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Which do you think are the most important tonal qualities of a good Les Paul?

Guitar Magic

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Joined
Apr 16, 2015
Messages
95
I have had quite a few from all periods between the 60s and now and it was a long journey but I finally narrowed down what tonal qualities are a must-have in a Les Paul to be a good sounding one for me. These are certainly not universal truths so I'm interested what are your preferences compared to mine. This is not a specifically Historic-related question but I think this is a good enough place to begin the discussion.

What I experienced in this 15 years of comparing Les Pauls after Les Pauls, a new one traded for another on almost a monthly basis are the following:

- Acoustic and electrified tone go hand-in-hand. A Les Paul must have the below mentioned qualities when you strum it sitting on your porch without an amp. If there is no attack or sustain on a certain area of the neck, you can put any Throbaks or original PAFs in it, it won't magically put it there into the wood.
- Weight doesn't matter as much as it is highlighted on forums in the past 10 years or so. It's not a rule that a good LP must be under 9 lbs to sound "right" regardless of original Bursts' documented weight range. It was 'the more heavy the better' in the 80s and now the trend is the complete opposite on forums. It's simply BS.
- A good Les Paul must have a percussive fast-responding low-end. The palm mutes should sound tight and punchy instead of flabby and soft through a cranked Plexi.
- Many Les Pauls have a weaker sounding low-E and high-E compared to the other strings acoustically. It's a deal breaker.
- Also, many of the very light and extremely resonant Les Pauls tend to have a soft, rubbery tone. On the other hand, old ones or some of the guitars made honestly from old wood can be very light, extremely resonant yet still firm, tight and bright sounding with a Telecaster kinda low-end response.
- From more current ones, oftentimes it's the heavier 9.5-10lbs Les Pauls that have this Tele-like response in the lows and the bright cutting highs. I have an assumption that the light mahogany of the last few decades do not sound like the light mahogany of the 50s. Heavier mahogany strangely can sound closer in some instances.
- The tone must have a "dry" woody quality overall with lots of presence. It's the opposite of the soft, rubbery tone that I mentioned.
- Whatever you do some Les Pauls won't feedback correctly through a cranked amp, you can fight all you want, the notes will just die instead of turning into that desired blooming feedback effortlessly. Those LPs aren't good ones.
- If a Les Paul is acoustically loud and resonant that is the icing on the cake but never the deciding factor.

These are just my experiences and my own preferences. I have to emphasize that there are two ways I play my Les Pauls. I play them either through a cranked tube amp (69 JMP) with no effects that could mask the sound or I play them acoustically because I just can't ever get bored of hearing the natural voice of that sweet Honduras mahogany, maple and rosewood. Playing them this way they always reveal their secrets. Through a cranked Plexi with no effects there is nowhere to hide for a guitar (nor the player), the true quality will come trough either shining or dull and forgettable. As strange as it is, it's exactly the same thing playing them acoustically.

Anyway, I freakin' love Les Pauls!
 
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DrewB

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Joined
Jul 15, 2001
Messages
1,404
- Acoustic and electrified tone go hand-in-hand. A Les Paul must have the below mentioned qualities when you strum it sitting on your porch without an amp. If there is no attack or sustain on a certain area of the neck, you can put any Throbaks or original PAFs in it, it won't magically put it there into the wood.

Truth. Period.
 

Wizard1183

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Joined
Jan 20, 2018
Messages
743
“Weight doesn't matter as much as it is highlighted on forums in the past 10 years or so. It's not a rule that a good LP must be under 9 lbs to sound "right" regardless of original Bursts' documented weight range. It was 'the more heavy the better' in the 80s and now the trend is the complete opposite on forums. It's simply BS.”

Couldn’t agree more.

I’d love to play one of yours to compare with mine.
 

renderit

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Joined
Jan 19, 2009
Messages
10,939
I like some "dry and woody" as you mentioned, but I also like some "biters".

Bloom is huge.

I would add sustain sustain sustain. But when you hit "bloom" you can make it go for days.

Some of these are properties of the wood, some are electronics. Some can be "saved" with the right combo of pots, caps, and pickups.

Weight is nothing to me (though I usually post it) other than a comparison point. Mine are all over the place.

The "acoustic vs. amplified" I don't find to be necessarily be a killer. I have seen some deadish acoustical ones that will knock the breath out of you when amplified.
 

Wizard1183

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Jan 20, 2018
Messages
743
I like some "dry and woody" as you mentioned, but I also like some "biters".

