GIBSON LES PAUL JUNIOR ELECTRIC GUITAR
Recommend this product?
O.K. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine back to 1954. You want to buy a Les Paul Guitar, but don't have a couple of hundred bucks or so. You want that new Les Paul Guitar sound (remember its 1954, and that's the year the Les Paul Junior was introduced). So you decide to compromise, and decide to consider buying a brand new Les Paul Junior for a whopping $49.50. However, maybe you are an educated consumer. Maybe you shop around, and decide to buy a new Les Paul Junior for a discount, because you don't want to pay that high list price of $49.50. What a dream. O.K. it is time to wake up. I am not Mr. Peabody or Sherman, and neither of us has access to the Wayback Machine. The time is the present, it is now, and you want that great sounding Les Paul Junior. That's when you realize that the Wayback Machine, Sherman, and Mr. Peabody are from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and you decide to jump into your car and go to your local musical instrument store, and try to decide if you want to purchase a new Gibson Les Paul Junior Single Cutaway. Read on and see if this incarnation of the Gibson Les paul Junior guitar has some of the sonic features that you might be looking for the next time you are considering making a guitar purchase.
Since price is always an important consideration when making a purchase of any product, I think that this would be a good place to start. The current incarnation of the Gibson Les Paul Junior has a list price tag of $1,199.00, and it can be readily found selling at a discount from some of the large national musical instrument chain stores and better Internet Online stores for as little as $839.00. That seems like quite a hike in price from the original list price of $49.50 doesn't it.
Since some readers may not know what a Les Paul Junior is, I shall digress for a moment and give a little history regarding this guitar. The Les Paul Junior was originally released by Gibson in late 1954, and it was a bigger hit than anyone expected at the time. Of course, one should also keep in mind that it was actually Fender that dominated the solid body guitar market of the 1950's. The marketing goal or strategy that Gibson had in mind was to attempt to attract very young players and first time guitar owners by offering a relatively high quality instrument, to Les Paul Junior to be specific, at a very affordable price. The hope was that these young players would like playing a Gibson so much that they would develop a sense of brand loyalty, and would thus be inclined to purchase a more expensive Gibson model when and if they later upgraded to a better guitar. Unfortunately, although the Les Paul Junior was a relative success, it was not a big enough hit to keep the entire line of Les Paul guitars, including the SG shaped ones, from becoming extinct at the end of 1962. Although people like Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Peter Green (my personal favorite) can be credited with the resurgence in interest in the Les Paul Standard in the mid 1960's, which eventually led Gibson to resurrect the Les Paul Standard, it was actually Leslie West of Mountain who can be credited with bringing notice and recognition to the Les Paul Junior. The Les Paul Junior was originally sold in the 1950's as Gibson's least expensive or most affordable solid body guitar, and was considered to be a beginner's instrument. This honor of being the least expensive Gibson solid body eventually was taken by the Gibson Melody Maker in 1959.
Some of you may be wondering if the current model of the Gibson Les Paul Junior is based on the original 1954 version. The answer is "NO." The models of the Les Paul Junior that were made from 1954 through 1956 had a basic design flaw in all of these earlier models. The 1954 model had the one P-90 pickup very close to the bridge. This pickup location resulted in a very bright and twangy sounding guitar, with biting, cutting highs. Unfortunately, the bridge posts on this model were not set very deep into the wood, and over time, they began to "lean" towards the pickup, and in some cases, the wood around the posts that anchored the bridge even spit the wood. In 1956, the use of long threaded post inserts were introduced to the Les Paul Junior. This anchored the posts which supported the combination Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece much more securely into the wood of the body of the guitar, and the inserts prevented both the leaning of the bridge posts, and the splitting of the wood. To help matters even more, the single P-90 pickup was moved slightly away from the bridge and a bit closer to the neck, and this helped to reinforce and strengthen the area around the bridge. Many experts believe that the 1957 model of the Les Paul Junior was its best production year, as all of the design flaws that plagued previous models had been corrected. Is the current incarnation of the Les Paul Junior based on the 1957 version? I called Gibson and asked the person that I spoke to that very question. His response, "I don't know, but I know that it is a good guitar and I haven't heard any big complaints about it." O.K., that was enlightening. Having had the honor of playing a real late 1950's Les Paul Junior, and one of the 1957 Reissues, it is my belief that this current incarnation of the Les Paul Junior is based on the design improvements that came in 1957. But, enough of the history lesson, let's get on to a discussion of the current incarnation of the Gibson Les Paul Junior.
Like the late 1950's Gibson Les Paul Junior's, the current incarnation of the Les Paul Junior is made with a very simple flat uncarved, Mahogany body, and a solid Mahogany neck, with a Rosewood fingerboard. I should clarify that there are three models to choose from for this guitar. They are Satin Vintage Sunburst, Satin White, and Satin Cherry. The Satin White has an Ebony fingerboard, while the other two models have a Rosewood fingerboard. I was playing the Satin Sunburst model with a Rosewood fingerboard. The body is made of a solid slab of Mahogany, with no weight relief holes drilled into the body, but it is at least two pounds lighter than a typical Les Paul Standard. The reason for this is that the body is thinner, it is not beveled, and there is no Maple top, as would typically be found on a Les Paul Standard.
