my other Gibbys. I scored a home run!
Here are some obligatory pics (we all love those), and I’ll continue my review after.
It has some nice blistering going on, but the burnt orange color is not as nice as what I would want. Minor thing, but I might see if Kim could do the top to look like this real '60 burst:
That would be killer! I love that yellow center. I digress...
It came setup to perfection (nice I didn't have to do it) with new GHS strings on it. The sales guy (Russ…good guy…knows his stuff) said he set it up with 10’s. Felt like 9’s to me, but I got some mileage out of them and changed them out to my usual Elixir 10’s. Holy crap!!! Could it get any better? The punch just came up a couple of notches. It is now even better. Perfect balance, and that old type honk is still there in spades, but now with force behind it. It delivers 200%. After a complete setup, I start to evaluate the coil splits and boost circuit. Here are my thoughts about the electronics:
The Classic 57 and Super 57 pickups sound great! Will I try my ThroBaks in this guitar? Yes, I think so…just for shits and giggles. The bloom may come in time with age on the 57’s. I’m starting to hear that on my older guitars loaded with 57’s. Besides, good is good. How much better could it be?
The coil taps were originally set up to keep the inside coils active while grounding out the outside coils. Do I like that sound? Not especially. Maybe on the bridge pickup, but I wanted to try reversing that, so I did. The red wires now go to ground and the black wires to the pots. Big difference! It can approach the Strat neck tone…now. The single coil bridge tone is a bit thin. I think I want to put another push/push pot on the bridge pickup (tone control location) to reverse it back for the other tone option. Come to think of it, this will give me an “out of phase” option when using both pickups together. (Trad Pro III ?) I will try this soon and report back.
My amp and effects rig has more gain then I will ever need, so the boost circuit really was not something I needed, but why not if it is included? Might be useful for sitting in on some gigs with dull sounding generic run-of-the-mill modern Marshall amps (laughs). This circuit is actually pretty neat. I do find it useful. You have to adjust the trim pot inside the control cavity to balance the tone some. Too low and you lose bass. Too high and it turns to mush. Somewhere in between you get a full low end with a bit more crunch bite, and that is where I find it beneficial. Now the classic LP tone turns to metal crunch tone with extra gain. Cool!
Another plus is that I don’t have to change out the tone caps. It looks like they used tantalum “blue drop” caps, and they sound great. Little suckers, but I couldn’t improve that tone at all. I can even get some thick Reverend Billy juice going when dialed back to about 5 or 6, or so. Good choice, Gibson!
The pots are not the best (a little loose), but get the job done. Does CTS make push/push pots? I doubt it. The volume pots kick in some good LP tone when dialed back, and at full volume the tone is wide open. I like 8.25 volume or so on the lead pickup for mid gain and tone. Dimed, I like between 7.5 and 9.0 on tone, but the crunch is amazing with everything open. The tone balance of this guitar is as good as it gets. I have never had one this perfect. No tone holes, odd peaks or defects!
There is one more thing I want to do to this guitar to make it the ultimate tool box. Some are going to hate what I’m about to say. Can you guess what it is?
Yes…a robot tuner. I have a generation 1 Tronical system on my V, and it is a bit slow, but the new Min-ETune system is smaller and loads much faster. I watched the YT vids on this new system and I like the way it advances a rough estimate into the next tuning selection before you even strum a note for fine-tuning. Much better than the older system. With the solid 50’s neck on this guitar I think the different tunings will work fine without the neck relief going too far out.
In conclusion, this may not look like an exact recreation of a ’59 Les Paul, but it sounds like a real one to me. I don’t understand it. No long neck tenon, two piece back (9 ½ pounds…weight relieved?), and chrome Nashville bridge plus standard zamack tailpiece. This is not vintage hardware! But who cares? The locking Grovers look nice and work very well, and the guitar build quality is flawless. Gibson must have taken note here and started doing it right. Maybe they used hot hide glue or a non-condom truss rod…or something. Whatever happened here, it works! And the price was less then $2K. Since mine was used, I basically stole it at much less than that. But sorry…this is not going to be beat on! With the Min-ETune installed it will be a workhorse, though. One of two or three I would take to gigs, and probably #1 if I didn’t need a whammy bar.
Go try one of these if you get the chance. It’s a good choice with a lot of features that make a good Les Paul even better. It’s a no-brainer. Gibson did this one right.
PS – One point of contention: Why can’t I find the specs on Gibson’s web site. Info on the build is scarce on the net. It would be nice to know ALL of the details.