Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher’s first signature instrument was the Gibson Golden Axe Explorer, a visually stunning instrument that combined classic explorer looks with an eye-catching golden brown sunburst finish and Kelliher’s signature Lace Sensor pickups. They’re already becoming hard to find because these limited edition instruments are very much coveted, not just by Mastodon fans: they achieve the rare feat of crossing over to guitar fans in general. The new Bill Kelliher Halcyon Les Paul follows a similar track, kitting out a classic Les Paul design with a few of Kelliher’s own personal touches, and in the process creating a guitar that will please all sorts of players, whether they’ve heard of Mastodon or not.
BLOOD AND THUNDER
The Halcyon starts with the classic Les Paul tonewood combination of a Mahogany back with a Maple top, Rosewood fretboard on a Mahogany neck, a Tune-O-Matic bridge and Stop Bar tailpiece. There are 22 frets, a 12” fretboard radius, and classic trapezoid mother of pearl fretboard inlays. The nut is made of a material called Tektoid and it feels very low-resistance, and not as finger-shearing as some previously-used materials.
The body and neck are surrounded in cream binding which is matched by the pickup rings and pickguard. There’s a mother of pearl Gibson logo and a silkscreened “Les Paul Model” logo. A ‘Halcyon’ logo is hot-stamped in gold into the black and white ‘bell’ truss rod cover. The strap buttons are oversized, giving your strap a much more secure fit.
Each pickup has its own volume and tone controls, with the volumes doubling as push-pull coil splits for each pickup. There’s a three-way pickup selector for choosing between the two Lace Dissonant Aggressor humbuckers.
The finish is stunning in person. It’s more gold in the centre than it seems to appear in photos, with a metallic sheen fading gradually and flawlessly into a brown sunburst. Combined with the cream binding and plastic parts it’s a really unique guitar that looks good enough to eat.
The pickups are quite high in output - even the neck model measures 13.7k, and while DC Resistance isn’t a perfect measure of pickup output, your ears will immediately tell you these things are beasts. The neck pickup has a clear, sustaining, midrange-heavy voice that almost sounds like you’re playing through a perfectly-voiced fuzz pedal, while the bridge pickup - at 17.8k - has a thickness and sustain that somehow manage to allow the overtones of complex chords to ring through even when it’s slamming your amp’s input stage with power and causing it to compress. I tuned the low E string down to A for some big “Crack The Skye” style riffs balancing super-low notes with high chord extensions, and the sound was immense and expansive. The single coil modes are very useful, with the bridge pickup in particular sounding great through high gain in single coil mode. It’s very punchy and edgy without quite becoming annoyingly twangy. And the neck pickup has a very musical attack and definition when in single coil mode, but is especially effective with a clean sound where it takes on some smokey, bluesy overtones.
This is a killer guitar for anyone who’s looking for a high-powered take on the Les Paul tone and who wants something that looks a little bit exotic but still classic at the same time. The build quality is exceptional, the playability is up there with the best Gibson USA Les Pauls I’ve played, and the tone is the ultimate deal-sealer.
Hits and Misses
Amazing build quality.
Single coil neck mode is better clean than dirty.
Neck Pickup: Lace Dissonant Aggressor
Bridge Pickup: Lace Dissonant Aggressor
Strings: .009, .046
Inlays: Trapezoid, Mother of Pearl