Gibson Les Paul Classic Premium Plus: Flametop Wonder

By Mike Slubowski

Click on images to enlarge

A lot has been written about the history of the Les Paul Classic model in Tony Bacon’s books on the Les Paul model. As history goes, J.T. Riboloff of the Custom Shop had been approached by a lot of players who asked him to build special one-off Les Pauls with slimmer profile necks as found on the 1960 Standard. After consultation with Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson’s CEO, a production version appeared in 1990. Classics had many features of reissue Les Pauls, including a smaller headstock, nickel hardware, ABR-1 bridge, Kluson style tuners, and vintage style knobs. For the first few years they did have the thin binding in the cutaway, but that changed by approximately 1993. To meet the demands of modern musicians seeking a high output sound, the Classics were equipped with hot 496R and 500T ceramic magnet pickups.

The original Classics had the decal inscription “Les Paul Model” on the headstock, but later (approximately 1993) were switched to “Les Paul Classic” because of the confusion between these guitars and the 1960 Reissue Les Paul (to become a Historic Division model in 1993).
The original intention for the Classic model was to have rather plain tops, but given player demand for figured tops, the Classic Plus (with “AA” grade flame tops) and Classic Premium Plus models (with “AAA” grade flame tops) were introduced in 1992/93. The “AAA” tops were supposed to be the most highly figured, with flame going from edge to edge, although there are some Classic Plus models with outstanding flame tops that rival their Classic Premium Plus brethren.

Accounts vary on the exact start and end years, but the Les Paul Classic Premium Plus was introduced in the 1993 time frame, discontinued in 1997, and reintroduced from 1999 through 2001. Colors varied over time, but Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Honey Burst were available through both periods of the model’s availability, with Translucent Amber during the first period and Light Burst and Vintage Sunburst available during the second period of production.
Because the grading of tops between “AA” and “AAA” figure is somewhat subjective, the only definitive way for Les Paul Classic Premium Plus owners to identify their guitars is through Gibson serial number records and/or by looking in the pickup cavities. The Premium Plus models have the letters “LPPP” penciled or stamped in one of the pickup cavities, with lacquer covering this inscription. A Gibson USA 1994 Les Paul Classic Premium Plus model in cherry sunburst is pictured below. The USA Classic Premium Plus models weights varied, but most are in the low 9 pound range.
      Lower pickup cavity with LPPP designation for LPCPP model USA model
USA Model
LPCPP cherryburst
Pickup cavity no long tenon custom shop LPCPP
Control cavity
LPCPP Custom Shop

Of interest is that, in addition to the Classic Premium Plus LPs that were made by Gibson USA during the timeframes delineated above, there were also some Classic Premium Plus models manufactured by Gibson’s Custom Shop in the 1996/97 timeframe. The Custom Shop Les Paul Classic Premium Plus models have the short neck tenon like their USA counterparts. The Custom Shop models came in various colors and figured wood types, and included a plain black truss rod cover, as opposed to the Gibson USA versions, which have the word “Classic” in gold script. The Custom Shop Premium Plus guitars have the Custom Shop logo on the back of the headstock.

Custom Shop LPCPP
Custom Shop LPCPP

Blue Limited Edition
Brown Limited Edition
Click on images to enlarge


The Custom Shop models also have zebra ’57 Classic alnico pickups, versus the ceramic magnet pickups found in the USA models. Examples of 1996 and 1997 Les Paul Classic Premium Plus models from the Custom Shop include a flametop in Royal Blue with exposed zebra ’57 Classics, a flametop in Purple with covered ’57 Classics, and two highly quilted tops models with exposed zebra ’57 Classics (emerald green and ruby red). These Custom Shop versions of the Les Paul Classic Premium Plus are lighter than the USA versions and average in the low 8 pound range.

  Neck pickup cavity for LPCPP USA Model   Pickup cavity Custom Shop LPCPP Purple  


One interesting run of Les Paul Classic Premium Plus models was introduced as a Fall, 1995 Limited Edition by Gibson USA in five hand rubbed, translucent finishes (blue, brown, red, green, and black). A press photo of these guitars is provided below.


