Thursday, May 17, 2012

Les Paul Standard Faded | The Best Sounding Les Paul Ever Made?

If you've been following my account of Sherman's Les Paul Quest, his most recent investigations into finding his ultimate Les Paul led him to Larry Corsa of Corsa Guitars.

From what I understand, Larry Corsa started his custom business by purchasing stock Les Paul Standard Faded guitars and modifying them to 'Peter Green specs'. This meant stripping the 'faded' finish off the guitars, respraying with new paint and applying a nitrocellulose gloss or semi-gloss coat, depending on the customer's requirement. The neck pickup was also reverse mounted and the electronics reconfigured for that distinctive Peter Green humbucker-out-of-phase tone.

Gibson intended the Les Paul Standard Faded to be more modestly priced than their glossy, more expensive counterparts. Far less work went into their finishes and the guitars left the factory with dull, matte, sunburst finishes that looked liked they hadn't been applied with much enthusiasm or attention to detail. But according to Larry, this turned out to be a major plus, tone-wise, making the Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded the best sounding Les Paul ever made!

And his rationale is simple, and sound.

In order to achieve a mirror-like gloss finish, the pores in the mahogany that make up the back of Les Paul guitars need to be filled with wood filler before being stained and sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer. The downside to applying wood filler to achieve a perfectly smooth finish was that it also severely dampened the guitar's resonance and tone. And since the Les Paul Standard Faded did not receive the same wood filler treatment, they ended being far more resonant than the standard, glossy Les Pauls.

This is Larry Corsa's response to an email enquiry from Sherman, which makes for a very interesting read:

"Believe me, despite all the hype and myths about the tone of Les Pauls, the truth is very few sound good, and even the best sounding ones can’t compare to the Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded because it was finished correctly – not on purpose, but to be a 'cheaper' version of a Les Paul Standard – but they are now discontinued.

The reason the Les Pauls you have played did nothing for you is because they are mostly just mediocre sounding.. People will spend huge sums of money on an Historic, not knowing that, from its birth, it’s tone has been severely compromised because of the way it is finished. Manufacturers have conditioned people to look for guitars that resemble high quality furniture in looks, with no regard for what they actually sound like.

The simple fact is, a Les Paul type guitar has a mahogany body and neck, which is a true “tone” wood, if used properly. The maple top is not 'tone wood', as people often say. However, it does have a purpose, other than looks, on my guitars. Very simply -- and this fact is either not apparent to guitar makers, or they simply ignore it in favor of making 'normal' looking guitars -- when builders force grain filler into the pores (grain) of mahogany, the natural resonance, which is responsible for the sustain, is destroyed.

Back in 2007, when I discovered the Les Paul Standard Faded and experienced how perfect they were in tone, resonance and sustain (all essential to getting the best Peter Green out of phase tone), I didn’t understand WHY they were superior to all other Les Pauls I have ever owned or played, and I have owned around 15 original 50’s Bursts and PAF Gold Tops. I originally had four Standard Fadeds, all totally superior guitars. I then started buying more, and converting them to my LCPG (Ed. note: Larry Corsa-Peter Green) specs.

corsa guitars PGGM
Corsa PGGM - Peter Green, Green Manalishi
It became obvious to me that the only thing different about these guitars was the fact that they had no grain filler in the mahogany. That’s all! All parts the same as any other USA Standard, except for how it was finished. Over the next few years, I converted more than 250 of these guitars and shipped them all over the world to Peter Green fans.

Corsa guitars
Larry Corsa (right) with Corsa guitar owners 
Alas, sometime in 2008, Gibson decided to discontinue the guitar, even though some Gibson sales reps told me the Les Paul Standard Faded was the best selling Les Paul in the line that year. People started to catch on that, for way less than half the cost of an Historic, they can have a Les Paul that destroys anything else in tone. I am fairly convinced that Fadeds cut into the sales of the more expensive Les Pauls, and that is the true reason they discontinued them."

With the discontinuation of the Les Paul Standard Faded models by Gibson, Larry Corsa is building his own line of guitars which you can read about at www.corsaguitars.com


Read more about Sherman's Les Paul Quest Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
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