The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars ever made. It is a guitar that has made its mark and been played by some of the greatest guitarists.
But Gibson Les Pauls are expensive. Like, very Expensive1
Luckily, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get the Les Paul experience. There are plenty of fantastic alternatives available.
Here are 7 of the best budget Les Paul style guitars that are affordable alternatives to the hard-to-reach Gibson models.
7 Cheapest Les Paul Style Guitars (Budget Alternatives)
Table of Contents
- 7 Cheapest Les Paul Style Guitars (Budget Alternatives)
- Why are Gibson Les Pauls So Expensive?
- What Makes for a Good Les Paul Alternative?
- Difference Between an Alternative and a Copy
- Best Brands for Buying a Les Paul Alternative
1. Epiphone Les Paul Studio
The Les Paul Studio from Epiphone is a special guitar. It is a faithful recreation of its Gibson counterpart, while being different enough to make it its own guitar.
This guitar, looks, feels, and sounds like a Studio from the ‘80s. Mainly because that is the design it is based on. It has a similarly large headstock, and even a similar 'SlimTaper' neck.
It is quite a bit lighter compared to a more traditional Les Paul. But I think there is still enough weight to make it feel like one.
The tone is also quite a bit different. While it certainly has the attitude and growly-ness of a Les Paul, I do feel like it isn’t as boomy and loud. It is a bit toned down.
But this lack of power is made up for with versatility. Les Pauls are generally pure rock guitars. This Studio is able to venture into different genres like jazz and pop.
Helping that versatility is the coil tap on the guitar. So, you get the best of both humbuckers and single coils.
The Epiphone Les Paul Studio is a fantastic guitar for anyone looking for a cheap Les Paul alternative. It is a simple, straightforward Les Paul that will allow you to explore genres beyond rock.
2. Epiphone Les Paul Special
The Epiphone Les Paul Special can almost be considered a stripped down Les Paul. From its body to its tone, everything is just slightly dialed back.
The first place you will notice this is in the body. While it is the same shape as a full Les Paul, it is much flatter and doesn’t have that glossy finish. It also looks a bit thinner to my eye.
Interestingly though, the Special isn’t lacking in weight. It isn’t quite as heavy as a Les Paul Standard, but certainly a bit more than a Les Paul Studio.
The tone is also not as full and fat as a regular Les Paul. It is quite a bit thinner and crunchier. I actually think it leans more towards an SG tone than a Les Paul one.
The tone is also quite dirty. This isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking. But if you are into a dirty blues or grunge sound, you are going to love this guitar’s tone.
The clean tones are also pretty great. The neck pickup is a nice bit of warmth, while the bridge is quite twangy.
The size and price make the Special the perfect guitar for beginners. But is it the best budget Les Paul style guitar that you can get? That's for you to decide. You aren’t getting that sweet Les Paul tone, but you are still getting something great for its price.
3. Jackson Monarkh SC JS22
Jackson isn’t really known for making guitars with a Les Paul body shape. But they have done a great job with the Monarkh, keeping to tradition while also adding their own flair.
The body has some nice added contours at the top and bottom, and the cutaway has a sharp point. The headstock is also very Jackson.
Once the guitar is plugged in, the real difference becomes apparent - this guitar doesn’t sound like your standard Les Paul.
Les Pauls are known for their very rock focused tone. The Monarkh is very much metal focused. It is a Jackson after all. It handles high amounts of gain quite well, even a bit better than some real Les Pauls in my opinion.
It can certainly do a more rock tone as well. But ‘80s and ‘90s metal is where this guitar truly shines.
The Monarkh is a great budget pick for beginners who are into rock and metal. It is super comfortable to play, sounds great, and is very affordable. But even more experienced players will have a great time with it, especially if you are looking for a Les Paul with a bit of a different flavor.
4. Epiphone Power Players Les Paul
Epiphone’s Power Players Les Paul is perhaps the most value for money Epiphone Les Paul out there.
The guitar is quite similar to the Studio. It is made from the same wood and uses the same pickups, meaning that the tone and playability is pretty much the same. It also has the same controls, so you aren’t losing out on versatility.
The scale length of the Power Players is a bit shorter. So, the guitar doesn’t sustain quite as well. The shorter scale does make it more comfortable for younger players or those with small hands. The body is also smaller for increased comfort.
Of course, this does mean that the guitar isn’t quite suited for adults. But that isn’t really the target market of this guitar.
I think the real draw for most people is going to be the bundle as a whole. This is the perfect starter kit for any beginner. You aren't just getting a great guitar, but also a gig bag, cable, strap, and picks.
And even if you aren’t a beginner, I would recommend it. This is a great travel kit for anyone going on vacation or traveling for work who wants to keep practicing.
5. ESP LTD EC-256FM
The EC-256FM from ESP is another interesting Les Paul style guitar. It is in a similar vein to the Jackson Monarkh, albeit costing quite a bit more.
This is a guitar designed to appeal to Les Paul players, but who want a heavier sound. And heavy is exactly what you get with this guitar.
Just like the Monarkh, this guitar has a pointed cutaway, but the rest of the body is closer to that of a standard Les Paul. The headstock bears a close resemblance to a traditional Les Paul design.
It has similar contours at the back, both at the top and the cutaway. This makes the guitar sit comfortably against your body, and makes the higher frets easier to reach.
