ESP LTD EC-256 Electric Guitar
PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom Electric Guitar
Epiphone Les Paul Electric Guitar Pack
Table of Contents
Some of the most iconic players of all time have almost exclusively played one of the many Les Paul models made by Gibson. And with good reason — they are excellent. That excellence comes with a price, however.
If that’s a price you can’t afford to pay, don’t worry. There are some good options out there with many of the same features and quality levels as a real Les Paul. And they’re much more affordable.
Let’s take a look at nine of the best Les Paul copies on the market.
The 9 Best Les Paul Copies:
ESP LTD EC-256
The EC-256 provides exceptional value for the money. The body is made of Mahogany with a Maple top and has the distinctive Les Paul shape, but you’ll notice that the cutaway is a little more aggressive and pointy. For those of you who remember the ’80s, not all pointy guitars were bad, right?
ESP LTD has also included a Mahogany set-in neck along with a real rosewood fretboard and 22 XJ frets. The fret marker inlays are a little different from a standard LP. They’re kind of a ‘waved block trapezoid’ that you have to see to appreciate.
Two ESP high powered humbucker pickups provide all of the rock sonics, but the controls setup differs from a true Les Paul. There are individual volume controls, but only one master tone that also has push/pull functionality to activate coil tapping.
At first glance, it may seem to be just another single cutaway that mimics a real LP. Looking closer you can see that it’s actually a nice blend of traditional design elements with some modern twists.
If you add up all the features, it’s not hard to see why ESP LTD deserves a place on our Les Paul copies shootout.
PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom Electric Guitar
The SE line was originally intended to provide Paul Reed Smith (PRS) quality levels at an affordable price. It’s safe to say that the line has achieved that goal and much more.
Case in point is the PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom. It’s an incredible signature model that’s a worthy mashup of classic Les Paul design with a healthy dose of PRS flare.
The mahogany body features a carved maple top with a transparent finish, a striking contrast to some of the more traditional Les Paul finish options.
Maple is used for the set neck, along with a rosewood fretboard that has the PRS bird-style inlays. The neck contour has the PRS ‘wide-thin’ design with a 10-inch fretboard radius and 25-inch scale length, making it extremely comfortable to play.
Two PRS humbucker pickups are controlled by the traditional two volume/two tone knob configuration. The Tremonti Custom also features a PRS tremolo bridge — a welcome addition to shredders who love Les Paul guitars but may have a hard time finding one that isn’t a hardtail.
This Paul Reed Smith model may cost a little more than most of the other LP copies on the list, but it’s definitely worth the investment.
Epiphone Les Paul Electric Guitar Player Pack
Epiphone is part of the Gibson group, so it’s fair to assume it has built numerous Les Paul copies over the years. If you’re a beginner looking for an all-in-one Les Paul package, then the Epiphone Les Paul Player Pack might be the ticket.
Starting out with the guitar itself, you’ll find an Epiphone LP Special II. It’s a pretty good entry level model that mimics the Gibson Les Paul Special.
There’s no fancy carved top, but it sports the iconic Les Paul solid Mahogany body design, two humbucker pickups and a Tune-O-Matic style bridge.
The biggest benefit of buying a player’s pack is all of the accessories. On top of the Special II is an Electar 10W amp with built-in overdrive, a guitar strap, picks, an instrument cable, a clip on tuner and even a gig bag. What else could you possibly need?
The Epiphone Electric Guitar Player series is simply the real deal. It’s one of the most comprehensive beginner’s packs you’ll come across, and it’s got plenty LP mojo too.
Oscar Schmidt OE20 LP Style Electric Guitar
Out of the models we’ve looked at, the Oscar Schmidt OE20 LP certainly comes across as one of the most accurately made Les Paul copies so far. It reminds me of the 1959 Les Paul Standard made famous by guitar players such as Jimmy Page.
The set in maple neck has traditional block trapezoid inlays and 22 frets. There are two different fingerboard options to choose from, ’engineered wood’ or a more traditional rosewood composition. ‘Engineered wood’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘man-made’, but it’s a pretty good substitute for real rosewood.
Electronics on the OE20 are a dead ringer for a ‘59 LP as well. You’ll find two covered humbucking pickups that are controlled by individual volume and tone knobs, along with a three-way selector switch.
The classic configuration is rounded out with a pickguard, a Tune-O-Matic style bridge and a stop tail. As far as paying homage to the original, this is one of the best Les Paul copies I’ve seen. It’s certainly worth investigating further.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop Pro Electric Guitar
If you’re in the market for a Les Paul copy that closely matches the real deal, the Epiphone Standard PlusTop Pro may be the guitar for you. While other models do their best to mimic Les Pauls guitars, Epiphone simply nails it.
