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Gibson Lukas Nelson '56 Les Paul Junior review

A vintage repro Junior to remind us that simplicity is often the secret to great guitar design

Gibson USA Lukas Nelson Les Paul Junior
(Image: © Gibson )

Our Verdict

With modern improvements, slightly aged looks and voiced for vintage mojo, the Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior is a poised and mature Junior model you’ll want to put your own wear and tear into for years to come.

For

  • Only one pickup but it's exceptional.
  • Classic design.
  • Quality hardware enhances intonation and tone.
  • Custom Shop vibe at production line price.

Against

  • Not everyone likes simplicity.

“Who the hell is Lukas Nelson?” If you’re like me, that’s probably what you’re thinking. Suffice to say, Lukas Nelson is the son of country music legend Willie Nelson, and this young country-rocker fronts his own successful band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, with him and his band often pulling double duty as the touring band for Neil Young. 

If that’s not enough, Nelson played a prominent role for the 2018 film A Star is Born by collaborating with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and co-writing and co-producing the soundtrack, all of which earned him a Grammy and a BAFTA. 

Nelson’s signature guitar ticks all the boxes of a custom shop upgrade in a Junior that sounds vintage and plays like a beast, while being surprisingly affordable

The guy’s no slouch, and considering how busy he is making records, Nelson likes to keep things simple, which is evidenced by his new artist model, the Gibson Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior.

Sure, the Junior is hailed for its minimalism, but before you dismiss this one as just another revamp in Gibson’s USA line of electrics, be aware that Nelson’s signature guitar ticks all the boxes of a custom shop upgrade in a Junior that sounds vintage and plays like a beast, while being surprisingly affordable.

Gibson USA Lukas Nelson 1956 Les Paul Junior

(Image credit: Gibson )

Features

Nelson worked closely with Gibson to replicate the sound and feel of his faithful ’56 Les Paul Junior, most notably in three areas: finish, hardware and electronics. Instead of an overly high-gloss finish, Nelson opted for a thinly applied deluxe satin nitrocellulose lacquer in vintage sunburst that closely resembles what an original Junior’s patina would’ve had brand new. 

The vintage-style compensated wraparound bridge is slightly angled for more precise intonation, and the aged nickel vintage deluxe strip-style tuners with white buttons feature a higher gear-ratio for steadfast tuning accuracy. 

A cool touch is the aged screws on the pickguard, input jack and back plate. For pure sound, the guitar is equipped with a single custom-voiced “Dog Ear” P-90 pickup with Alnico III magnets, gold speed knobs for volume and tone (just like the ones found on ’56 Juniors) that are hand wired with Orange Drop capacitors and feature 500k vintage audio taper pots. 

Outside of these improvements, the Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior is very much your standard-issue Junior, with a single-cutaway slab mahogany body and mahogany neck with a palm-filling Fifties profile, rosewood fingerboard with medium jumbo frets and acrylic dot inlays. 

Performance

It’s pointless to debate why the Gibson Les Paul Junior has been the workhorse model for so many artists from Leslie West to Billie Joe Armstrong, and now, Lukas Nelson. But the recurring theme has always been the Junior’s simplicity in design and inherent tone that can be equally aggressive and beautifully powerful, but also where its charm can instantly sway you. 

It’s very much like how Nelson felt about finding his original ’56 Junior this model is based on – the guitar kind of speaks to you immediately. And the Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior does all of that once it’s in your hands. It feels new, of course, but it’s also constructed like a coveted Junior, the kind of guitar collectors wax poetically about. 

It has a comfortably rounded and full neck carve that’s not chunky or overwhelming, and a moderately light weight body that makes the guitar feel dense without being heavy. I love the satin nitro-finish for its overall vintage looks, but also for contributing to its rather loud unplugged voice. 

The custom-voiced P-90 has a smooth top end, as opposed to being too bright, and allows for total expressiveness when playing cleanly

The guitar comes with a springy, low-action setup that’s near-perfect, and the string height over the P-90 is properly balanced to ensure clarity and fullness of sound. The wraparound bridge is compensated, so the guitar plays in tune, and its low-profile design allows your playing hand to rest unencumbered.

After auditioning the Lukas Nelson ’56 through multiple vintage amps, the guitar offers incredibly detailed note definition for all its raw snarl and gritty bite. The custom-voiced P-90 has a smooth top end, as opposed to being too bright, and allows for total expressiveness when playing cleanly.

I find the Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior an old soul of a guitar you’ll want to play all the time, where your blood and sweat will dictate its character, but you’ll have to do that all by yourself.

Specifications

  • PRICE: $1,599
  • BODY: Mahogany
  • NECK: Mahogany with 50s Vintage profile, 12" radius
  • SCALE: 628.65 mm (24.75")
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
  • FRETS: 22
  • PICKUPS: 1x Alnico III “Dog Ear” P-90 pickup
  • CONTROLS: 1 x volume, 1 x tone (hand wired with Orange Drop capacitors and 500k pots)
  • HARDWARE: Vintage Style Compensated Wraparound bridge, Vintage Deluxe strip with white buttons
  • LEFT-HANDED: No
  • FINISH: Satin Vintage Sunburst
  • CONTACT: Gibson