Part of the appeal of a genuine Gibson Les Paul is all that fantastic tonewood: a mahogany body with a lustrous maple top. Yet many a guitarist will admit that Les Pauls can sometimes be heavy.
I was recently at the studio of a top U.K. guitarist/producer and played one of his Les Paul Standards. A wine red ’91, retro-fitted with a Bigbsy. Beautiful guitar, everything a Gibson Les Paul should be – but, boy, was it heavy. It must have been 11lbs. All good for maximum tone in theory, but sometimes not so good for your back.
Some players like a super-solid Gibson Les Paul’s weight. Dan Hawkins of Brit rockers The Darkness tells Gibson.com, “Les Pauls are heavy for some, but to me anything else feels like it may not even last one song. Although that’s possibly down to my rough technique!
“I actually like the weight. I’ve always loved full-on Les Pauls. It seems to translate to the sound as well. What’s wrong with people? Guitarists need to ‘man-up’ and play heavy Les Pauls! Then again, I do tend to walk with a hunch these days!”
Indeed. But Thin Lizzy legend Scott Gorham, now in Black Star Riders, thinks lighter Les Pauls are a godsend. He’s suffered back problems in the past and is now delighted with new “weight relief” Gibson Les Pauls, particularly his Axcess model.
“I walked into the Gibson showroom in London a few years ago and got one. It’s extremely light compared to an old Les Paul Standard, because it’s chambered. And it’s got great access to the top frets, better than ever.”
So, what to do? The good news is that many Gibson’s 2014 New Model Les Pauls have weight relief. You won’t lose tone, but you will feel a lighter, better Les Paul.
Holes in a Solidbody
Gibson has been making weight relief/chambered Les Pauls for many years. It started in the ‘80s. Gibson Master Luthier Jim DeCola says “If you play a batch of weight-relieved Les Pauls and a batch of non-weight-relieved Les Pauls they will all have slight variations in tone even between those of the same type. But you’re very unlikely to hear consistent differences between the weight-relieved and non-weight-relieve guitars.
“If anything, the weight relieving enhances the resonance, which I feel helps with the sustain.”
Over the years, Gibson has introduced various ways of lightening your Les Paul load. Here’s a brief guide to three Gibson techniques.
1. “ Traditional Weight Relief”
Nine round holes in a Les Paul’s mahogany body before the maple top is attached. The holes are strategically placed in the lower bouts on the bass-side of the guitar. The result, DeCola says, “is a guitar that’s lighter than a non-weight-relieved guitar, but which still has some weight to it and feels solid.”
A unique guitar-building technique, akin – in some ways – to a Gibson semi-acoustic but with all the looks of a trad Gibson Les Paul. “This is the most dramatic technique,” says DeCola, “and results in a guitar that almost has more of an acoustic resonance to it.”
3. “Modern Weight Relief”
This is the deal for 2014. Smaller, elliptical sound-chambers inside a Les Paul’s mahogany body. Fully “chambered” LPs can, some argue, feedback like a semi. Modern Weight Relief solves all that.
So you get a full-sounding Les Paul but lighter to play. And still with the mahogany/maple tonewood combo of a classic Gibson Les Paul.
Try the Gibson 2014 models and find out if weight relief makes a difference to you.