It’s funny that for some of us the term ‘hot rod’ makes us think of guitars souped up with Floyd Rose tremolos, humbuckers where there should be single coils and rough paint jobs (or none at all). The Gibson USA Les Paul Studio Hot Rod re-claims the term ‘hot rod’ by drawing it back to its street-rod, car-inspired looks, while also containing enough of the souped-up/stripped-down vibe that the term usually conjures when applied to guitars.
LES IS MORE
This guitar is rocking a Mahogany body with a Maple top for classic Les Paul tone. The body is lightened with Gibson’s ‘traditional’ pattern weight relief, to make it a lot easier on your shoulder. The neck is also made of Mahogany, with a composite fingerboard carrying 22 frets in a slightly-curvy-but-mostly-flat 12” radius. There are no fretboard inlays, although of course there are side dots to help you find your way around.
The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic model made of Zamak working in partnership with a Zamak Stop Bar. Both are chrome plated. The tuners are chrome Grover Kidney models that look great with the overall colour scheme. The nut is made of black Tektoid and the slots — like the frets — are given a seeing-to by the PLEK system.
The pickups are a pair of Gibson humbuckers; a 496R in the neck position and a 500T in the bridge. Both have uncovered white bobbins and are seated in black mounting rings. The electronics are the standard two volume and two tone controls with a three-way pickup selector. The volumes are both push-pull for coil splitting. And the big nod to hot rod car culture: the expertly applied blue and white pinstriping applied to a glossy ebony finish. It looks great from a distance and even better close-up where it takes on an almost hypnotic feel. The colour choice gives this axe a definite ‘lightning in the night’ vibe. In terms of workmanship, the only flaw I can spot is that the protective tape on the bridge pickup appears to have been applied a little too soon after the pickup was wax-potted, at it appears that as the wax settled the tape pulled back a bit. It looks a little ugly but the pickup still appears to be well-protected.
THE HEAT IS ON
Sonically this is a very punchy Les Paul, even at high gain levels through a cranked Hughes & Kettner Grandmeister 36. There’s just enough fullness to the tone. Not too beefy, not too thin. That makes this a great all-rounder guitar that can hang with styles from blues to metal and beyond. The neck pickup has a nice direct attack and prominent upper midrange frequencies that make it great for speed-picking or bluesy Michael Schenker-style leads. The bridge pickup responds really nicely to palm-muting, and to changes in fretting-hand articulation. The bridge single coil mode sounds very rich and clear with a pronounced chunk-and-jangle kind of texture, and once you discover this sound you’ll find yourself returning to it a lot. The neck pickup sounds noticeably darker in single coil mode, even compared to its own humbucker mode, which is somewhat the reverse of what one might expect. It’s not quite as useful a tone by itself, but you can get some very nice sounds by balancing the neck single coil mode’s volume down below the bridge single coil mode.
HIT THE ROAD
This is a visually distinctive guitar that will appeal to players in a lot of genres. Structurally it’s a very fine instrument, and sonically it has everything you need from spanky cleans to in-your-face rhythms and screaming leads. The look might or might not be to your taste, but if you happen to be a fence-sitter due to the looks, the tone will win you over.
Hits and Misses
Great punchy tones
Very useable bridge single coil mode
Very playable neck
Neck single coil mode is a bit dark
The look might not be for everyone
Rough bridge pickup construction
Tuners: Grover Kidney
Nut: Black TekToid