Gibson Les Paul Standard vs Les Paul Custom

The Gibson Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom are probably the two most popular models within the Les Paul range. The Custom is a little older, making its debut in 1954 when the man himself, Les Paul wanted a deluxe version of the regular guitar – the idea behind it was to create a guitar that was still very much a Les Paul, but one ‘dressed up in a tuxedo’. The Standard then came along in 1958 and the rest is history. So, is the difference between the Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom just aesthetic? Whilst a large part of it is, there are also differences in terms of sound and playability. Since the 50s, changes have been made to both guitars (more so to the Standard). The following table will hopefully highlight the main differences in spec.


Gibson 2017 Les Paul Standard T

Gibson Les Paul Custom
Pickups Burstbucker Pro Rhythm & Lead (Alnico #5)
Coil-Tap
Neck: 490R (Alnico #2), Bridge: 498T (Alnico #5)
Neck Asymmetrical Slim Taper
Rosewood fingerboard with compound radius
One piece mahogany (based on late 50s model)
Richlite fingerboard
Body Ultra-Modern weight relief
Average weight: 8lbs 8oz
9 Hole, Traditional weight relief
Average weight: 9lbs 10oz
Solid piece mahogany
Thicker body design
Hand carved maple top
Features AAA Flame maple top
Locking Grover tuners
Phase changing
Pure bypass
Custom Shop build
7-ply body binding
Multi bound headstock
Metal tulip tuners
Genuine Mother of Pearl Inlays

What’s the difference between the Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Les Paul Custom?

First off, the Gibson Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom have different pickups. As you would expect, this means that they do sound different. Whilst they both retain some of the 50s style PAF characteristics, the Custom, particularly in the neck position, comes closer to it, thanks to slightly lower output 490R pickup loaded with Alnico II magnet. Having this in the neck position and the higher output 498T pickup (loaded with Alnico V magnet) at the bridge means that you’ve got a pretty versatile setup. The pickups have a a slight emphasis within the upper mid frequencies meaning that you can cut through a mix easily when you need to.

Compared to the Les Paul Standard, I find the Custom to be slightly darker in sound, a little mellower and not quite as bright. Gibson rate the 490R’s output at 7.4 and the 498T at 9. The Standard’s Burstbucker Pro pickups are rated at 7.4 (neck) and 8.3 (bridge) and both feature Alnico V magnets, so the Custom has a slighter hotter output. The pickups in the Les Paul Custom are also wax potted to help keep microphonic feedback at bay when you’re cranking things up. In theory this makes it a little more suitable for hard rock and metal but in reality, you’ll do fine with either guitar if that’s your bag.

When I played the Les Paul Custom acoustically, I found that it resonated better than the Standard; perhaps this is due to the slightly thicker body design, or the difference in weight relief methods, or the fact that the body is made from one solid piece of wood, rather than two.

Traditional weight relief vs ultra-modern weight relief

Whilst the Gibson Les Paul Custom has evolved a little over the years, it’s still very much the guitar it was circa 1957. The Standard however has changed more, adapting to players ever changing needs. One of these changes is split coil pickups that allow you to get single coil sounds at the pull of one of the volume knobs. You’ve also got the option of phase changing in the middle position for that famous, ‘quacky’, Peter Green sound. In terms of playability, the Standard is more of a modern guitar; the Asymmetrical Slim Taper neck profile is thinner than that of the Custom and locking tuners help keep your guitar in tune. The Standard is also, on average, lighter than the Custom – though people often have their preferences when it comes the weight of a guitar.

What the Les Paul Custom definitely has over the Standard is an extra touch of class. The 7 ply body binding on the front and back really sets the whole guitar off, regardless of which finish you opt for. The multi-bound headstock with diamond inlay also looks amazing – there’s something about that headstock that impresses me every time I see it.

The Les Paul Custom is made in a different factory to the Standard too. As you might assume, the Custom is made at the Gibson Custom Shop factory over in Nashville where guitars are made more by human hands than machines. Part of the price difference between the Custom and Standard is due to these highly skilled experts who make your Custom Shop Gibson. The Richlite fingerboard on the Custom has the feel of ebony but is more consistent, won’t contract or expand and is more sustainable. In theory, the rosewood fingerboard on the Standard will add some warmth to the sound, and the Richlite will add some brightness, which when combined with the different pickup configurations will provide a rich, complex balance in tone on both instruments.

