The Les Paul has been through literally hundreds of iterations over the years. The current Les Paul Standard, for instance, is a very different instrument to the Standard of the 50s. It now features a chambered body and a compound radius fretboard. By contrast, the Gibson Les Paul Traditional is more akin to what we think of when we hear ‘Les Paul.’ It has a 12″ fretboard radius and a weight relieved (not chambered) body. It’s the Les Paul for those who want a more classic guitar, inspired by the iconic LPs of the 50s but also channeled through models like the 80s/90s Les Paul Classic. When I decided I needed a Les Paul, I tested out quite a few before settling on the one I ultimately called my own. This is a review of that guitar.
The Traditional model spec calls for a one or two piece Grade A mahogany body with a maple top (about 2cm thick, certainly more than thick enough to have an impact on the tone). Available colours are Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Desert Burst, Honey Burst, Iced Tea, Light Burst, Gold Top, Ebony, Chicago Blue and Wine Red. On this particular guitar the body is made of two pieces of mahogany, joined right down the middle. The Honey Burst top is flamed maple, and while there were many perfectly book matched and frankly breathtaking tops, this particular example has a bit more character. The bass half is heavily flamed and three-dimensional while the treble side is quite different. With the pick guard on you can barely discern any flame at all. Under certain lighting conditions it’s practically plain. Remove the pick guard and there’s a little more flame visible, balancing out the mismatched effect somewhat, but there’s still a big discrepancy between the two halves. This is something you’ll often see on original 1958-1960 Les Paul Standards, so I’m quite happy to see it on this guitar, although some might consider it an imperfection.
Here’s a great video of Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars talking about the future of ebony wood in the guitar industry, and Taylor’s efforts to support legal, sustainable ebony in Cameroon. When I visited Taylor in January I saw some absolutely stunning pieces of ebony with streaks of different colours in them, pieces of wood which another company might throw out but which Taylor sees the value and beauty in. Heck, my own SolidBody has a very slightly lighter section in the grain on the fretboard which I think looks beautiful.
Below are some shots I took at the Taylor factory of some of their more unique ebony supplies – the type of B-grade wood which Taylor refers to in the video. I especially love the third one, which looks like the cloud bands on Jupiter to me, complete with the huge storm! I envy everyone who has ended up with one of these pieces on their guitars.
It’s stuff like this that makes me proud to play a Taylor guitar.