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Gibson Les Paul buyer’s guide 2021: The best Les Pauls for every budget

Gibson Les Paul buyer’s guide 2021: The best Les Pauls for every budget
(Image credit: Gibson )

The Gibson Les Paul - the guitar, the myth, the legend. This genuinely iconic electric guitar has had a rather large hand in shaping rock 'n' roll ever since it was released way back in 1952. Many of the biggest axe-wielding stars from Slash and Gary Moore to Billy Gibbons and Jimmy Page have opted to make this single-cut beauty their number one guitar and, as a result, have firmly cemented Les Paul's place in music history. 

With the Les Paul being so popular for so long, it would stand to reason that there's a myriad of different options available. We know this can get a little confusing. That’s why we've put together this handy guide to the best Les Pauls you can buy right now, at various price points. We have also listed them in order of series, from the budget-friendly Epiphone to the high-end Murphy Labs custom shop model, to make it a little easier to navigate. 

We know that the guitar marketplace is awash with incredibly well-built single-cut guitars, from the likes of PRS, Heritage, and ESP, to name a few. Still, we’re solely focussing on Gibson/Epiphone for this article. So, with that being said, let’s dive into our Gibson Les Paul buyer’s guide right now.  

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Our top picks

It's hard not to recommend every Les Paul, but it would undoubtedly be the Gibson Les Paul Standard '60s if we have to pick just one. This is the flagship offering from Gibson, and it's hard to beat. It looks stunning, plays like a dream, and most importantly, sounds killer. 

For the financially savvy, we recommend checking out the Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute Humbucker. This stripped-back, no-nonsense guitar may not have all the bells and whistles of the Standard but has bags of attitude and a sound to match. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Product Guide

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Epiphone Les Paul 50s Standard

(Image credit: Epiphone )

1. Epiphone Les Paul 50s Standard

The ideal option for beginners or the budget-conscious

Price: $599/£529 | Body: Mahogany/ Maple Veneer | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Epiphone ProBucker 1/2 Humbuckers | Controls: 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch | Hardware: LockTone ABR Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece | Finish: Metallic Gold, Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Vintage Sunburst

Looks just like the real deal 
Nice feeling neck
Pickups are surprisingly good  
The thick finish can put some players off 

If you’ve been paying attention, you'll know that Epiphone has gone through a somewhat extensive revamp over the last couple of years, following in the footsteps of Gibson - literally. The new "inspired by Gibson" range takes the much-loved models from their American brethren and makes them more affordable.

This guitar may be the budget option, but it's still a Les Paul through and through. This Epiphone Les Paul features a mahogany body and mahogany neck with a long neck tenon. However, it does sport a maple veneer rather than the solid maple top found on the Nashville counterpart. A significant change for the new model is the Kalamazoo headstock - something Epiphone fans have been crying out for. Gone is the modified Gibson design, in favor of the original headstock that harkens back to Epiphone's past. 

So if you're looking for the best Les Paul, but you don't want to remortgage the house, this is an ideal option for you! 

Read our Epiphone Les Paul 50s Standard review 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Epiphone Les Paul Custom

(Image credit: Epiphone)

2. Epiphone Les Paul Custom

The budget option with a touch of class

Price: $679/£599 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Epiphone ProBucker 2/3 Humbuckers | Controls: 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch | Hardware: LockTone ABR Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece | Finish: Alpine White, Ebony

Ebony fretboard
Slim neck  
Who doesn't like the look of a Custom? 
Some may consider it expensive for an Epiphone 

The Les Paul Custom has been a mainstay among rock royalty since it was introduced in 1954. It has been seen draped over the shoulder of Randy Rhoades, James Hetfield, Mick Mars, and of course, Les Paul himself. 

The Epiphone Les Paul Custom does a great job at re-creating this stunning guitar at a much more wallet-friendly price. The ever-popular 60s slim taper neck is adorned with a genuine ebony fingerboard and large block inlays, resulting in a guitar that plays as good as it looks. It also comes loaded with the Epiphone ProBucker 2/3 humbuckers, with era-appropriate wiring and CTS pots. 