Conclusion

So, is there a difference between the Gibson Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom? Yes, there are quite a few. Aside from all the aesthetic additions that help make the Les Paul Custom look so sophisticated, differences in the design do affect how the guitars resonate. The pickups prove to be one of the biggest differences between these two guitars. The Burstbucker Pros in the Standard have a little more brightness, even sparkle to them and Custom is a touch darker whilst still having plenty of bite in the upper mids. Both have that classic, full, beefy sound you associate with a Les Paul, though when using the neck pickup of the Custom, you do have more of that late 50s PAF sound.

Both guitars are versatile; the Standard allows you to split coils so you can go from humbucker to single coil sounds, and the Custom has both Alnico II and Alnico V magnets to give each pickup a more distinct flavour. The Custom has a slightly thicker body design and a slightly thicker neck profile – like they did in the late 50s, plus it receives a little more attention to detail at the Custom Shop factory.

The Gibson Les Paul Standard has both feet placed firmly in the 21st century whilst giving a proud salute to the past 60 years that helped shape it. The Gibson Les Paul Custom has one foot in today’s world and one in the late 50s; Gibson call its pickups ‘modern classics’ and that’s a perfect way to describe the guitar. The Les Paul Standard is an amazing guitar; it’s versatile, sounds incredible and plays great, but for me personally, the Custom beats it every time. If you’re dressing to impress, you’ve got to go for the tux.

5 Comments

  • David P. Makowski

    Really nice article. I have been playing guitar since 1979. Always a Gibson Les Paul into a Marshall Stack or Half Stack. I really like the (2) Gibson Les Paul Customs I used early on. At a certain point I bought a Gibson Les Paul Standard with the (4) push/pull knobs and Burstbucker Pro Pickup’s. Although I really love Custom’s I feel the Standard sounds equally as good albeit different. To me the Custom is brighter and cooler looking. The Standard is warmer and looks cool but not as cool as the Custom. Finally the price. My Lord, Gibson Les Paul Custom’s are insanely expensive. Then there is the “Richlite” period from 2012 to about 2019. I can’t say which is a better material Richlite or Ebony however for me I prefer real wood over a composite. I could be wrong but it’s my preference. In the end I could purchase 2 or 3 Used Gibson Les Paul Standard’s on a really lucky day for the price of one Gibson Les Paul Custom.

  • Chris

    Thanks for the nice explanation man!

    My rig is:
    A Guild Starfire IV (love the dark and gritty pickups)
    plugged into two amps (aby), an Ampeg VT-22 (basically a V4 but combo) and a Fender Bassman 100 with it’s bassman VT cab.
    But since a few weeks I’ve plugged my VT-22 into my Orange 4×12 hp cab because the speakers in the VT-22 are flabbing. It’s great though!

    O and a volume pedal, a morley wah lock, an mxr carbon copy deluxe, an mxr phase 90, Strymon Blue Sky, Electro harmonix green russian big muff, and a Stone Deaf pdf 2….

  • Jim Davis

    Thank you for the information. I own both LP’s and love them all.

  • I switched over to Gibson Les Paul Standard in 2012.I was playing Fender,PRS.The Les Paul Standard / Marshall tone is great.Im talking the “brown” sound.It can still be had at lower volume levels than say the 70s era. With 100 watt Marhall dimed into a full stack.Now I use Friedman amps with a 2by12 or 4by 12 cab and a stomp box or 5.Its much easier to get rock vibe than out of a tele and a fender twin.Thats my gig, what’s your take?

    • JOHN ANDREWS

      I perform with a Standard and a Fender Pro Reverb amp. And a Sovtek Midget 50. Switch the amps up. Trifecta of sonic glory. I had a Custom but sold it a while back. And Standards sold off as well. When I decided to get back into music my mind was absolutely on the Standard sound.

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