Epiphone Les Paul: Made in China vs Made In Korea?

April 25, 2011 by  

Epiphone Les Paul GuitarIf you want a guitar that has a good sound and won’t leave you begging on the street for spare change, the Epiphone Les Paul is a popular choice. But one of the ongoing questions is whether there’s difference between those Made In China and the guitars Made In Korea and which you should be looking at buying.

When you’re first starting out as a guitarist, what kind of guitar you have isn’t particularly important. If you know exactly one chord and can only hit it half the time, a quality guitar isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. You’re still going to sound like crap.

There will come a point, though, when you need a better guitar, because your sound will suffer. Plus, this is going to be the time when you want to get something that looks cool because, frankly, half the fun of playing is looking awesome when you do it.

Of course, if you’re like most guitarists, you don’t have a ton of money to spend on your guitar, either. You need that money for beer and women (or men). So what you’re looking for is something that sounds good, looks good, and won’t break the bank, which brings us to Epiphone Les Paul.

If you think of an electric guitar, the picture you have in your head is probably a Gibson Les Paul. Guitar legend Les Paul first designed the electric guitar that bears his name back in the fifties, and the guitar is still iconic.

They are also, generally speaking, some of the most expensive guitars on the market. The Gibson models can easily run into the thousands of dollars, putting them well outside the budget of a lot of people. Fortunately, they aren’t the only option in town.

The Epiphone company makes its own version of the classic Les Paul, but they cost a whole lot less. This is largely because they manufacture them overseas, primarily, as mentioned before, in China and Korea.

Epiphone Les Paul guitars are mostly indistinguishable from the Gibson version, from their look and feel to their sounds. Only a very, very few people would be able to tell the difference at a glance–you’ll notice the difference from the headstock design. It’s tempting to label them a knock off, but the company is actually owned by Gibson.

In fact, the main thing you’ll hear discussed in music circles is whether there is a difference between the Chinese and Korean made guitars, and if the difference is big enough to affect your buying decision.

This is one of those things where it’s hard to get a handle on the answer. Part of this, naturally, is because some of it can be subjective. You might try a Made In China (MIC) Epiphone and a Made In Korea (MIK) Epiphone and not be able to tell any difference, while another person might hear something different between them.

What this means is that you’re going to get a lot of different opinions on what sounds best. If you have the chance, your best option is to get a hold of one of each and see how each one sounds, and which one sounds better to your ears.

Depending on who you believe, the sound difference is largely down to the wood. The two factories have different suppliers, and wood does make some difference in sound; unique wood is believed to be the reason Stradivarius violins sound so much better than others.

Generally speaking, for people who claim there is a difference between the two manufactures, the consensus is that the Made in Korea Epiphone guitars have a slightly deeper, richer sound. The difference is generally said to be fairly slight, and not as important as the differences between individual guitars.

The other issue is quality. There is some concern that the Chinese made guitars simply aren’t as well made as the Korean guitars. This is generally believed to be the result of the difference in working conditions in the two countries.

Without getting into a treatise on international labor relations, here’s what you need to consider. China has a much lower standard of living, and the workers in their factories are paid much less than you would get elsewhere, and are, allegedly, expected to work grinding hours. The general theory is the poor working conditions can lead to compromised guitars.

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The Korean guitars, on the other hand, are manufactured in South Korea, which has one of the highest standards of living in Asia, and the factory workers that produce the Korean made Epis are well paid and well trained which, if you believe the rumors, means the Made In Korea Epiphone guitars are much better constructed.

There is also an Indonesian factory which opened more recently, but there doesn’t seem to be much being said about the quality and sound of those guitars. No doubt the serious gearheads will have an opinion soon enough.

So which is better; the Made in Korea Epiphone or the Made in China Epiphone? The unhelpful truth is that there isn’t a great answer to that. Generally speaking, if you have the choice and can’t actually try a guitar out before you buy it; you should probably hedge your bets and find one of the Korean made guitars.

Ultimately, though, your best option is always to try the guitar out yourself. Go to your local guitar store and play with a couple of different models. No one can say what guitar is going to look and feel best for you, so you need to be the one to make the decision. If you do that, you’ll get the right guitar no matter where it comes from.

Made In Korea Epiphone Les Paul


18 Responses to “Epiphone Les Paul: Made in China vs Made In Korea?”
  1. Wynand says:

    so how do you tell which country its made in can’t seem to find it on my 2007 silverburst from MF,really, I don’t care it plays great anyway.

  2. musica online says:

    Hi, great post! Thanks..

