A Classic Pairing of Tonewoods — Maple and Mahogany
Since the very beginning, maple and mahogany have been the go-to tonewood combination used on the Gibson Les Paul models. A maple top offers enhanced definition, clarity and snap, while a mahogany back adds depth and richness These perfectly matched woods are also known to produce a tight low-end while providing a bit more cut in the higher frequencies.
Originally, the Gibson Les Paul featured relatively plain maple tops that were hidden beneath a flashy Gold finish, often referred to as “Gold Top” Les Pauls. Then, in response to a decline in Les Paul sales, Gibson revamped the Les Paul line by introducing a sunburst finish that revealed the grain patterns of the maple top in 1958. And while the maple tops on those 1958 Les Pauls were also relatively plain, by 1959 Les Pauls began flaunting more visually appealing figured maple tops. Soon, figured maple tops become an important part of the Les Paul image.
Today, Gibson continues to offer a variety of grades and types of figured maple tops on their many Gibson Les Paul models. Here are some things you should know:
- Maple tops are graded based on the amount of figuring the top displays, ranging anywhere from grade-A (lightest figuring) to premium grade-AAAA (and sometimes they can even grade beyond that). Which is better is a matter of personal preference.
- Gibson primarily uses two types of figured tops on its Les Paul guitars: flame maple and quilt maple. Again, neither is objectively better than the other; this too is a matter of personal preference.
—Flame Maple Tops display more of a tiger-stripe grain pattern
—Quilt Maple Tops exhibit more of a wavy or curly grain
Flame Maple Top
Quilt Maple Top
Mahogany Body (Solid vs. Weight-relieved)
Of course, the mahogany body ranges from one Les Paul Model to the next just as the maple tops do, but not all those differences are visible from the outside. While some Les Paul models still hold true to the original design with a completely solid mahogany back, other Les Paul models feature a back that’s undergone one of the weight relieving techniques used by Gibson USA, mainly as a way to reduce the weight of the guitar. Let’s take you through the some of the differences between the three relief routs Gibson uses, and why someone might prefer one type over another:
Traditional Weight Relief is the oldest of the three techniques. In this technique, nine holes are strategically routed into the lower bout on the bass side of the Les Paul’s mahogany body (before the maple top is attached). Traditional weight relieved Les Pauls will be lighter then true solid bodies, but still have enough weight for a solid feel, while also improving the guitar’s resonance. A Les Paul with traditional weight relief would be good if you prefer a more solid feel at a weight that’s not too overbearing.
Chamberd: On the other end of the spectrum, full-on chambering is a more extreme type of weight relieving technique. For this technique, large, oval chambers are routed into either side of the central core (where the pickups and bridge are mounted) of the mahogany body of the Les Paul. Naturally, since there is more room inside the body, there’s more room for the sound to resonate. The Les Pauls that use the chambering technique tend to have more of an acoustic resonance and are much lighter in comparison to traditional and modern weight relieved Les Pauls. These Les Pauls are ideal if you prefer a lighter guitar with a more resonant tone.
Modern Weight Relief stands as a compromise between traditional weight relieving and chambering—employing several smaller elliptical sound chambers within the Les Paul body. The result of modern weight relief is a resonance and weight that falls somewhere in between traditional weight relief and chambering. A Les Paul with modern weight relief would be perfect if you want a guitar that’s not overly resonant and isn’t too heavy or too light.
Each Les Paul will have slight variances in both top figuring and weight—even between two Les Pauls of the same exact model. To see a wide variety of the some of the most stunning Gibson Custom Les Paul and Gibson Les Paul models in stock now at Sam Ash Direct, check out our Guitars of Distinction collection, where we have an extensive inventory of Les Paul guitars that are listed by individual serial number, photographed and weighed to capture each guitar’s subtle differences.
Les Paul Neck, Fingerboard and Inlays
Gibson offers a variety of neck profiles for the Les Paul. When comparing the neck profiles of Gibson Les Pauls, thickness is a key factor. The shape of the neck is purely a matter of personal preference—and whether you prefer a thick neck or maybe one on the thinner side, there is a Gibson Les Paul with a neck that’s sure to fit your fretting hand beautifully. Let’s take a look at some of the different Les Paul neck profiles available:
- If you prefer a neck with a little bit of chunk and heft to it, the ’50s Rounded Neck is for you—with a thick, rounded profile that will surely satisfy. Some Les Pauls that make use of this beefy ’50s neck include the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker, the Gibson 2014 LPM, the Gibson 2014 LPJ and the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Signature.
- In the 1960s, Gibson made the switch to a slimmer neck profile, and the ’60s SlimTaper Necks on today’s Les Pauls are based upon that significant change in Gibson history. If you find a thinner neck to be more comfortable, the sleek and slender profile of the ’60s SlimTaper neck is the perfect choice. Some Les Paul models that employ a ’60s SlimTaper neck are the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Studio/Les Paul Studio Pro, the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Futura, the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Classic and the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Peace.
- The ’60s Asymmetrical SlimTaper Neck takes the popular ’60s SlimTaper neck to the next level—featuring a more rounded curve on the bass side of the neck for enhanced player comfort in open chord positions, while a flatter curve on the treble side helps deliver those fast lead licks with ease. The Gibson Les Paul Standard, Gibson Les Paul Standard Plus, and Gibson Les Paul Standard Premium all use this neck profile.
Fingerboard and Inlays
Rosewood fingerboards are typically used for Gibson Les Pauls and depending on the model, the fingerboard may feature one of three common Gibson fretboard inlays: dot inlays (most common), trapezoid inlays and block inlays.
Common Gibson inlay patterns shown above: Dot, Trapezoid, Block, and Split-Block (featured on the Les Paul Supreme)
2014 Model Year
Guitars from the Gibson 2014 Model Year feature a special 120th Anniversary inlay at the twelfth fret (and a new Model Year serial numbering system which enhances collectability), and it appears on everything from the most stripped back SGJ to the flashiest 2014 Les Paul Standard Premium.
2014 Model Year 120th Anniversary inlay at 12th fret