New Les Paul Setup

Inspector 22The factory setup on my new Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus definitely needs some work.  Fortunately, it’s not quite as bad as my Riviera’s original factory setup.  Thank you inspector #22 in the USA 🙂

For these measurements, I’m using a capo set of feeler gauges like this set from Grizzly.

Factory Setup Here’s what it looked like, right out of the box:

  • the open action at the 17th fret was .101” on the high E and .083” on the low E.
  • the nut seems to be cut just about right. With a capo on the 3rd fret and measuring at the 1st fret, it’s about .002” on the high E and .006” on the low E.   Or measured open at the first fret, it’s .015” on the high E and .028” on the low E
  • the truss rod was was .011” at the 7th fret, with capo on 1st and finger on 22nd.
  • the intonation was completely whacked.
  • The pickup heights were carelessly set. The neck pickup was angled to be too high close to the strings on the low side and too low on the high side, resulting in a boomy unbalanced sound.
  • The pickup pole pieces were haphazardly adjusted.

So how does Gibson set up its Les Pauls at the factory?  In a post to the Gibson Talk forums, Davomite, the final inspector at Gibson Memphis posted the following factory setup notes (I added the purple decimal inch values in parentheses):

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A Worthy Tribute

Epiphone Les Paul Tribute PlusEpiphone Les Paul Tribute PlusEpiphone Les Paul Tribute PlusEpiphone Les Paul Tribute PlusEpiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus

My new Epi Les Paul Tribute Plus arrived yesterday for my birthday, and it’s a beauty!  These things are hard to find- none of the local stores have inventory, and every online retailer is backordered.  I managed to get Guitar Center’s last one in the country(!) – from the store in Tonawanda, New York.  The store manager there was great- sent me some pics, played it for me to confirm it was all good, gave me a great July 4th discount, and shipped it over for free.   Thanks Chip!

Cosmetically, it’s really nice.  Clean, well-defined flamed maple top and cream bindings.  The cherryburst finish looks near-perfect- with rich warm coloring- not the bright overexposed yellow in the pictures at Guitar Center’s website.  The Grover locking tuners feel fantastically smooth, and the switch, knobs and jack all seem good.  And after some quick adjustments, it plays pretty well (but still needs some fine tuning).

Push/Pull for Series/ParallelThe ’57 Classic pickups sound really dynamic, rich and beautiful – they’re warm when played gently, and crank when spanked. Love em.  There’s quite a range of sounds with the push/pull series/parallel switching on the tone knobs.  When a tone knob is pulled, the humbucker’s two coils are wired in parallel giving a lighter, brighter, thinner sound, somewhat reminiscent of a single coil (though different).    It’s completely different from the ultra-thick and heavy series-humbucker sound (knob pushed in).  This is a really versatile setup: a total of 8 different sounds using the 3 switches, not to mention the variations you can get by adjusting the volume knobs in the middle switch position.

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Les’ Sustain for Days

Gibson Les Paul TraditionalA couple months ago, I had an unexpected revelation.  An eye-opening, earth-shaking, revolutionary enlightenment.   Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating and obsessing, but it was an honest-to-goodness WTF!

I was at a local music shop (ok, I admit it was Best Buy), and out of curiosity, I picked up an absurdly expensive Gibson Les Paul Traditional from the wall-o-guitars, plugged it into a Vox Night Train, and gave it a spin.  I’ve never really given the Les Paul guitars much attention.  Despite their iconic status and near ubiquity, I’ve always thought the Les Paul was just too heavy to consider. But…

I was shocked! This guitar had so much sustain, it felt like there must be an active sustainer circuit in there.  But no- just passive ‘57 Classic humbuckers, a Nashville Tune-o-matic, and a whole bunch of mahogany and maple.  I was stunned. I always thought my G&L ASAT III with its Saddle-Lock bridge and my Vox SSC-55 with its MaxConnect bridge both had reasonably good sustain, but this was in a whole ‘nother league.   It actually felt like a different breed of instrument, one that may even require a different playing style to accommodate and leverage such an impressive sustain.  And those 57 Classics sounded fantastic!

So, ok, I walked out of there telling Chunling “Wow- that was mind-blowing.  But $2400, forget about it!!”  I convinced myself to let it go, and stopped thinking about it. Until…

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Tune-o-matic vs Roller

Back in 2009, I described my frustration with the Tune-o-matic bridge on my Epiphone Riviera P93.  The retainer wire that holds the saddle screws in place is just a terrible design.   A good choice to address this issue is the Nashville style tune-o-matic which has individual saddle retainer clips, while also increasing saddle-adjustment range for intonation.  Another good possibility is a roller bridge, like the Wilkinson B33.   I figured the roller may pair well with the Bigsby, possibly improving the Bigsby vibrato’s general tuning instability.

In this video, I show how to swap in the Wilkinson bridge, and then do a series of comparisons to see if there’s any difference in the overall tone, sustain, and tuning stability with the two bridges. 

I recorded many many takes of the strum-tests comparing tone and sustain, and my results were always pretty inconsistent. Despite my best efforts, it’s impossible to produce the exact same string excitation for each strum. So, I think the variances in sustain and tone are largely insignificant- though it does appear that, across all my tests, the roller may have slightly longer sustain times. I imagine that if I replace the Epiphone bridge posts with the beefier Wilkinson posts there may be a greater sustain improvement, but I’ll leave that for another day.

The tuner I use during the tuning stability section is the excellent Planet Waves Tru-Strobe (PW-CT-11) tuner.

Sweet ES-355

When I purchased my Riviera P93, what I really wanted was a semi-hollowbody in the traditional Gibson ES shape, with a Bigsby tailpiece.   I didn’t want to invest the extra several thousand dollars in a Gibson, and the only model available from Epiphone was the Riviera P93.

I took a chance on the P93, and as you may have seen in my blog, it turned into quite a project trying to improve its sound.  In the end, even after replacing the pickups and electronics, I am ultimately frustrated by the three pickup, three volume, one tone configuration.  I would have preferred the traditional two humbuckers, two volume, two tone configuration.

I still haven’t completed my planned changes to improve the usability of the middle pickup, nor have I replaced the buzzy bridge with the roller.  Changing these three pickups to two humbuckers is certainly possible, but the result would be less than beautiful due to the different hole-spacing and routing requirements of dog-eared P-90’s versus humbuckers.

A couple months back, Epiphone announced the guitar which I wish had been available when I purchased the Riviera P93: the new Epiphone ES-355

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Tune-o-matic, buzz-tastic!

IMG_3278The retainer wire on a standard Tune-o-matic bridge can buzz and rattle if the bridge isn’t machined to perfection.

I didn’t expect this to bother me as much as it does.  The buzz doesn’t come through the amp, but I don’t usually play very loud, so hearing a buzzy rattle from the bridge results in a real lack of clarity in the sound I’m hearing.


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