We recently looked at Epiphone’s recognition of a rising star in guitar with Emily Wolfe’s signature Sheraton, and now we’re going to the other extreme – a legend with a career spanning five decades. What they both have in common is artist models that put distinct spins on established Gibson designs that are vital to the company’s visions of legacy and innovation.
Just as Wolfe’s Stealth guitar brings the semi-hollow blueprint to a new generation and enhances the Epiphone catalogue, Lifeson’s Les Paul finally coming at a more affordable price-point opens up one of the boldest takes on an LP to new players.
10 years ago, Alex Lifeson told TG how his Gibson signature was based on the Axcess model and its thinner body but with caveats.
“We went with a very heavy [non chambered] mahogany so it still has weight and resonance,” he explained. “There’s a lot [of electronics] in the guitar so it was important to have a good solid block as a starting point.”
There are plenty of talking points here, including those electronics, in addition to enhanced fret access and the locking tremolo that will immediately divide opinion between purists and progressives. Our Les Paul expectations could be challenged here.
When Lifeson said “very heavy”, he was talking about his own early serial Gibson signatures. While the standard Axcess shares key features and is known for being a lighter Les Paul, the Rush man consciously went for a non-chambered, weightier option. That equates to a substantial nine pounds here.
And this is despite the reduced body thickness over a standard Les Paul, here 1 and 3/4-inches at its thickest compared to a Standard’s 1 and 7/8-inches. A Comfort-Carve belly scarf enhances the closeness we feel with this guitar over a usual Les Paul and the reduced neck heel improves upper fret access too – hence the name.
The Viceroy Brown Lifeson favours is a pleasing sunburst that brings the classic Les Paul heritage to bring balance to the impact of the great diversion here; a double-locking tremolo and the same Floyd Rose licensed Graph Tech Ghost unit found on the Gibson version with a Floyd Rose R4 Locking Nut.
Alongside the traditional body mahogany/maple cap combo, the fretboard wood here is Indian Laurel, a more affordable alternative to rosewood and visually similar. A fine aesthetic, but the five cavity covers at the back suggest there’s more than the scope of vibrato unit spicing up the recipe for expansion here.
The man himself told us exactly what that meant back for his own guitar back in 2011. “We have coil taps on the pickups, a Floyd Rose and the piezo is the second jack – the Life-O-Sound – that we run independently or you can mix both magnetic pickups and the piezo through the main output.
The versatility of Les Pauls is often unsung – myriad tones can be accessed via shaping gain and EQ through the volume and tone controls. But this guitar is on a whole other level; factor in the three pickup positions for humbucker and coil-splits. Now add bridge and middle positions for piezo, with and without coil-split from the bridge.
Oh, and you have a fantastically expressive tremolo system to explore, that keeps tuning rock solid. Plus the ability to send that piezo signal separately to a PA or acoustic amp for layers. But all this wouldn’t count for much without the foundations in place.
While the action on our test guitar is a little high for us, the humbucker choices here feel right; the bridge rich and fat, the neck blooming and throaty, with definition. Dialing in the piezo adds air between notes with low end that’s great for gentler, strummy tones and folkier places than you might expect.
Then the coil-splits take out some low end if you wish (coil-splits always take away low end in our experience). Split alone, we’re certainly not talking Strat or Tele twang but some useful chiming mids with some high sizzle and cut a la P-90.
It’s quite simply a stunningly versatile Les Paul – and now more people can enjoy Lifeson’s combinations, and bring their own creative ideas to the table. Axcessibility indeed.
- PRICE: $899 / £799
- BODY: Carved Maple with AAA Flame Maple veneer
- NECK: Mahogany
- SCALE: 628mm (24.7”)
- FINGERBOARD: Indian Laurel
- FRETS: 22
- PICKUPS: Epiphone ProBucker 3 (bridge), Epiphone Ceramic Pro (neck)
- CONTROLS: Neck Volume, Bridge Volume (each with push/pull coil split), Piezo Volume with push/pull on/off, Master Tone
- HARDWARE: Floyd Rose R4 locking nut, Graph Tech Ghost Tremolo w/piezo saddles, Epiphone Deluxe tuners with Keystone buttons
- LEFT-HANDED: No
- FINISH: Viceroy Brown
- CASE: EpiLite
- CONTACT: Epiphone