When Les Paul walked into the Gibson offices with his solid-body guitar prototype, “The Log”, he probably had no idea he was set to inspire one of the most popular guitars of all time.
Now, nearly 70 years since its original release, the Les Paul is still going strong as ever.
GuitaristNext Door recently got hold of a budget edition of this famed electric—the Epiphone Les Paul Special Vintage Edition—and we detailed the whole experience.
Check out our review of this Epiphone LP Special VE to see if this affordable axe is a good choice for you.
Presenting the Product
You can watch my full in-depth video review of this Les Paul also!
We’ve gotta admit—when some of us here at GND first started playing guitar, we were a little snobbish about brands like Epiphone and Squier. Not that our starter guitars were any better, but we just had this stupid idea in that these were Gibson and Fender knock-offs.
Well, years have passed and we know a lot better now. These aren’t knock-offs; they’re reproductions, and damn good ones at that.
Nowadays, most of us would consider ourselves lucky to have a nice Epiphone, and my test-drive of this new Les Paul Special VE has sold me on that even further.
Like every low-cost guitar, this one’s got its share of problems. But, I think anyone wanting an LP to call their own will have a good time with the fat, smooth tones of the Vintage Edition.
Epiphone Les Paul Special VE specs:
Body type: Solidbody
Body shape: Les Paul
Body wood: Poplar
Neck wood: Mahogany
Neck shape: 60s Slim-Taper D = Comfortable, Best fit for rhythm and riffs in my opinion
Scale length: 24.75 inches = Shorter-scale reduces string tension, less finger-strenght is required to play the axe
Nut width: 1.6875 inches = Best fit for rhythm and riffs in my opinion
Fretboard material: Rosewood
Fretboard radius: 14 inches = Pretty flat, easy to move your hands around
Number of frets: 22
Pickups: Neck: 650R humbucker; Bridge 700T humbucker = Great pickups in my opinion!
Bridge: Tune-o-matic fixed bridge
Tuners: Premium covered, 14:1 ratio = The Worst thing about this guitar!
Things to Consider Before Buying an Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
If you’re in the market for your first electric, the Epi LP Special VE is a great starter guitar.
There aren’t many guitars under $200 that sound and play better than this model. It offers all the tone and playability you need to learn to shred.
Even more-experienced players like myself can get good use out of this Epiphone. I’m not really playing out these days, so I’d definitely buy this low-cost Les Paul before I’d go for a Gibson.
Is it the best beginner guitar around? Maybe not, at least not for every player.
Its issues, though few, can be annoying to deal with right from the start. But, even if it does go out of tune easily, I wouldn’t say any of its problems are deal-breakers.
So whether you’re a musical newcomer or a seasoned stage vet, let’s see what this heritage Epiphone can offer you.
Epiphone Les Paul Special Vintage Edition VE Review
I know not everyone will agree with me on this, but I think this simple-looking guitar is stunning.
This particular model sports an all-black, low-gloss finish on all parts: headstock, neck, and body.
The finish is called Vintage Worn Ebony and is made to look like a guitar that’s seen some action.
It’s not a flashy hotrod kind of axe, but anyone who’s into more austere vibes will appreciate its simple beauty.
The rugged black is punctuated by the Special’s gleaming chrome bridge and open-coil humbuckers.
This silver shine is especially bright against the body’s muted darkness and looks great. It makes you wonder why Epiphone didn’t use more attractive control knobs to complete the effect. I’d definitely change these knobs for something that looks (and feels) better.
If my Les Paul Special VE looks too plain for you, don’t worry! You can get this model in other Vintage Worn finishes including Sunburst and Cherry Sunburst.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the hardware on this guitar.
It comes armed with a vintage-style fixed Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece. This is a great feature of Les Pauls that lets you adjust each string saddle.
Why is this important? Adjusting the saddles allows you to intonate your guitar to near-perfection so your axe can sound its best. You can learn more about Tune-o-matic bridges here.
Both these pieces seem dependable and sturdy and score big points for this LP.
The tone and volume knobs are alright, though nothing to brag about. The plastic they’re made of feels a little cheap, but what matters is that they work.
One of my worries when I get a budget guitar is that it will have low-quality frets. On some guitars, fret quality can be downright terrible.
Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue with my Epiphone. Each of its 22 medium-jumbo frets is as smooth as I’d hoped for.
Now, onto the worst part of this guitar…
The tuning machines are quite bad. Epiphone, if you’re reading this, do better!
Yeah, they’re not as bad as plastic tuners like you’d find on an actual toy guitar, but they are annoyingly loose.
