Pros: This is a very nice sounding guitar.
GIBSON LES PAUL JUNIOR SPECIAL SINGLE CUTAWAY ELECTRIC GUITAR
As I am sure many of you who are reading this review already know, the 1950's was not a decade that was dominated by the Gibson guitar company, and certainly not by its Les Paul guitar. Sales of solid body guitars at Gibson were not very high, and were declining fast. It was the Fender guitar company that was clearly the dominant leader in the solid body electric guitar area, with the Stratocaster being perhaps the most popular model with the buying public. In an effort to revitalize the sagging sales of the Les Paul line of guitars, Gibson introduced the Les Paul Special in 1955, as an affordable upgrade to the low cost student model known as the Les Paul Junior. However, sales continued to be poor for the Les Paul family of guitars, and eventually at the end of 1962, Gibson decided to pull the plug on the whole line of Les Paul guitars, and move on.
However, as we all know, the death of the Les Paul line of guitars was a bit premature, and in the mid to late 1960's people like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Peter Green in the U.K, and people like Mike Bloomfield in the U.S., began to be recognized as being great blues musicians, and they attributed their distinctive sound to the Les Paul guitar, most specifically the 1959 Les Paul Standard. This awakened a new interest in an old style of music, the Blues, and it also awakened a new interest in a discontinued line of guitars, namely the Les Paul series. Gibson rapidly resurrected the whole line of Les Paul guitars in the late 1960's, and the rest is history. Since that time, there have been so many incarnations of the Les Paul that I doubt that any but the most devout, and wealthy of collectors out there could ever have a copy of each one. But enough of the history lesson, let's get on to my review of the current incarnation of the Gibson Les Paul Junior Special Single Cutaway Electric Guitar.
Before I get too far into this review, I should mention that this model Les Paul is named the Les Paul Junior Special. O.K., I know that a Les Paul Junior is supposed to have one pickup, and this guitar has two pickups. I also know that the Les Paul Special is supposed to be an upgrade to the Les Paul Junior. So why did Gibson choose to blend the names of "Junior" and "Special" and call this the Les Paul Junior Special? Well I decided to call Gibson and I asked them that very question. The answer I got from the Gibson folks was simple and straightforward. The answer was, "Gee, I don't know. But it sure is a nice guitar." I can't argue with that. My guess is that because this guitar has an Ebony fingerboard, some creativity was needed in order to name it. Why not simply call it what it is, namely a Gibson Les Paul Special with an Ebony Fingerboard? I think that would have been a simpler solution, and would certainly have avoided confusion.
Since price is always an important consideration in making any decision to purchase a product, I think that I should mention that the Gibson Les Paul Special Junior Single Cutaway has a list price tag of $1999.00, but it can be readily found selling for as low as $999.00 from some of the large national musical instrument chain stores. This guitar is available in three colors. The colors are Alpine White, Heritage Cherry, and Gloss Yellow. Over the years, the Les Paul Special Single Cutaway has had many incarnations, some with P-90 pickups, some with P-100 pickups, and some with Humbucking pickups. This current incarnation of the Les Paul Special Guitar is a model that comes equipped with P-90 pickups, which is of course what the original model back in the 1950's came with.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, the Gibson Les Paul Special was created so as to try to capture some of the market share for solid body guitars. Of course, one of the best ways to do that was to make a good quality, good sounding guitar, but to also make it affordable to the public at the same time. Gibson was looking for a way to make a guitar that was an affordable way for a musician to join the ranks of Les Paul guitar ownership. Well how does one make an affordable entry level guitar that is still good enough to bear the Les Paul name? The answer is to skimp on everything that is used in making this guitar, cut corners and therefore costs in manufacturing, and do not add any unnecessary frills. Just make a simple, basic, good sounding guitar. Well, Gibson accomplished these goals.
