Epiphone Les Paul Custom Review
Verdict and Review Summary
Though Epiphone's version of the Les Paul Custom doesn't match the pristine and attention to detail of the Gibson version, it gives you a similar experience and aesthetic, along with a budget-friendly price tag that's ideal for upgrading your "starter" guitar.
The Les Paul Custom is one of Epiphone's most popular electric guitars and easily the most recognizable Les Paul model between both Epiphone and Gibson. Though it has gone through yearly iterations and releases, Epiphone's version has remained largely unchanged. Mahogany tonewood, Epiphone-brand pickups, and Grover tuning hardware have - for a long time - been the most notable highlights and descriptors.
In this article, we'll review the Epiphone Les Paul Custom in full to help give you an idea of whether this particular guitar would be a good fit for your particular situation. If you want to explore a more broad list of recommendations, checkout our roundup of the best Epiphone Les Pauls on the market.
To start our analysis, let's look at a weighted breakdown of ratings we've provided for eight different categories:
Here's how the Epiphone Les Paul Custom compares to a few other electric guitars we've analyzed in a similar tax bracket:
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The Musician's Friend demo of this guitar is decently short, without any dialogue or interrupting.
Quick Review Rundown
IDEAL FOR: Beginners and rock fans that lean towards the heavier side of the spectrum
- Aesthetics are spot on
- Price point is excellent for a wide range of uses/needs
- Black with gold hardware is a great look
- Versatile enough to accommodate both distinct lead and rhythm players
- Modern or classic rock
- Stock Epiphone parts aren't bad
- Grover tuning heads
- Similar tonewood makeup to the Gibson version
- Heavier body is difficult to get used to if you aren't familiar with typical LP weight distribution
- Finish doesn't look as good as the Gibson lacquer
Curated from Sweetwater, Musicians Friend, American Musical Supply, Guitar Center, and Amazon
Of 206 total reviews, 12 were negative and 194 were positive.
Epiphone doesn't go out of their way to brag about the strings that ship with their Les Paul Custom, so we'd recommend changing them right away. Odds are they're some kind of stock string that Epiphone buys in bulk. Here's a quick recommendation list of strings for Les Paul electrics.
For more subtle tones, some people prefer rolling back the volume on the Les Paul, especially if you're using a distortion pedal or external gain source. Though for most clean tones we'd recommend starting with the volume of both pickups at 100 percent and the pickup selector in the middle position. Once you've set the volume, you can roll tone for both pickups back slightly if your clean tone sounds too shrill or biting.
- Pickup selector: Middle position
- Bridge volume: 100% (wide open)
- Bridge tone: 85% (slight roll back)
- Neck volume: 100%
- Neck tone: 85%
Construction & Aesthetics
Most of the Epiphone Les Pauls are built with a similar construction strategy and the Custom follows suit. The body and neck are both solid Mahogany with a glued in joint (set neck) and binding around the outside of the body and the top piece. That top layer I believe is also Mahogany and fits into the binding around the perimeter of the body.
However, I should mention that the exact tonewood type isn't listed on Epiphone's product page for the Custom. The Gibson Custom's top piece is listed as Maple.
To the naked eye, this tonewood arrangement and body design is extremely similar to the Gibson Custom. One big aesthetic difference is the quality in lacquer used on the Epiphone version. Instead of the Nitrocellulose Lacquer in the Gibson version, Epiphone using an unnamed "gloss" which doesn't look quite as pristine. It's hard to tell the exact difference, but you can see it - even in the stock photos.
Even with modern weight relief, all Les Pauls tend to feel heavier, like you're favoring the body-side of the guitar. This is especially true if you aren't used to that body design, perhaps migrating from a Stratocaster or a PRS electric. Though I've found that the distribution is easy to adjust to and not a reason to avoid the Les Paul body type, especially not the modern Customs.
Particularly if you play standing up with a guitar strap, you'll feel the weight favoring your strumming hand, but it gets familiar and second-nature after a few hours of playing.
While the exact tonewood makeup of that top piece isn't totally clear, Epiphone does go through the trouble of carving it to mimic the body contour of the Gibson version. Again, it's not as pristine or original-looking at the Gibson job, but it does complete the look of the body and doesn't look flat.
As I've already alluded to a couple times, the finish is where Epiphone's cost-cutting starts to show through. It just doesn't look at slick as the Gibson version, though certainly meets the standard set by guitars of other brands in a similar price range (more on the Epiphone Les Paul Custom's price below). The gloss definitely gives the guitar a nice sheen, especially when the light hits it from an angle. Though it doesn't do as good of a job showing off the contour of the body.
Several years ago Epiphone produced a PAF style humbucker and trademarked it with the name "ProBucker," meant to be an alternative to the popular Gibson Burstbucker that ships with the Gibson Les Paul Custom. The ProBucker is what you get as a stock pickup on the Epiphone Les Paul Custom.
These pickups sound decent, though they don't meet the same tone quality standard as the Gibson BurstBuckers. There's a dramatic difference in the price between these pickup sets, which is where you lose a lot of the tone quality that you would have with the Gibson brand.
We have to assume that the ProBucker is more of an attempt by Epiphone to add branding to what would otherwise be a stock pickup thrown into a mid-level electric guitar.
But again, that's not to say it sounds bad. The ProBuckers in the Epiphone Les Paul Custom give you a lot of nice sustain, and do a good job of capturing those lower, chunky power chord "thuds" that you expect out of a good humbucker set. While we wouldn't be opposed to a pickup upgrade here, you can certainly live with the tone quality in this set, especially if you've already added a nicer set of strings.
All of the hardware in the Epiphone Les Paul Custom is stock from Epiphone's warehouse, with the exception of the tuning heads. Those are the Grover Rotomatic 18:1 tuning machines, which is a nice - and frankly unexpected - upgrade for a guitar in this price range.
For example, we don't see the same tuners on the Epiphone Les Paul Standard.
These give the Custom a bit more tuning stability and for those buying to mod, it's one less thing you need to upgrade.
The rest of the hardware, including the ABR bridge and tailpiece, would run you about $30 on Stewmac. This is usually fine out of the box, but for a long-term guitar, we'd probably consider swapping this bridge for something nicer - perhaps the Gibson-brand tailpiece or something by Gotoh.
Why is it so much cheaper than the Gibson version?
Many who are considering the Les Paul Custom will ask: What is the biggest factors in the price difference between the two brands? While it's impossible to concretely make up several thousand dollars worth of quality difference, there are a few things we've seen in the Epiphone Custom that we believe to be significant indicators of Epiphone's cost-cutting. They include - but are not limited to - the following:
- The ProBucker pickup downgrade
- The top tonewood grade and carving (this runs huge price differences in PRS guitars)
- Electrical components and bridge hardware
- Lacquer and finish
After all this, who is the Epiphone Les Paul Custom a good fit for? We'd recommend this guitar for the following situations, scenarios, and styles:
- Rock, modern to heavy (maybe metal in some cases)
- Tool fans (Adam Jones plays the Gibson Les Paul Custom)
- Beginners looking to upgrade from their "starter" guitar
- Intermediate players looking for a reliable rhythm and lead guitar hybrid
- Fans of classic rock and heavy power riffs
Other Epiphone Les Paul Custom Resources
Your Questions and Comments
Do you have questions about our report? There's a lot that I didn't (or can't) answer here, so feel free to leave notes in the comments section below and I'll do my best to help out. If I can't answer your question, I'll try and get you in touch with someone who can help and get you the information you're looking for. See ya there.