But the tone is closer to that of the Monarkh. This guitar was made for heavy genres. However, I don’t think it is quite as heavy as the Monarkh. The EC-256FM is definitely more hard rock than heavy metal.
It also has a more modern tone. This guitar reminds me of 2000s metal bands like Atreyu and Killswitch Engage.
If you want a guitar for that type of sound and love the Les Paul shape, this is a great guitar. It is also more of an intermediate level guitar, making it suitable for gigging.
6. Kramer Assault 220
The third more metal focused Les Paul on this list, the Kramer Assault 220 is perhaps also the most interesting.
Right off the bat, apart from the body shape, this guitar looks nothing like any other Les Paul style guitar. I mean, it has a Floyd Rose tremolo, not typically seen on a Gibson Les Paul.
That also helps to give you an idea of what this guitar is about, and that is shredding. This guitar is designed for blistering fast playing.
These pickups just sound fantastic, both distorted and clean. They also run hotter than most other pickups, giving this guitar some serious volume and tone.
I would also say the Assault is much more versatile than the ESP and Jackson. The tone of the humbuckers is much more accommodating to a wider variety of genres. It also has a coil tap to get that single coil tone on demand.
The best way I can describe this guitar is ‘the shredder’s Les Paul’. This is a Les Paul style guitar that wants to be played fast. And if that is your style, then this is the best cheap Les Paul style guitar for you.
7. Sire Larry Carlton L7
The Sire Larry Carlton L7 is probably the closest you will get to a Les Paul that isn’t an Epiphone. This is truly one of the best interpretations of the classic Gibson guitar I have ever played.
Apart from a sharper cutaway and different headstock shape, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a real Les Paul. Even the finish and pickguard are classic Les Paul.
Even the tone is reminiscent of classic Les Pauls. It has a very warm, bluesy tone to it. The gain tone also has that similarly growly, raw tone that a Les Paul has.
The frets are definitely something that you will have to get used to. They are much wider and taller than both Gibson and Epiphone Les Pauls, at least in my experience.
I didn’t notice it having much of an impact on my playing, it is just visually something you have to adapt to. I do wonder what effect this might have on the string action, but I didn’t need to make any adjustments to find out.
Honestly, this is just an incredible guitar, easily the best affordable Les Paul for me. I actually don’t know why it isn’t at least twice the price. This is definitely one of the closest ways of getting a Gibson Les Paul without actually buying one.
Why are Gibson Les Pauls So Expensive?
There are a few reasons why Gibsons are so expensive, - mainly, the materials used, where they are made, and how they are made.
Gibson uses high quality woods like rosewood in their guitars. Many of these woods are also rare, meaning that there is a limited amount they can use each year.
The hardware like the tuners and pickups are also high quality. The pickups are especially expensive since they are often handwound.
Similarly, most Gibson guitars are handmade, meaning they take longer to make, and are made by just one or two people. This means that a larger amount of the cost goes toward the labor. They are also made in the USA where labor is much more expensive than countries like China or Indonesia.
What Makes for a Good Les Paul Alternative?
Les Pauls are recognizable for their unique body shape. The rounded, single cutaway body is what most people will associate with a Les Paul.
But there is a bit more to a Les Paul than just a body shape. The tone is also a big part of what makes a Les Paul, which means the pickups and wood are also important.
Les Pauls are known for their warm, growly, and big tone, as well as having a lot of sustain. To get this tone you need the right pickups and tonewood.
A good Les Paul style guitar is going to have a body and neck made from mahogany. The fretboard also needs to be made from a wood like rosewood, laurel, or ovangkol.
Then, you also want to go with humbuckers. These pickups are going to give you that aggressive, loud, hot tone that Les Pauls are known for. Most importantly, they are also going to cancel out 60 cycle hum to reduce noise during heavy playing.
Difference Between an Alternative and a Copy
An alternative is trying to recreate the feel of a certain guitar. It isn’t trying to be the exact same thing. Rather, it seeks to come as close as possible, while also being its own unique thing.
A copy (such as a Gibson Les Paul clone, often termed as a Chibson) on the other hand is trying to be the exact same thing. They are trying to recreate the look, feel, and sound exactly, but for much cheaper. This usually leaves them sounding nowhere near as good, and being of very low build quality.
Best Brands for Buying a Les Paul Alternative
While all of the guitars on this list are among the best Les Paul alternatives, they aren’t all equal. Some of them are closer to a Gibson Les Paul, while others are more their own thing.
If you are looking for a guitar similar to a Les Paul, but more unique, brands like Jackson, ESP, and Kramer are great options.
If you want a Les Paul, but can’t afford a Gibson, Sire is a great option. Epiphone is probably the best, however.
Epiphone is owned by Gibson. That means that Epiphone has direct access to Gibson’s expertise, as well as the rights to pretty much directly copy Gibson. Gibson also oversees the design and quality control of Epiphone guitars.
An Epiphone Les Paul is going to be the closest to a Gibson any company will be able to get. Without running into legal issues, that is.
If you are looking for a cheap alternative to the incredible Les Paul, these are some of the best Gibson Les Paul alternatives available. They play and sound great, and won’t empty your bank account.
What do you think of affordable Les Paul copies and alternatives? Which one is your favorite?