The mahogany body has the perfect proportions of the classic Les Paul single cutaway design, and it also has a carved maple top. Maple is used for the set neck and it has a rosewood fingerboard with the same block trapezoid fret inlays you’ll find on a real Les Paul.
Both the body and the neck are finished off with white binding to give a clean and classy appearance. The neck also features medium jumbo frets and a 24.75-inch scale length.
Electronics on the PlusTop Pro are standard for a Les Paul, but Epiphone does throw in some added functionality.
Two covered humbucker pickups are controlled by individual volume and tone knobs along with the requisite three way pickup selector switch. What makes the difference is push/pull pots to let you do coil tapping as well.
A Tune-O-Matic bridge, stopbar tailpiece and sealed Grover tuners top off this impressive guitar.
The PlusTop Pro has all the goods that make an LP such a great instrument. In fact, it’s such a faithful reproduction that the only way I could tell the difference from the real thing was to look at the headstock.
Paul Reed Smith SE 245 Standard Electric Guitar
As with the Paul Reed Smith (PRS) SE Mark Tremonti discussed earlier, the SE 245 electric guitar is another fine example of how PRS manages to provide amazing quality and value within the SE line.
They really are incredible guitars that would fool even the most discerning guitar player into thinking it should cost far more. The Les Paul inspired mahogany body features a carved top for elegance and comfort, giving off a warm tone profile.
Neck profiles are a huge factor in playability and the Maple set neck on the 245 has the PRS ‘wide-fat’ contour and a 24.5-inch scale length. It’s both beefy and smooth at the same time.
White binding has been meticulously applied to the neck and body to give a visual sense of elegance. PRS bird motifs are inlaid into the rosewood fretboard, which further enhances the visual appeal.
Traditional configuration is the name of the game when it comes to the electronics. Two PRS humbuckers are adjusted with individual volume and tone knobs, along with a three-way selector switch.
PRS branded tuning machines and a one-piece stoptail bridge finish things off. Overall, the PRS 245 Standard is a way to get a quality PRS/Les Paul mashup into your guitar collection.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT Electric Guitar
The Epiphone LP Studio LT is designed for beginners who are keen to get their hands on an affordable Les Paul copy. It sports a mahogany body with the classic single cutaway design, and it’s available in four different finish options.
The Mahogany neck comes with the Epiphone ’60s SlimTaper D profile for a smooth and fast feel. The fretboard comes with a solid layer of Rosewood and the medium jumbo frets are easy to navigate with simple dot inlays.
Two zebra coil ceramic pickups (meaning both black and white exposed coil bobbins) add to the rocker look and vibe.
Admittedly there’s nothing fancy about the controls; just your typical volume and tone knobs with a pickup selector switch. There’s no coil tap function, but in a guitar at this level, it doesn’t seem necessary.
It’s intentionally simple in design, but if it introduces the aura of Les Pauls guitars to a legion of budding rock stars, then its nailed the brief.
Glen Burton GE320 Electric Guitar
Starting at the strap pin and looking all the way up, you may have a hard time telling the GE320 is a Les Paul copy until you hit the headstock and read the label.
It’s an admirable reproduction of the Les Paul Standard, featuring the classic body shape complete with a solid body and carved top. The maple set neck is impressive for a guitar at this level of affordability. Another bonus is the true rosewood fretboard with the block trapezoid fret marker inlays.
There’s nothing incredible about the electronics or pickups, but you can’t expect much at this price range. You get the classic two covered humbucker/individual volume and tone knobs/three way pickup selector switch that has adorned countless LP guitars, both real and reproductions, for many years.
The GE320 is pleasantly filled with surprises, it has a Tune-O-Matic style bridge to help get string action and intonation right where it needs to be. Along with that, there is a hard stop tailpiece and tuners that have a vintage look and feel.
It certainly won’t make a huge dent in your gear budget and it might even make a fun project to upgrade some of the electronics and hardware. The Glen Burton GE320 packs a lot of Les Paul into a very affordable beginner’s guitar.
Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90 Electric Guitar
The Epiphone Les Paul P90 very adequately pulls off the intent of the original Gibson LP Special, taking the proven body design and giving it a whole different tone profile. Epiphone uses P90 soap bar pickups instead of the humbuckers that you’d typically find on most Les Paul models.
Humbuckers naturally give a warm, fat tone. Single coil pickups such as those found on a Fender Strat typically have increased treble response and sound quite a bit brighter. The P90 which technically has single coil pickups delivers a mid-range tone between the two.
