Epiphone Les Paul Special II: A Les Paul Anyone Can Afford
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The Les Paul Special II is an impressive guitar at a very affordable price - great for beginners and those on a budget. A pair of good-quality humbuckers designed by Epiphone, a mahogany/okoume body, and a rosewood fretboard give this guitar a great sound and feel. Though the volume and tone controls are simplified compared to slightly more expensive Epiphone Les Paul 100, fewer controls mean you'll spend less time fiddling with knobs and more time focusing on playing. Overall, it's a great value for beginners who want to channel their inner Slash. Let's take an in-depth look and see what makes the Epiphone Les Paul Special II such a great guitar for new musicians and why we listed it is one of our choices for Best Beginner Guitars.
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The Les Paul Special II comes in three finishes: Cherry Sunburst (shown at the top of the article), Ebony (black), and Vintage Sunburst. At first glance, you'll notice the finishes are plain and simple solid finishes. The regular Special II doesn't come with a flamed maple top like you find on the more expensive Les Pauls, though the finishes are definitely good enough for a beginner's instrument.
Some retailers offer a version of the Special II with a flamed maple top, called the 'Les Paul Special II Plus'. If you find one in stock, it's worth picking up! While it won't sound noticeably different, the upgraded looks are well worth the $30 or so premium.
The body is the classic Les Paul shape with a few minor differences. Because the Special II is made on a budget, it doesn't have an arched top and is a little bit thinner than the standard Gibson Les Paul. The scale length (distance between bridge and nut) of the Special II, however, is the standard, full-fat 24.75 inches and feels like the more expensive models in this regard. Though it's a little thinner than its more expensive cousins, this is a serious beginner's instrument.
What tonewood is used in the Special II? Well, depending on the availability of a certain species of wood, a manufacturer may choose to substitute one type of wood for another - even in the same model of guitar. Epiphone has manufactured the Les Paul Special II in multiple runs, and some of the guitars were built with mahogany and others with okoume. These woods are quite similar in tone, so neither is technically superior to the other. Okoume is generally a bit lighter than mahogany, but unless you're comparing two models side-by-side, you won't notice a few ounces of weight. Which type of wood you get depends on when you buy the guitar and from where, but don't worry - they both sound the same!
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II comes standard with a SlimTaper D-shaped neck. The D-shape is a comfortable profile for any guitarist, regardless of hand size. This type of neck is very versatile and feels solid enough for rhythm playing and fast enough for soloing. The neck very gradually gets thinner as you get closer to the body, which is what gives it the 'SlimTaper' name.
The neck is a bolt-on, with a rosewood fretboard and 22 frets, which are pretty common features for both budget and higher-end Les Pauls. The neck, like the body, can be made of either mahogany or okoume. Both are warm, pleasant tonewoods that sound quite similar. You'll find a plastic nut at the top of the neck, which isn't ideal but gets the job done. We wish the Special came with a synthetic bone nut for better durability, but we have to remind ourselves that this is a budget guitar.
The Special II comes with a pair of Epiphone-designed humbuckers - the 650R in the neck and the 700T in the bridge. Like many budget guitars, the pickups are ceramic, which have a different sound than more expensive, Alnico magnet-based models. The 650R/700T can be a little muddy sounding if you turn the gain up to high, but with proper muting technique (which you should be practicing!), these pickups will serve you well for everything from the blues to heavy metal. Unfortunately, the Special II doesn't come with a coil-split feature, so you won't be able to get those sweet Strat-like single-coil clean sounds. For that upgrade, you'll need to go with the Epiphone Les Paul 100 for about $50 more.
All of this technical stuff means nothing if the guitar doesn't sound good. We'll talk more about how the 650R and 700T pickups affect your tone in a later section of the review where we'll listen to some sound samples.
The Les Paul Special II's bridge is the standard two-piece Tune-o-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece found on almost every type of Les Paul. The design of the bridge also gives the guitar more sustain, so you can hold notes for longer. The hardware on the Special II is made out of nickel. Though it's not as shiny as chrome, it is corrosion resistant and will hold up to almost any type of abuse. Tune-o-Matic bridges are very easy to adjust if you find you that need to change the action or fix the intonation of your guitar.
The tuners on the Les Paul Special are pretty standard nickel Epiphone tuners, which means they're not anything to write home about. They have a ratio of 14:1, which means they aren't the most precise or stable tuners available on the market, but they will get the job done.
If you compare the Les Paul Special II to other guitars in Epiphone's Les Paul range, you'll notice it has just two knobs compared to the four knobs found on the higher-end LP-100 and the Les Paul Standard. The pickup selector has also moved away from the top of the guitar to below the bridge near the input jack. The simplified electronics on the Special II are due to it being a budget guitar. Fewer knobs mean less tonal versatility, but as a beginner, you may find that four knobs can be more hassle and harder to manage. Look on the bright side: a single volume and tone knob means it's easier and quicker to dial in a tone you like.
D'addario .10-.46 strings come standard. It's rare to find name brand strings on a budget guitar, so hats off to Epiphone. If you feel you need a lighter gauge, the design of the Les Paul Tune-o-matic bridge makes re-stringing quick and easy.
The Special comes without a gig-bag or accessories.
A guitar that looks good but doesn't sound good is no good. The Epiphone Les Paul Special II not only looks the part, but it can be dialed in to sound great in just about any genre. The ceramic pickups can sound muddy if you crank up the gain, but with the proper two-hand muting technique, your high-gain riffs will sound both clean and heavy, no matter how much distortion you use. Check out this demo direct from Epiphone showcasing its versatility.
Highly reviewed on Amazon and other retailers, the Les Paul Special II has received a lot of praise for being a quality budget instrument. Value and versatility are themes among its reviews, with a few mentioning how well it compares to their higher-end guitars. Even the notoriously hard-to-please The Gear Page reviewers have a lot of praise to heap upon the guitar, A few of the top complaints found in reviews mention fret-buzz, which usually means the guitar wasn't set up well from the factory. Because of how many reviews mention the guitar having a great set up, this seems to be an anomaly. If you buy this guitar and the setup is completely out of whack and it feels hard to play, try exchanging it. You may have just received a bad egg.
The Les Paul Special II is a fantastic budget guitar. It's cheap, good quality, and versatile: the ultimate beginner's instrument. For about $200, you get a whole lot of guitar that sounds good playing soulful blues licks as well as cranking out chunky metal riffs. An optional flame maple top gives it some extra visual flavor for those who want an even better-looking axe.