Review: Gibson Memphis ES Les Paul

The Gibson Les Paul is an iconic instrument, coveted by many guitarists.
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The Gibson Les Paul is an iconic instrument, coveted by many guitarists. The only objection you hear with any regularity is, “Oh, man, it’s so heavy.” For those who might choose to play a lighter version of this classic model, the ES Les Paul could be the answer.

The guitar sent for review by Gibson Memphis featured all the stunning good looks of vintage ’bursts wielded by classic rock guitar gods like Jimmy Page and Mike Bloomfield, or more modern players like Joe Bonamassa. The top hovered between a honey and a red sunburst, with the gorgeous flame and graduated finish of a high-end instrument from the ’60s. As you would imagine, the ES Les Paul exhibited some of the acoustic properties of a semi-hollow, though not as much as an ES-335. Not satisfied with simply reducing the weight by hollowing it out, Gibson also layered both the top and back with lightweight poplar, making this guitar shoulder-friendly for four sets a night, six nights a week.

The C-shaped mahogany neck felt substantial but comfortable. The tall frets were neatly finished, making for low action and easy bending without buzzing. The intonation was impeccable, but the Corian nut tended to stick on a few strings when tuning up—something a little more setup attention would have prevented.

I played the ES Les Paul though a Fender Blues Junior, an Orange Tiny Terror, a Little Walter 50 Watt and a Ladner Dirty Dragon. Both clean and dirty, the ES Les Paul offered up all the tones you would expect from its solid sister. The bridge pickup displayed classic humbucker girth without sacrificing treble, and proved itself ideal for anything from fat Robben Ford clean tones to Clapton/Bluesbreakers bite. The neck pickup also straddled warmth and aggression perfectly; rolling its Tone knob off a bit brought out the ES-style jazz characteristics, while, with the Tone control full up and a little grit, its blues character reared up to deliver fabulous jump-swing tones. The excellent taper of the Volume and Tone pots made blending the two pickups a source of endless sonic intrigue.

When cranking the gain in close proximity to the amp, a high-end squeal indicated the pickups were not potted. Many feel this makes for a livelier tone at lower gain levels, and I concur—so you can either eschew playing metal or be sure to put some distance between you and your Rectifier stack. Further away from the amp, a more pleasant feedback was highly controllable.

All considered, the ES Les Paul is a terrific guitar. Lighter than either a standard Les Paul or a typical ES-335, this instrument provides a slew of iconic Gibson sounds in a familiar form that will appeal to blues players, fusion jazzers, and hard rockers.


PRICE $2,999 street


NUT WIDTH 1.670"
NECK Mahogany with maple spine
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 Medium jumbo
TUNERS Tulip button Klusons
BODY Laminated AAA figured 3-ply maple/poplar/maple top, 3-ply maple/poplar/maple back
BRIDGE Tone Pros AVR2 Bridge/Lightweight Stop Bar Tailpiece
PICKUPS Memphis Historic Spec (MHS) Alnico II
CONTROLS Two Volume, Two Tone, 3-way toggle
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs.
KUDOS Lightweight. A brilliant balance of classic solid and semi-hollow body tones.
CONCERNS Sticky nut.