Who wants to tune their guitar every other song? Not me! In order to play this guitar in the long run, I’ll eventually have to upgrade these tuners.
They’re this guitar’s biggest problem, and bring my rating of the hardware all the way down to 2.5 out of 5 stars.
And the reason I wait for more from tuners of this? Because I tested 5 different electric guitars under $200, and tuners of this Epi were easily the worst.
Something you’ll commonly find in a lot of low-price electric guitars is poor electrical work. So of course I had to open up this LP’s back panel to take a look at the wiring.
Fortunately for me, the techs at Epiphone did a good job with this axe. All the connections look strong and clean, so I’m not expecting any issues there.
You can see some signs of hasty wiring in the toggle-switch, but it doesn’t seem to have led to any functionality problems.
Turning the knobs and flipping the pickup selector switch is as smooth and crackle-free as it should be. The only thing I would have asked for here is to have a volume and tone knob for each pickup instead of the master controls.
Maybe my favorite thing about this guitar is its pickup offering. In the Les Paul Special Vintage Edition, you get the Epiphone 650R and 700T, which are surprisingly powerful pups.
They run hot and provide the classic, warm tone LPs are known for.
These are actually the same pickups you’ll get in Epiphone models costing $100 more than the Special VE, making this a great-sounding starter guitar.
Factoring in its overall cost:value ratio, I’m rating this guitar’s electronics 5-stars.
Watch the unboxing of this guitar here:
You might think that since they’re mass-produced, these Les Pauls won’t be put together very well.
Fact is, Epiphone didn’t become one of the world’s most successful guitar manufacturers by producing low-quality instruments.
The LP Special, aside from just a few small flaws, has terrific construction considering its cost.
What really keeps this guitar’s price down is the body wood choice. They picked poplar, which is a downgrade from the mahogany bodies you’ll find on Epiphone’s higher-end models.
However, they still included the authentic mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard—one of the signature traits of vintage Les Pauls.
Aside from the bad tuning machines I already mentioned, I only found a couple other things wrong with this guitar.
The most minor issue is a small crack inside the cavity behind the backplate. With its hidden, out-of-the-way location, I don’t see this expanding into anything to stress about.
These frets are made well, but they’re not set into the guitar very precisely. Their heights are a bit uneven over the course of the fretboard, which caused some buzzing when I first played it.
The easiest solution to this problem is simply to raise the action, so I did that to get rid of the fret buzz. But sacrificing string height for no fret noise isn’t a choice I would normally want to make.
I guess I could take it to a tech to be refretted, but I don’t know if I want to put that much extra money into a budget model like this.
Overall, none of these build quality flaws are deal-breakers, and I’m happy to focus on the good things like its smooth-playing rosewood fretboard.
There are several features of the Les Paul Special VE that make it a fun guitar to play.
It didn’t exactly come playable out of the box, but it was ready to go after a tuning and some action adjustment.
Like I was just saying, I love its rosewood fingerboard. Epiphone might have cut a few corners in other areas, but at least they gave us the best fretboard a guitarist can ask for.
The nut width is a little bit narrow, but there’s still plenty of room for fingerpicking.
Fretting is really nice for two reasons:
- The Medium-Jumbo frets give a really smooth playing feel that makes note-bending and riffing a piece of cake. You can read this if you’re confused about fret sizes.
- The shorter scale length lowers string tension, so your fingers don’t have to press down as hard.
You can just about do it all on this axe—tapping, slapping, fingerpicking, flat-picking, and on.
However, the playability isn’t perfect, and I would change one or two things about it if I could.
The first thing I noticed was that the fret edges stick past the fingerboard just a bit. It’s not bad enough to be a real problem—I might have expected worse—but it does catch me up a little.
The other thing I don’t like, and actually my biggest problem with the playability, is the finish of the neck.
The neck’s got the same Vintage Worn finish as the body and just doesn’t feel smooth on my palm. It’s somewhat rough and doesn’t have the silky, fast-playing feel I love.
After checking out every other detail of my new Epiphone, I was super excited to plug it in and see what it could do.
I hooked it up to my Roland Micro Cube GX and tested it out in all 3 pickup configurations in lots of different styles.
Of course, I wasn’t expecting Gibson-quality tones—Epiphone pickups and mass-manufacturing QC wouldn’t quite be able to pull that off—but I really liked what this guitar delivered.
Every note I played sang sweet, warm, and resonant. The highs might be a bit harsher than I’d prefer, but for the most part, I thought it was really well-balanced.
