Epiphone Limited Edition Vivian Campbell “Holy Diver” Les Paul
By Phil O'Keefe |
Like a rainbow in the dark…
It’s 1977 and a 15 year old Northern Irish guitarist walks into a shop in Belfast and asks if he can order a Gibson Les Paul from America. Instead of the gold Standard that he wanted, he’s surprised six months later when the dealer tells him a wine red Deluxe has arrived instead. Undaunted, he takes the guitar home. That night he dulls the finish with sandpaper (because he’s “never liked guitars that were too new and shiny”), and he soon has it refinished locally in a matte black color. The guitarist’s name is Vivian Campbell, who of course is now world-famous for his work with Dio, Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy, and Last In Line, among others. A few years after purchasing his Les Paul, he was asked to audition for Dio, and soon after that he found himself in the studio at Sound City in LA, recording the band’s classic 1983 debut album Holy Diver, using that very same Les Paul for all the tracks on the record.
Now Epiphone (which like Harmony Central, is a Gibson brand) has released a new guitar that was inspired by that legendary instrument. Vivian refers to his original by its serial number (72987537), which he rattles off with the fluency of someone reciting their own phone number or birthdate. Let’s see what makes it so special.
What You Need To Know
- Designed to recreate 72987537 as it appeared in late 1982 as closely as possible, the Epiphone Vivian Campbell Les Paul Holy Diver is made in China and is very similar to Vivian’s own customized Les Paul Deluxe.
- All the usual Les Paul features are here. The body is mahogany with a maple cap, and the guitar has the normal 24 3/4” Les Paul scale length.
- The top of the body and the fretboard edges both feature single layer cream-colored binding.
- The glued-in, three-piece, hand-set maple neck is also typical of what you’ll find on a late ‘70s Les Paul Deluxe.
- The Holy Diver Les Paul is equipped with an Indian Laurel fingerboard. This looks somewhat similar to Indian rosewood, but it’s a bit more walnut-like in other respects; it’s a bit browner in shade and a little denser and less oily feeling than rosewood. It’s the first Indian Laurel fingerboard I’ve played, but I like it.
- The neck has a 12” fingerboard radius and features trapezoid inlays and 22 medium-jumbo frets, as well as side position dots on the binding.
- The neck profile is what Epiphone calls “Vivian”, and is not dissimilar to the ’70s era Deluxes I’ve played.The fingerboard is 1.68” wide at the brass nut, and measurers 0.786” deep at the first fret, building up to 0.94” thick at the 12th fret, with a somewhat rounded C-shaped profile. It’s a very comfortable neck to play, and one that will suit a wide variety of hand sizes.
- Instead of the “clipped corner” headstock design you’ll find on other Epiphone Les Pauls, the Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul has a sloped-shoulder “dovewing” style headstock that’s similar in shape to the one on the Epiphone DC Pro. Being the owner of an Epi Les Paul since the mid-1990’s and having grown accustomed to its headstock shape, I was at first a bit concerned about whether or not a dovewing headstock might look out of place on a Les Paul, but I have to admit that it’s grown on me. In fact, I now prefer the look of it over the older-style headstock.
- The headstock has a bullet-style truss rod cover and the expected Les Paul signature, and a pearloid-looking 1960’s era Epiphone logo.
- The die-cast tuners aren’t stamped with any manufacturer info. They have a 16:1 ratio, making accurate tuning easy. The tuning stability is fine too, which means more time playing and less time tuning.
- The neck has a volute on the back, just like the original. The back of the headstock is stamped with the guitar’s individual serial number, but also has 72987537 stamped into it too, in honor of the guitar it was designed to replicate. You’ll also find a reproduction of Vivian Campbell’s signature located here too.
- The Holy Diver Les Paul comes with an Epiphone LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge and a Stopbar tailpiece.
- The color is what Epiphone call “Black Aged Gloss” but while there’s a bit of gloss to it, I’d personally call it matte black. Regardless of what you call it, the guitar has the same finish, front and back, as well as on the back of the neck, while the rear control cavity covers are a rust-brown color.
- Instead of the mini-humbuckers of a standard Deluxe, 72987537 was modified, and sported DiMarzio X2N pickups in the early 1980s. The Epiphone Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul also features a pair of these dual metal blade-polepiece, black open-coil, high-output ceramic magnet pickups, mounted into cream pickup rings that fit in nicely with the look of the guitar’s binding and white pickup selector switch knob.
