Recently I was talking with a friend about guitars, which isn’t unusual. I’ve got a few electric guitars, all with tremolos, and I was talking about how much I want a fixed bridge guitar because the floating bridges seem to make keeping in tune some kind of Sisyphean task.
As with most gear conversations, you get to talking about the value proposition, and this time was no exception. My friend and I were wondering what the real differences would be between, say, and Epiphone Les Paul compared to the Gibson Les Paul. Obviously price is different, with the Gibson clocking in at four to five times the cost (if not more) of the Epiphone version. But we weren’t really sure if the other differences in the guitars justified that wide of a price gap.
Undoubtedly this has been debated ad infinitum on Gearslutz, Harmony Central, and countless other forums. Did I look there? Of course not!
Instead I asked my pal Maurice of Adams Music Repair for his learned opinion. He graciously provided the following:
“… As for your question EPI VS. GIBSON. Here are my 3 cents worth based on my experience, repairs, and a few web links. Sorry for the book report but I did some research and even learned a few things. My conclusion is at the bottom of this longwinded email.
I think the main difference in price is a combo of all three things you mention below: materials, labor cost, and brand value.
Labor Cost/Build Quality: being built in the USA compared to China there is no way the Gibson LP can even come close to EPI LP pricing. Is the build quality better from USA mfg? That one tough is to say and debatable. I do know that the USA made guitars dont get thrown into a container by the thousands and shipped over here, all along absorbing that sea air for 6 weeks.
Brand Value: lets face it, its cooler to have a Gibson than an EPI, and everyone knows it. Plus its resale value holds much better short and long term. Otherwise if you don’t care about this, then maybe its not worth the 4-5 times price tag.
Materials: Here is where I think there is a discernable difference. I did a little research and found the following forum that had a really good paragraph from the Gibson CEO on it.
You can read what he says. Gibsons will have better wood, truly mahogany body with maple top, the mohogany will be only two pieces max, the pickups and electronics are higher quality, and hopefully the truss rod is set in better. I think alot of things “under the hood” are better quality, not necesarily seen by the eye.
The lower priced EPIs are the wood mentioned in the article(nato?), the higher priced EPIs that say they are mahogany are multiple pieces laminated together, etc. You get the deal.
Also, on the EPIs that even have a maple top its basically a very thin veneer for look, not tone.
I have noticed that the import guitars all seem to use wood that hasnt even stopped drying and shrinking yet. I can tell because all the fret ends are sticking out, which means the wood is still shrinking. then again maybe its that nice salt, seat air from the trip over in some container on its way to Long Beach Harbor.
Tone: here is a (very) subjective article on a very subjective topic.
Repair Experience: The EPI guitars just use cheaper pots and pickups, no way around it. I see it all the time. I think they work fine, but they crap out sooner, no question in my mind. I have run into some crappy Gibson guitars too, an SG in particular, but the Les Pauls are pretty solid.
Conclusion: I would save my money up and buy the real Gibson Les Paul myself, but then again I am a guitar snob. Or just keep a real eye out and find some dickweed who has to unload his recent Les Paul Standard purchase due to: divorce, drugs, unemployment, etc. Then abuse him with cash in his face for some low bid amount.
I did some digging and the Les Paul Studio line is pretty reasonable: $800-850 range with a gig bag on American Musical. These are the ones with the satin finish, not the gloss finish. It has chambered body, so a little lighter, maple top, and no frills(binding, fancy inlays). If you like the real heavy weight it would not be good, but otherwise is a decent priced option. Saw them on sweetwater.com and americanmusical.com
Another option is to get the standard EPI and then hot rod it with new pickups at least, and maybe new pots and switch if you want to go all the way. Even at $250 for all the materials(if you get really good pickups at $100/each, there are some cheaper) you are still ahead of the game and probably have the best guitar/money balance of all the options.
Looks like the rest of the LP line is about $2k and up, so yea its steep. Wow.
Taking that into account, lets face it, an EPI in a good guitar players hands will sound better than a Gibson in a crappy guitar player’s hands.
Having said all that, I would still personally get a Gibson, not an EPI. Yea, I’m a snob.
Hope that helps.
Thanks for the insight Maury. Check out the Adams Music Repair site for other various and sundry guitar-related tidbits.