Wednesday, June 30, 2021

ARE NEW GIBSON GUITARS GOOD? POST BANKRUPTCY QUALITY CHECK

 ARE NEW GIBSON GUITARS GOOD?

I’ve been buying and selling Gibson guitars since 1971 when I bought my first brand new black Les Paul Custom. Today I’ve got 14 various Gibson guitars in stock including three Les Pauls, a flying V and a BB King Custom Shop Lucille. 

Leslie West was a favorite tone monster during my youth. I really liked his guitar tone and saw him live on two different occasions. He was known for playing inexpensive Les Paul junior student guitars and making them sound incredible. Leslie was a prime example of how much tone comes from the players hands. He made those “student” model Les Paul guitars sing.

I’ve owned a few “vintage” Les Paul guitars but none of them had everything I wanted (or even enough for me to keep them). The Gibson guitar company has put out quite a few lame guitars in the 50+ years I’ve been chasing tone. Problems have included bad sounding pickups, poor action, ridiculously tiny frets, extreme weight and inconsistency in quality. 

GIBSON TODAY

During the last year I purchased three brand new Gibson instruments. Two are guitars and one is a short scale bass. These were all purchased after Gibson emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Les Paul Special

I finally have my Leslie West dream guitar. It’s a Gibson Les Paul Special with two full size humbucking pickups. It is classic Les Paul in form and function. A good solid block of wood with a very playable neck attached.

SG Tribute

I’ve owned a few SG Gibson solid body guitars over the years and none of them ever really struck my fancy. 

I bought a new Gibson SG Tribute model last December. It has the lower cost finish on the body (not glossy) and is equipped with two full size humbucking pickups. 

SG Bass

And finally we come to my new Gibson SG bass. This is a short scale classic Gibson shape with a glossy finish. It features two Gibson original design pickups. The neck pickup is a big metal box and the bridge pickup is a small humbucking model. 

This bass is very similar to two different models Gibson offered many years ago. One was called “EBO” and the other was the “EB3”. The EBO had only the neck pickup. The EB3 had a pickup configuration which looks like the current SG bass. 

Back in the 70’s I bought an EBO short scale bass for $200 and owned it for several years. It sounded terrible. The output from the EBO bass was extremely dark with zero treble response, it was like it had a low pass filter on the output set at 200 HZ. Even with Rotosound strings it had no clarity. 

I eventually bought a replacement EB3 bridge pickup and did a very crude installation on my EBO bass (I did not have a router). I added the pickup and a single volume control to the EBO and finally the instrument had some clarity. It was ugly but it sounded pretty good. 

My old EBO with the EB3 bridge pickup and extra volume control is essentially what my new Gibson SG bass is with one huge difference. The pickups on my modern SG bass sound SO MUCH BETTER than my vintage bass.

PLEK’D TO PERFECTION

Gibson now uses a Plek machine on every instrument they make which assures each instrument has consistent action and playability. The detailing on the frets of my new Gibson guitars has been excellent. 

The nut is GraphTech material, the Plek machine cuts the nut to perfection. The action and playability on all three of my recent Gibson guitar purchases has been consistent and excellent. 

LOOKING AT EACH INSTRUMENT CLOSEUP

LES PAUL SPECIAL

My new Les Paul Special is walnut in color. It has two full size humbucking pickups and the Gibson standard volume and tone control complement, one volume and tone knob for each pickup. A single three position toggle switch selects neck, bridge or both. 

The finish is not glossy, it is flat and sort of vintage looking. I like it, it feels better than the cheap finish Gibson used on lower priced models from 1995-2005. 

The fret size is listed as medium. They’re not nearly as big as jumbo Dunlop but they have enough height and width to feel nice playing blues and using big bends. 

The neck is made from maple and it has a rosewood finger board. The neck has a very nice shape and feel. The tuners feel like classic Gibson standard tuners. I find them easy to adjust and they hold tuning well. 

The bridge is a fixed wrap-around style with small intonation ridges to help tuning. I’m normally not a fan of this style of bridge but it works well on this guitar. I’ve not noticed any tuning problems.

Right out of the box this guitar rocked. I have smaller size hands and the relatively fat necks on these instruments feel very good and natural. 

The pickups that came on the guitar sounded very good through my Boogie, Marshall, Fender and EVH amplifiers.

Inside the control cavity Gibson is using a new printed circuit board technology. I don’t like it. This is clearly a cost cutting move. The four potentiometers are mounted to a printed-circuit mother-board. Each pickup has a wire lead with a little connector which plugs into the mother-board. A larger multi-conductor lead from the pickup selector switch also plugs into the mother-board. The output jack connects to the mother-board with a small plug.