Bloom is huge.

I would add sustain sustain sustain. But when you hit "bloom" you can make it go for days.

Some of these are properties of the wood, some are electronics. Some can be "saved" with the right combo of pots, caps, and pickups.

Weight is nothing to me (though I usually post it) other than a comparison point. Mine are all over the place.

The "acoustic vs. amplified" I don't find to be necessarily be a killer. I have seen some deadish acoustical ones that will knock the breath out of you when amplified.
You know? I often wonder if it’s the guitarist above the guitar? Because if you play one long enough? You know the nuances of it and how to work around the faults of it. I don’t think many guitarist played a guitar and said, “take that trash, I need a better one!” When it they were playing a Les paul. It didn’t matter, they MADE it work. Sure some sound better?


But let’s get away from bursts 58-60 since there weren’t many made and it wasn’t until ppl realized the scarcity of them before they exploded. But in the 70s, if someone played a Les Paul? They didn’t say this one sounds like shit. They just played. Whether it’d be a special or a junior or a les paul. I never read an article where a famous guitarist said oh yea I remember that shitty guitar! I pitched it in a dumpster after that show. It’s STILL around? 🤣
 

Imprimus

Member
Joined
Sep 8, 2016
Messages
27
I look for 3 things:
1) Clarity
2) Bloom/3D
3) Balanced EQ

A clear guitar will sound glassy and cut through a mix. A bit bright is fine as you have tone knobs.

Add some bloom to it and you get a nice woody, organic 3d sound. Too much bloom sounds amazing solo for bedroom players, but causes a loss of clarity and gets lost in a mix.

There is only so much output you can get, so a guitar with a lot of low end will cause the highs to suffer. I like them a bit scooped.

My 335 has all of these characteristics. If I had to change it, Id make it a smidge less bright and a bit more organic. It is almost perfect.

As for unplugged, it needs to ring and vibrate a bit as there are some LPs that are just dead acoustically and sound dead as a result, but it doesnt need to be overly loud or anything like that for me.
 
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Any Name You Wish

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Apr 15, 2021
Messages
458
Some of these qualities can easily be fixed, no? Rubbery sound (lack of definition) ? Pickup height adjust (usually too high). Dead spots along the neck, truss rod/neck relief adjustment (usually too much relief). Not loud acoustically, new strings and raise the action a little. Nut slots are not always perfect from the factory, saddles sometimes have a rough groove or a metal burr hanging. Most need some fine tuning, and after playing it 10 years (or if you move to a more humid or dry place) it will most definitely need adjustments. Elementary my dear Watson.
 

Jethro Rocker

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Nov 6, 2022
Messages
254
You know? I often wonder if it’s the guitarist above the guitar? Because if you play one long enough? You know the nuances of it and how to work around the faults of it. I don’t think many guitarist played a guitar and said, “take that trash, I need a better one!” When it they were playing a Les paul. It didn’t matter, they MADE it work. Sure some sound better?


But let’s get away from bursts 58-60 since there weren’t many made and it wasn’t until ppl realized the scarcity of them before they exploded. But in the 70s, if someone played a Les Paul? They didn’t say this one sounds like shit. They just played. Whether it’d be a special or a junior or a les paul. I never read an article where a famous guitarist said oh yea I remember that shitty guitar! I pitched it in a dumpster after that show. It’s STILL around? 🤣
Agreed.
I wonder about tone caps too, for example. Technically, one never "hears" the tone cap, you hear what the cap is filtering out. Yet what they are made of seems to matter to some.
Wood etc matters of course in terms of acoustic sustain. But pickups sound so different I think any wood tonalities are cancelled by pickup choice.
I will likely get burned by some purists but my 2 cents worth...
EVH first Strat guitar was essentially crap.
Seemed to do him well.
 

Wizard1183

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Jan 20, 2018
Messages
743
Agreed.
I wonder about tone caps too, for example. Technically, one never "hears" the tone cap, you hear what the cap is filtering out. Yet what they are made of seems to matter to some.
Wood etc matters of course in terms of acoustic sustain. But pickups sound so different I think any wood tonalities are cancelled by pickup choice.
I will likely get burned by some purists but my 2 cents worth...
EVH first Strat guitar was essentially crap.
Seemed to do him well.
And that’s what I was getting at. Funny you brought him up. Look at the Burst players, “it’s all guitar” where the tone comes from. Not the amps! 🙄 EVH come around with a partscaster with shit thrown in it and it’s no longer guitar tone but amp tone (brown sound)

I honestly think it’s more amp than anything. Tony Iommi chases tone in his head all career. To me? His tone suffered when he moved away from the Laney Supergroup. At least to me it did. His TI amps sounded like shit in comparison. Like it was too compressed or forced distortion and dare I say sounded a bit solid state? Even the “new reissue) supergroup didn’t have the tone as the old ones.

