The Les Paul is a legendary guitar with a long history. These days we are quite spoiled since we don’t just have one Les Paul, but we actually have multiple Les Pauls to choose from.
The Les Paul Classic and Les Paul Standard are two such options available to us. But what is the difference? Aren’t they just basically the same guitar with two different names?
Well, let us compare them to find out if the are one and the same, or two entirely different beasts.
Les Paul Classic vs Standard
Les Paul Standard
Les Paul Classic
Why Play a Les Paul?
The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most famous electric guitars ever made. Second only its sibling the Gibson SG for sales, the thick, powerful tone of the Les Paul defined multiple generations of music, in the hands of some of history’s most talented players.
Most guitar aficionados associate the Gibson Les Paul with the late 1960s and early 1970s era of classic rock, particularly the British bands. The guitar titans of the era, like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck, all wielded Les Pauls on their most famous works.
Likewise, American guitar players in the burgeoning hard rock scene like KISS’ Ace Frehley and The Eagles’ Joe Walsh used Les Pauls to carve out their distinctive sounds.
Later, Slash, the top-hatted axeman of Guns N’ Roses, surged to the top of the charts with the sweet, hard-hitting sound of a Les Paul on the band’s breakthrough debut album Appetite For Destruction.
The guitar wasn’t limited to hard rock players, however, with various Les Pauls played in reggae, metal, and indie bands across the guitar’s long, storied history.
The Les Paul actually began life as a jazz guitar. It was designed by its namesake, Les Paul, for ultra-clean, fast jazz playing, in the early 1950s. However, it was twenty years later, with the powerful humbucker pickups played through a British Marshall amplifier, that the Gibson Les Paul truly ascended to legendary status.
I’m a huge Les Paul fan. They’re my favorite guitars. I mostly play a 1990 Les Paul Standard, with a mahogany body and maple top.
Differences in Appearance
Both have the same Les Paul shape body with the same pickguard style. They also have the same controls, laid out in the same way. Even their fret inlays are the same, although the trapezoid inlays in the Classic are a snotty green color rather than the smooth pearloid color of the Standard inlays.
They do have a few differences, however. Firstly, the Classic has zebra-style humbucker pickups, while the Standard has the more classic-looking covered pickups.
They also come in different color options. The latest models come with a broad range of colors, with Gibson offering an almost Fender-esque array of car-style colors for the Standard and Classic lines.
Differences in Feel
This is where you will start to notice the differences between the two guitars.
Starting with the weight of the guitars, the Classic is slightly lighter than the Standard. This is thanks to the Classic’s 9-hole weight relief. This means that small holes have been made in the guitar to cut down on the weight a bit.
I prefer heavier guitars. I like having a bit of heft to the neck and body, so I prefer non-weight-relieved Les Paul Standards.
I also feel like chambered bodies and weight relief holes affect the guitar’s tone, but this varies from one instrument to the next and isn’t a universal rule.
The other difference between the two is with the neck. Typically, the neck on a Les Paul Classic is slightly thinner than a Standard’s.
But the difference is so small. I don’t feel like I am playing any faster or more comfortably on a Classic than a Standard. But maybe someone with smaller hands might notice a bigger difference.
The reality is that there are greater differences within the Les Paul Standard line than those between the Standard and the Classic. The “Standard” Les Paul, for decades, was a reflection of various updates to the guitar.
Some came with weight relief, others without. Some had coil-tapped pickups. For a couple of years, Gibson Les Paul Standards even had robotic tuners!
The latest models come with Burstbucker pickups, Gibson’s modern PAF-style humbuckers. Previous generations featured other pickups, like the ‘57 Classics, the slightly higher-output ‘57 Classic Plus, or the ultra-hot “Modern Classic” pickup series.
While modern iterations of the Standard and Classic both evoke the mid-century golden era of Gibson guitar building, until recently, the Standard was the guitar that saw more innovation, and the Classic was the guitar that stayed true to its moniker.
Differences in Tone
Tone is where you can really tell the two guitars apart. While both the Classic and the Standard have that distinct Les Paul sound, they aren’t quite the same.
The construction is virtually identical, with mahogany neck and body coupled with a maple cap.
I do like the sound of the Standard a bit more. I think it is a bit closer to the Les Paul sound I have in my head, and I also just prefer a warmer tone.
The Classic does offer some more versatility than the Standard, however. This is because the latest iteration of the Les Paul Classic comes with a coil-tap function.
Meaning you can use the push/pull function on the tone pot to split the humbuckers. This effectively turns the pickups into single coils.
The pickups in Les Pauls have changed drastically over the years. Gibson’s stock pickups come in both, unless you’re getting a signature model, such as the Slash models, which often came with Seymour Duncan Alnico II humbuckers.
My favorite Gibson pickup was the 490R/498T combination used in the '90s and 2000s, which was at the time the hottest, heaviest pickup Gibson ever made. These were common in Les Paul Standards and Customs of the era, but are no longer used.
Gibson vs Epiphone
Just like the Classic versus the Standard, a Gibson Les Paul and an Epiphone Les Paul appear very similar on the surface. But unlike a Classic and a Standard, their differences run much deeper.
First off, while Epiphone is owned by Gibson, they aren’t made in the USA. They are all built in China. They are also mass produced, which means a few things.
Since they are mass produced, they aren’t made by hand, and likely not with the same level of care and quality control as Gibson guitars. They are also made with cheaper pickups and less robust hardware.
And even though they can be made using the same wood, it is often lower quality. But they are almost always made with cheaper wood.
But in terms of differences between a Les Paul Classic and a Les Paul Standard, Gibson and Epiphone are very similar. You will find the same differences in tone and feel between an Epiphone Classic and Standard that you would a Gibson Classic and Standard.
This difference is especially noticeable with the Gibson versions. When you consider that the Classic and Standard are almost identical, at least in terms of the wood used and hardware in both, the huge price gap is a bit confusing.
Of course, the Classic’s 9-hole weight relief can be part of what makes it cheaper, but not by this much. The only other thing I can think of is in the way the guitars are built.
I suspect that the Standard is a bit more ‘hand-made’ than the Classic. Particularly with regards to the hardware. The Standard’s pickups are mentioned as being ‘hand-wired’, while the Classic’s aren’t.
So, you are basically paying extra for a bit more care being put into the Standard.
Which One to Choose?
The easy answer is to go for a Gibson Classic or Standard. But I wouldn’t dismiss Epiphone guitars outright.
They are still very well-made guitars that can get you pretty close to the true Les Paul sound without the same price tag. They are perfect for that reason, and make particularly great beginner guitars as well.
As for choosing between a Classic and a Standard Les Paul, well that is going to be up to you. Like I mentioned, while I prefer the lighter weight of the Classic, I also prefer the warmer tone of the Standard.
I would personally rather compromise on my tone slightly for a more comfortable playing experience, but I know many guitarists won’t sacrifice tone for anything.
What do you think? Is the Les Paul Classic and Standard just the same guitar? Should we even bother comparing the two? Or are they two unique experiences and are both equally important?
I can see the value in having two similar, yet different Les Pauls, each appealing to a different type of guitarist.