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How to Choose A Les Paul Style Guitar
The day is finally here, you are in a music store ready to lay down your hard earned cash on your dream guitar. Looking over all of the Gibson Les Paul Custom’s on the rack, and finally lay your eyes on the Gold Top that you’ve dreamed about. You run your fingers down the fret board; turn up the volume and it feels like your playing your old fifty dollar garage sale special. Bewildered by your disappointment you clumsily stumble through a few rough licks. Regaining your composure, you look the guitar up and down again and slowly hand it back. How can this be, this is the dream guitar after all. Why wasn’t the one that your dad’s friend let you play like that? Let’s find out.
Setup is the first major thing that you need to look at. New guitars are not set up; the one you played may have had a professional setup with fret work. Any guitar needs to be set up in a way that makes it very comfortable to you. I’m not going to get into setups, that’s for another day, however, you need to know that it is a factor. You can speak with your dealer about getting your guitar set up for you.
Finding out what neck profile is on the Les Paul you are playing is essential. Not all Les Paul’s are created equal, even if they are both the same model. You may be playing a brand new Gold Top, but if it has a ’59 neck, it’s going to feel a lot different than the one that you played before that had a ’68 neck. If you are used to a thick rounded neck, then you are not going to be comfortable right away with any Les Paul that has a slim tapered neck. Generally speaking a 1950’s neck is a rounder meatier neck, but a 1960’s neck is a more tapered thinner profile. There are some other variations; however this is the general rule. You should know your preference at this point, if you are not sure, you can ask your salesperson to let you try one of each. You have to remember that your salesperson wants to sell you a Les Paul, so do not be afraid to be finicky. It’s your hard earned money, so don’t settle for something that doesn’t fit you to a “T”.
There are many variations of Les Paul’s out there, the key to finding it is taking your time and not grabbing the first one that catches your eye. I did a little experiment one time during a slow day at a music store where I worked as “the guitar guy”. I had a friend grab different Les Paul guitars, plug them in and hand them to me. While blindfolded, I played and got a feel for it. Some were Gibson’s, some where Epiphones, some where Samick copies. I gave them each a rating with likes and dislikes. This may seem like a silly thing to do, however, I was very surprised by the results. I had picked some of the Samicks and Epiphones over the real deal.
The “blindfold test” is a way to make a non-biased decision with no regard for what name is on the headstock. It will allow you to judge guitars by playability and sound alone. Do not be afraid to ask your salesperson to allow you to do this. Although you may not want to sit in the middle of the sales floor; a practice room may be available for you. Keep in mind that they probably will not want to bring back every Les Paul in the store, but bringing a few different variations in would help. You are the customer that is spending a lot of money and they need to make sure that you are satisfied. If they are not willing to do that then look elsewhere, which brings me to my next point.
The salesperson should be more interested in fitting you with the right guitar rather than getting the big sale. While working with customers in the past I would actually direct them away from a more expensive guitar if I thought that a lesser model was better for them.
Purchasing your dream guitar should be a worry free, exciting and fun experience. Make sure you are taking notes of different models and variations. I keep a small pen and notebook with me or use my pocket pc’s notebook for this, to review my notes later once I am out of the store. I wouldn’t recommend buying something the first trip. My suggestion would be to go early in the morning when the store opens. This will ensure that your salesperson is focused on your and not about getting home. It will also give you time to try different models, take notes, leave the store, maybe grabbing some lunch while you take it all in. Then you can go back when you’re ready to make your selection or go and look elsewhere to do some more research. You will know when you found “the one”. As the title suggests, don’t settle for less than the right Les Paul for you.