When you think about the variety and styles of Les Paul players over the years, it is mind blowing. Of course, we have to start with the man Les Paul himself. The guitar was later the bread and butter guitar for Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Joe Walsh. When you add Joe Perry, Randy Rhoades and Neil Shon to the mix, the impressive list gets even more impressive. Top that list off with the like of Buckethead, Slash, and Zakk Wylde and it is difficult to pinpoint the style of music this guitar lends itself to. The simple answer is all of them, and I will get to that in a bit.
There are many flavors and styles of the Les Paul. In most cases, the core components have stayed the same since 1952. In essence, a Les Paul is a slab of mahogany, topped with maple with two humbucking pickups in it. In reality, the Gibson Les Paul is a work of art. I know this for a fact I have seen Les Pauls hanging on the walls of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston during the Dangerous Curves Expedition.
Gibson USA has once again created a masterpiece with their new Les Paul ES or Memphis. This is the first time the Les Paul has sported f-hole, a semi-hollow body beast of a machine. The test unit we had the honor of playing is a VOS-aged Black Beauty. Three of Gibson’s new MHS pickups pop one the black finish in their gold covers. There are adornments that throw the guitar back to 1968 right down to the kidney-shaped tuners. Giving the guitar its total Jimmy Page treatment is a gold Bigsby. I know you are saying “wait a minute Jimmy Page’s Black Beauty wasn’t a semi-hollow body.” This is true. Truth be told the Memphis Black Beauty looks as if Jimmy Page’s Les Paul and B. B. King’s infamous Lucille had a baby.
Giving the guitar more style pop is an aged bound neck and headstock. The headstock is adorned with the classic Gibson diamond inlay giving a classic finish to this beautiful guitar. So, we know the guitar looks great how does it play?
The Les Paul Memphis comes factory setup with .10s and a serviceable action. Keeping in mind I play with .09s slammed to the freeboard on my Les Paul Traditional, some of you might find the action a bit low. The 60’s style neck is fast as hell. Ergonomically it still feels like a Paul. It is my guess the extra pickup and Bisby make up for a bit of the weight the cambering relieves. Yet, I have played much heavier Les Pauls including mine.
The neck is very fast and comfortable. The richlite feels every bit the same as ebony. In some ways better. I have played great ebony fretboards and many subpar examples. I have even played combination fretboards where the grain of the ebony was smooth at one end of the neck and grainy and pitted at the other end. The richlite is consistent throughout the entire neck. The tone is amazing, and bends feel effortless. The Richlite fingerboard is not the only new option on this guitar.
The Les Paul Memphis ES also sports three of Gibson’s MHS humbuckers as previously stated. These scatter wound pickups have unbalanced coils to emulate the PAFs of years gone by. The bridge and middle pickups both sports Alnico II magnets while the neck pickup houses an Alnico IIl. The bridge and middle are also wound slightly hotter giving you enough grind to take the guitar from the most sought-after classic guitar tones to the depths of heavy metal. All three MHS pickups have distinctly different tones giving the guitarist an amazing amount of versatility.
The Memphis has a solid mahogany block running through the length of the body. The block not only contributes to the stability and tone of the guitar, but I also experience none of the common feedback issues known to plague hollow bodies even at extreme volumes with mountains of gain.
The Bigsby is another gem of an adornment of the Les Paul Memphis. In actuality, it is a lot more than an adornment. As I popped the pickup switch into the neck position, the Bigsby allowed me to add a bit of vibrato to the thick, round jazz chords pouring out of my amp.
So what is the bottomline on this guitar? The Les Paul Memphis is a monster of a guitar. It looks sharp as hell. No matter what style you play or where you play guitarists will flock around you every time you open the case. The playability is phenomenal and as I have stated it is a tone machine.
Gibson is making the entry point for one of these guitars very assessable. The Epiphone ES Les Pauls retail in the low $600 range. There are also a bunch of options in the Gibson USA product line that will placate various budgets.