2003 Gibson Les Paul Studio

This guitar comes with a story. In the early ’80s I purchased a used 1976 Gibson SG Standard from a friend of a friend for $375.00. This SG was a much better guitar than the crappy imported starter guitars I was trying to play rock music with. The SG was a good guitar, but I had a love hate relationship with it. At the time I couldn’t afford to switch to anything different, so I put my differences aside with the guitar, and got on with making music with the instrument. Flash forward to 2007. I did some research on the internet, and figured out that the 1976 SG collecting dust in the closet was worth about $1,200.00. If it would have been a 1974 model it would have been worth somewhere around $2,000.00. Shoot!

Most of my favorite guitarists I looked up to played Les Paul guitars. Namely the Les Paul Custom. I had previously met the owner of the Music Gallery in Highland Park, IL through a client of mine. The Music Gallery specialized in new and vintage stringed instruments at the time. I always wanted a Les Paul since I was a teenager, but could not afford one. I got the bright idea to take my old Gibson SG to the Music Gallery to see how much they would give me for the guitar. They did a little research on the internet, and quoted me $1,200.00. I told the owner of the store I was interested in a new Les Paul. He showed me his wall of Les Paul guitars, and said I could have any of the Les Paul Studios as an even trade. If I were to throw down an extra grand I could have a Les Paul Standard. At that moment I wished I had an extra thousand dollars, but I didn’t, so I started playing one of the the three Les Paul Studios they had on the rack. I had brought my own amp in to test the guitars. This way I was only evaluating the sound quality from the guitar, and not the amp. After I had tested a couple of the Les Paul Studios the sales person who was helping me suggested I try the white Les Paul Studio that was hanging on the wall. This white Les Paul Studio sounded head and shoulders better than the other two Studios in the store. There is a reason for this. This guitar had a feature the other two didn’t. This guitar had an ebony fretboard (I really like the sound of ebony fingerboards) where the other two had rosewood fingerboards, plus the wood in the white Les Paul Studio just sang better than the other two guitars. This guitar had the sound of a Les Paul Paul Custom without the Les Paul Custom price. I was sold on the guitar. The sales clerk put the guitar into its new hard shell case, and I was on my merry way out the door. I never looked back. To this day I do not regret trading my 1976 SG Standard for this Les Paul Studio.

Here’s a quick rundown of the features of this particular 2003 Les Paul Studio. Mahogany neck and body. Carved maple cap on the body for extra snap. Klusen style tuners on the headstock. The neck profile is the thicker 50’s style neck. Ebony fingerboard with trapezoid position markers. Bone nut. Chrome hardware throughout. Gibson 490R pickup in the neck position and a Gibson 498T pickup in the bridge position. Three position pickup switch, and two volume and two tone speed knob controls to shape your tone. The guitar has an Alpine White paint job to boot.

Out of all of the guitars I own the Les Paul Studio is the guitar I play most often. This Les Paul has the guitar sound I always had in my head. Yeah sure some of my other guitars come close, but when you want that big, fat Les Paul sound the real deal is the way to go. This guitar is definitely the real deal. It has the sound you could easily pay thousands more for, and still be happy as a clam with the price of entry.

It is a good idea when shopping for a specific guitar model to play several of them one after another. You will notice they will all sound different due to the variation in the wood the guitars are built with. Pick the one that sounds the best. If you don’t like any of them. Go to a different store and play some more until you find one you really like. Especially with Gibson guitars the sound quality of guitars of the same model can vary widely. From sounding, not so great, to stellar. I advise to take your time when selecting a Gibson. You tend to pay a premium price for Gibson guitars make sure you actually get a premium instrument. Use your ears, don’t rush the selection process, and you will be fine.

Sfarzo Electric String Review

My buddies over at wattkins.com were talking about different string gauges and one of the guys brought up that I turned him onto Sfarzo strings a few months back and that he really likes them. The guys suggested I do a blog post on Sfarzo strings, so here we go…

I found out about Sfarzo strings through stringsandbeyond.com from one of their weekly emails that I receive. Sfarzo’s Alloy5109 strings caught my eye, and I decided to purchase several different sets of Sfarzo strings to see how they stack up against other strings I have used over the years. To be specific I was looking for electric guitar strings that would perform similarly to Ernie Ball Cobalts, but at a lower price point. I must say the Sfarzo Alloy5109 strings filled that niche for my guitar playing needs. I use the Alloy5109 strings exclusively on my Godin LG Signature guitar.

