Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
By Team HC |
Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
Don't let the little price fool ya! This guitar is huge ...
by Travis Browning
It seems as though entry level, dual humbucker-equipped guitars are causing quite a stir here lately. With Squire offering up the Bullet and Affinity versions of their Mustang and Jazzmaster guitars, Epiphone is offering up a new Les Paul Special model, branded VE or Vintage Edition. Time to check it out...
So what is it?
The Epiphone Les Paul Special VE is a new version of the popular Epiphone Les Paul Special II model. Clocking in at $149.99, it’s basically a steal for the amount of guitar you’re getting. At first glance we see it's a familiar, single-cutaway, Les Paul Special body with a TOM (Tune-o-matic) bridge, dual humbuckers, and 1 of 5 vintage worn finishes (walnut, ebony, cherry, vintage sunburst, or heritage cherry sunburst). I should note that I’ve always been a Fender guy through and through; I’ve never owned nor wanted to own a Les Paul, and that is...changing. Let’s get into the details.
Neck and Body
As per usual, the Les Paul Special VE has a bolt-on 24.75” mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard, 22 medium jumbo frets and a pretty flat 14” radius. Epiphone describes it as a “1960s SlimTaper D profile.” I’m a big fan of the neck, it’s fast, plays really well, and has a really nice, light satin finish on it that I love.
I will say it took me a little getting used to playing some of the higher notes on the neck. I’m not sure if that's because I’m not used to a 14” radius or maybe just not being used to a Les Paul body in general; either way it didn’t take me long to warm up to, but it definitely feels a little harder to hit those notes than on another single cutaway, like a Tele for instance. Considering the Les Paul Special VE is pretty much a direct competitor to Squier's new Bullet Mustang, I should say that the Epiphone and Les Paul decals look much better than the flat black logo on the Squier, which was one of my gripes. It really looks the part. Though completely cosmetic, and at the $150 price point it feels silly to complain about this kind of thing, it is a welcome detail on the Les Paul Special VE.
I received the Vintage Worn Vintage Sunburst (that’s a vintage mouthful) finish and it’s astonishing! The finish is super well done, no stray marks or drips, and like the neck it has thin, satin finish that is to die for. Seriously, it feels amazing, like you’re holding a real, resonant piece of wood, something that thicker poly finishes seem to hide. The body is made of poplar and comes in at about 1.75” thick. It’s nice, light and again, very resonant.
The Les Paul Special VE has standard metal hardware. Nothing in particular jumps out, but on a personal anecdote this is my first real experience with the Tune-o-matic style bridge and I have to say I’m impressed. Being in the Fender camp for so long, I’ve almost scoffed at the TOM setup, but now I think it's great. I took the time to do some research on the Epiphone LockTone Stopbar/Tune-o-matic system and while I won’t go into too much detail, it is designed really well. It’s simple enough that it just works, but it definitely has some neat adjustments you can do to set it up to your own personal standards. Epiphone has an informative article on their website about it, and I definitely recommend checking it out.
As far as the rest of the hardware, the two metal strap buttons work as expected and the covered tuners are smooth, and hold their tuning well. I’m not sure what the nut is made of, and after checking, Epiphone didn't list it on their site, but mine is cut well. While this may sound a bit dull, it's actually a positive. Everything hardware-wise on this guitar does its job well and that's what you want, especially on a beginner/ budget-oriented guitar like this.
I don’t know whats happened in the last few years, but there must have been some groundbreaking potentiometer research done. Much like the Squier Bullet Mustang, the stock 500k pots on this guitar are really nice, smooth and with a great taper. Upgrading pots has been something I always do, but these work really, really well. A master tone, master volume and a switch (thats slightly crackly, but not too bad) is perfect for me, simple and to the point.
Epiphone used ceramic 650R and 700T pickups in the Les Paul Special VE. And they are hot. Very hot. I can understand why they’re using these pickups, for most beginners picking up the Les Paul Special VE, it's going to be exactly what they want for playing the Nirvana, Green Day, Ramones, etc. we all learned at some point. But coming from someone who has been playing for a while, it took a lot of EQ fiddling and pickup height adjustment to get them where I wanted. Even still, it doesn't play particularly well with my Overdrive pedal, even at its lowest gain setting. That being said, the pickups are by no means bad, I’ve heard plenty worse. They will easily do the job for someone starting out, and someone more experienced can always adjust the height or even change out the pickups altogether. Being new to the humbucker world, I’m definitely open to suggestions and information on some lower output/more articulate styles of humbuckers in the comment section below.
Epiphone knocked it out of the park with the Les Paul Special VE. The fit, finish, and playability of this guitar screams well past its $150 price tag. Other than some of my own personal opinions on the pickups, I can’t think about anything wrong or detrimental about this guitar, it seriously is a great playing piece of gear.
If you’ll allow me to go on one more personal tirade, I should say how eye opening, and strange this review has been for me. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14, I’m 25 now and for that whole period I’ve firmly sat in the Fender camp of electric guitars (other than a few Danelectros). I’ve had a rotating cast of Strats, Teles, Jazzmasters, Mustangs, the whole lot of them. I’ve prided myself on being team Fender, and even might have for some strange reason, seen the Gibson/Epiphone side of things as the enemy.
So, imagine my surprise when the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE has now become the number one guitar I pick up. Even after the little honeymoon phase, after I’ve taken down all the notes to write up this review, it's somehow still the guitar I keep on the stand nearest to me. It feels good, I like the way it sings acoustically and resonates an A chord for what feels like hours. I like how it accentuates my play style. I love the feel of the neck and the way the body sits in my lap. Because at the end of the day, that's what matters - it's not about what's on the headstock, its about how you feel playing. So if I could leave you with two pieces of advice, the first one being to always try and keep an open mind about things, inside and outside of your gear choices and brand leanings. You lose something when you pigeonhole yourself into certain things just for the sake of it. Second piece of advice: You absolutely cannot go wrong with the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE. It’s that good.
Bonus: Head to Head with the Squier Bullet Mustang
Given that my last review was on the Squier Bullet Mustang HH, and that the Les Paul Special VE is a direct competitor to the Squier Bullet Mustang in both price point, and as a entry level, dual humbucker-equipped guitar, I figured I should go into a little more detail in how they compare. If I could stress one thing, it's that both of these guitars are an excellent value, and they’re both very well made. They both have simple and effective hardware, pots that are surprisingly good and functional, and finishes that are well beyond what you’d expect from their price points. My Squier Bullet Mustang had freakishly neat wiring internally and pickups that were a bit less hot and nicer sounding to my taste, while the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE has a switch that makes a little noise and pickups that I found a little too hot for me. I found the attention to detail on the headstock of the Epiphone to be a welcome surprise compared to that of the Squier. Ultimately however, I found the playability and feel of the Epiphone to be superior to that of the Squier. -HC-
Do you have questions or comments about this review? If so, click this link to join the discussion!
Epiphone Les Paul Special VE ($248.00 MSRP, $145.15-$149.00 "street", depending on color choice)
Epiphone's product web page
You can purchase the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE from:
Travis Browning is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Northwest Florida. He likes Ford Mustangs and Buffalo Wings and has been a long-time Harmony Central member. Check out his music at lazarusband.bandcamp.com