All of this modern wiring eliminates hand work and soldering. No more braided shield wiring. No more lead for Gibson employees to breathe. I seriously question how long the new style of wiring will last. Time will tell.

The stock pickups provided by Gibson have a good full tone.

SG TRIBUTE GUITAR

My new SG tribute model arrived with a serious flaw in the wiring. The multi-conductor cable which connects the pickup selector switch had “hairs” from the shielding intermittently touching the switch contacts. This caused a reduction in volume every time a hair of shield wire made a connection. Before I looked inside to see what was going on the problematic wiring manifested itself with reduced volume every time one of the little hairs touched somewhere it was not supposed to be.

This guitar implements and highlights the flaws in the new Gibson way of wiring it up in the control cavity. While the printed-circuit mother-board plug-in style of wiring eliminates a lot of detail oriented hand work it is far from flawless. 

My SG Tribute is a wonderful playing instrument. It has a classic Gibson cherry color with a vintage feel that is not glossy. The 22-fret neck is maple and features a rosewood fingerboard populated with “medium” size frets. The tuning machines are classic Gibson style. They seem to work well, they’re easy to adjust and hold tuning.

The SG Tribute features two full size humbucking pickups. A three position selector switch allows bridge, neck or a combination of both pickups. Each pickup has a volume control and a tone control. 

SG Bass Guitar

My new SG bass arrived in perfect condition. It included a Gibson hardshell case. 

The glossy finish was flawless. The giant tuning machines worked well and held tuning. This instrument feels like a Gibson classic. 

The action was excellent. There is no fret buzz thanks to the Plek machine(s) at the Gibson factory.

This instrument features a mahogony neck capped with a rosewood fingerboard. The specs from Gibson say the frets are medium jumbo. The whole neck delivers an excellent playing experience.

I love the glossy nitro finish on this bass. It shines in the light and it feels wonderful in your hands. If you have only played long scale Fender basses this one from Gibson will feel tiny. While the instrrument may feel small there is nothing small about the tone from this four-string axe. 

The neck pickup delivers that classic Jack Bruce “Cream” sound. It is full sounding but has clarity my vintage EBO did not have. The bridge pickup on the SG bass is awesome too. The bass has volume controls for each pickup plus an overall master tone control. 

The short scale combined with the excellent volume and tone control layout delivers a bass that is easy for six-string guitar players to enjoy. This bass can deliver tones that are dark or bright or just right. It feels good in your hands and provides amazing tone for a great price. I like this instrument a LOT!

CAN’T LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE

My new Gibson Les Paul Special sounded good right out of the box but what if I installed Seymour Duncan pickups and new easy-to-turn Bournes volume and tone pots? 

I have been a fan of Seymour Duncan pickups for a long time. I have three Jackson guitars outfitted with SD pickups and these are some of my favorite sounding guitars. I decided to give it a go and replace the stock Gibson pickups and circuit-board wiring with old school pots, hand soldered along with a pair of my favorite pickups.

WoW! The pickup and pot replacement on my Les Paul special created an extraordinary instrument. It sounds amazing, plays great and delivers 100% of the classic Gibson guitar experience.

I liked the results of replacing the pickups on my Les Paul special so much I decided to revamp my new Gibson SG with a set of Seymour Duncan “Pearly Gates” model pickups and new CTS pots hand wired and soldered. 

My SG Tribute guitar with replacement Seymour Duncan pickups sounds phenomenol. This instrument is a real joy to play. It feels good in my hands and now that the pickups are replaced with incredible sounding clones of vintage Les Paul humbucking models it is one of my favorite axes. 

EPILOGUE

I’m really enjoying my new Gibson instrments. I like that the guitars were low enough in cost to make this a fun exercise in customizing my tone.

The Les Paul Special is a favorite. It sounds great with a Tube Screamer driving my Marshall Origin 20-watt combo. This guitar has great sustain. At six pounds it is the lightest weight Les Paul I own. I feel good about installing a great sounding replacement set of pickups into the standard size humbucking rings. The new pickups made this into an amazing instrument with incredible tone. 

My SG Tribute is also a wonderful guitar with awesome sustain and a great feeling neck. Replacing the stock pickups became a much more teduius task because of the new circuit board style of wiring Gibson is using. I’m just glad it was not more difficult to swap out the controls and pickups with industry-standard replacement components. 

My SG bass guitar has ended my quest for bass instruments. It has become my go-to bass for studio recording. The neck feels great and the short scale is a joy to play. The pickups sound fantastic with copius amounts of deep bass and crisp treble available. This instrument is awesome right out of the box without any mods. Thank you Gibson.

Good music to you!

It’s not ok to quote or copy without written permission. ©May 2021 by Mark King.

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