The High Performance Les Paul©
**Note--If your Les Paul has collector value, I will not modify it!
Let me start by saying I am a huge Les Paul fan. I met Les Paul when I was in college (but before I was really into guitars), and have owned my model since ’94. I love the tone and the look, but have never been a fan of the weight or the neck joint. While the guitar was the state of the art when it was introduced in 1952, the only profound changes and/or improvements to the guitar over the years were the introduction of humbucking pickups in 1957. There have been variations in pickup configuration, bridge/saddle combinations, species of wood, inlays, and minor hardware, but overall the guitar uses the same technology it started out with.
The following limitations do not only apply to Les Paul guitars, and there are isolated exceptions with rare models of LP, but LPs in general incorporate all of these hangups.
- As Jimmy Page's chiropractor can probably tell you, the LP is not fun to carry around for an extended period of time due to its excessive weight (some models are upwards of 10 pounds!).
- The set-neck joint is very large and clumsy, owing to Gibson's stubborn insistence to manufacture the guitar in traditional manners. The thick body section, in addition to the large neck joint, make it much more difficult to reach the 22nd fret than it needs to be. The difference in neck thickness between grabbing the A on the 17th fret of the high E-string, and bending up the D on the 22nd fret, is absurd.
- While Gibson does build a good headstock angle into the guitar (varies between 14 and 17 degrees depending on year and model), giving solid downforce on the nut and good tone transfer, the lack of a straight string pull does cause some tuning problems with the strings binding in the plastic nut while tuning and after bending the strings while playing. Even a heavy application of vibrato can do it.
- The neck profile is something that is distinctive to the Les Paul, and it came in two flavors: the 50's fat neck, and the 1960 slim-taper. While these do serve their particular function, and most players prefer them, a number of people (including myself) do not care for the feel of a baseball bat with frets.
- The lacquer finish on the neck can be uncomfortable with sweaty hands.
- The body edges are squared-off and unforgiving on ribs, leg, arm, etc.
THE SOLUTION: The High Performance Les Paul
In order to counteract the above limitations and more, I introduced the following modifications to the LP:
- Earvana nut
- Lacquer removed from neck
- Reprofiled neck contour--the neck shape approximates that of a “shred” guitar--more of a flattened D-shape
- Smoothed and tung-oiled neck for buttery-smooth playing comfort
- Carved neck joint--approximates feel of a solid neck-through heel
- Carved body cutaway--facilitates easy reach to high frets
- Lacquer removed from body
- Carved “body-bevel” at top of back for comfort
- Softened all body edges on rear of guitar for comfort
- Lightly softened edges of top for comfort, especially at forearm
- Countersunk Dunlop Straploks into body for durability, security, and sleek look
- Body finished in tung oil for comfort, playability, and easy maintenance
The overall effect is a lighter-feeling guitar that begs to be played. The amount of wood removed is negligible in weight and does not adversely affect the tone or structural integrity of the guitar. None of the body modifications can be seen from the front (except for the refinish, nut and Straploks).
These pictures are before and after examples of the Les Paul neck joint and cutaway--not the same guitar.
The HPLP modification package can be adjusted to fit your needs, and features can be deleted, such as not removing the finish from the front of the guitar, etc.
2009 UPDATE -- It appears that Gibson has caught up to what the customers want. Gibson has released the Les Paul Axcess, which incorporates a smoother heel and belly cut, as well as an OFR Floyd Rose trem. All this for only $3,000.
The guitar pictured below is my personal Les Paul. It is a '94 Studio, originally finished in ebony with a black pickguard. It has a mahogany body and neck, maple top, ebony fretboard with MOP trapezoid inlays, 490 and 498 pickups and Planet Waves locking tuners (formerly Gibson deluxe tuners). In addition to the above modifications, I have finished this guitar in a tung oil-based stain to give it a worn-in look. I have fitted the guitar with a set of GHS Boomer Zakk Wylde strings, which are .010 to .060, and with a proper setup and neck adjustment, it plays just fine. There is no neck warpage even with these heavy strings, and I have no doubt of the integrity of the slimmed-down neck. The new Earvana nut makes this great-playing guitar sound perfect.
I finally received the Babicz Full Contact Hardware Tune-o-matic bridge for my HPLP! This technology is such a dramatic improvement on the antiquated design of F*nder bridges, and I wanted to try it on my Les Paul once they hit the market. I got one of the first ones commercially available and installed it. The improvement in tone and sustain is remarkable, and the extruded aluminum pieces are so light, the guitar absolutely sings.
This guitar belongs to Barry K. of Ontario, CAN. See his full photo gallery here.
This guitar belongs to Chris W. See his full photo gallery here.
These HPLP modifications can be done on other solidbody set-neck instruments as well, as long as the woods involved are of high quality and strength. It should be mentioned that there are many lower-priced guitars that are constructed from plywood to save costs. The HPLP mod cannot be done on these.
Here are some examples of the HPLP mods on a non-LP.
This is a 1983 Gibson Explorer. The first picture is immediately after removing the factory finish.
This is a 2007 Gibson SG. Before and after.