  3. BOBBY says:

    Hi:I have 3 les Pauls 2 Explorers and 3 Flying V’s All Gibsons. I bought a Epi Les Paul Stsndard Pro The Other Day. Made in China. I’ve read positive and negative reviews. I’ve been playing for 37 years now and I just wanted to say this is a really nice guitar.Plays well and sounds really good. I play metal and this is a kick butt guitar.
    Korea or China Epi does have quality control. If you want a gibson, Buy a Gibson Butt Epi is about as close as your going to get other wise.
    Have a nice day

  4. dewayne says:

    I can tell a world of difference between the Epi’s MIK and MIC. For me, the MIK models have a much better feel that offers far greater playability, a much tighter finish, and most importantly a superior tonality. I would put my MIK Sheraton II against any Gibson 335 model, yes the Gibsons do play and sound better, but the MIK Epi is a very close second for me, in fact I would go as far as to rate my MIK Epi above my Gibson LP Jr in all categories but hardware used; the MIC Sheraton II’s I have tried are not even in the same ball park. You can distinguish the factory where Epi’s are made if you know how to interpret their serial numbers (Google this and you can find a listing of the various serial number patterns used by each Epi factory.) I’m thinking of giving the MII models a go next. I actually go out of my way to avoid purchasing products made in China (as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan) not because of quality issues but rather because I choose not to support a military government; stand up for a free Tibet, Just Say No to Made in China.

  5. Soundhead says:

    The biggest difference between a guitar made in South Korea and one made in China is that one is made in a reasonably democratic country with a fair human rights record—and the other is made in a totalitarian hellhole that exploits its own people and still uses forms of slavery.

  6. Rich says:

    I been playing for years and have touched pretty much every guitar out there. The quality with every guitar is different regardless where it was made, but there is a baseline and it starts with the country that it was made at. USA guitars are the best, then Japan, then Germany, then Canada, then Korea, then Mexico. In my opinion Chinese and Indonesia guitars are very low quality because of craftsmanship and cheap quality parts and electronics. Not to say that there are lemons in every company regardless where it was made, but the majority these are the standards to start with. There are other companies with guitars made at in other countries in the world, but as far as the big major ones I’ve mentioned are the ones I know.

  7. Soundhead says:

    Korean instruments are typically of much better quality than Chinese, though I have seen a couple of Chinese instruments that weren’t bad. I’d never buy a Chinese-made instrument, however (slavery, unfair trading practice, civil rights abuses, etc., etc., Etc.).

  8. tony says:

    I have a Chinese made LP…the finish is impeccable…the quality and playability are as good as any Gibson I have tried.Mine has the plus top with the old style tulip tuners and 57 pickups,Peopl always talk about tone…what about setup and playability

  9. timothy says:

    gibby and epi,,,,for me the guitars made in mich.usa,,,kalamazoo,,are far better 1981 or 1982 gibby les paul ,,great guitar,,,epi,s too I have a spirit from epi,,,great guitar,,,but gibson from nashville ,,,buzzin frets,,cheap hardware,,,rose wood fake,,,humbuckers,,,hum,,,, now I bought a epi flyin v and a explorer both korina,s flyin v great guitar both from korea,,,,,,,but the explorer,,,,neck bowed,,,,,couldn,t adjust,,,send it back to nashville for work,,,,,,they would not fix,,,,,,,,send something else,,,,,,,I HAVE GIBSON FROM THE 70,S AND 80,S,,,so I want those korina guitars,,,,,not something they want me to have,,,,,,,korean guitars are great,,,,,,,chinese no resale value,,,,,you have to give away a chinese pine wood ,,plywood,,,press board guitars,,,,cheap cheap made,,,,,unless you spend 10,000.00 for a fake 1958 gibby jimmy page eric clapto bbking fake guitar,,,,,,this isn,t 1958 public

  10. adrie says:

    i have owned a usa gibson les paul standard, at the same time also a indonesian samick greg bennett design avion 6, i have played them for more than a year…..i sold the gibson because the samick was far out the better guitar.
    gibson brand is far overrated and much to expensive and low quality for the amount of money.
    payed for the gibson about 2400 euro, payed for the samick 600 euro.
    it doesn’t matter where the guitar is made, if you see a guitar you like, than play it

  11. Art says:

    South Korea has been manufacturing guitars for quite a while. In fact, Korean plants have been making Gibson Guitars for a while. I own a four guitars made in Korea. An Epiphone Broadway, A Cort Les Paul ( from 1980 ) a Schechter (2000) and an Ibanez. All are very well crafted: attention to detail, excellent finishes, good craftsmanship. My guitars are over 20 years old ( except for the Epi. Broadway) and have no manufacturing problems. Now, I recently bought a Chinese made Les Paul Ultra, and had to return it immediately, because of poor craftsmanship and materials. The word that comes to mind is ‘flimsy’ and “veneer” and “choppy” and mostly ‘rough’. The guitar looked good from afar, but when I picked it up, it felt like made out of paper mache. Of course, that’s only one guitar, so I can’t really generalize and say all chinese made guitars are poorly manufactured.

