With Trivium’s new album, The Sin And The Sentence, about to drop, it’s time to look at one of the most ‘grrrr!’ Les Pauls in the Epiphone line. By Peter Hodgson
For many players, the Gibson Les Paul is the ultimate metal guitar. Its 24.75-inch scale length lends itself to a darker sound and looser playing feel, which means they don’t fight back against you quite as hard as a longer-scale instrument. They also give up pinch harmonics quite easily (especially handy if your name is Zakk). Their legendary physical weight is equal to their sonic heft, and while some players find them just too heavy for live use, others feel more secure with a heavy chunk of mahogany and maple hanging off their neck. And the electronics setup of two humbuckers with individual volume and tone controls means you have instant access to crunchy rhythm tones with the bridge pickup, singing lead tones with the neck humbucker, and plenty of scope to shape a great clean sound by combining the two pickups and balancing their controls just right.
WE ARE THE FIRE
Trivium vocalist and guitarist Matt Heafy is one hell of a metal player in the post-Hetfield style – although if you’ve followed the band’s career over the years, you’d know that they’ve evolved well past their early Metallica comparisons – and he demands a guitar that gives him both power and nuance. Heafy’s signature Les Paul looks and feels like something Papa Het himself would be more than comfortable with, and in fact, it’s very reminiscent of Kirk Hammett’s EMG‑loaded 1989 Gibson Les Paul Custom.
Designed in close collaboration with Heafy, this guitar has a mahogany body with a plain maple veneer top. Note that the specs list ‘veneer’ rather than a full-thickness top: this is most likely because the wide grain of mahogany would cause the paint to sink into the wood, whereas the much tighter grain of maple would keep the finish looking nice and slick. But evidently, Heafy was happy with the sound being mostly mahogany-driven rather than a more traditional mahogany and maple mix like you would find if a thicker top was used – and since maple can be a pretty heavy wood, this guitar isn’t as heavy as some of the more traditionally-spec’d Les Pauls are.
This being a Les Paul Custom, it’s ringed in classy‑looking binding on the body and headstock. The neck is made of mahogany with an ebony fretboard, and you’ll notice pretty quickly that the 1960s slim taper D profile neck meets the body via an ‘Axcess’ heel, which almost gives it the feel of a neck-thru. It’s a deep-set neck joint, too, which aids in the transfer of string energy. There are 22 medium jumbo frets and a set of deluxe die-cast tuners with black metal tulip buttons and a 14:1 turn ratio. The rest of the hardware is also black, including the Tune‑o‑Matic bridge, stopbar tailpiece, strap buttons, pickup rings, pickup selector switch and volume and tone knobs. The pickups are a set of EMG humbuckers: an 85 model in the neck position and an 81 in the bridge. The 81 is the preferred thrash pickup of many players, so it’s no surprise to find it here.
INTO THE PIT
This is a very aggressive-sounding guitar, perfectly suited for the post-thrash and post‑metalcore world of Trivium. The bridge pickup has that satisfyingly distinctive EMG upper-end sizzle and low-end chunk, along with that unique ability to sound equally great anywhere on the neck without having to adjust the amp controls. Some pickups sound great when dialled in for rhythm but not so great when you move up the neck for a little lead work, yet the 81 almost seems to know where you’re playing and adjusts its treble response accordingly – of course, it doesn’t actually know where you’re playing: that’s down to clever voicing, not some kind of miniaturised equalisation genie crammed into the preamp (though we certainly wouldn’t say no to that).
The 85 is a great round-sounding neck pickup with plenty of sustain and detail for solos. It’s not quite as ‘flutey’ as the EMG 60, which Mr. Hetfield used for years, but if you’re a high-speed player who lives for sweeps, taps, tremolo picking and string skipping, you’ll be more than happy with how clearly the 85 onboard this guitar tracks the nuances of your playing.
The neck is very comfortable as well, which is very important given the breadth of Heafy’s fretboard gymnastics. The fretwork is of a high standard, and the combination of the slim taper neck and smooth ebony board conspire to create a very slick, shred-friendly feel when you’re playing lead. Yet, there’s still enough neck to really grab onto for lower rhythm work. And for a 24.75-inch scale guitar, it handles lower tunings very well – although once you get past C, you’re probably going to want to take it to a pro tech for a really thorough setup. There are some nice clean tones to be found in the middle pickup setting, especially if you hit just the right balance of bridge-to-neck volumes. About 85 percent neck verses 100 percent bridge seems to be just about right for great atmospheric sounds with a touch of delay and chorus before slamming into a full‑tilt distorted crunch tone for the big riff.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This isn’t one of those signature guitars that screams the name of its designer out loud. You can play it without feeling like a walking Trivium advertisement, and I’m sure there are a lot of metal players who would love a guitar with these exact specs, regardless of whose name is on the truss rod cover. You can certainly bust those Trivium flavoured riffs out in abundance, but all in all, this is one hell of a versatile guitar.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• EMG 81 and 85 Pickups
• 1960s slim taper neck
• Mahogany body and neck
• Maple veneer
• Ebony fingerboard
• Metal-approved distortion tones
• Very shredworthy neck
• Great cleans
• No coil splitting
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