So if you’re looking for an axe that is dripping with vintage mojo but at an accessible price, then look no further than the Epiphone Les Paul Custom. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute Humbucker

(Image credit: Gibson)

3. Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute Humbucker

The back to basics, no-nonsense Gibson

Price: $999/£799 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 490R/490T Humbucker | Controls: 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch | Hardware: Compensated Wraparound Bridge | Finish: Vintage Cherry Satin, Worn White Satin, Ebony Satin, Natural Walnut Satin

Simple design
Comfortable neck 
490T/R pickups  
Compensated wraparound bridge not for everyone 

The Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute is a stripped-down rock 'n' roll machine at its heart. This guitar boils down the Les Paul to its most essential elements, making it the perfect option for the player who isn't looking for all the bells and whistles. 

This modern take on a vintage style Les Paul special comes loaded with the 490R and 490T open-coil humbuckers, which deliver a warm, punchy sound. This simple guitar strays even further from its vintage roots with the inclusion of a maple neck, which offers superb comfort and playability with its rounded edges, as well as added strength.  

We must say, the Les Paul Special Tribute offers tremendous value for money, giving you the ability to purchase an American-made Gibson guitar for under $/£1,000. If you're the type of player who likes a no-nonsense instrument built to melt faces, do yourself a favor and check this one out. 

Best Gibson Les Paul: Gibson Les Paul Studio

(Image credit: Gibson )

4. Gibson Les Paul Studio

A reliable studio companion

Price: $1,499/£1,349 | Body: Mahogany/Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 490R/498T Humbucker | Controls: 2 x Push/Pull Volumes (Coil-Tap), 2 x Tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch | Hardware: Aluminum Nashville Tune-O-Matic/ Stopbar | Finish: Tangerine Burst, Wine Red, Smokehouse Burst, Ebony

Classic Les Paul tone
Nice finish options    
Would rather a case instead of a gig bag 

Originally conceived as a more affordable, basic version of the Standard, the Les Paul Studio has developed a reputation all of its own since its debut in 1983. The term "studio" comes from the idea that no one cares what your guitar looks like in the recording studio, it's what it sounds like that matters - and this bare-bones guitar sounds like a Les Paul!  

This simple guitar isn't just for the recording studio. Many notable players have used them on tour. You can often see Jade Puget of AFI or Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance putting these guitars through their paces on stages worldwide.  

The current iteration of the Studio features a rosewood fingerboard and slim taper mahogany neck and a mahogany body with the Ultra-Modern weight relief. The 490R and 498T humbucking pickups provide the high-output you want from a modern Les Paul, and the two push-pull pots offer a coil-tapping option, meaning this guitar is the perfect companion in the studio.

Best Gibson LEs Pauls: Gibson Les Paul Junior

(Image credit: Gibson )

5. Gibson Les Paul Junior

The student model turned punk icon

Price: $1,499/£1,349 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Dog Ear P-90 | Controls: Volume, 1 Tone (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors) | Hardware: Nickel Wraparound Bridge | Finish: Vintage Tobacco Burst, Ebony

Classic P-90 tone
Pure simplicity 
Comes with a hard-shell case 
Fat 50’s neck not for everyone 

When Gibson released their new student model way back in 1954, they could never have imagined that not only would it still be around today, but that it would be a firm favorite of many punk and rock guitar players. This beautifully simple instrument has long been associated with hard-hitting players such as Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day to Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke, and many others. 

Sometimes simple is better, and this guitar really is as simple as it gets. The single-cut mahogany body houses a solitary dogear P-90 pickup, single volume, and tone control, as well as a vintage-style nickel wraparound bridge. Don't let the lack of features fool you. This guitar certainly packs a punch, and backing off your tone or volume can get a wide range of sounds out of its limited set-up. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Les Paul Standard 60's

(Image credit: Gibson )

6. Gibson Les Paul Standard '60s

The Standard by which all others are measured

Price: $2,499/£2,199 | Body: Mahogany/ AA Figured Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Burstbucker 61R/61T | Controls: 2 Volumes, 2 Tones & Toggle Switch (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors) | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic | Finish: Iced Tea, Bourbon Burst, Unburst

A joy to play 
Stunning looks
Great sounding pickups  
More finish options would be nice 

The Standard is Gibson's flagship Les Paul and arguably the most iconic. From its beautiful flame maple top, bound body, and mother of pearl Gibson logo to the throaty mid-range bite of its humbucking pickups, this guitar sounds just as good as it looks. 