Brochure from early 90's LPCPP model
Publicity photo limited edition
Poster from early 80's with Brad Whitford from Aerosmith holding a LPCPP model


Even though the model was introduced in late 1995, production of these guitars actually extended through early spring of 1997. This limited run of Premium Plus guitars was issued with gold hardware and 490R and 498T alnico pickups for a mellower sound. The other interesting feature of these guitars is that Gibson used the “Les Paul Model” designation on the headstock as was used on the original Les Paul Classic models issued from 1990 through early 1993. Truss rod covers included the gold script word “Classic”.


Headstock limited edition LPCPP USA model
  Headstock Custom Shop LPCPP   Headstock USA model LPCPP  
The guitars finished in blue and black colors have matching color backs (the blue one has a translucent back and the grain is visible), while the brown, red and green models have light brown backs. The black finish model never made it into regular production, presumably due to no orders for it. The one pictured in the author’s collection was special ordered to complete the series, and is the only black one in existence besides the one in the publicity photo.
Custom Shop LPCPP
in Ruby Red
Custom Shop LPCPP
in Emerald Green
Custom Shop LPCPP
in Royal Blue

Custom Shop LPCPP

in C

LPCPP USA model translucent blue One of five colors ltd edition
Black one of five color ltd edition
Brown one of five color ltd edition
Green one of five color ltd edition
Red one of five color ltd edition
Click images to enlarge

The Classic Premium Plus models are well built guitars, with excellent fit and finish. Many have breathtaking flame tops. The necks are fast, and they play well and sound very good. The author prefers the mellower tone of alnico pickups in the Custom Shop version (’57 Classics) or the limited edition model (490R and 498T alnicos), but the ceramic magnet pickups in the USA version can be tamed by lowering the volume controls, and are also great opened up for harder rock or metal sounds.


With a robust, growing economy and prosperous baby boomers who wanted to fulfill their guitar dreams, the popularity of highly figured Les Pauls grew dramatically in the mid 1990’s. During the peak of popularity of highly figured Les Pauls in the 1995-1998 time period, Gibson priced these models aggressively, and demand seemed to actually rise with price! The USA version of the Premium Plus rose from a list price of $4,000 to $5,000 in 1996/early 1997. Street prices for the Premium Plus models averaged in a range from $2,500 to $3,300 during these years.


As with most Gibson models, there are some unanswered questions about the history of the Classic, and especially the Premium Plus models. Why did Gibson go through the trouble of replicating many ’59 and ’60 features, only to use the wide binding in the cutaway and ceramic magnet pickups? What was the reason for the popularity of the thinner necks in the early 1990s versus the big demand for fatter necks now (was it all the players who were caught up in the super-Strat and Jackson frenzy of the 80’s who were “easing back into” Gibsons with fatter necks?) Why did Gibson continue to use the aged greenish color inlay material for these models, which seems to be the feature most despised by Classic owners? Why did Gibson USA and the Custom Shop both build Classic Premium Plus models? Why did they price these models into oblivion? Why didn’t USA ever decide to fatten up the neck profiles as player preferences changed?
According to the 2004 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, a Les Paul Classic Premium Plus model in excellent or better condition sells in the $2,200 to $2,600 range, depending on the amount of top figure.

The Les Paul Classic Premium Plus is another interesting model in the colorful history of Gibson guitars.

NOTE: As a member of the Les Paul Forum, I am always interested in learning new things about the details and history of Gibson Guitars. Thus, I appreciate any additional information or questions that readers may have about the history of Les Paul Classic Premium Plus models or any other Gibson model. Please contact me at

Credit is given to the Gibson Les Paul Book by Tony Bacon and Paul Day, Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, and the Vintage Guitar Price guide, as well as Gibson records..

Mike Slubowski is a Gibson enthusiast, collector, player, and author, with a special passion for Les Pauls.
This article and photos are property of Mike Slubowski. No part of this article may be reproduced without the expressed written permission of the author.