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After not picking up a guitar for over a year (for personal reasons, see my details for a hint as to why...), I decided to pick up a guitar again and wanted a new one. Preferably a good but not pricey one and not a Fender, my usual weapon of choice. So after much humming and ahhhing, I decided on a the Les Paul Custom by Epiphone. I would have loved the real Gibson version, but hey! I work for the NHS and that is waaaay out of my league cost wise. However, Gibson bought out Epiphone in 1957 and since that time have used Epiphone for not only contnuing to produce models unique to Epiphone itself but also to make cheaper official 'copies' of 'proper' Gibson guitars. So in effect, you're getting a Gibson in all but name. I managed to get a Chinese-built Epiphone Les Paul Custom in black as an offer from an ebay seller for the great price of £260 plus £20 postage.
Out of the box, the sheer beauty of it hits you right away: black laquered finishing, aged white binding, gold hardware, 3 ply black/white scratchplate, rosewood fretboard with block fret markers, it looks really classy. All the marks of a real Les Paul are there, including the bell-shaped truss-rod cover, gold-covered twin humbuckers and the 3-way "Lead"/"Treble" switch to switch between pickups. And it has a set neck too, not a bolt on like some. Overall, I couldn't find anything wrong with the build quality. Chalk one up there to Epiphone.
Holding it comes as a slight shock if you're used to playing Fenders like I am. The balance just feels different. Not wrong, but just... different. The strings on my model came slacked off (a thoughtful touch). One tune-up later, I was ready to rawk. While it was heavier than my Tele it wasn't as heavy as I'd expected. The neck is a fairly shallow 'D' and sits well in your hand. It feels good, once you get used to it. The fretboard is pretty flat and modern, which makes for fairly fast playing, so no probs there. The feel of playing it is the real acid test of course, as is the sound. Now, I'm not exactly a guitar hero but I can hold my own (oo-er, missus), have a good chord repertoire and do fairly basic lead solos.(Cinnamon Girl, anyone?). So to really get some idea, I plugged it into my Line 6 Spider III 75 watt amp (review to follow at some point) and warned the neighbours in advance. I used the clean channel and also a setting called P-W Peacock Suit, (slightly dirty and overdriven but without being too crunchy). On 'clean', we can hear where the weakness in this guitar lies. While the bridge p.u. has a good treble range in addition to the thicker sound you'd expect from a humbucker equipped guitar, it lacks the harmonics that give it that certain something. Dialling in the neck pickup immediately cuts that higher range resulting in a muffled, muddier sound that is noticeable immediately, as does just using the neck pickup.
The situation doen't improve by using the three pickup combinations on the dirty channel. The brighter bridge p.u. still sounds the best of the three combinations, though to be fair none of them are unusable. For those hot lead lines, it just about cuts the mustard and if you're really into overdriven dirty sound then the neck pickup's inherent muddiness won't bother you too much. Anything else though and you'd be less than satisfied. If you're a jazzer then you'd be downright disappointed. Still, it does have the sustain we'd expect from a guitar of this build and style. Just fairly muddy sustain...
In conclusion? Despite my liittle quibbles, I have to be honest and say I love it and would easily recommend it! I only give it 4 stars because of the pickups and how they affect tone and intonation In a way, I was expecting this, as it's a common problem with cheaper guitars even from long standing and reputable companies like Fender and Gibson. While they are made to the same design as pups from the more upmarket guitars, they often use cheaper material and the quality control seems laxer. But it's a problem that can be fixed quickly enough by splashing out on a better set of pups. I may put a pair of IronGear or Seymour Duncans in mine. And of course, the overall build quality of the guitar is well up to that on the 'proper' Gibsons I have used belonging to friends.
Treat yourself to this model, you know you want to. Personally, I can't see myself letting this baby go for a long time. And rather like B B King calls his guitars Lucille, I've called this one Debbie. But I'm not telling you why. Go figure....