The introduction of the original series saw Gibson go back to what made their guitars so legendary in the first place. No more robot tuners, PCB quick connect pots, or extra wide necks, just simple, elegant guitars. The Les Paul Standard 60's features a solid mahogany body with a stunning AA figured maple top and an incredibly playable slim taper 60's-style mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard and trapezoid inlays. 

The Gibson Les Paul Standard 60's is easily one of the best options if you’re looking for a new Les Paul. This guitar certainly impresses with its beautiful looks and killer tones. So, if you're unsure which is the best Les Paul to go for, you can't go wrong with a Les Paul Standard. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s P-90 Gold Top

(Image credit: Gibson )

7. Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s P-90 Gold Top

Gibson is going for gold

Price: $2,499/£2,199 | Body: Mahogany/Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 2x P-90 | Controls: 2 Volumes, 2 Tones & Toggle Switch (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors) | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic | Finish: Gold Top

Who doesn’t love a gold top?
Tone for days 
Avoid if you don’t like large necks 

First of all, how stunning is this Les Paul? This beautiful guitar pays homage to the LPs of the early '50s, without the insane price tag of an original vintage example.  

Like the 60's Standard, this guitar features a solid mahogany body with a maple top, but this time it comes with a larger 50's-style mahogany neck and a dual set of P-90 pickups. The sweet sound of these pickups is the result of the Alnico V magnets, audio taper potentiometers, and orange drop capacitors.

You may not have the budget for an authentic vintage gold top, but you can still get the look and sound with the Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s P-90. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Les Paul Modern

(Image credit: Gibson )

8. Gibson Les Paul Modern

A modern take on a classic

Price: $2,799/£2,299 | Body: Mahogany/Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Burstbucker Pro Rhythm/Lead | Controls: 2 Push/Pull Volumes (Coil-Tap), 2 Push/Pull Tones (Pure Bypass/Phase) & Toggle Switch | Hardware: Aluminum Nashville Tune-O-Matic | Finish: Faded Pelham Blue Top, Sparkling Burgundy Top, Graphite Top

Modern contoured heel
Cool finish options   
Traditionalists should avoid 

Gibson has always been cutting-edge, and the Les Paul Modern proves they are still innovating. This contemporary instrument is loaded with features that take the Les Paul into a new sonic place. 

This guitar is built for comfort and speed, and the ultra-modern weight relief means this instrument is no longer a back-breaker. The contoured heel joint gives unprecedented access to the higher frets, and the asymmetrical neck profile and compound radius ebony fingerboard give this guitar an incredibly slinky feel, which is a joy to play - especially for fast playing or metal

So if you find yourself longing for a Les Paul with modern playability, then this is definitely the Gibson for you. 

Read our Gibson Les Paul Modern review  

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue

(Image credit: Gibson )

9. Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue

Bag yourself a burst… for a fraction of the price

Price: $6,499/£5,199 | Body: 1-Piece Lightweight Mahogany/ 2-Piece Figured Maple, Hide Glue Fit | Neck: Solid Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Indian Rosewood, Hide Glue Fit | Frets: 22 Historic Medium-Jumbo | Pickups: Custombucker Alnico III (Unpotted) | Controls: 2 Volume/2 Tone CTS 500K Audio Taper Potentiometers, Paper-in-Oil Capacitors | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 | Finish: Washed Cherry Sunburst, Iced Tea Burst, Dirty Lemon

A fantastic replica of a vintage '59
Most comfortable LP neck 
The price may put a lot of players off 

Often referred to as the "holy grail" of electric guitar, the '59 Les Paul is one of the most coveted instruments of all time, with originals easily going for $/£100,000. These guitars were created during Gibson's golden era and have been the weapon of choice for so many rock gods, such as Slash, Jimmy Page, Joe Bonamassa, and Bernie Marsden

If you're anything like us, then you don't exactly have a spare 100k sitting around - and even if you did, there's no way you'd blow it on a single guitar - well, the next best thing would have to be the Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue. 