I bought 2 supergroups from Germany for cheap 100w and 60w and it didn’t matter if it was an SG or a Les Paul? When the guitar was plugged into a Dallas Rangemmaster pedal into the laney? The tone was exact. I just didn’t have Tony’s chops.

Too much is put into a guitar to “get that tone” when if you had their amp? You’d be 80%+ in tone. Not to mention ppl trying to get the tone of their guitar gods through a 15w amp when they were using 50 & 100w pushing air….

When someone says their guitar is a tone monster it makes me want to say bring it to me so I can compare it to mine. It’s probably not much different. Lol
 
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renderit

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Joined
Jan 19, 2009
Messages
10,939
Agreed.
I wonder about tone caps too, for example. Technically, one never "hears" the tone cap, you hear what the cap is filtering out. Yet what they are made of seems to matter to some.
Wood etc matters of course in terms of acoustic sustain. But pickups sound so different I think any wood tonalities are cancelled by pickup choice.
I will likely get burned by some purists but my 2 cents worth...
EVH first Strat guitar was essentially crap.
Seemed to do him well.
I'll give this a go one more time for shits and giggles.

Your BRAIN.

And WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT AND SCIENCE ON HUMANS SEEMS TO BE CENTERED ON A "NORM".

It in my contention that what you SEE, FEEL, HEAR, and SMELL is unique to you and WHAT YOUR BRAIN PROCESSES FOR SURVIVAL.

Someone who can only see up relatively close probably NOTICES (brain processing) MORE STUFF up close than the "NORM".

At greater distances they are blurry so they notice LESS.

It is my contention that the brain will overload with EVERYTHING so it filters out any overload condition and works on less data than provided.

Add to that color cones and numbers of them and you start to get the "picture".

My hearing is very crappy in the midrange. Has been since 5 years old (measles). 75% loss.

I hear things you don't in bass and treble.

It is not that you CAN'T, it is that your brain filters them out.

It is all my brain had to work with so I notice more in those frequencies.

In recent years with the advent of newer hearing aids with the ability to "graphically equilize" in small segments they are able to boost the midrange signals I could never hear.

And you know what?

Tests show I AM hearing them.

Know what else?

My brain is ignoring them because it has switched that part out.

So it is never as simple as "no one can hear the difference".

I could continue on the FEEL and SMELL and would be happy to if you want.

Add to that the fact no 2 pieces of wood are remotely similar in structure, dryness, voids, heartwood, pulpwood, etc. and look at the positive side.

Everything is different and each of our perceptions of it by all 4 senses are completely different.

And that is a wonderful thing.
 

MattD1960

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Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Messages
734
From a les paul i just want OPEN a big open airy sound, i hate the mattress in front of the speaker tone some people LOVE.
 
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Any Name You Wish

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Joined
Apr 15, 2021
Messages
458
I'll give this a go one more time for shits and giggles.

Your BRAIN.

And WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT AND SCIENCE ON HUMANS SEEMS TO BE CENTERED ON A "NORM".

It in my contention that what you SEE, FEEL, HEAR, and SMELL is unique to you and WHAT YOUR BRAIN PROCESSES FOR SURVIVAL.

Someone who can only see up relatively close probably NOTICES (brain processing) MORE STUFF up close than the "NORM".

At greater distances they are blurry so they notice LESS.

It is my contention that the brain will overload with EVERYTHING so it filters out any overload condition and works on less data than provided.

Add to that color cones and numbers of them and you start to get the "picture".

My hearing is very crappy in the midrange. Has been since 5 years old (measles). 75% loss.

I hear things you don't in bass and treble.

It is not that you CAN'T, it is that your brain filters them out.

It is all my brain had to work with so I notice more in those frequencies.

In recent years with the advent of newer hearing aids with the ability to "graphically equilize" in small segments they are able to boost the midrange signals I could never hear.

And you know what?

Tests show I AM hearing them.

Know what else?

My brain is ignoring them because it has switched that part out.

So it is never as simple as "no one can hear the difference".

I could continue on the FEEL and SMELL and would be happy to if you want.