This model also includes a solid Mahogany body in a gloss finish, a bolt on Mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard with a 24.75-inch scale length. You’ll find a single master volume and tone knobs along with a three-way selector switch.
The Epiphone Special I P90 looks, feels and sounds like the iconic guitar which it was modeled after, making for another extremely affordable Les Paul copy worthy of consideration.
What is a Les Paul copy?
Imitation is the biggest form of flattery, and that certainly rings true when talking about the original Gibson Les Paul guitars.
A Les Paul copy is simply a version of the original reproduced to fit that classic design, both in sound and playability.
Many of the Les Paul style guitars that you’ll see are faithful reproductions of the ‘real deal’. Some copies even boast additional features meant to improve on the classic standard.
The design of a guitar’s body isn’t something that can easily be protected with a patent to keep others from making the same thing. And that’s exactly what started the Les Paul copy revolution.
Why are Les Paul guitars so popular?
Just as Stratocasters may be one of the most popular single coil guitars ever made, the same can be said for Gibson Les Paul guitars with its dual humbucker pickups. Humbuckers give a warmer sound overall when compared to single coil pickups and they lend themselves well to many different styles of playing and genres of music.
Having a rich and warm tone fits in well with the comfort level and playability that these guitars are known to have. The single cutaway design also gives easy access to all of the upper frets on the neck. A properly set up Les Paul guitar, quite simply, plays as smooth as butter.
Playability aside, some of the sunburst models (with the flamed maple tops) could easily be considered works of art.
Many players are drawn to Les Paul’s guitars simply because that’s what their heroes were known to play. They’re definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but they fit a very specific sound profile that works in a huge number of music genres.
What design features should a non Gibson Les Paul have?
The best way to answer this may be to look at all the individual parts of a classic Les Paul guitar. From there we can not only distinguish the most important features, but which of these features guitar players look for in a decent Les Paul reproduction.
That being said, it’s not unusual to come across LP copies that have features that are a bit different from the standard. Sometimes it’s these deviations that make for a better guitar overall.
Neck and Headstock
Traditional Les Paul guitars have headstocks configured with three tuning machines on each side (unlike a Fender Stratocaster that has all six on the top).
You may also find a Maple or Mahogany neck, but Maple is usually the better selection of wood for both strength and tone. A traditional Les Paul guitar also includes Rosewood, Ebony or some other sustainable alternative for the fretboard. The neck scale length is typically set to 24.75-inches (628mm) for a warmer overtone.
Depending on the model, the fret markers can either be simple dots or more elaborate block/trapezoid style inlays. Some may have binding along the neck while others do not. Twenty-two jumbo frets has been the standard in the past, but some may have 24 medium jumbo frets instead.
The Makeup of a Les Paul body
Just like a Stratocaster, Les Paul guitars are instantly recognizable in shape. The single cutaway design is extremely functional for soloing purposes and the smaller upper bout married with the larger bottom section is a hallmark of the design.
You’ll usually find a Mahogany body as standard. Some models have a carved top that not only makes the guitar more comfortable to play, but it also has a classier visual appeal. The best Les Paul models also have a unique tonewood binding with finishes that range from simple solid colors (black has been particularly popular) to semi-transparent ones that let the inherent beauty of the wood shine through.
Les Paul Hardware Styles
While there are many different models of LP guitars, the most common include two humbucking pickups. They’re usually controlled by a three-way selector switch (bridge only, bridge/neck together, or neck only). Each pickup has its own set of volume and tone knobs too.
Les Paul guitars tend to be stationary hardtails outfitted with a Tune-O-Matic style bridge. The individual string saddles that can be adjusted back and forth helps to get the guitar’s intonation set up with a great deal of accuracy. They also can be raised or lowered to help adjust overall string action.
Who else makes Les Paul copies?
Inexpensive models which are most often imported into the USA can be found from brand names such as Greco and Burny.
Some, like Tokai, are somewhere in the middle. They aren’t necessarily on the low end of the scale, but they can’t be considered on the higher side of the market either.
Some of the best Les Paul copies include models from Ibanez and Paul Reed Smith. They do not use the name ‘Les Paul’ specifically, but there’s no denying where the body design came from when you take a closer look.
Les Paul’s legacy left us one of the most popular designs to ever shape the guitar world. The sheer number of reproductions that you’ll run into is a testament to how good a guitar really is.
You may not have to spend a lot of money on a true Gibson model just to experience all of what a really good LP style guitar can offer. The ESP LTD EC-256, for example, makes for an impressive LP copy at a decent price.
What do you think? Are the models discussed here some of the best Les Paul copies out there? Leave your comments below.