Gibson Les Paul Personal Recording Professional

LES PAUL PERSONAL
(PROFESSIONAL AND RECORDING)
PAGE 1

The Les Paul Personal, Les Paul Professional and Les Paul Recording have a distinct familial relationship, being Les Paul models and orphaned children of Gibson's experiment with low-impedance pickups during the late 60's through the 70's. This is a lonely series of guitar because so few people have 'em and there's so little information about them, even from Gibson. That's not surprising since so few of these were made-- only 146 Les Paul Personals were produced, and even fewer Les Paul Professionals, according to Dave Gould's Les Paul Recording Guitar User's website (...a great reference site, and a big thanks to Dave for doing all the research!) 146... That's an astoundingly small production run, compared to the umpteen bazillions of other Les Paul varieties and clones out there. Even more astonishing is the fact that these are so undervalued and affordable, relatively speaking.

In the grand scheme of marketing, this line of guitars could be considered a failed experiment. When released in the late 60s-70s, they weren't big sellers, which is why so few were made. Per Les Paul's thinking, the low-impedance humbuckers were ideal for direct input into a mixing board-- wider frequency spectrum, and the signal can be driven through long cable lengths without the high frequency content degrading appreciably and picking up a lot of hum. By some reckoning, this would be a good thing: Hi-fi, and great for keeping the noise down in multi-track recording. Unfortunately, it didn't jive with the trends of popular music at that time. Jimi Hendrix? Jimmy Page? Clean? Hi-fi? Even when run through a low-to-high impedance transformer into a guitar amplifier, the signal level is still only moderate and very clean, compared to that produced by a high-output, high-impedance humbucker. The output from these pickups don't overdrive an amp's preamp. Therefore, these guitars didn't provide what most rock guitarists wanted; they got a lukewarm reception, and few people bought them. They're also damned heavy and don't look like the Les Paul models popularized by the Rock Guitar heroes.

Despite this, they're extremely well-made and beautiful guitars, with lots of character. The Les Paul Personal, shown in these pictures, was crafted as a top-of-the-line model, with a bound ebony fretboard, gold hardware (cast tuners) and fancy headstock inlays. (There seem to be some variations in the "Gibson" inlay; In the few samples I've seen, some have open an open "b" and "o", but most seem to lack the dot over the "i".) The body is made from 2 pieces of mahogany, joined "pancake" style with a 3-piece neck and a 5-piece headstock. Like many Gibson guitars from this time, this one has nylon saddles in its old ABR-1 style bridge. In addition, this member of the low-impedance Les Paul family had a distinctive feature-- the XLR microphone jack mounted on the upper bout. This was Les Paul's idea, and is probably why this was named the "Personal". Personally, I think this is kind of a strange idea, and the model name "Personal" is close to cringe-worthy. It also makes it extremely difficult to pull up relevant Google searches, because everyone seems to use the expression "Personally..." (although I, personally, do not).

As a tinkerer, I practically salivate at the tinkering opportunities that this guitar offers. The microphone jack routing and pot give extra places to put something, along with the huge controls cavity, four pots and the body's switches faceplate. Sheesh, you could fit four or five mini-toggles in the faceplate alone!

However... this is actually a rare guitar, even if most people aren't hip to the fact of how cool and desirable she is. As much as I hate the idea of being the guitar's steward for all the spoiled, undeserving brats who will populate the future ;^), I'm hesitant to butcher this guitar. Especially after hearing about folks who pay to have their expensive guitars aged with Exacto knives and Freon to produce artificial finish checking. This guitar earned her finish honestly; the original owner, Jeff, bought her the same year I bought my first Strat, in '72. (Though produced earlier, they usually sat in stores for a while.) I remember really wanting to buy the Les Paul Recording at the time, but couldn't afford it. So this is even better, like a second chance, and you don't get many of those in life.

So... what about the playability? The sound? The low-impedance thing? All those knobs and switches? Well, having been strictly a Stratocaster player (specifically, a "Stratocaster with a Whammy Bar"), I was a bit surprised by this guitar's sustain and the strong string-to-body coupling. The quest for Sustain is kind of a guitarist's mantra, so the more, the better, right? I admit that a long-sustaining note is a beautiful thing, in isolation. I believe that the downside to this is that a cranked note coming from the amplifier vibrates the body, which couples to the strings, which generates a signal in the pickups... which creates feedback. This isn't the screechy microphonic feedback that comes from unpotted pickup windings, but the controllable kind. If your technique hasn't had to deal with that before, it's a new trick to learn. I'm used to dampening strings, coaxing and controlling a Strat's feedback through finger vibrato, the whammy bar and a wah-wah pedal, but this is different. A Strat/WB player might be surprised by the need to pay really close attention and rabidly dampen open strings because in a Strat/WB, those strings are less likely to be excited into sympathetic vibration-- a floating bridge's vibrato springs buffer the string-body coupling (in addition to the bolt-on neck). That's just my observation and theory though; some believe it's the wood, but it's probably all these things.

The neck feel was quite different from what I was used to. It's thicker than my Strats', and the frets seemed lower-- not worn, just lower. Accordingly, the action had been set up very fast and low. I like to bend notes, so I raised the action a bit and sacrificed some of the fretboard's speediness. Another issue was that my fingertip meat rubbing the wood made an audible "stubbing" sound during bends. I don't know if it's due to the low frets, the ebony fingerboard or the need to work in a little bit of my personal grime, but I polished the fretboard with some Carnauba wax and it seemed to help. Actually, after adjusting it, adjusting to it, and infusing it with some of my "slippery character" mojo, I love the feel of the neck.

