Epiphone Les Paul Modern

I found myself hankering after another Les Paul as I had a set of Gibson 498T/490R pickups looking for a home. I didn’t want to spend Gibson money, so having been impressed with an IBG Epiphone Explorer, I decided to take the plunge on an IBG Epiphone Les Paul Modern. How would it compare to my old Gibson?

Build Quality

Stunning!!!

I expected it to be pretty good based on my experience with the Explorer, but the Les Paul Modern has proven to be on a totally different level. The finish is flawless and it’s fitted with quality components. When I reviewed the Explorer, I said it was excellent and close to the best at its price point. I can’t say the same about the Les Paul Modern. It is at least as good as a PRS SE, it’s as good or possibly better than my Gibson Les Paul Studio, and in some respects, it’s also better than my LTD Deluxe. In truth, it’s on a par with a Japanese Jackson Soloist I owned a number of years ago.

Ignore the price completely, and this guitar still stands up to any of the others I’ve mentioned. Given that you can buy this new for about £600 it has to be the steal of the century! Looking on the Andertons’ website today, a PRS SE Custom 24 is £700-£900, my LTD is retailing at £1,399, and a Gibson Les Paul Studio is £1,500. Perhaps I was lucky with my Epiphone Les Paul Modern, but I swear to you that this guitar is at least the quality of any of those. Just how they’ve been able to do this, with the very high specification, for just £600 is beyond me.

Neck

The basic neck is the typical Les Paul mahogany with a set-neck construction. The neck is a gloss finish with the wood grain exposed and it’s beautiful. Upper fret access is improved by the heel being significantly cut away, but it’s still no superstrat. You get improved upper fret access, but I wouldn’t claim any more. The neck profile is a Slim Taper, but on the Modern, we have an asymmetrical carve. This gives you slightly less wood to contend with on the treble side, which sounds odd but is actually very comfortable and a joy to play. Add to that the ebony fretboard with typical Les Paul trapezoid inlays and you have a fine looking neck, especially with the premium feature of neck binding. I confess that I much prefer the neck on this Epiphone to my old Gibson.

Body

Once again, this is typical Les Paul, with a mahogany body and a solid maple cap. No surprises there, but you will get a surprise when you pick it up.  Compared to most Les Pauls, this weighs nothing, thanks to ultra weight relief. My guitar has the popular Sparkling Burgundy finish, and like all of the Modern guitars, it is only painted on the front of the guitar. This works out very well, because the natural hue of the mahogany goes perfectly with the red top. As with the neck, the glossed wood grain is gorgeous and the binding makes the whole thing look and feel like a guitar at least twice the price.

Controls & Hardware

 This is a typical Les Paul, so the layout of the controls is nothing new. The selector switch is exactly where it should be and you have the usual two volume and two tone controls, exactly where you’d expect to find them. Add the twin humbucker layout, a standard Les Paul pickguard, and a 3 + 3 headstock that resembles Gibson’s and you couldn’t really mistake it for anything else. It all sounds rather boring, but the Modern holds a few tricks up its sleeves.

 The pots used here are all CTS, so you’re getting good quality components where it counts. Three of those pots are push/pull so you can coil split the bridge and neck humbuckers independently and also switch to the Peter Green ‘out of phase’ tone. Add a treble bleed circuit that works perfectly and you have a vast array of tones at your fingertips. Having said that, this is one of the few areas where I am going to be making some minor changes. I’ve never liked singlecoil tones in the bridge position, so I’m going to use that push/pull to move the pickups between series and parallel instead. Other than that, it’s just cosmetic changes I’m going to make. A Les Paul just doesn’t look right to me without the Rhythm/Treble bezel on the selector switch, so I’m going to add one of those. I’m also not keen on the transparent knobs, so they’re getting changed to black Speed knobs, which will tie in with the black pickguard and pickup rings.