The neck on the Gibson Les Paul Junior has 22 frets, and it has a traditional 1950's rounded neck profile. I would urge anyone who is considering buying this guitar personally play it and not just order it from some Internet dealer. Some people just do not like the "baseball bat" feel of the 1950's rounded neck, and they prefer a more sleek 1960's slim taper feel. Thus, you need to know what you are getting into before you buy this guitar. It is also important to know that each of the necks on these guitars is slightly different from the next, and thus, it is even more important to know that you find the particular neck on the guitar you are considering to be good for you and to feel comfortable to you. Personally, I have never found it difficult to go from a 1960's slim taper neck to a 1950's style neck, but ever player is different, and this many be a concern, so I strongly advise everyone to play the individual guitar that they are going to consider buying before they actually make a decision to purchase one.
While we are on the subject of the neck of the Gibson Les Paul Junior, I should mention that it is made of solid Mahogany. As I mentioned earlier, the Satin Sunburst model I was playing was topped off with Rosewood fingerboard The inlays on the neck are Pearloid Dot Inlays and look just like the originals, both in shape and color. There is no binding to be found anywhere on the guitar. The tuning pegs are simple Button Tuners, and I found that they did a very good job of holding this guitar in tune quite well. The current incarnation of the Gibson Les Paul Junior has a satin finish encased in a nitrocellulose lacquer. Lacquer lets the guitar "breath" and does not stiffen or dampen the resonant qualities of the wood the way some other finishing products do. That is the good news. That bad news is that the satin finish seems very thin to me, and I can easily see that it would be subject to dings and dents without too much stress or everyday wear and tear. I do not care for this finish, as I feel that it can be easily compromised, and although it is better than a "Faded Finish," it just does not appear to be that strong or well done as a traditional Gibson Nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Then again, the superior finish on the more expensive Gibson guitars is one of the reasons why those guitars cost more than a Les Paul Junior.
And now I would like to discuss some of the interesting attributes regarding the hardware on the Gibson Les Paul Junior. Because the Les Paul Junior was meant to be a beginner's guitar, it originally came equipped with a less expensive and lighter Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece instead of the Tune-O-Matic Bridge and Stopbar Tailpiece combination that was used on some of the more expensive Les Paul models such as the Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom. The current incarnation of the Les Paul Junior also comes with a Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece. The Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece is firmly anchored in the wood of the guitar just behind the treble pickup. The strings wrap over the Bridge/Tailpiece, and the vibrations of the strings are transferred to the body of the guitar, and the result is that this guitar is capable of unusually good sustain. The design of this Bridge/Tailpiece has similar attributes to the bridge on a good acoustic guitar. Because of the way it is anchored into the wood, this bridge utilizes the wood of the guitar the way a soundboard does on a good acoustic, and thus there are subtle nuances in sound from one guitar to another, as each piece of wood has its own individual resonant characteristics. Bending strings is also remarkably easy on a guitar with this type of Bridge/Tailpiece. Personally, I really like the Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece. I find that it is able to generate a warmer, more resonant sound, than a guitar equipped with a Tune-O-Matic Bridge, and this resonance produced by the Wraparound Bridge/Tailpiece adds a distinctive warmth to the sound of this guitar because of its intimacy with the wood of the body of the guitar.
There is only one pickup on the Gibson Les Paul Junior. It is a surface mounted "dog ear" P-90 Pickup. The P-90 is a single coil pickup, and it is made with an Alnico V magnet. The surface mounted "dog ear" P-90 sounds different than a conventionally mounted P-90. It is the same pickup, but because it is close to the bridge and is surface mounted, it sounds different. This guitar can produce a vicious, snarling growl, and yet, it can produce a sweet soulful singing sustain that is simply incredible (remember the lead and rhythm guitar sounds on Mississippi Queen). The proximity of the pickup to the bridge, along with its surface mounting which places the magnetic core of the pickup closer to the strings, makes this guitar sound like it has a higher output than a regularly mounted "soap bar" P-90, and yet it actually doesn't. The dog ear P-90 on this guitar is capable of producing a very classic and distinctive sound. It is also interesting to note that many people feel that a guitar with a surface mounted P-90 has more sustain and an overall better sound than a conventional P-90 mounted in the body of the guitar. The reason for this is that the body of the guitar is not compromised by having a hole cut into it to accommodate a conventional P-90, and thus the sustain and tone are better. The external controls are the same as what you would expect to find on any single pickup guitar, namely one Volume control and one Tone control.
Well how does this guitar play, sound, and feel? I know every guitar is different, even within the same model. I must say that I very much liked the feeling of the neck on this particular Les Paul Junior guitar that I was playing. It was substantial, and I felt that I could really dig in and bend notes nicely. It was initially slightly harder to readily do quick runs up and down the neck, but after about 10 minutes of playing, I was able to adapt to the different neck, and it was not a problem. Regarding the tone and overall sound of this guitar, it was very good overall. A seasoned player realizes that can get a very different sound out of a guitar by simply picking or strumming at different points on a guitar. Even though this guitar had only one pickup, and it was mounted close to the bridge, I was still able to get a warm mellow sound by strumming or picking close to the neck. Of course, when playing the strings closer to the bridge, one is able to get a more biting and cutting sound, which is of course to be expected. The sustain was also quite good on this guitar, especially when it was cranked all the way up. The sound was very vintage and I must say that it was quite good as well.
The bottom line is that I really liked this guitar overall. The thing which I did not care for was the quality of the finish, and I have already discussed that, and I do not consider this to be a major flaw or deal breaker. I was also disappointed that this guitar comes with a gig bag instead of a hardshell case. One more final note, I must also say that I find it a bit surprising that Gibson is asking so much money for this guitar when one can get a much more versatile guitar with a wider sonic palate, such as a Gibson Les Paul Studio Guitar for less money. However, each person is different, and each player has a special sound that they are looking for in a guitar. Even with the few issues that I have mentioned, I still like this guitar.
Well I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my review, but now if you will excuse me, I must get back to my practicing.
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