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The Koa Les Paul Standard

Peter Hodgson
Gibson Koa Les Paul

The Les Paul Standard is the centerpiece of the now-almost concluded 2013 Year of Les Paul celebrations. It’s the most versatile Les Paul Standard ever created, and it pretty much has to be: if you’re going to call a guitar a ‘standard,’ it’s going to be scrutinized pretty closely. The 2013 Les Paul Standard has plenty of high-performance features geared towards playability and tone, and for 2013 there’s also the option of a koa upgrade, taking the place of the standard maple top.

Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands (where it’s the second most common tree), Koa is a reddish wood that is relatively common among basses and acoustic guitars, but it’s probably not among the woods that spring to mind most readily when we think of electric guitar bodies. It has a warm tone that is similar to mahogany, a weight that ranges from medium to heavy, and can be found in ‘regular’ and flame figures. It looks beautiful when it’s simply oiled, but it really, really comes alive when you stain it and give it a nice shiny finish. The 2013 Standard Koa is available in five finishes: Desert Burst, Cherry Sunburst, Honey Burst, Translucent Amber and Tea Burst.

Gibson Koa Les Paul

By the way, here’s an interesting fact you might not be aware of: koa glows green under a UV light. Some luthiers use UV-reactive glues which allow you to see any splodges, drips or overruns in your glue application, but if you pop a koa guitar under a UV light you’ll see luminous ‘Ghostbuster-green’ streams in the lighter parts of the grain.

Gibson Koa Les Paul

Aside from the koa top, which will thicken up the natural sound of a Les Paul, the koa family of Standards feature the same appointments as the regular maple-topped Standards. At the heart of the guitar is a mahogany body given Gibson’s new modern weight relief pattern for enhanced comfort and resonance. The solid, quarter-sawn mahogany neck is carved in a new asymmetrical version of the popular ’60s profile, and is capped off with a bound compound-radius rosewood fretboard which is rounder at the lower frets for more comfortable chording, and flatter at the higher frets for more precise bends and vibrato. The inlays are traditional trapezoids, and they’re set off against cream binding, pick guard and pickup rings. The strings are anchored by a TonePros ™ Stopbar, pass over a TonePros Tune-o-Matic bridge, and terminate in high-quality locking Grover ™ kidney-button tuners.

Gibson Koa Les Paul

The pickups are a Burstbucker Pro ™ #1 in the neck position and a Burstbucker Pro #2 in the bridge slot. Each pickup is voiced in the spirit of a late ‘50s PAF hum bucker but with wax potting to protect the coils against the vibrations that cause out-of-control feedback. They’re also hooked up with four-conductor wire in order to enable coil splitting and out-of-phase options. Each of the two volume and two tone controls are push-pull switches designed to engage different wiring tricks: each volume pot turns its respective humbucker into a single coil, while the neck pickup’s tone control engages out-of-phase tones, and the bridge pickup’s tone pot summons Pure Bypass mode, which sends the signal directly to the output jack for a hotter, punchier tone. For instance, flip to the neck pickup, set it to single coil mode and roll back its volume and tone controls for a soft, mellow rhythm tone, then pop the Pure Bypass on to hit your amp with the full force of the bridge hum bucker. With your amp set at just the right level of overdrive, clever use of the guitar’s volume controls and the Pure Bypass mode can almost function like a channel switch.

Gibson Koa Les Paul

Of course, if you’re not into the koa tops, the regular finishes are still available: Heritage Cherry Burst, Honey Burst, Tea Burst, Desert Burst and Translucent Amber as well as Goldtop.

Which of the current finishes do you like the best?

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