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

Korean vs China, Which Is Better?

gibson vs epiphone Les Paul Guitars

If 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.

[If you already have an Epiphone Les Paul and want to figure out what LP you have, scroll down to the bottom of this page and we’ll help you figure it out]

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 the 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 is still one of the most iconic guitar styles today.

They are also some of the most expensive guitars on the market. 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.

Epiphone makes its own version of the classic Les Paul, but they cost a whole lot less (under $600 for a Classic or a Standard). This is largely because they are manufactured overseas — in China, Korea and Indonesia.

Epiphone Les Paul GuitarEpiphone Les Paul guitars are mostly indistinguishable from the Gibson version, from their look and feel to their sounds. Not everyone 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.

Read: the differences between Gibson vs Epiphone Les Paul to learn more.

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) and a Made In Korea (MIK) and not be able to tell any difference, while another person might hear and feel significant differences between them.

Personally I like Korean Made Les Paul better than Chinese.

But what that means is that you’re likely going to get a lot of different opinions on which is better. If you have the chance, your best option is to get a hold of each one and decide for yourself.

For Example, here is a post on MyLesPaul.com Forum:

During that time period Epiphones being made in Korea were still considered better than anything out of Qingdao until after 2006. In 2007 the Qingdao China Epiphone factory started implementing noticeable upgrades in building and materials to help make their Epiphone guitars some of the best ever made in the world.
But, in 2004 Korea still ruled.
I’ve seen many shoddy Qingdao pre-2006 Les Pauls and SG’s with messy binding and gobs of glue on the neckjoins
but somehow after that time they seemed to really pull it together to make a better instrument.
Pre 2006 Epiphones from Korea would be considered superior, but by 2007 there would be little difference.

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 Guarneri.

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. Chinese made were known to be a bit more sloppy, but that could have changed since this article.

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.

Korean guitars 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 simple answer to that. If you are in the market for an LP, but can’t actually try either out before you buy it, I’d probably steer you towards the Korean made.

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.

What Epiphone Les Paul Do you have?

Serial numbers
You might find the serial numbers stamped on the back of your headstock. It can consist of a series of numbers or letter(s) and numbers.

Only numbers
For an eleven digit serial number, the encoding is as follows:
Example: 11051502060
The first two digits are the last 2 digits of the year. (11)
The next two digits represent the month. (05)
The 5th and 6th digit represent the factory code.. (15)
(See list numbered factory codes)
The last 5 digits form the series sequence number.
Serial number 11051502060 is the 2060th guitar built in May 2011 at the Qingdao factory in China.
(Since 2004 Epiphone guitars have been produced in China)

Five digit serial numbers
Five digits with a space after the first digit and custom shop on the back of the headstock, applied from 1990 to 1999.

The first digit is the last digit of the production year, the following four digits are the serial number.

Five digits no space after the first digit were used from 1951 to 1956 for both acoustic and electric models.

Six digit serial numbers
From 1961 to early 1970, Epiphone used 6-digit serial numbers in the Gibson serial number line. However, many serial numbers were duplicated during this period, making the exact production year difficult to trace. It is certain that the models with a 6 digit serial number starting with 0 were produced in 1967.

Seven digit serial numbers do not have a factory code, here is the first digit the last year of the decade. The 2nd and 3rd numbers represent the month.
These were manufactured in Korea by Samick between 1984 and 1995.

Eight and nine digit serial numbers without a factory code.
These were used respectively from 1990 and 1988 and also manufactured by Samick in Korea.

Letter(s) and numbers
One letter five digits
The letter indicates the factory code and the first digit is the last digit of the year (since 2002).

The factory code can be an F or a T here.
(See list Factory code letter below)
Example: Serial number T32222 is the 2222th guitar of 2003 built in the factory of Terada Gakki Seisakusyo, Japan.

One letter six digits
The letter indicates the factory code and the first and second digit are the last two digits of the year.

Example: Serial number Z051234 is the 1234th guitar built in 2005 at the Zaozhuang Saehan factory in China.

Two letters five digits
The letters indicate the factory code and the first digit is the last digit of the year.
Example: Serial number CI21234 is the 1234th guitar built in 2002 at the Cort, Indonesia factory.

One letter seven digits
The letter indicates the factory code and the first digit is the last digit of the year.

The 3rd and 4th digits represent the month.

The last 4 digits form the series sequence number.

Because the year is only represented by 1 digit, guitars with this coding from the 80s, 90s or a decade of 2000. (depending on the factory code)
Example: Serial number S6031234 is the 1234th guitar built in 1986, 1996 or 2006 at the Samick factory in Korea.

