How’s that for an attention grabber? It’s no secret that Gibson is NOT a company that is hip to the cutting edge of today’s musicians or musical styles, but I think at this point they might be trying to ignore physics as well.
This isn’t to say Gibson has made NO innovations – they now put all their guitars on the PLEK, a laser guided fret leveling machine that makes for serious playability. The problem is when they THINK they’re making a leap forward, but are actually woefully out of touch. Case in point- they are making the Min-E-Tune motorized tuners (now rebranded as G-Force) standard on almost ALL Gibson guitars, while casually raising prices 29%. Like we wouldn’t notice that they went up almost a THIRD! They’re “innovating” in all the wrong areas, because really, there’s nothing that needs to change.
A Les Paul is a classic. A classic is something that withstands the test of time, always does what it’s supposed to do, which is always something great, no matter where or when it is. A classic doesn’t have to change, because it has been around so long that the world has been built around it, and its familiarity makes it hard to imagine a world without it. But a classic is generally also a one trick pony, and modernizing one generally falls flat, because recreating the magic basically never works. Case in point, most movie/TV show remakes (Battlestar notwithstanding).
And now this. Thomann.de just listed a Les Paul 7 string for sale for €2,190 ($2764). This isn’t the first 7 string Les Paul ever, Epiphone makes a couple (including a Matt Heafy signature) and they all suffer from the same problem: 24.75″ scale length. If you don’t have a strong understanding of scale length, I suggest you read up on it, because there are few things that affect the intonation and feel of a guitar as strongly. And I can tell you this for certain: trying to get a low B string on even a standard 25.5 inch scale length is a nightmare, and 24.75 inches is nowhere near enough to hold the kind of tension you need for it to sound good. 24.75 is barely long enough to keep tension on your low E string, and the feel of it will be far slinkier than a Strat scale. It does play a role in the way a LP sounds, and can have a fatter sound because of the decreased tension, but you’ll have intonation nightmares quicker than you can say Saul Hudson if you try to tune below Eb.
Gibson even makes a 28″ baritone Les Paul with a suggested tuning of B standard. Because they KNOW that a guitar needs more scale to hold a tuning like that. Hence why I suggested they were ignoring physics: they know how it works, but they don’t care.
The type of people who buy Les Pauls are traditionalists. They want the safety of a classic. They don’t want a robot to tune their guitar, they still have a pitch pipe that works just fine and doesn’t need batteries. They want a solid tone machine that can be heard on thousands of hit rock records and has a familiar sound. They sure as SHIT don’t want another string. Anyone with $2700 to spend on a high end 7 string these days has an enormous selection of custom, semi-custom, mulitscale, baritone, 7 strings in any color you can imagine, and any-color-as-long-as-it’s-black mentalities like Gibson don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.
Gibson makes great guitars. They have something that flavor-of-the-week ERG luthiers won’t get for another hundred years: legacy. They built the first electric guitar ever, and perfected it soon after. Whether or not you think they got it right, the sound and the look have been hammered so deep into our subconscious that we love it whether it’s better or not. I think Gibson is ignoring that fact and needs to realize that nobody wants Reload, we want another Master of Puppets, and they’ll sell way more if they just keep on truckin’ with that old familiar axe. Nobody wants to see Grandpa try and write Pokemon plotlines, we want to hear old war stories from a simpler time.
I don’t think this is going to be a good year for Gibson. I think that’s good, because they will be forced to rethink their plan, and realize that they sell Dad guitars, and get back to their roots. They’ve lost their identity, but I think they can get it back, and I hope they do.