Finding an instrument with sex appeal that’s off-the-wall-ready for the stage and the studio, and costs less than $1,000, is important for most working musicians and amateur players on a budget. And let’s face it: most working musicians and amateur players are on a budget.
Among the raft of good product news from Gibson Brands this year — which marks the company’s 120th anniversary — is the arrival of nine 2014 models with killer looks, sound and playability, all for between $499 and $999. These include four handsome Les Pauls, three SGs and two basses — all with the company’s latest new-model appointments.
What exactly are those appointments? Glad you asked. All 2014 Gibson USA-built models have wider frets that extend over the binding all the way to the end of the neck, for better bending and easier fretting. Plus, Gibson’s new fret wire benefits from an innovative cryogenic treatment that minimizes fret corrosion and maximizes longevity. And all these new-model-year instruments feature a TekToid™ nut to minimize friction and improve tuning stability, plus Max Grip proprietary speed dials that have a notched outer ring for easier control.
Maybe the coolest new wrinkle is standard installation of ultra-dependable Orange Drop capacitors, which combat electrical interference from poor stage wiring or lights, and better stand the test of time, preserving the tone that every player works hard to achieve.
There’s more, like extra large strap buttons to help keep guitars aloft, and a special “120th Anniversary” inlay at the 12th fret. This year also introduces a new serial numbering system, keyed to the model year, with each guitar’s serial number displaying the order in which it was hand-crafted by American workers in Music City, USA. And all of these instruments benefit from a Gibson PLEK system set-up at the factory, which means they arrive ready to rock.
Now, about the nine instruments list priced below $1G — let’s first take a look at the Les Pauls:
• 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker: With a list price of $569, this two-pickup, matte satin finished guitar with a classic Melody Maker thin-profile solid body looks like a rock ‘n’ roll warhorse, but is adaptable to any style. And it is Gibson’s most affordable member of the Les Paul family. With a mahogany body and a ’50s rounded profile neck, this Melody Maker is the first to have a carved maple top, which is big news for tone hounds. And thanks to Gibson’s new P-90SR and P-90ST pickups, the 2014 Melody Maker has a broad tonal palette with a bright, percussive attack at the treble pickup and a clean, articulate voice for rhythm. The Lightning Bar tailpiece also helps make this guitar ring. But the soul of the vintage sonic vibe comes courtesy of Alnico V rod magnets, made famous by the historic and much sought-after Gibson ES-125 models of the late ’40s. The guitar also comes in four nitrocellulose finishes: Yellow, Manhattan Midnight, Wine Red and Charcoal, and has vintage button style tuners.
• 2014 LPJ: For $669 list, this is a lot of guitar. The 2014 LPJ comes standard with a Tune-O-Matic bridge, a rounded ’50s style neck with a rosewood fingerboard, a weight-relieved body, a matte stain finish and two uncovered ’61 Zebra Humbuckers. The guitar’s body is mahogany with a maple top and the tuners feature vintage buttons and plates. Five finishes — Cherry, Chocolate, Rubbed Vintage Shade, Vintage Sunburst and Fireburst — are available. But the Zebras’ add something new to the game. They improve on the classic humbucker tone with subtly enhanced highs and swap out Alnico II magnets for Alnico Vs for more output and enhanced touch sensitivity. Sounds cool, right?
• 2014 LPM: The “M” stands for “ Min-ETune™,” Gibson’s smallest proprietary on-board auto-tuner, which makes it a snap — or, rather, a button push — to change tunings within a live performance without swapping out guitars or pausing more than a few seconds. Of course, there’s more to this fine list-priced-at-$849 model than robot tuning. The LPM also boasts two hot ’61 Zebra Humbuckers in its weight-relieved mahogany body with a maple top, as well as a ’50s profile neck with a rosewood fingerboard and vintage pearloid button tuners. Finishes available are the same as the LPJ.
• 2014 Les Paul Studio: The Gibson Les Paul studio model already has a long history, but the 2014 edition of this guitar writes a new chapter at $999 list. Of course, like the LPJ and LPM, there’s a Tune-O-Matic bridge, but then the differences emerge, like the modern weight relieved mahogany body and ’60s slim profile neck with rosewood fingerboard, plus a vintage gloss topcoat over a figured maple top. There’s also coil tapping, for both single-coil and humbucker sounds, and the pickups themselves are a Modern Classics 490R and 490T set, with Alnico II magnets for vintage tone. With vintage pearloid tuners and optional Yellow, Wine Red, Manhattan Midnight and Charcoal finishes, this guitar is in every way part of the classic Les Paul family.
Next up are the 2014 SGs:
• 2014 SGJ: At $499 list, this matte satin finished beauty is the least expensive electric guitar in the Gibson USA catalog, but it covers a lot of ground. The classic solid mahogany body and ’50s profile maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard harkens back to the original class of ’61 SGs. Vintage style tuners and keys support the guitar’s historic look, as does the Tune-O-Matic bridge. Top that off with a choice of finishes in grain-textured nitrocellulose lacquers. And the new-era SGJ features two pickups, a pair of ’61 Zebras with Alnico V magnets.
• 2014 SGM: Of course, there’s a Min-ETune™ version of this fine instrument as well, listing for $749. It features all of the same details as the SGJ, with the added convenience of robot tuning.
• 2014 SG Special: With an $899 list price, the word “special” is perfect for describing this stylish instrument. Superb tone generating pickups — a Modern Classics 490R and 490T — give this model a wider sonic palette. Here are a few more details on these excellent new-era Gibson proprietary pickups. They are voiced for tonal characteristics similar to '57 Classics, but with a slight increase in the upper mids for a more contemporary humbucker sound. That makes them super responsive in any context — jazz, rock, blues, country, metal, pop or skronked-out-noise. The Special is also available in five vintage gloss colors: Fireburst, Butterscotch, Desert Burst, Heritage Cherry and Walnut.
And finally, the basses:
• 2014 SG Special Bass: Like the new SG guitars, this low-end monster delivers the goods at a low price — $699 list. Again, the body is made from excellent tonewood mahogany with a satin finish and a smooth, comfortable 30-inch scale mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The tuners are Grover “Shamrock” style and there’s a three-point adjustable bridge. And the pickups offer a great blend of contemporary and classic choices, thanks to a pairing of a vintage-style T-Bird mini-humbucker with a modern T-bird Plus in the neck position. Finishes available are Cherry Stain, Fireburst and Chocolate satin.
• EB Bass 4-String: List priced at $999, this is the latest entry in the famed Gibson EB family of basses that made history in the hands of Jack Bruce, the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, the Velvet Underground’s Doug Yule and so many others. The real story with the new EB 4-String is sonic. The instrument has a pair of Alnico rod magnet humbucking pickups with coil-tapping, chrome Grover tuning keys and a Babicz Full Contact Bridge for increased, powerful sustain. The maple neck with rosewood fingerboard has a 34-inch scale and the body is ash. This instrument is available in five vintage gloss finishes: Brilliant Red, Bullion Gold, Fireburst, Natural and Vintage Sunburst.