Gibson has designated 2013 as the Year Of Les Paul, and propping up a pile of new Pauls is the LPJ: a bona fide USA-made Les Paul for less than £600.
For anyone who has ever lusted after the 'real thing' but been forced to settle for a lesser axe due to the cruel mistress that is economics, this is a big deal. The LPJ is a notch above an Epiphone in the grown-up guitar stakes, but it's pretty far removed from the look of the Goldtops and Bursts that generate tremors in the nether regions of guitar nerds.
We always feel a little nervous when dragging a set-neck guitar around in a gigbag. We'd recommend investing in a hard shell case for any guitar with a glue-in neck and a back-angled headstock, but nevertheless the supplied Gibson gigbag is robust. It's even padded enough to act as a rudimentary duvet should your band's van break down at 3am on the way to the Travelodge. Unzipped, the LPJ's matt Cherry finish has a worn-in look and feel, and while it won't win any beauty contests, the genuine nitrocellulose lacquer - rare on a guitar under £600 - will impress the anoraks.
Contributing to the Spartan aesthetic is a pair of Gibson humbuckers - a 490R in the neck and a 498T in the bridge - that will be sonically familiar to many players but visually less so, as the company has chosen to equip them with black textured covers that would look more at home on a pointy metal axe. Whether you are a fan or not, on the inside, these are the same pickups that used to be fitted to Les Paul Standards in the 1990s, and still grace plenty of much more expensive guitars in the Gibson USA catalogue, so don't doubt that they have the goods when it comes to pro rock tones.
You might have read on internet forums that Gibson's QC can be a little sketchy, but a cursory strum of the LPJ reveals that construction quality here is more than acceptable for the price. Fingerboard edges and fret ends provide a slightly rough ride in places, but more importantly, an unplugged strum reveals a bold, snappy acoustic voice with bags of sustain that bodes well for the LPJ's plugged-in performance.
With a valve amp set to crunch and the bridge pickup engaged, a big open A chord is all it takes for the LPJ to remind us that when it comes to rock humbucker tones, there's really no substitute for a genuine Gibson. Page, Kossoff and Slash, through to more contemporary hard rock, punk and metal tones: it's all here, with absolute authority.
It's most likely a combination of factors rather than any single ingredient, but there's something about the way that even an entry-level USA Gibson sounds that makes us grin from ear to ear. Even the LPJ's maple neck (a departure from traditional mahogany) doesn't seem to dilute the unmistakeable stamp of Les Paul identity across all of its core tones.