Here is a list of Sfarzo’s main line of electric guitar strings.

Signature Pro
SFT Screamers

I have tried all of these except the Nickelanium strings because Strings and Beyond does not carry them. If they had them I would have tried them for sure. At this point I purchase most of my guitar strings from Strings and Beyond. I’ll do blog post at a later date about why I like Strings and Beyond, and why they have retained my business.

Sfarzo also has a Boutique/Custom line of strings that I have not yet tried. Therefore I do not have an opinion at this time on those. I will probably try them out down the road. Sfarzo’s custom packaged strings with your own logo, picture, or band name interests me, and their pricing is quite competitive. I think this is a pretty darn cool option for self-promotion.

Sfarzo strings are available in a wide range of gauges and specialty sets for various tunings for 6 and 7 string guitars. Check out Sfarzo’s web site for more information.

Sfarzo also has this cool web page that is called “Everything You Wanted to Know About Guitar Strings”, which is quite informative.

I currently use 10 – 46 gauge strings on all of my guitars, except for my Les Paul Studio where I started using the Drop-D set that is a regular 10 – 46 set with the 46 gauge string swapped out for a 52 gauge low E string, which provides better string tension when playing in Drop-D tuning. I use Gibson and Godin electric guitars. I have strung up my Explorer, Les Paul Studio, and LG Signature (all of these guitars have tune-o-matic bridges) with several sets of Sfarzo strings over the past year and a half.

Here’s what I have found.

I really like how the Signature Pro and Alloy5109 strings sound. They produce a nice clear, fat, round tone that I really like. These are some of the best sounding electric guitar strings I have used for the price. The SFT Screamers sound on par with regular Ernie Ball Slinky, and Dean Markley Signature Series electric guitar strings. The Screamers are keeping good company there, since I use those other brands as well.

I have experienced some premature breakage issues with the wound Sfarzo strings on my two Gibson guitars. The wound E, A or D string would break after only a few hours of playing time. I never had a problem with the plain strings breaking in this timeframe. At first I thought it was the bridge saddles, which I tried to sand smooth to no avail. Yeah sure, I could change my saddles to Graph Tech saddles, which would probably cure the problem, but I did not have this problem with the Dean Markley Vintage and Signature Series strings I was using previously. I’m not sure if Sfarzo’s wound strings are wound differently, or if the type of metal in the wire used to wind around the core strand is not compatible with my Gibson tune-o-matics. Maybe the core strand is more brittle than Dean Markley or Ernie Ball’s core strands. I ended up switching back to Dean Markley Signature Series strings for my Explorer and Les Paul Studio. The wound string breakage problem does not exist with these strings. On the Les Paul Studio I swap out the 46 gauge low E string with a 52 gauge Ernie Ball Slinky string for drop D tuning to simulate the Drop-D SFT Screamer set I used to use from Sfarzo. A specific gauge set Dean Markley doesn’t sell, so I roll my own. I think Sfarzo’s Drop-D set is a great idea, and that every string manufacturer should make a similar Drop-D set. To be fair I must say your mileage may vary with your specific Gibson guitar, but this is what I experienced with my two Gibson electrics (1990 Explorer and 2003 Les Paul Studio).

The previous mentioned wound string breakage issue I do not have with my Godin LG Signature that sports a Schaller tune-o-matic bridge. I happily keep this guitar strung with a 10 – 46 gauge set of Alloy5109 strings. I have also used the Signature Pro strings on this guitar to great effect as well. Both sets have made this guitar sound quite nice. I do prefer the slightly higher output from the Alloy5109 strings for this guitar.

Sfarzo strings are definitely worth a try. Let your ears be your guide, and keep on pickin’.

My Main Axes

I use four electric guitars on a regular basis depending on the musical group I am playing with, the required tuning and the songs I happen to be playing at the time. These guitars are a Gibson Les Paul Studio, Gibson Explorer, Godin LG Signature and a Godin Solidac. I have used these guitars for several years, which has provided me ample time to become quite familiar with them. In the coming weeks I will go over what I like and dislike about each guitar. Please stay tuned.