Les Paul: Gibson vs Epiphone – Can You Tell The Difference?
March 28, 2014 by Jack Smith
Hey Gear-Vault readers! An interesting debate was brought before our attention earlier this week and we thought we’d pass it along to you guys. Let’s put your mad guitar knowledge to the test! Comment your answer at the end of this kick ass discussion!
Can you tell which is Gibson and which is the Epiphone?
Now let’s take a closer look at these two guitars:
At first glance, these two guitars appear quite similar. In fact, many players might even have trouble distinguishing between the two. However, did you know that the left guitar often costs as much as NINE TIMES than the one on the right? That’s right. The axe on the left is perhaps one of the most recognizable guitars in the world: a Gibson Les Paul Standard. You can typically purchase one of these for around $2500-3500. Pictured just to the right of the Gibson is the Epiphone Les Paul Standard, which usually clocks in at just under $400 (or $499 for the Plustop Standard Pro).
- Video – Can you tell the difference between the Gibson and Epiphone?
- Guitar Aesthetics – The Actual Design of the Guitar
- Tonewoods – What the Guitar Is Really Made Of
- Finishes – How the Guitar Is Protected
- Pickups – When Electronics Come Into Play
- Phase Control and Bypass Capabilities – Some More Electrical Differences
- Business Branding – “Only a Gibson is Good Enough”
Guitar Aesthetics – The Actual Design of the Guitar
Let’s begin this investigation by inviting you, the reader, to examine the infographic image above. But this time, pay attention to the aesthetics of the guitar. As you can see, most of the stylistic touches between these guitars are nearly identical. Both feature the classic four knob control system with 22 jumbo frets marked by the classic Les Paul trapezoidal inlay. In addition, both guitars finish with the similar headstocks and sport matching pickguards. In fact, if we choose just to examine the visual similarities between these two guitars, you’ll find them to be quite similar. Although seemingly similar, these are not the same guitar. The most striking differences between these two guitars are:
Tonewoods – What The Guitar Is Really Made Of
Both guitars feature thin, 60’s style mahogany necks with rosewood fretboards. This same mahogany is also used as the underbody for each of the guitars. The top material of Gibson’s Les Paul is constructed of maple wood with a nitrocellulose finish, while the Epiphone uses a maple veneer with a standard gloss finish. This actually serves to make a huge difference in the tone of the guitar. FYI, random but relevant fact: veneer is created by gluing a multitude of thin sheets of wood together. While this creates a product that is less likely to crack, it in many ways seems to slightly alter the dynamics and removes a bit of the lower mid warmth. Since the maple top and the tone associated with it is one of the most ICONIC parts of the classic Gibson Les Paul, this point of contention seems to indicate at least one area where Gibson’s Les Paul is demonstrably better than its Epiphone cousin. However, wood is only as good as its protection, and as you may know, these two guitars have entirely different finishes…
Finishes – How the Guitar is Protected
We briefly touched on this in the previous paragraph, but a huge difference between these two axes is the choice of finishes. As stated, Gibson’s Les Paul uses a nitrocellulose finish which must be painstakingly applied via spray to the guitar (the fumes are actually poisonous to breathe). Despite the hassle, when applied properly, nitrocellulose finishes are very thin, allowing them to create a minimal impact on the vibrations of your guitar body while playing. The Epiphone’s standard gloss is roughly analogous to what you might find in your local hardware store. It’s easy to apply and protects your instrument well, but must be applied more thickly, reducing the guitar’s ability to vibrate. This can lead to some changes in tone, though these changes won’t be nearly as noticeable as the differing pickups…
Pickups – When Electronics Come Into Play
Although a bit difficult to see in the picture above, these two guitars differ in their choice of stock pickups. The Gibson LP features their standard BURSTBUCKER pickups; Epiphone instead created the PROBUCKER pickups as a tribute to the BURSTBUCKER. In fact, in many ways the PROBUCKER seems to be a lower end version of the BURSTBUCKER (which is actually just a lower end version of Gibson’s PAF pickups). Both of these humbuckers feature roughly the same materials and wiring. However, the PROBUCKER has a different connection type, with four simple input connections. This makes it easy for inexperienced players to work on their pickups, but does unfortunately reduce the quality of the pickup ever so slightly. It should be noted that the PROBUCKER pickups only come on the Epiphone Les Paul Standard Pro. The lower end Epiphone LP’s do not feature as nice pickups. In all, the pickups seem to be another point for Gibson.
Now say PROBUCKER / BURSTBUCKER 3 times fast. Go ahead, we’ll wait
Phase Control and Bypass Capabilities – Some More Electrical Differences
A final area of difference between these two guitars is the addition of new controls to the Gibson LP. Whereas the Epiphone LP only features the standard tone, volume, and pickup selector controls, Gibson’s take adds in phase control and true bypass capabilities. This allows for professional quality recording that will be in phase and contains minimal noise and static. Yet again, another point for Gibson. It almost seems to highlight the fact that Gibson wants their instrument to be viewed as professional quality, as opposed to the entry level Epiphone. Actually, Gibson’s line of thinking might be on to something…business branding.
Business Branding – “Only a Gibson is Good Enough”In all, it’s pretty undeniable that the Gibson seems to have all around better hardware, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, even after this investigation, we still don’t believe the differences between these two is around $2400 simply due to hardware. In fact, the powerful branding techniques, built on the legacy that IS GIBSON, are behind this pricing conundrum. After all, each of these guitar manufacturers both need and want to make large stacks of cash. While the Gibson LP is undoubtedly the better guitar in terms of construction, chances are that much of the price difference is related to branding. Think about it… Gibson knows that the Les Paul is definitely its most popular model on the market. In fact, it’s one of the most popular models of any brand! Due to the laws of supply and demand, as Les Paul became more popular, the prices of their higher and lower end models have polarized. Their more expensive, professional level guitars have only increased in price, while their bottom end Les Paul (the Epiphones) have become more accessible at a significantly lower price. This stratification has created enough space in the market for two players, Gibson and Epiphone. So long as one remains a high end product while the other is lower end, the two facets of this company won’t cannibalize each other’s sales, leading to maximum profits for both. You can be sure that when Gibson began pricing their Les Paul, they chose a price that would maintain this chasm as much as possible, while still remaining accessible for some consumers ($3k isn’t a lot to invest when playing guitar is your job). Gibson’s branding might explain the difference in price between these two guitars; a difference so great that can’t be justified by better hardware alone.
In reality, the difference in price between these two is probably a combination of the following: branding, consumer perception, the actual physical hardware and construction of the guitars. We hate to say this, but for the sake of journalistic integrity, we must: We don’t think the price difference between these two guitars is fair. Sure, we might understand the reasoning behind this difference, but that still doesn’t convince us that Gibson’s LP is actually worth all $2400 of those extra dollars.
- Guitar Aesthetics – Slight Variation of the Headstock
- Tonewoods – Maple Wood vs Maple Veneer
- Finish – Nitrocellulose Finish vs Standard Gloss Finish
- Pickups – BurstBucker vs ProBucker
- Electrical Differences – Phase Control and Bypass Capabilities vs Standard Controls
- Business Incentives – American Made vs China / Overseas Made
- Price Difference – Ouch!
If you hate our analysis, then we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. Oh, and if you agree? We want to hear from you too!