The clever people over at the Gibson Custom Shop have meticulously recreated every detail of this priceless vintage guitar. From using lasers to scan the original dimensions, to the use of period correct hide glue, and even going as far as to recreate the plastics down to a molecular level, they really have tried to capture every detail of this rare guitar.

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Gibson Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul Goldtop Murphy Lab Aged

(Image credit: Gibson)

10. Gibson Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul Goldtop Murphy Lab Aged

A gold nugget from the golden era of guitars

Price: $6,199/£5,399 | Body: 1-Piece Lightweight Mahogany/ 2-Piece Plain Maple, Hide Glue Fit | Neck: Solid Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Indian Rosewood, Hide Glue Fit | Frets: 22 Historic Medium-Jumbo | Pickups: Custombucker Alnico III (Unpotted) | Controls: 2 Volume/2 Tone CTS 500K Audio Taper Potentiometers, Paper-in-Oil Capacitors | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 | Finish: Double Gold with Dark Back

Absolutely beautiful guitar
As close as you can get to a vintage '57 LP 
Aged guitars aren’t for everyone 

If you thought the '59 was accurate to its vintage counterpart, then the Murphy Lab takes it to a whole new level. The brainchild of master builder and guitar aging pioneer Tom Murphy, the Murphy Lab has one goal - to make highly precise aged guitars indistinguishable from the originals. 

If you have ever been lucky enough to play an original gold top, you'll probably have noticed that the finish has cracked. This is referred to as "checking." This is a reasonably common phenomenon found on nitrocellulose finish guitars. The Murphy Lab has managed to expertly recreate the look and feel of this, bringing an air of authenticity to this Les Paul. Even the light aging around the headstock, and yellowing lacquer over the Gibson logo, make this guitar feel like a true vintage example. 

We’re well aware that this process isn't for everyone. Still, if you're looking for a custom shop guitar with an added level of detail, then it's worth looking at a Custom Shop Murphy Lab Les Paul. 

Best Gibson Les Pauls: A brief history

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Vintage Gibson Les Paul headstock

(Image credit: Future)

The Gibson Les Paul has gone through many, many changes over the years. Quite frankly, we don't have time to go through every variation, so let's just discuss the most critical milestones in the evolution of the most famous single-cut guitar of all time. 

Making its debut in 1952, the "Les Paul Model" was the creation of Ted McCarty, John Huis, and Les Paul. Although there are varying stories about this, depending on who you ask… Some say Gibson had the final design before contacting Les, and some say Les came up with the design himself. 

We know that Les approached Gibson in 1941 with an idea for a solid-body guitar - The Log. Gibson, uninterested at the time, didn’t take Les up on his new invention. Fender would ultimately beat them to the punch with the release of the Broadcaster/Telecaster. In an attempt to catch up to their Californian rivals, Gibson needed a solid-body guitar, and they needed it fast. They would eventually team up with the seasoned inventor, and thus, the “Les Paul Model” was born.  

Beloved for their insanely good looks, unbeatable playability, and the definitive Les Paul tone, these guitars sell for upwards of $/£100,000.

This version of the Les Paul featured a trapeze tailpiece and a set of "soap bar" P-90 pickups. It was also gold - yes, that's right, the first Les Paul models were all Gold Tops. The classic sunburst finish didn't come into production until much later, but we’ll get to that.

By 1957 the Les Paul went through some significant changes. Now sporting a set of PAF (patent applied for) humbucker pickups and the far more recognizable Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece.

1958, 1959, and 1960 would see the release of the "burst." A group of sunburst Les Paul's that would go on to be among the most sought-after guitars of all time. Beloved for their insanely good looks, unbeatable playability, and the definitive Les Paul tone, these guitars sell for upwards of $/£100,000.