Add to that the fact no 2 pieces of wood are remotely similar in structure, dryness, voids, heartwood, pulpwood, etc. and look at the positive side.

Everything is different and each of our perceptions of it by all 4 senses are completely different.

And that is a wonderful thing.
Not only is my hearing different from yours, but it changes day to day depending on the weather (mostly barometric pressure here in CO). Some days my R9 sounds spectacular, and other days not. I tweak my tone stack now and then to compensate for my stupid hearing issues. Super subjective topic. Too many variables to pin it on the guitar. If you are searching for the holy grail guitar tone it is absolutely imperative to do the pickup height, pole height, truss rod, bridge height, nut and saddle slot adjustments yourself. You'll probably never get there otherwise, and if you do it will come and go with the seasons. The best tech does not have your ears.
 

Dozer95662

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Joined
Nov 28, 2003
Messages
557
How do you adjust saddle slots. I sometimes feel like the guitar is "plinking a bit" at the saddle. Yank on the string and it seems to be a little better (could be psyche). What do you do to the saddle slot to make that better?
 

Any Name You Wish

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Apr 15, 2021
Messages
458
How do you adjust saddle slots. I sometimes feel like the guitar is "plinking a bit" at the saddle. Yank on the string and it seems to be a little better (could be psyche). What do you do to the saddle slot to make that better?
Get a decent magnifying glass, loosen the string so you can temporarily pull it out of the saddle slot, and then look closely at the saddle slot. Typically you will see a metal burr hanging off the front of the slot (toward the pickup). A small sharp knife blade will easily remove these burrs. Sometimes you'll see this burr folded back into the slot, so very carefully scrape this out of the slot with your blade. You don't want to deepen the slot, just clean it out, especially the front edge. Work slowly and carefully, don't try to get all of the burr out in one scrape motion.

The saddle slots are stamped and with a good magnifying glass you will see the stamp tooling marks on each side of the slot. When the metal is stamped a burr is created.

Another common problem is the nut being slotted just a tad too deep, especially on the G-string. I don't know why Gibson does this. It makes the G string buzz when un-fretted (when all the other set-up specs are correct). My SG RI is fine, but with my R9 I had to do the super glue/baking soda trick to raise that G string up a bit. Gibson slots the nuts very deep relative to spec on Historics.

Glad to help.
 
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brandtkronholm

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Joined
Dec 3, 2006
Messages
2,733

Which do you think are the most important tonal qualities of a good Les Paul?​

Answer: The player.

I cannot comprehend vague notions of "open", "throaty", "dry, woody, with lots of presence", "clarity", "3D", or "airy". Might as well describe the sound as "yellow" or "aromatic".

The worst is "Tele on steroids". If you like that sound then play a Telecaster!

If there's no "...percussive, fast-responding low-end..." then it sounds like an amp issue to me.

I like Les Pauls. They sound great!
Honor your Les Paul and have it properly set-up by a professional.
After that, if your guitar doesn't sound the way you like, don't blame the guitar.

mike-bloomfield.jpeg
 

HDA71

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Jan 21, 2022
Messages
15
"The worst is "Tele on steroids". If you like that sound then play a Telecaster!"

Agree, that one is bad.
 

El Gringo

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Joined
Apr 8, 2015
Messages
5,643
Agreed.
I wonder about tone caps too, for example. Technically, one never "hears" the tone cap, you hear what the cap is filtering out. Yet what they are made of seems to matter to some.
Wood etc matters of course in terms of acoustic sustain. But pickups sound so different I think any wood tonalities are cancelled by pickup choice.
I will likely get burned by some purists but my 2 cents worth...
EVH first Strat guitar was essentially crap.
Seemed to do him well.
You hit it right on the head , As it's truly the sum of all parts starting with the wood .
 

El Gringo

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Joined
Apr 8, 2015
Messages
5,643

Which do you think are the most important tonal qualities of a good Les Paul?​

Answer: The player.

I cannot comprehend vague notions of "open", "throaty", "dry, woody, with lots of presence", "clarity", "3D", or "airy". Might as well describe the sound as "yellow" or "aromatic".

The worst is "Tele on steroids". If you like that sound then play a Telecaster!

If there's no "...percussive, fast-responding low-end..." then it sounds like an amp issue to me.

I like Les Pauls. They sound great!
Honor your Les Paul and have it properly set-up by a professional.
After that, if your guitar doesn't sound the way you like, don't blame the guitar.

View attachment 20994
I agree
 
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