Guitar Geekery – Les Paul Jr on a budget

This was going to be a tweet or an instagram post but it quickly got too long (because of course it did.)

I’ve long wanted a classic 50s or early 60’s less paul Jr double-cut (not the SG shape one, which was referred to by the same name during some dispute between mr Paul and Gibson).

I love the body shape, the stripped down look. I love the commitment to one pickup only, and the snarl of those original p90’s.

However, after many years of being an affordable starter guitar, people finally figured put how great they are and the vintage ones are absurdly expensive. The one pictured here, for example, is selling for $12,500 on (and is still available, if you should happen to want it).


I considered having one made to my spec (vintage 50’s style pickup with 50’s wiring, classic body shape, big baseball bat of a neck), but while that’s not so bad as the vintage ones, it’s not cheap, and frankly i’m not a good enough player for it to be worth a couple grand for a deluxe instrument. I tend to favor the fun of many instruments the persuit of one perfect one.

So I opted to go another direction and just buy a cheap replica and upgrade the parts that don’t match 50’s spec (the pickup and wiring), and maybe the bridge/tuners if I want to be silly about authenticity.

I settled on two options, which are both cheap, and relatively well reviewed; the Harley Benton (which can be had for under 200 bucks + shipping), or the Vintage Guitars v130, which goes a bit over 400.

Quality overall seemed pretty similar based on a half dozen reviews and comparisons, but what finally decided for me was one review praising the thicker and authentic feeling neck on the Vintage; since i’m really a big-fat-neck guy (personally, as well as in terms of guitars – my neck is HUGE),  I figured i’d prefer that one, even if it set me back a bit more; I found a Vintage v130 on with free shipping, from a shop that was willing to cut a deal, so the price difference wound up being less than 200. That seemed like a decent deal, and even with 300 bucks more for pickup upgrade, still left me with an affordable guitar.

However, what I got in the Vintage was less than I hoped.

The finish – and I should have taken some decent photos – was just unattractive. What claimed to be a cherry finish like vintage gibsons was a milky satin, that showed every fingerprint, but con cleaned most of the woodgrain. It make the guitar feel way cheaper than I expected, cheap in a bad way.

The pickup – and yeah, it’s gonna get replaced, but still, one hopes a 400 guitar would be ok; comprably priced Danelectros, for example, sound fucking mega fir under $400 – was just lame. It’s not a true p90, but instead has some sort of stacked design that’s supposed to be hum canceling. But it seemed to be just tone canceling; I really could not get a good sound out of it, even when I turned my vox ac15 way up loud. I didn’t spend enough time trying to analyze what was wrong with it, frankly, but, for 400 bucks I expected more.

Worst, though, is that it showed up with a cracked neck. I didn’t notice this when I first unpacked it, but after giving it a couple of hours play, I noticed the neck just felt wrong. When I actually examined the neck, I noticed what I thought was just a scrape in the finish, but which turned out to be a crack a couple inches below the nut, which when all the way through.


I’m not at this point blaming the place I bought it – i’m assuming this is a manufacturing defect, and that shipment and temperature changes worsened it, though It would have been nice if they’d caught the issue pre shipment. But, given the other things that felt very cheap about this guitar, i’m guessing this is manufacturer QC issue.

It’s now in transit back to the seller, and I have not gotten my refund yet, but, am expecting to do so in a few days.

So, that left me with the Harley Benton; I found one in ‘b stock’ (which means minor cosmetic defects usually), for 25 bucks less than the already low price. While i’d intend to go for a cherry finish like the authentic ones, i’m a huge fan of the Gibson pelham blue color, and this is pretty close, so I pulled the trigger on that.


Today when I unpacked it, I found everything about it to be better; the finish is beautiful (even with a couple of minor, acceptable flaws). The neck feels better, and the tone is far better, sounding much more like a modern p90. While I have not yet had a chance to turn it up and get some real playing it, i’m just far more stoked with it, at literally half the price of the the Vintage.

I have not taken a good picture of it as yet, that will come shortly, the above pic is from the Harley Benton web site; it’s way prettier in person than that.

Soon, i’ll take a crack at replacing the pickup (i’ve never done it, and while it looks easy, i’m waiting til I have enough time to work on it). Meanwhile, I need to give it some more time as is, to see if anything jumps out as cheap. So far, though, it seems like a hell of a lot of guitar for the money. I’ll go into details on which pickup i’m going with in a later post.

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