The Les Paul Traditional is essentially Gibson USA's take on a late 50s-style Les Paul Standard, and as close as you're going to get to an old Standard without either going to the True Historic division or spending a lot of money on the vintage market. In 2016 Gibson is offering Tradition (T) and High Performance (HP) versions of most models, including the Traditional (they get around calling it a Traditional Traditional by calling it the Traditional T... it makes more sense the less you think about it).
The Traditional has a one or two piece Mahogany body with a two-piece bookmatched AA grade maple top and 9-hole Traditional Weight Relief, which doesn’t stop it from being a reassuringly heavy Les Paul. The neck is one- piece mahogany with a one-piece rosewood fingerboard. The nut is made of TekToid, the tuners are Grover Green Keys and the neck is cut to what Gibson calls the Traditional Les Paul neck profile, with a thickness of .828” at the first fret and .973” at the twelfth. It’s very slightly thinner than the fat 50s neck of my 2011 Traditional, but still definitely more vintage than modern. The electronics are classic Gibson: a pair of moderate-output Gibson humbuckers. There’s a 57 Classic in the neck and a slightly hotter (for balance) '57 Classic + in the bridge. And of course you get the standard two volumes, two tones and a pickup selector, with no extra tricks.
The Classic ’57 and Classic ’57 + humbuckers are very versatile pickups with smooth high end and a less airy feel compared to vintage PAFs, giving you a full-bodied, sweet tone that’s a little more refined than the tastefully rude tone of BurstBuckers. At cleaner gain settings these pickups are clear without being jangly or strident. Crank up the gain and you’ll find that notes seem to bloom into existence and then sustain until you let them go. If you’re a fan of Peter Green’s style you’ll feel very comfortable with the way this guitar responds to your phrasing. You can definitely get some nice crunch tones and it’ll hold up very well under heavy distortion but this isn’t an inherently high-gain-dependent Les Paul: it has plenty of character and sonic strength no matter how you dial it in.
And the playability is effortless, with the neck shape striking a good balance between chunkiness and slickness. As is always the case, if you’re more accustomed to Strat-style guitars then the arched top and pitched-back neck angle of a Les Paul can feel a little odd, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. And the neck shape is not so fat as to be uncomfortable to those used to thinner necks, but certainly not thin either. In other words, it feels like a Les Paul.
RACK ‘EM UP
Gibson has made a great decision in making two versions of the Traditional available. If you’re into the late 50s classics (and don’t have the budget for a Historic), this is exactly the kind of Les Paul you’re after. And if you’re into the tone of the Traditional but you want slicker playability and the capability to instantly recall other tunings, the HP series should be on the racks of your local guitar store by the time you read this.
Hits and Misses
Classic vintage tone
Moderate-output pickups aren’t for everyone