Gibson Les Paul Modern Lite: A very different take on tradition
Put off by the bulk of a Les Paul? Gibson has the answer, but the question for newcomers could be the relatively weighty price
Gibson Les Paul Modern Lite guitars in various colourways
Look around the world of modern electric guitars today and you’ll notice that you don’t see a lot of hip young guitarists playing Gibsons. And perhaps that’s to be expected – at a time when brightly coloured offset guitars are the default choice for many players, there’s something a little old-school about a big, heavy Burst or similar – fantastic as those guitars undoubtedly are.
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In what seems like a pretty calculated heave for that audience then, enter the new Les Paul Modern Lite – a stripped-down take on Gibson’s most famous guitar with a thinner contoured body and a bunch of bright, bold and fun finish options, including this Cardinal Red example.
What is the Gibson Les Paul Modern Lite?
In many ways the Modern Lite is a spiritual successor to two much-loved Gibsons of yore – the Les Paul Special Tribute and the Les Paul Studio, but taken even further. The body itself is 45mm at the highest point of the carved top and 33mm at the body rim, instead of the approx LP Standard 62mm/50mm, and you also get a belly cut on the back, making it even thinner and aiding player comfort. It has a fast-playing SlimTaper neck carve, and those fun colour options are satin nitrocellulose lacquer coated. The matching headstock further sets it apart visually from the Gibson norm.
The open-coil humbuckers are Gibson 490R and 498T units, and the guitar comes with a well-padded soft gigbag rather than a heavier and cumbersome Lifton case – a sensible choice given the possible target market.
What is the difference between a Les Paul Modern Lite and a regular Les Paul?
It shouldn’t be a surprise but the first thing that strikes you when you pick up the Les Paul Modern Lite is that body depth – and it makes for a very different playing experience than what I’ve been used to with regular Les Pauls.
The thinner depth and belly contour feel snugger and more connected to you than a regular Les Paul, but the best part is the weight – Lite by name is definitely light by nature here at a hair under seven pounds. If you’ve got a dodgy back like me, this is a godsend when played standing up – it hangs very nicely and puts very little strain on your shoulders and back, while never feeling too imposing either.
What is the Les Paul Modern Lite like to play?
Another useful addition is the SlimTaper neck – it’s easily one of my favourite Gibson profiles and feels truly comfortable and effortless, especially in tandem with a nicely finished Indian rosewood fretboard.
This is a guitar that can easily go from shredding to huge cowboy chords while feeling easy on the fingers. Equipped with 22 frets and a 24.75-inch scale length, there’s a wide appeal here in terms of playability.
How does the Les Paul Modern Lite sound?
To put the Lite through its paces, I plug into my trusty Matchless Nighthawk 15 and immediately I’m impressed with what I hear. If like me you usually play single-coil-equipped guitars, that 490R humbucker in the neck position is a really compelling prospect – offering a nicely balanced sound that isn’t too bassy, and is very akin to a PAF.
Add a dash of reverb and some gently picked clean chords sound massive and compelling. However, everyone knows the real fun to be had with a Les Paul is with the bridge pickup, and pairing the 498T with a 1981 Inventions LVL boost pedal I’m instantly transported to a world of overdrive that screams while still retaining the character and note definition of the instrument itself. Sometimes a Les Paul bridge pickup can be quite harsh, and I was worried that the lack of body mass here might exacerbate that tendency, but it’s a credit to Gibson that it’s balanced the guitar so well.
Is the Gibson Les Paul Modern Lite worth it?
The biggest issue with this guitar has very little to do with the quality of the instrument, and more with price tag and how it seems to fly in the face of its target market. At very nearly $1,500, this might be a guitar aimed at younger players, and it might be relatively affordable by modern Gibson standards, but you have to set it in the context of the rest of the market.
While Gibson is obviously hoping that the lure of owning a proper USA Gibson will tempt people in, it’s still a steep price tag – especially when set against the old Les Paul Special Tributes that this series has effectively replaced. And that’s before you compare these guitars against the likes of PRS’s S2 range or Fender’s long-in-the-tooth but still-in-production American Performer range – both also made in the USA but broadly more affordable than the Modern Lite.
Putting the price aside, there’s no doubt this is a really fun and fresh take on the Gibson Les Paul – it’s also a great playing and comfortable instrument. It has its own thing going on vibe-wise, and if it’s got to be USA-made, and it’s got to be Gibson, this is definitely a compelling option that feels reasonable compared to what a USA Standard will set you back in 2024. For the rest of us though, it’s a bit of a muddled proposition – not affordable enough to likely pull in the new audience, but not traditional enough for Gibson purists. It’s a shame, as this is an excellent guitar for the right person – I’m just not sure who that is.