Two letters six digits
The letter indicates the factory code and the next two digits are the last two digits of the year.

The second letter (third character) stands for the month. (A = January, B = February, etc.)

The last 4 digits form the series sequence number.
Example: Serial number R04E0123 is the 123st guitar of May 2004, built in the Peerless factory, Korea.

One letter eight digits
The letter indicates the factory code, the next two digits are the last two digits of the year.

The 3rd and 4th digits represent the month.

The last 4 digits form the series sequence number.
Example: C99040233 is the 233rd guitar of April 1999, built in the Cort factory, Korea. (This coding method was used until 2010)

Two letters seven digits
The letter indicates the factory code, the next two digits are the last two digits of the year.

The second letter (third character) stands for the month. (A = January, B = February, etc.)

The last 5 digits form the series sequence number.
Example: S07C00122 is the 122th guitar of May 2004, built at the Samick factory in Korea.  (This coding method was used until 2010)

Two letters eight digits
The 2 letters indicate the factory code, the next two digits are the last two digits of the year.

The 5th and 6th figures represent the month.
The last 4 digits form the series sequence number.
Example: SI02060234 is the 234th guitar of June 2002, built at the Samick factory in Cileungsi near Bogor, Indonesia.

Two letter nine digits
This coding is the same as the coding of Two letter eight digits with the difference that here is 5 digits for it sequence number are used

Source: https://www.guitarinsite.nl/serienummers-epiphone_eng.php

Numbered factory codes

NUMBERFACTORYCOUNTRY
 10unknown China
 12DeaWon or Unsung China
 13unknown China
 15Qingdao (electric) China
 16Qingdao (acoustic) China
 17unknown China
 18unknown China
 20DeaWon or Unsung China
 21Unsung Korea
 22unknown Korea
 23Samick Indonesia

Factory code letter

LETTERFACTORYCOUNTRY
 BBohêmia Musico-Delicia Czech Republic
 BW?? China
 CCort Korea
 CICort Indonesia
 DWDaeWon China
 EAQingDao (acoustic) China
 EDDongbei China
 EEQingDao (electric) China
 FFuji-gen (Elite/Elitist models) Japan
 FFine Guitars Korea
 FCFuji-gen (’90) Japan
 GRFarida, Guang Dong China
 ISaein Korea
 ISSamick, Bogor Indonesia
 JTerada Gakki Seisakusyo Japan
 KKorea Ins. Korea
 LLeader Musical Instrument Co Ltd. Korea
 MCMuse China
 MRMirr factoryChina [Korea to 2004]
 OChoice Korea
 PPeerless Korea
 RPeerless Korea
 QGQingdao Gibson China
 SSamick Korea
 SISamick, Bogor Indonesia
 SJSaeJun China
 SMSamil Korea
 TTerada Gakki Seisakusyo Japan
 UUnsung Korea
 UCUnsung China China
 ZZaozhuang Saehan China

Unclear Letter factory codes

LETTERFACTORYNOTE
 H?? Probably Hunan, China
 GG?? Probably China or Korea
 GP?? Probably Korea
 JK?? Probably Korea or Indonesia
 SK?? —
 SN?? Probably Indonesia
 WF?? Probably China
 X?? Probably China

Made In Korea Epiphone Les Paul


22 Comments

  1. 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. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.).

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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…..

  12. 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

  13. 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 😉

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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…

  17. 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…

  18. hello guys and gals!, just my 2 cents. I have a 1996 epiphone Les Paul standard made in the unsung plant. i cant say for the years after 96, but this guitar is constructed better and more attention to detail than any other plant in Korea. There is also no veneer on the back of the guitar. ( later years EPI started routing and gluing veneer on the back of the guitars to make it look like one piece of wood). The one i have is not made that way. It is a 3 piece diagonal cut body that you can see when you look at the back. (lol obviously Gibson had a problem with that lol). i have 9 Les Pauls total, 8 EPI and 1 Gibson. Only 2 are from the china plant. (’56 les paul pro, ’60 tribute plus). Dont get me wrong, they look,play and sound amazing! I do fancy the 96 and under Unsung Pauls though.

  19. how can i tell what model my guitar is ? U00122965 i know its Unsung korea year 2000 month december and 2965th made but what model is it ? it has three uneven lines for fret inlays on op of eachother one shorter then longer then longer yet > Cnat find any like it to identify the exact model and hopefully vakue ? any help would be appreciated Thanx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*