The ABR-1 bridge is a strange beast. It's mounted at a slight angle along the string axis since the saddle travel is fairly limited. You can coax a little more range out of it by reversing the saddle's orientation. One of the things to watch out for is the bridge height adjustment posts. The ABR-1's posts are very thin and prone to bending, especially if the string breaking angle to the stop bar is acute. Naturally, a forward bent post will greatly affect your ability to set proper intonation. Therefore, to set higher action, the stop bar should also be raised to lessen the strings' angle and keep the forward pressure exerted on the bridge to a minimum. Even better, the strings can be threaded from the front side of the stop bar and wrapped over the top. This greatly reduces the string's breaking angle across the bridge and lets you screw the stop bar fully down to the guitar's top. It makes me less nervous knowing that the lateral stress on the stop bar posts is a little more evenly distributed. Also, a tiny dab of contact cement on the bridge posts' threads will save you from having to readjust the bridge height after a string change (arrrrgh).

The nylon saddles are a good match for this guitar. In theory, these would dampen the high-frequency response of the strings, and perhaps they do. However, the low-impedance pickups are hi-fi so this really has a negligible effect, as far as I can tell: This guitar can out-treble my Strats. The good thing about nylon saddles is that you don't have to cut a notch and there's absolutely no rattle in the contact area with the intonation screws. It's a pity that replacements are so hard to find and expensive.

I think the pickguard looks kewl, but as attached- floating, with little clearance between the high E string -felt awkward to me. I bent the mounting bracket inwards a bit which lowered the side nearest the string. The distance is now closer to a Strat setup, which makes my picking hand pinkie finger very happy.

Unlike the Les Paul Recording, the Les Paul Personal (and LP Professional) doesn't have an internal, switchable low/high-impedance transformer. So to plug straight into a guitar amp you have to use a special cord which is fitted with the inline impedance matching transformer. This looks very similar to a Shure microphone impedance matching gizmo, and probably is the same thing. If you plug straight into an amp with a regular guitar cord, you get a very, very weak (but extremely clean) signal. If you plug the inline transformer cable in the wrong way, you get virtually no signal. Been there, done that. (That's probably why they mark the ends of the transformer with "Guitar" and "Amplifier".)

As you can see below, the guitar's output jack is a regular 1/4" jack (although the LPP's is stereo so you can pluck the microphone signal off separately). The transformer's XLR connection uses only 2-conductors (signal and ground), which I think makes it an unbalanced line. Once you get the cord plugged in the correct way, you can begin to muck around with all the switches and controls.

Gibson Les Paul Personal I ran the signal through a plain and minimally colored PodXT patch and was treated to those first awesome notes that Michael Bloomfield played to kick off "Super Session". Sweet... This is a great-sounding guitar. It also sounded wonderful straight through my Twin Reverb, but I can't get any guitar to naturally distort through it without considerable ear pain.

The low-impedance pickups generate a signal with a wide frequency range; The top end is noticibly brighter than a Strat's, and there are some similarities to the range of a piezo pickup, although it's a more midrange, less "hollow" sound. This is great for crisp, full and uncompressed-sounding chords. One advantage of having this range is that there's more to work with-- you can attenuate a range of frequencies easily, whereas extending the range of a lower-fidelity pickup isn't quite so easy. There are a plethora of tone controls to help you shape the sound before it goes to whatever external tone shapers you place in the signal path. This makes for a very versatile guitar.

I must confess that I cheated. Instead of just flipping switches and playing around, I went through the trouble of locating schematics and tried to understand what the controls did (see page 2). So I already basically knew how the guitar worked, what to expect, and was able to sample the controls methodically. Yes, these guitars do give you an overwhelming combination of tonal possibilities, and the range between them (particularly increments in the Decade switch in high-impedance mode) can be very subtle. However, if you're talented enough to hear the difference between different body and fretboard woods, differences between each of the 11 Decade control increments should be as glaring as night and day to you. (I can hear the difference between positions 1 and 11.) The effect of tone-shaping controls are most apparent in clean sounds-- this is true for any guitar, where high gain distortion can obscure the difference even between pickup selection. In that case, the Bass Cut control can be very useful for cleaning up a lot of the compressed "mud" in a highly distorted sound.

Lest I give the wrong impression, the output level of the low-impedance humbuckers through the impedance matching transformer isn't drastically lower. It's only slightly lower than the Kinman Blues bridge pickup on my Strat. This however, would be noticibly lower than the output of a native high-impedance humbucker.

In the final analysis though, this means squat. Many guitarist today use some form of preamp boost to overdrive the input of their amp. The popular EMG active pickups which some folks swear by are actually low-impedance pickups with an onboard, battery-powered preamp. I don't suppose it makes that much difference whether the preamp is a little further on down the line. Besides, there's enough room inside the LPP to easily fit just about any battery-powered device you can think of. However, most folks aren't likely to get past the low-output thing to recognize this guitar's potential as a blues-rock shredder...

 

SOUND SAMPLE: MP3, approx. 570K Don't expect any dazzling blues-rock shreddery here! (heh, heh) This is meant to show the effect of the Decade Control in low-impedance mode. The first part is hammer-ons: Starts with the neck pickup in position 0 (no effect) and sweeps through position 10, then switches to the bridge pickup and goes back to 0. The second part (short chords): Neck pickup, positions 0, 5, & 10; Bridge pickup, positions 0, 5, & 10. The last part (riff): Neck pickup, positions 0, 5, & 10; Bridge pickup, positions 0, 5, & 10.

This recording was made after I'd done a few (ahem) modifications to the guitar, but it should give you a general idea of what the Decade Control does. The guitar is actually going through a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster circuit into a Twin Reverb with Treble/Mid/Bass set on 5, volume set on 2. The recording was made using a camcorder's built-in mic, so you can be assured that the stellar recording quality reflects that.

 

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