The Gibson Les Paul Junior Special is the most basic, stripped down Les Paul you may find on the market today. However, it is still a Gibson Les Paul, and that says something. Like its higher end siblings, the Gibson Les Paul Junior Special has a neck and body that are made of Mahogany. The body of the Les Paul Junior Special is made of a solid slab of flat Mahogany, unlike a higher end or more expensive Les Paul, such as a Les Paul Standard, which has a carved Maple top. Leaving off the Maple top cuts down on several things. One is that it keeps cost down. Another is that it keeps the weight of the guitar down, and you will notice that this guitar feels significantly lighter (about 2 pounds on average) than a Les Paul Standard. Unfortunately, it also cuts down on the bite and crispness of the sound of the guitar. This guitar is darker sounding than a Les Paul model with a Maple top, a Mahogony body, and P-90 pickups. In certain respects it sounds more like an SG Classic with P-90 pickups, because both of them have a solid Mahogany body. However, because it is thicker than an SG Classic, the Les Paul Junior Special has a deeper, darker, and richer tone. Of course, depending on your musical tastes and the sound you want to achieve, this can be a desirable trait and not a drawback. However, that being said, it is important to realize that you are not going to readily get that classic crisp, cutting bite from the Les Paul Special Junior that you can so easily get out from a Les Paul Standard, and you are not going to get the same tone as you would get from some other Les Paul models that have a Maple top with P-90's.
Like most Les Paul models, the neck on this incarnation of the Les Paul Special is also made of solid Mahogany, and it has 22-frets. However there is a big difference in the tonewood that the fingerboard is made from, and that is what excited me about this guitar. Most Les Paul models, including the previous incarnations of the Les Paul Special, were all made with a Rosewood fingerboard. However this Les Paul Junior Special has an Ebony fingerboard. Is this a big deal? You bet it is. An Ebony fingerboard enhances the articulation of the pick attack when one is playing. If you are skeptical of this, I would urge you to compare a similar model of a Les Paul with a Rosewood fingerboard side by side to this guitar with an Ebony fingerboard. I think you will agree that the individual notes of a chord are more distinct and clear, and the bite and attack of individually played notes is more pronounced. I was really excited by this.
The inlays on the neck are Pearloid Dot Inlays. There is no binding to be found anywhere on this guitar. The tuning pegs on the Les Paul Special Junior are white button tuners, and I found that they did a very good job of holding this guitar in tune quite well. Personally, I prefer tuning pegs that are a bit larger because they are easier to turn. The Les Paul Special Junior Single Cutaway has a Tune-O-Matic Bridge and Stopbar Tailpiece. All of the hardware on the guitar is finished in a rust resistant Chrome. There are two Volume and Tone control knob, which means there is one pair of each for each of the two pickups.
And now a few words about the feel of this guitar. As to the playability, I very much liked the neck on the Gibson Les Paul Special Junior Single Cutaway. The neck is a nice blend between the super slim and fast 1960's Slim Taper style, and the thicker Rounded 1950's style neck. This neck felt substantial, and yet was fast and quick. Further, the slightly thicker neck, in conjunction with the long neck tenor, really makes this guitar sustain beautifully. The contour of the body, as well as the generous single cutaway, permits easy reach to even the highest of the frets, and the construction of the guitar is such that one can even play chords very high up on the neck and close to the body with ease and comfort. The fret work was very nice and consistent and there were no sharp overhangs or edges.
Overall, I would have to say that I very much liked the way this guitar sounds and plays. It is one great lower mid-priced guitar. It is a fun guitar to play. It is light enough to play for an all night gig, and it is well balanced, and not too neck heavy. The Les Paul Junior Special feels good to play, it has great tone, and has the classic sound of 1960's rock. It is versatile enough to get a jazz sound, a 60's rock or blues sound, and also can produce a very modern sound as well. The Ebony fingerboard elevates this guitar from some of the other previous incarnations of the Les Paul Special, especially the faded models. In short, this is a very nice sounding guitar, and it is a very versatile sounding instrument.
In short, I really liked this guitar. I will admit that there are models of the Gibson Les Paul Special that I like better than this Les Paul Junior Special, such as the 1960 Les Paul Special Custom Shop Reissue, but then again a Custom Shop guitar costs a significantly greater amount of money, and after all, you get what you pay for. Comparing a Gibson Les Paul Special Junior Single Cutaway Guitar to a Custom Shop Les Paul Special Single Cutaway is like comparing a stripped down Ford Focus to a Lincoln Continental with a full luxury package. Both the Ford Focus and the Lincoln are made by the Ford Car Company, and both will get you where you want to go, but one will take you there is style. Owning the Les Paul Special Junior Single Cutaway will permit you to say that you own a Gibson Les Paul, which is of course saying a lot. However, you will not be able to say that you own one of the greatest guitars that Gibson has ever made. A final point to keep in mind is that this is a Gibson, and as such, it will hold it's value over time in the aftermarket should you ever decide to sell this guitar and get a different one.
Well I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my review, but now if you will please excuse me, I must get back to my practicing.