Les Paul Classic vs Standard (Gibson & Epiphone) – Compared!

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

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

Gibson Les Paul Standard

On the surface, the Les Paul Classic and Standard are very similar, almost identical.

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.

Gibson Les Paul Classic - Cherry Red

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.

The Classic has a brighter sound, while the Standard is warmer and a bit fuller. I also feel like the Standard is a bit more aggressive and growly than the Classic.

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.

This makes Epiphone guitars much cheaper than Gibsons. An Epiphone Les Paul Standard, for example, being thousands of dollars cheaper than a Gibson Les Paul Standard.

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 includes the difference in price. The Gibson Classic and Epiphone Classic are both a few hundred dollars cheaper than their Standard counterparts.

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.

Final Word

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.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

16 thoughts on “Les Paul Classic vs Standard (Gibson & Epiphone) – Compared!”

  1. I own both Gibson LP Standard & Epi Slash guitars, I get the same tone out of both, but the Gibson fret board is superior, you can play the Gibson all day! You can feel the difference in the quality of rosewood & frets! Played through a fender super reverb tube screamer ME-80 with a Solo setting nailed on tone & 3 o’clock on gain! Wicked Tone!

  2. Hi just wanted to comment on the Gibson LP vs Epi LP battle. Hey guys did the 70’s teach us NOTHING??? In an era of supposedly HORRIBLE everything for Gibson, still some great examples of LPs exist. I came across a Epi I had a brief love affair for! It was a Twisted Sister model, brightest hot pinkburst you could imagine. Even had Epi Custom Shop logo on back of headstock! Great value for the money I spent, but being a guitar guy with a bad case of gear acquisition syndrome wanted to give that beauty a top notch makeover. Some first class parts upgrades would of MADE that guitar, but decided to sell it to a wonderful student who loved it saving me $900! And saved me from trying to make an apple into an orange! If it works for your purposes PLAY IT!!! Don’t worry what Slash would do!!!

  3. I have a Epi LP Custom Prophecy EX with 81 and 85 EMG pickups, Grover locking tuners sleek tapered neck. All I can say is that it absolutely screams! I also have a Gibson custom shop black beauty that is my baby. They weigh about the same, but the Gibson is made with better materials. I love them both.

  4. I have a ’93 Gibson 60s Classic so there is no weight relief and it has the 490/500T exposed pickups. It’s amazing. I also have a 2019 Epiphone Standard Pro with coil splitting and a 2004 Standard. The Epiphones are great for the money, sound and look awesome and do the job for me, the everyday player. I dial in the tone I want via the guitar controls, amp(s) and effect(s).
    * First time Les Paul buyers note – Get a good padded strap, your shoulder will thank you.


  6. I bought an Epiphone 59 standard in dark cherry burst and although it might not be Pearly Gates and I’m certainly not Billy Gibbons it plays and sounds fantastic for me. It growls through my EVH 5150 6L6 head and 212 cab. Also it was three grand cheaper than the Gibson.

    • I have a Gibson Epiphone 100 and I also have the evh head and the 212 cabinet and it sounds pretty damn good through there but my American fender Stratocaster sounds really good

    • That’s why I have an Gibson Epiphone and I’m thinking about getting the new slash version they look really cool and I’ve heard very good things.

  7. I have an SG and a 2019 Les Paul Classic. Both are awesome to play. I prefer the Classic’s, Zebra Pickups. The Tone Between it, and the Standard is Different, but both have Gibson Roar. You also have more sound Control options on the Classic.

  8. You all can fool yourselves that a “made in China” Epiphone plays as well as a “ Made in USA” Gibson but those who have owned and played both know better! Sorry

    • To be fair I’ve owned neither but I’ve been around guitars, guitarists and forums long enough to that not all Gibson’s (or any other brand) play as well as each other even at the same spec.

      The Epiphone equivalent will get a high percentage of the way to the equivalent for those that can’t afford or prefer not to spend so much.

      Happy days really in my books.

  9. I have a 1960 Les Paul custom. And an epi Les Paul. One is worth 10s of thousands, on is worth 700.oo. My epi sounds better on clean stuff, the Gibson sounds better on the hard stuff. I love them both.. the Gibson is cherry wine, the epi is lake Tahoe blue..
    Ps.. the Gibson tommy shaw play on the crystal ball album.

  10. I have never owned an original Les Paul but I have a Epiphone Les Paul Custom Silverburst and a Ep. Les Paul Standard 1959 Aged Dark Burst and they both feel and sound amazing!!

  11. The new Epiphones are built exactly like their Gibson counterparts. How are they “less hand made”? The main difference is the Polyurethane finish vs. the Gibson Nitrocellulose finish. Which you declined to mention. And also, on a flame-top Standard, the Epiphone uses a thin veneer over a true maple cap, as opposed to the Gibson’s true flame maple top. Which you also declined to mention. The new “Inspired by Gibson” line of guitars are fantastic, professional grade instruments.

  12. It’s a bit unclear to me if the Epi Classic has the same sonic possibilities ad the Gibson Classic: Singlecoil switch (coil tap), fase shift, and direct output from the lead pickup – and of course 9-hole-weight-relief… PS I recently bought a Gibson LP Classic – brand new – and I have to say it’s one excellent guitar. Regards Troels Schmidt, DK

    • Coil tapping does NOT split the coils of a humbucker. Coil SPLITTING does!!!
      Also, if you think Epiphones are for beginners, you must not have played one lately…


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