 At the other end of the guitar, you get a GraphTech NuBone nut and to help solve the Les Paul’s well-known tuning problems, Grover Locking Rotomatic tuners come standard. I’ve had no particular tuning issues so far, so they seem to work very well and they certainly operate smoothly, with a real quality feel. To be honest, it’s hard to think of what else they could have added to the Les Paul Modern to improve its specification. If you want a guitar that is genuine quality and gives you access to a very wide array of tones, you’d be hard pushed to find anything better, and certainly not at this sort of price.

 Pickups

 I confess that I am a serial pickup changer, to the point where I think I might be addicted to changing pickups. As a result, I bought this totally expecting to dislike the cheap Epiphone pickups and changing them for the Gibson 498T/490R set I had lying around. The stock pickups are a ProBucker 3 in the bridge and a ProBucker 2 in the neck. Both use an Alnico 2 magnet, with the bridge wound to 8.6Khm and the neck to 7.9Khm. These are based on Gibson Burstbucker pickups and are very much aimed at the traditional PAF sound that has become synonymous with the Gibson Les Paul.

 On first playing the guitar, I was stunned to discover that these are genuinely good pickups. They have a beautifully warm tone that is classic PAF and having made such a good start, I was even more surprised with the split tones. I don’t generally like split tones as they never sound like a proper singlecoil to me, but these are surprisingly impressive. The split neck pickup is particularly impressive and I find myself using it more than I’ve ever used a neck singlecoil tone before. Notes are well defined, warm, and smooth. What’s more impressive, is that they retain their definition under a surprising amount of gain. These pickups offer some of the best clean tones I’ve ever experienced, fantastic Blues tones, superb Rock tones and will take you all the way up to Iron Maiden levels of gain. It seems absolutely fitting that such a versatile guitar has such versatile pickups. For the first time in my life, I’m going to leave the stock pickups in place and just sell the 498T/490R set.

 Overall

 This isn’t just the best £600 guitar I’ve ever owned, and it isn’t just the best sub-£1,000 guitar I’ve ever owned; this is very possibly one of the best guitars I’ve ever owned in my life. OK, I’ve never bothered with really expensive guitars, but I have owned a few guitars in the £1,000 - £2,000 bracket and this Epiphone Les Paul Modern stands up VERY well to any of them. I’m not totally delusional, so I know there will be better guitars out there. Having a Les Paul with proper Gibson Burstbuckers instead of the Epiphone ProBuckers would undoubtedly improve things, but we’re talking about minimal gains for a massive increase in budget. It’s the same story with the hardware. Yes, you will get better quality on a Custom Shop Gibson Les Paul, but once again it’s minimal gains for a substantially bigger investment. I just don’t see the value in that at all. This is a seriously impressive guitar that is excellent quality and superb value. Overall, this is a much better guitar than my old Gibson Les Paul Studio and as I’m not a particular brand snob, I would take this over the Gibson any day of the week. It really is that good! 

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Comments

  • Switch625Switch625 Frets: 587
    Pics?
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  • rlwrlw Frets: 4739
    Good review.  I'm almost tempted but for the six LPs in my music room........................
    Save a cow.  Eat a vegetarian.
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  • Switch625 said:
    Pics?
    I was going to upload some pictures but it looks like I can't simply upload pictures from my PC, I have to provide a link to a webpage instead. My pictures are on my PC, not a webpage.
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  • Dr_NecessiterDr_Necessiter Frets: 306
    Nice review - how do you find the phase switching with these pickups? I saw a demo on the internet and it seemed a bit indifferent tonally but wondered how you found it in the flesh?
    "I've got the moobs like Jabba".
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  • Nice review - how do you find the phase switching with these pickups? I saw a demo on the internet and it seemed a bit indifferent tonally but wondered how you found it in the flesh?
    I can't honestly say it's a tone I'm going to use a lot and I suspect it's going to be quite specialised for most people. My son disliked it immediately, but I'm more open to using it on occasion. I would liken it to using coil splits - they never sound like proper single coils, but they're perfectly serviceable if it's not your main tone. I find the phase switching here  to be inferior to some options I've heard, but perfectly serviceable if you're not using it all the time.
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