Another issue, another Les Paul. Alex Wilson goes deep with this Epiphone to see what makes it stand out from the pack.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
The electric guitar market of 2019 is a fantastic place for the interested buyer. The proliferation of small manufacturers and the explosion in e-commerce has upset the comfortable and complacent relationship between big manufacturers and big retailers. Now that the dust is beginning to settle and all parties are adjusting to the new normal, a sense of healthy competition prevails.
Everyday guitar buyers are generally looking to buy a sonorous and stylish axe for a bit less than $1,500, and they now have the big brands (as well as boutique manufacturers) releasing fantastic mid-range guitars of all kinds. Epiphone’s Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO epitomises this drive towards high quality at a low price point. While nothing about the design or vibe of this guitar is a surprise, Epiphone still convincingly seal the deal with premium features that would normally push a guitar’s price skyward.
So what are these great perks? I’ll begin with an unsexy one that nonetheless symbolises the PlusTop PRO’s emphasis on real quality. Rather than coming with cheap mass-produced tuners, we have here a set of Grover Machine heads with an 18:1 tuning ratio (these numbers just mean high precision and stability).
As much as punters get excited over finishes and pickups, having a guitar that tunes precisely and reliably is a cornerstone of great sound and performance. It’s the kind of thing that literally makes you play and sound better. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that a major manufacturer is putting industry-best components in a mid-market guitar. Rounding out the standard Les Paul design is a 1960s-style neck with a slim D profile. The frets are vintage-style, flat and a bit wide. The curve and fretwork add up to a neck that is very playable and unobtrusive. Players with smaller hands will find it particularly homey and forgiving.
The rest of the build is much as one may expect, based around a mahogany neck and body. There’s an extra bit of aesthetic sheen coming from the Triple AAA Flame Maple Veneer Top (this is the PlusTop referred to in the name). As usual with an Epiphone, you can get the axe in many different colours to suit your tastes.
WANT A SINGLE OR A DOUBLE?
Let’s talk tone and pickups. The guitar comes loaded with Epiphone’s ProBucker Humbuckers, which are a stock PAF-style set. They are good enough on their own – unlikely to make you double- take but neither will you be rushing to replace them. Switching between the positions, the PlusTop Pro sounds like, well, a Les Paul.
There’s that rich, deep roar coming from the bridge pup, and that buttery depth that makes you want to dig in with the pick when flipped to neck. I found the PlusTop Pro’s middle position to be a low-key revelation. It truly splits the difference between the neck’s fullness and the bridge’s bite, making it an incredibly satisfying setting for solo playing (whether an actual solo, just playing on your own, or both).
The above alone would justify the price of this instrument, but the icing on the cake is the ability to coil-tap both pickups. Many players view coil-tapping as a gimmick and unfortunately it is implemented shoddily on some instruments. However, in this case, it works a treat.
The push/pull switches on the pots are easy to use and the tone produced proves a respectable imitation of a single coil. Coil-tapped, the PlusTop won’t get you any truly jangly, chiming tones a la Fender Jaguar, but will land you in a place reminiscent of Strat pickups crossed with P-90s.
These settings are voiced well to work with the guitar’s standard pickup positions, and it’s really cool to be able to pop a pot while playing and discover a new take on a lead tone or rhythmic ostinato.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A Les Paul Standard currently retails in Australia for $1,149. The PlusTop Pro puts only an extra $100 on the price for the many additional features it boasts. So within the same product family, this represents eye-watering value for money.
If you’re in the market for a classic guitar that sounds great and won’t hurt your back pocket, this may well be the one.
• Push/pull coil-tapping
• Triple AAA flame veneer top
• Epiphone ProBucker PAF-style pickups
• High-Quality 18-to-one Grover tuners
• 1960s Slim D neck
• Great value for money
• Excellent hardware
• Large range of good tones via coil-splitting
• At this price, it’s hard to say
Australis Music Group
Ph: (02) 9698 4444