So with guitars this good, the next few years must have been looking good for the Les Paul? No. It's unfathomable now, but these guitars really weren't that popular back in the day. The sales of the Gibson Les Paul had been steadily declining for years. Gibson needed to do something drastic to keep up with the rising popularity of the Fender Stratocaster. This led us to the Les Paul redesign - the SG. Although still bearing the Les Paul name, the guitar we now know as the SG would take on the mantle for the next few years. Gibson would later re-introduce the Les Paul in its single-cut glory in 1968.

Since then, Gibson has been churning out an array of Les Pauls at differing price points, from various factories over the years, from Kalamazoo, Nashville, and Memphis. We could go on all day about the history of the Gibson Les Paul, but let's leave it there and move on to some buying advice.

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Buying advice

Best Gibson Les Pauls: Vintage Gibson Les Paul Gold Top with finishing checking

Vintage Gibson Les Paul Gold Top with finish checking   (Image credit: Future)

We know that buying a Les Paul can be daunting. At the end of the day, these are expensive guitars, and you want to make the right choice. Don't worry, we have your back. Here, we will discuss a few things to bear in mind when purchasing your new Les Paul. 

Les Paul neck profiles 

If you have been looking at Les Pauls for a while, you'll have noticed that Gibson offers different neck profiles. These range from the slim-taper 60's neck to the chunky 50's profile. There is no right or wrong neck for you. It really is a personal preference. Suppose you’re unsure which is suitable for you. In that case, we recommend sticking to the more universally loved '60s profile, as this fits most players' needs. If you’re looking at vintage reissue guitars, you won't get a choice, as they come with the neck profile that is correct for the era it's reissuing.     

Pickup choice 

Next, you need to find your sound, and this comes in the form of the pickups in your Les Paul. If you want to nail the searing classic rock tones, then seek out the PAF-style humbuckers. Perhaps you favor the bold attack of the P-90, then it's worth looking at a Les Paul Junior, Special, or '54 reissue. Gibson offers a few Les Paul's with a high-output pickup option for the modern player, perfect for bringing the house down with high-gain riffage.  

How much does a Gibson Les Paul weigh? 

It's no secret that the Les Paul is a heavy guitar, but don't worry if back problems are stopping you from getting the guitar of your dreams. Gibson has a few models in their extensive catalog that utilize the "ultra-modern weight-relief." This process is usually found on the "modern" series of instruments. It uses a series of small chambers to keep the weight down and make the guitar more manageable. If you’re a traditionalist, and this sounds like something you'd like to avoid, there are plenty of guitars on offer that come with zero weight relief. 

Looking after your Les Paul’s Nitrocellulose Lacquer 

All Gibson guitars use nitrocellulose lacquer. Although great for allowing the guitar to "breathe" and aiding in the resonance of the instrument, this finish does have its drawbacks. The main point to remember is that it can react with rubber - especially the rubber on cheap guitar stands! This is called "stand rash" or "nitro-burn" and is basically a chemical reaction between the stand and the guitar. So if you’re looking to have your new prized possession on show, we highly recommend getting a nitro-safe guitar stand. The Hercules brand of stands is our go-to. 

It's also worth mentioning that dramatic temperature changes can have a detrimental effect on your guitar's shiny new finish, so keep the guitar at room temperature. If you're going from a cold environment to a warm one, then let the guitar acclimatize before opening the case. While you're at it, it's probably a good idea not to get your new guitar wet or feed it after midnight.  

 So there you have it, that's our guide to the best Gibson Les Pauls on the market right now. There is only one last thing to do - crank your Marshall stack, plug in, and let rip!  

Daryl Robertson

First and foremost, I'm a guitar enthusiast – a fanatic, some might say. I'm a firm believer that most of the world's problems can be solved with a Gibson SG and a catastrophically loud amp. As Junior Deals Writer on Guitar World, I write about guitars for a living, but in a past life, I worked in music retail for 7 years, advising customers on the right guitars, basses, drums, pianos, and PA systems for their needs. I also have a passion for live sound; I'm a fully qualified sound engineer with experience working in various venues in Scotland where I live with my wife and dog.