Inside the Les Paul Classic
How "Traditional" is the "Classic"? Let's find out.
by Craig Anderton
(Editor’s note: Harmony Central’s offices are located about 300 feet away from the Gibson USA factory, so when the 2017 guitars were introduced, we just had to check them out. But luckily, we were able to hold on to them and in the process, found out there are considerable differences among them. So, rather than “review” them in the traditional sense, we thought it would be helpful to analyze what the differences are so the HC community would have an idea of what was going on “under the hood” with these guitars. This second article in the series is about the Les Paul Classic.)
“Classic” has a vintage ring to it, and this Les Paul does indeed have a traditional flavor. However, there are several elements that differentiate it from the Traditional model covered in the first of this series of articles.
We’ll start by covering what’s the same as the Traditional. The electronics are hand-wired, the leaf-style “springy” pickup toggle switch and Switchcraft output jack remain the same, and again, the tone control circuitry uses Orange Drop capacitors. The nut is nylon, and the nickel-plated ABR bridge hardware, coupled with an aluminum stop piece, once more get the nod for the balanced sound that’s characteristic of vintage guitars. Nickel plating also has a more vintage “look,” which contributes to why the Classic may appear superficially like the Traditional. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find several differences that help make it more of a streamlined “workhorse” guitar for today’s guitarists.
Classic 9-hole weight relief. Gibson’s guitars offer a variety of weight relief. The Traditional is the most “solid” of the solid bodies because it has no weight relief at all, but the Classic comes very close with nine-hole weight relief. This helps shave off some weight, adds a little resonance, and has virtually no impact on sustain.
The neck. The Classic has a SlimTaper profile, which some players (especially those with smaller hands) find more comfortable. It has a more “modern” feel compared to the Traditional, and is more like the kind of neck taper associated with post-50s guitars. It also has rolled fretboard edges that complement the slimmer neck’s comfort factor.
Pickguard. The Classic comes with a pick guard already in place; it’s not removable like on the HP line of guitars.
Grover locking tuners. Whereas the tuners on the Traditional have a very traditional look, the Grovers depart from that with a somewhat more modern vibe. They hold tuning well, and while they may not have a “vintage” look, they are designed to fit well with the Classic’s overall design aesthetic.
Pickups. This is where I heard the biggest sonic difference compared to the Traditional. The Classic uses open coil Zebra 57 pickups (the “Zebra” name comes from one pickup coil being wrapped around a cream-colored bobbin, while the other uses a black bobbin). Removing the pickup cover results a bit less attenuation, but the pickups are higher in overall output than the Traditional models—the sound is something you’d associate more with the 60s than the 50s. Although the Zebras don’t join the quest for ever-higher outputs, they strike a balance between the lower-output pickups of the 50s and the high-output pickups of modern guitars.
Knobs. The original “Top Hat” knobs have a lot of sentimental value, but the Classic’s speed knobs are more functional for making quick changes on stage—particularly if you’re into “rolling” knobs with your pinky. Some guitarists also find the lack of a pointer appealing because of the cleaner look.
The top. And speaking of looks, while the body remains mahogany with a maple top, the Classic has a plain top as opposed to the Traditional’s rare, highly-figured top. Some players prefer a more understated look, and because a figured top doesn’t make a noticeable difference in the sound, prefer the Classic’s top.
Overall, my take is that the Classic is about being inspired by the Traditional’s heritage, but without feeling a need to re-create the past—hence weight relief, a slimmer neck, and hotter pickups. Guitarists with one foot in the 50s and one in the 70s will probably find the Classic the best fit for their playing style. - HC -
Visit the rest of the series on the 2017 Gibson Guitars:
For more information on the Gibson Les Paul Classic please visit Gibson.com
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.