Gibson is the second biggest guitar company in the world (behind Fender), and they’re well known for making very expensive, fancy guitars, especially their Les Paul line. If you walk into a guitar store looking to spend $3000, there’s a good chance you’ll walk out with a Gibson, and more than likely, it’ll be a Les Paul model of some sort.
Gibsons cost a lot, and opinions vary about whether they’re worth it, but the great thing about Gibson is that they have a budget line of guitars, which are all branded as Epiphones, and they’re very affordable, but also deliver an amazing amount of value for the price (we’ve reviewed the Epiphone Les Paul Junior Special on Kid Guitarist before, quite enthusiastically.)
Epiphones come in all sorts of models, and for the most part, they’re based on existing Gibson guitars. For the most part, the Epiphones look about 90% the same as the (way) more expensive Gibsons, and there’s really nothing wrong with them at all. The cheap price generally just reflects them using easier-to-get woods in these guitars, as well as the branding – let’s face it, some people just want to get the “real thing”, and are willing to pay a lot more for it.
So it was pretty darn surprising when, earlier this year, Epiphone announced a new Les Paul SL model that doesn’t seem to have much in common with existing Les Pauls at all. Epiphone have created some original guitars in the past, but for the most part, they stick with the tried and true designs, and just add minor variations.
The Epiphone Les Paul SL doesn’t have a lot in common with current Les Pauls, at first glance anyway, but it’s a surprise hit, because it has turned out to be a very solid guitar, with some very nice touches, but they’ve somehow priced it at $99. Right now, it’s pretty tricky to get an Les Paul SL, because not only are people buying them as a cheap guitar to get started on, but experienced guitarists are buying them up like crazy.
At some point, Epiphone will surely catch up with the demand, but for now, if you want one, your best bet may be just to order one as soon as you can, even though you might have to wait a week or two. Let’s look at why these guys are so in demand, and why we think they’re an almost foolproof gift for just about any guitarist, including beginners:
Size / Comfort
This site is called Kid Guitarist for a reason, and the first thing we need to talk about here is the size and weight of this guitar.
The Les Paul SL is perfect for guitarists from about 10 years old upwards (younger kids should be okay with it if they’re a bit on the bigger/stronger side). There are a few reasons for this:
The body is about as slim as electric guitar bodies come, and the body itself is quite small and light. This is really important for kids – you don’t want to give them something that they’re going to get tired of holding after playing it for 30 minutes.
The neck itself is slightly shorter (24.75” scale length) than many full-sized electric guitars. Epiphone/Gibson guitars usually have this slightly shorter length, and it can make a big difference with smaller hands, but it’s not the shortest electric guitar you can get, which is why we recommend it for 10+-year-old players.
Another really great thing is the wood choice: The body of the SL is made of poplar, which is quite a light wood. Combined with the slimness and size of the body, this really makes for a guitar anyone will be able to play comfortably, even for longer amounts of time. The neck is made of mahogany, which is a heavier wood, but the neck of a guitar needs to be solid, so almost all guitar necks are either mahogany or maple. Since maple is much heavier, putting mahogany in the neck is an excellent choice by Epiphone (not to mention a remarkable choice, given that mahogany is a more expensive wood).
The Les Paul SL has a somewhat unique look. It’s clearly inspired by the classic Les Paul models that have been around for decades, but it’s pretty original. It is important because it gives the feeling that you’re playing an original model, not a cheaper version of an existing thing, and that’s something that most people like.
The SL comes in a bunch of colors that are unique for a cheap guitar too. So often, budget guitars just come in Black, White or Red, and it gets pretty boring. The Les Paul SL comes in Ebony, Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Pacific Blue, Sunset Yellow, Turquoise, and Vintage Sunburst, and all of them look fantastic.
The early buzz online seems to show a definite preference for the Turquoise and Pacific Blue models, but my personal choice would probably be the Heritage Cherry Sunburst. What’s most important though is that all the models look nice, and if you give this as a gift, they’re all very safe choices, with the possible exception of the Sunset Yellow.
A lot of cheap electric guitars come with a single pickup (which is basically the microphone that picks up the sound of the guitar), but the Les Paul SL comes with two. It’s amazing that they’ve managed to put in two at this price point, but it also turns out that the pickups sound pretty good.
They’re both single coil pickups, which means that they sound pretty bright and crisp. The bridge pickup will sound good for either playing nice clean tones, or solid distorted ones. The neck pickup sounds a little deeper, and more deep (as neck pickups always do), and gives a strong, throaty tone.
Do the pickups stack up to professional models that might cost you $100 – $300 per pickup? No, but it’s amazing how good they’re making the cheap ones now, and nobody except the most experienced of guitar snobs is going to notice much difference.
I mean, what needs to be said here? This is a brand new, brand name guitar for $99, and there’s a reason that it’s selling out all over the place. It’s a real electric guitar that a kid or beginner can play comfortably, but will also appeal to older, experienced guitarists who want a cool, unique backup guitar (or maybe something to mod by changing the parts or painting).
Despite the name, the Les Paul SL doesn’t really scream “Les Paul” at first glance, but it’s not unrecognizable, and it’s cool that Epiphone used this name, instead of calling it something lame like “Tonefeather” or “Groovehawk” or something. This also helps out with the resale value too though. Listen, when you’re buying a $99 guitar, resale value isn’t the something you should really worry about, but this thing will definitely keep its value much better than any other guitar in the same cheap price range over the coming years (it may even wind up like the Fender Squier 51, another cheap, modification-friendly, unique guitar by a big manufacturer, that is now a fairly sought-after model by collectors and modders).
Kids and beginners will find it comfortable to play. Combined with the fact that it looks good (it would not be out of place onstage with any alternative/indie/rock/blues/etc. band), they’ll keep playing it, and won’t be rushing to replace it (unlike some other cheap but more generic alternatives.)
If you happen to know any more experience guitarists though, they’ll love this as a gift too. Most of the early models have been selling to guitar nerds who love the original looks and great price (the early buzz on this had people discussing it online months before it actually hit the market).
As mentioned, these are a bit scarce at the moment, so if you want to grab one as an easy Christmas gift for someone, you probably want to just order it as soon as possible – there’s a strong possibility that these will become harder to find once December hits and people are really going crazy with their shopping.