REVIEW: 2012 Gibson Les Paul Studio

Once upon a time the Les Paul Studio was considered a budget Les Paul. Gibson achieved this by stripping away of some of the more labor-intensive visual touches like binding, transparent stain finishes and trapezoid inlays, in favour of unbound bodies, solid finishes and dot inlays.

But now Epiphone fills the budget side of the market quite nicely, so the Studio has moved up in the world. It’s been given nicer finishes and more deluxe appointments, and while it still comes in at less than the Traditional and Standard models, it’s generally considered more of a serious instrument today, worth looking at for its own merits, rather than the Les Paul you buy when you can’t afford a Standard.

It’s 29 years since the Studio was first introduced, and Gibson has given the model an overhaul for 2012. It’s now available in a wider range of colours including Vintage Sunburst, Fireburst, Wine Red, Ebony, Pelham Blue, Inverness Green (my favourite), Radiant Red and Silver Pearl, each finished in high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. The Ebony and Silver Pearl versions feature black plastic trim while the others carry vintage-style cream appointments, and each model is available in both right- and left-handed configurations.

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The particular Pelham Blue Studio on review has a noticeably lighter body than my Traditional and the Standard I reviewed here. The body and neck are both made of Mahogany (and they’ve been given Gibson’s Modern Weight Relief Routing), with a Maple top and a Grenadillo fretboard. Also known as Coyote, Grenadillo’s commonly used in South American guitar making, and it’s often used as a rosewood substitute.

The frets and Corian nut are finished on Gibson’s PLEK machine, and the fretboard has no binding. This is a plus for those who have found that the binding on the Traditional and Standard catches the E string if you drag it too far towards the edge of the neck (although that’s a problem that I’ve found hard to replicate on my Traditional). The neck is carved to a slim, fast ’60s-style profile that measures .800″ deep at the 1st fret and .875″ at the 12th.

Hardware includes TonePros vintage-style tuners and the classic Les Paul Tune-o-Matic bridge and Stop Bar tailpiece combo. The pickups are a 490R with Alnico II magnet in the neck position, and a 498T with stronger Alnico V magnet in the bridge. The controls look pretty standard, with volume and tone controls for each pickup, but there’s also a push-pull feature on each volume knob which splits that particular pickup into single coil mode.

I plugged the Studio and my Traditional into a Radial A/B box then into my Marshall, so I could directly compare the two guitars. The Studio sounds noticeably darker than my Traditional or the Standard. There’s not as much pick attack or treble definition, and there’s more natural compression than the other two models, even unplugged. This definitely works in the guitar’s favour for delivering thick, chunky distorted rhythm tones and smooth leads. It also results in nice soft jazz tones, and it takes some of the bite out of the single coils too, making them a bit smoother and less twangy than a traditional single coil, and better suited to indie styles where you don’t necessarily want the zing so much as the ring. And the single coil modes have a nice dark bluesy quality which is especially good for slide. It doesn’t sound like a Strat at all, but there’s still a definite ‘single coilness’ to the tone.

It’s worth noting that the review model has exceptional tuning stability and playability. The thinner, unbound neck compared to the chunky 50s profile of the Traditional means that normally Les Paul-averse shredders will find it pretty comfortable.

Aside from jazz, this probably isn’t the best Les Paul for clean humbucker sounds. They just seemed a little uninspiring compared to the thick, heavy crunch of the distorted tone. And if you want old-school Jimmy Page-type rhythm tone you may prefer lower-output humbuckers. But for the heavier, harder-hitting side of what guitarists love Les Pauls for, the Studio has plenty to offer. It’s well made, the neck is very comfortable, and the tonal options are much broader than usual thanks to the coil splits. Depending on your sonic needs you may wish to consider a pickup swap, but especially if you’re after thick chunky slabs of classic Les Paul distorted rhythm grind or full-bodied solo tones for hard rock, blues-rock and metal, the Studio is ready to kick it right out of the box.