Distorted, it definitely has enough crunch for rock, punk, and even metal to some degree. There are better guitars for metal at this price range, but you can still pull some heavy stuff off with the Special VE.
It’s the cleans where this guitar really shines. They manage to both be articulate but fluid at the same time—really pleasing and harmonious.
So if you play softer styles like blues, jazz, folk, or country, this axe would be a great budget choice.
Here are a couple of graphs that highlight the those of this guitar:
Tones that pickups offer in my opinion:
Tones that tonewoods offer in my opinion:
I’ll say it one more time—the tuners of this guitar are the worst thing about this axe!
Aside from that, I really have no major complaints about this LP. It’s a great-sounding electric that you can use in basically any style of music.
If you don’t mind tuning a lot (or if you’re down to get these tuning machines swapped out), this Epiphone is an excellent electric guitar for beginners.
It would rank a lot higher with me, but the low-quality tuners land it a final rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars.
It’s not perfect, and there are a few things I would change about it, but I’d say the Les Paul Special VE is definitely worth the money.
Where Is the Epiphone Les Paul Special Vintage Edition VE Made?
Nowadays, all Epiphone guitars except the Elitist series are made in China.
Does that mean they’re inferior to guitars made elsewhere? Definitely not!
China is home to guitar factories for most major brands, and tons of respectable guitars ship from there every year.
What matters isn’t where the Les Paul Special VE is made, but how it’s made. And in my opinion, it’s made quite well.
What’s the Difference Between the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE and Similar Guitars?
Guitars around this price can vary in pretty much every way. Even from Epiphone model to Epiphone model, you’ll find different woods for every part, different pickups, different controls, etc.
Here’s a quick overview of how the Special VE compares to some similar guitars:
Epiphone Les Paul Special Vintage Edition vs. Epiphone Les Paul 100
My Special VE is one of the most affordable Epiphones around these days, which is obviously a big selling point.
Higher quality Epis, like the Les Paul 100, can easily cost hundreds of dollars more. And that doesn’t even mean everything about them is an upgrade!
For instance, the LP 100 gives you a body wood upgrade from poplar to mahogany. But at the same time, the neck material changes from mahogany to lower-grade okoume.
Both guitars use the same pickups, but the 100 has those dual volume and tone controls I wish the VE had.
Epiphone Les Paul Special VE vs. ESP LTD EC-10
A strong competitor of the Special VE is the ESP LTD EC-10.
Both guitars under $200 with Les Paul-style bodies, the differences are hard to tell at first glance.
The EC-10 subs basswood for the body and maple for the neck which would make it a somewhat fatter, brighter guitar than the VE.
The EC-10’s neck finish is much smoother than the Les Paul’s, but its engineered wood fretboard can’t compare to the LP’s rosewood.
You’ll find much better hardware in the ESP LTD EC-10—its tuners are high-grade and actually hold pitch, for starters.
Its pickups are more powerful than the Epiphone’s, making it a better guitar for metal. However, I still think the LP VE has a better clean voice.
What Others Are Saying
Some consider the Special Vintage Edition to be one the best Epiphone Les Paul there is…at least for the money.
Though I can’t say I fully agree, it’s a guitar I’m happy to have purchased.
The general consensus seems to be that this is a guitar well worth the money. Its easy playability, quality construction, and beefy humbucker-driven tone make it a prized starter electric guitar.
Most seem to agree that the tuners need an upgrade. And the occasional damaged guitar does get past Epiphone’s QC, leading to a few disappointed buyers.
But all in all, the Epiphone Les Paul Special Vintage Edition is a highly rated budget guitar.
ESP LTD EC-10
If you’re more of a hard rocker than a classic rocker, you might prefer the ESP LTD EC-10 over the Bullet Stratocaster.
The EC-10’s got dual humbuckers and a black single-cut body built for high-gain.
Although it shreds well and rocks out hard, the ESP’s cleans fall far short of the Bullet’s.
You can read my review about this axe here.
- Basswood Body, Maple Neck, Bolt-On Neck Construction
- Rosewood Fingerboard, TOM Bridge & Tailpiece, 42mm Nut...
- 24.75" Scale, 24 XJ Frets, Vol/Tone/Toggle Switch
- Passive ESP Designed LH-100N(neck), & LH-100B(bridge)...
- LTD Tuners, Chrome Hardware
In my search for the best electric guitar under $200, the Les Paul Special VE was a fun shred-machine that I’m happy to add to my collection.
It puts the power of classic rock and a touch of musical heritage into the hands of beginners at a bargain price.
Though not my favorite axe, I’ll be jamming on the Special VE for quite a while.