- The DiMarzio pickups are some of the hottest passive pickups on the market, and measure 15.83 Kohm DC resistance and have a whopping 510mV output.
- Since 72987537’s original toggle switch washer broke off before the Holy Diver LP was recorded, this guitar also comes with no pickup selector switch ring, or “poker chip”, as they’re sometimes called. This is not only historically accurate, but fits right in with the guitar’s stripped-down (there’s also no pickguard), no-nonsense aesthetic.
- The usual Les Paul two volume knob, two tone knob control configuration is still here, with some non-stock, yet very cool looking knurled brass control knobs mounted on the shafts of the Korean-made 500k Jin Sung pots. The interior wiring is point to point and the soldering is reasonably clean. The guitar uses .022uF capacitors for the tone pots.
- The output jack plate is brass, and mounted on the side of the guitar.
- The strap buttons are chrome, and a set of chrome Epiphone strap locks are included.
- The guitar comes from the factory set up for, and strung with D’Addario .010 - .046 gauge strings.
- The Epiphone Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul outfit comes with a Epiphone EpiLite Les Paul case. While it’s still a “soft” case, this is a step up from your typical “gig bag”, with more rigidity, increased padding, and a more form-fitting design.
- A Certificate of Authenticity is also included with the guitar.
- The Epiphone Limited Edition Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul comes with a limited lifetime guarantee.
- The high-output DiMarzio X2N pickups may be a bit much for some people. Having said that, if you’re considering at this guitar you’re probably a rocker or a shredder, and this guitar, and these pickups, are great for both styles. In fact, they’re more versatile and balanced-sounding than I was expecting, given their (now personally confirmed) reputation for having such high output.
- Only time will tell in terms of how the public will react to the change in headstock shape, but no matter what your initial reaction, give it a bit of time - your opinion, like mine, may change.
Looks can sometimes be deceiving, and they’re always subjective, but the Epiphone Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul looks mean, aggressive, no-nonsense, and rather cool to this reviewer, and that description also extends to its sound. The DiMarzio X2N pickups are flamethrowers - they’ve got a ton of output that can easily drive dirt pedals, and even mid-gain amps (like the JCM800’s Vivian used in the 1980s) into heavy distortion. They’ll hit your amp (or overdrive pedals) hard, and they sound great for rock and metal tones. They also sound surprisingly smooth and balanced, and they’re not at all dark-sounding - there’s plenty of mids and highs; if anything, the bass end seems very slightly less-forward by comparison. The classic maple-capped body and the 3-piece maple neck probably also contribute to some of the brightness this guitar exhibits too. Fortunately, this guitar can also be tamed by rolling off your volume controls, and I was surprised by how good it sounds for clean tones too.
The neck is extremely comfortable to play. The action and intonation were both good from the factory, and the frets all were well-dressed too. I also really like the cosmetics. The brass knobs, brass nut, and matte black paint, along with the open-coil X2N DiMarzio pickups, and the lack of extra plastic (pickguard and pickup switch washer) all work well together, and make it look mean and menacing without the over-the-top pointedness of some “metal” guitars. Even the change in headstock shape quickly became familiar, and after a short time with the guitar I grew to like it even more than the headstock on my own personal Epiphone Les Paul, which I’ve now had for over 23 years.
While I’ve never personally played it, 72987537 must be one hell of a guitar if the new Epiphone Vivian Campbell Holy Diver is any indication. I can understand why it’s the one instrument from his collection that Vivian says he’d grab in the event of a fire. The guitar still inspires him today, and Vivian hopes that Epiphone’s version will inspire other players and fuel their passion to learn and to create great music. It’s certainly a high-quality guitar that oozes with inspirational potential. But don’t be the last in line to go try one - this is a limited edition, so if you wait too long, you could miss out on your chance to pick up one of these really cool guitars. -HC-
Want to discuss the Epiphone Limited Edition Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Epiphone Limited Edition Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul Outfit ($1,249.00 MSRP, $849.00 "street")
Epiphone’s product web page
You can purchase the Epiphone Limited Edition Vivian Campbell Holy Diver Les Paul from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.