Since 1958 the Les Paul Standard has defined what we think of when we hear ‘Gibson Les Paul.’ The carved maple top, the mahogany body and neck, two humbuckers, the trapezoid inlays: the Standard by its very name is the guitar that leads the charge in the Les Paul army. This puts it in a unique place in Gibson’s line-up because it needs to pay tribute to the past as well as point to the future. Models like the Traditional [see my review of it here] and various Gibson Custom reissues recreate heritage-style Les Pauls, but the Standard must move with the times. The line underwent a revamp in 2008 but for 2012 it’s been given the ultimate refresher, a series of enhancements which keep the Standard’s classic styling but with more modern refinements.
The transparent finish versions of the Standard are shipped without a pickguard in order to fully show off their Grade AAA-Premium figured maple tops, but a traditional cream pickguard is included in the case should you decide to install it (you’ll need to drill a couple of holes to do this). Transparent colours are Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Honey Burst, Desert Burst, Light Burst, Tea Burst, Fireball, Translucent Amber and Translucent Black. The solid colour options are Ebony, Gold Top and Blue Mist.
The most noticeable change from a playability perspective compared to old-style Les Pauls is the use of a compound radius fretboard which transitions from a flat and noodle-friendly 16″ at the 22nd fret down to 10″ at the first. The frets and nut are given a turn on Gibson’s PLEK machine for consistency and accuracy. It’s a good example of the ‘modern stealth’ approach to the 2012 Standard: you won’t even notice the changes from a distance, but they make big differences to the overall feel and sound of the instrument.
Another such tweak compared to old Les Pauls is that the mahogany body is given Gibson’s Modern Weight Relief treatment, a carefully calibrated configuration of routs designed to take some of the weight out of the body, eliminating a common complaint from sore-shouldered Les Paul players and (purposely) giving the Standard an airier tone than its stablemates.
Other ‘sneakily modern’ features include Grover Locking Kidney tuners which look like the models many players upgraded their Standards with, but with even better tuning stability; a TonePros Tune-o-Matic bridge and stop bar; an asymmetrical neck carve which improves playing comfort especially for those who like to shred on their Les Pauls; and a pretty sophisticated electronics system.
The pickups are BurstBucker models with Alnico V pickups: a BurstBucker Rhythm Pro at the neck and BurstBucker Lead Pro in the bridge position. Each has four-conductor wiring, and while each of the tone and volume controls functions like a regular Les Paul should, each also hides a secret feature. The individual pickup volume controls each pull out to split the humbuckers into single coils. The neck tone control reverses the phase of that pickup to give you those classic Peter Green out-of-phase sounds when the two pickups are used together, and this works whether you’re in humbucker or single coil mode or a combination of the two. And the bridge pickup’s tone control sends that pickup directly to the output jack in either single coil or humbucker mode, bypassing the volume and tone controls and overriding the pickup selector switch.
I plugged the Standard into my Marshall DSL50. The Burstbuckers are hotter and fuller than the ’57 Classics of my Traditional. The bridge bucker has plenty of bite and clarity even at ultra high gain settings, and the neck pickup is pretty clear too. It’s not as rounded and smooth as the ’57 Classic, but it has great cut and pick attack which makes it better suited to high gain. Cleaner tones have a nice ‘bloom’ to them, no doubt aided by the particular style of weight relief (which noticeably smooths out the guitar’s top end when played unplugged), and the Standard’s humbuckers are brilliant when played totally clean: they have enough body and character to be heard, but enough air to not sound muddy and muffled.
The single coil modes are perfectly usable, though not quite as distinctive as a Strat’s. They certainly cover spanky clean and gritty blues better than most other splittable humbuckers I’ve encountered though: again I suspect the chambering helps to distinguish the single coil sound from other splittable bucker guitars.
The real star though is the out-of-phase capability: whether you use single coil mode, humbucker mode or a combination, the sound is hollow and haunting, in the best possible way. There’s a sort of airiness and honkiness around each note which makes it great for lead work or for low-key moments, or as a special effect during a particularly effective moment during a song. Then you can kick it into high gear by popping the bridge pickup’s tone knob and sending the full power of that pickup to your amp. It’s fun to use the controls to pre-set a clean or out-of-phase tone then use this feature almost like a virtual channel switch.
The Standard is not a Les Paul for traditionalists, nor does it try to be. It’s a modern take on the instrument which offers a huge range of pickup selection options, a lighter feel and a very comfortable neck. But it doesn’t sound exactly like the Les Pauls of yore. It definitely has its own thing going on, and that’s the context within which this guitar should be viewed: as the 2012 Les Paul Standard, not the 1958 one.