  12. Geoff Palle" says:

    Well… I guess everybody is entitled to an opinion… Truth is The Chinese made Epi’s are made in a plant that only produces Epiphones. This plant was established by Gibson, with veteran Gibson employees & many of the best Aria Korean luthiers. The work environment is meticulous. It did take a few years to iron out the snags, but it’s done now. I work on guitars for a living. Since 2012, I would rate the basic instrument quality from Qingdao China a better build quality then the Samick/Aria era from Korea. Components are not the same quality as the instruments.(tuners, bridges, ect) With the exception of the pickups. Instrument building isn’t a “hands on” process any more. A Campbell/Huges CnC machine will do the same job every-time no matter what country it resides in. If you take the time to listen closely, the quality of the wood used & pairing the two components (neck & body)has the greatest influence on the tone, play-ability, stability, & most import, the balance. If you have a 2lb neck glued into a 4.5lb LP body? That axe is going to be “neck heavy”, same neck paired with a 5.5lb LP body? Much better balance. The dear folks at Samick never seemed to quite get that. Say what you will, every instrument is different. As different as each snowflake. My favorite Les Paul is a ’69 9lb 14oz Sunburst. My favorite ES 330 is a MIC Deawon built Casino with Lollar p-ups & CTS pots. Fav ES335 is a stock ’92 Peerless built Dot. I own hundreds of instruments, made the world over. I’ve only ever kept the ones that felt great to me. Not everybody likes or expects the same as I. I’ve played plenty of “stinkers” that were made right here in the good ol’ US of A. Played plenty of sweeties made in India, Slovakia, China, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Spain, ect… Play what suits YOU! Don’t be a Brand Snob… MIC Epi’s are good enough for Zack! Saw him at an intimate venue & he played a Master Built Epi DR500MCE all night! So There ya go to the Nay Sayers…..

  13. Scott says:

    I have 2 epi Paul’s MIC, two different factories. One is a cheaper p100 the other a custom. I absolutely love the way they play, love the way they sound, and really are well constructed (Especially the custom). Both have great tone. There is a chance I got super lucky. Both are left handed maybe that has something to do with it

  14. Bill says:

    Having had several Epiphones and still have, Casinos, les Paul’s and Rivieras. I’ve found Koreans to be better overal, I can even narrow it down to three plants, Unsung, Samick and peerless. I’ve had some great early Samick les Paul’s which I’ve found to have hotter pups and a great feel. Peerless for me made great Casinos but the guitar that I always turn too is my Unsung Casino, now and then a guitar comes along that you ain’t got to touch, it’s set up just right the build and quality are top notch and it sounds superb. Ever since buying this guitar I look for Unsung Epis. Epiphone moved their production from here to China to cut costs just when Unsung had reached its pinical in quality control. In my opinion the current Chinese Epis look good but lack finish, I have a Chinese Casino and although it’s Identical to my Korean it feels like a different guitar…
    Korean is the new Japanese 😉

  15. Jodi says:

    An interesting point, right from the start.

    Blind tests of violins repeatedly show listeners and performers prefer modern instruments on sound alone.

    The fact that the article raises this as an example of superior wood potentially undermines any argument for significant differences by wood alone, and maybe suggests much of the perceived difference is that successful musicians spend more on their instruments, and sound better regardless of brand.

  16. Jodi says:

    My left handed Epi LP PTP sounds great (providing its setup correctly), there is a few niggles with the nut, so I will take it in at some point to have it replaced, and have someone who knows what they are doing check over the frets, as I think one or two are slightly uneven.

    If you go to far with neck relief adjustments and get it wrong it can turn it into a horrible sounding guitar though.

    I’ve found the pickups a bit muddy in the low mids, I’ve adjusted them to reduce the bottom end for now. I do plan to replace the ProBuckers within the next 12 months. It sounds really nice powerful and bright and tele-ish in the high end, it’ll be interesting to see how close it can get to the gorgeous clean high-end of a Gibson with better pickups, as this is the main area where the difference is clear to my ears when listening to guitars – but then I don’t like lots of aggression in the bottom-end.

  17. Geoff says:

    What 50+ years of playing, building, hot roding, & repairing instruments has taught me is… There are many factors that develop tone. If I were to list them in order… I would have to find every nuance angle by which to be subjective. Of the 8 or 10 directions I could start from, I’d say without a doubt the primary 2 tonal contributors are (1)The players touch, attack, trill, meter, palm mute, choice of approach location (near the neck, over the frets, over a pickup, just off the bridge, ect), choice of mode, choice of string for any given note… (2) the Quality of the woods used in construction. This has everything to do with tone. Woods that communicate their best qualities across the 40-8k Hz range. Wood that is over dried, dried too quickly, or kilned to soon after a green harvest will lack embracing qualities. Right now? 90-95% of ALL guitars made are built with “green” woods. The forest can’t grown quality tone woods fast enough.
    Guitars that sound great acoustically, will sound great when amplified.
    What voice any given player wants to give an instrument is certainly available. strings, nuts, bridges, frets, pickups, amps, pots, tubes, active circuitry, pedals, ect… Oh My the choices are endless. Remember, Jeff Beck & Chet Atkins didn’t grow up with all these options… And those are the players who will sound like themselves no matter what you give them to play…

  18. Geoff says:

    Never rush your gear. When and if it’s meant to find you or you it? It will! There’s a bunch of “Cool for a Minute” S**T Fixers out there. Think any of those will make you a distinctive player? Take from an ol’ guy… They won’t. Get in touch, then share it with your instrument… Feel something & express it with your instrument… Find something worth saying, say it through your instrument…

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