So, despite saying I was going to hold back on a Les Paul for the time being, I went and did it. I was perusing Craigslist and a PRS Soapbar 2 SE came up for $175, Although I don’t own one, I am a big fan of PRS guitars and getting a solid mahogany, set neck example for less than $200 just seemed too good a chance to pass up. It’s difficult for me to track down the new price for this guitar as it is no longer made, but a similar PRS Single Cut SE is a $600 guitar when new. So $175 seemed an absolute steal for this one. By the way the ‘Soapbar’ name comes from the fact it has a pair of P90-type ‘hot’ single-coil pickups rather than humbuckers. But it’s quite easy to get ‘buckers that fit those slots. P90s have also been used in Les Pauls since the 1950s and punk rockers such as Mick Jones of The Clash actually preferred these examples to the humbucker versions because of their cutting tone.
I exchanged emails with the owner and he agreed I could come and see it, but didn’t specify when or leave a phone number. Then he went quiet. I assume he found another buyer. Would’ve been nice of him to let me know, but he didn’t.
By this time I was of course GASing bad. After a couple of days I began to scour Craigslist again, looking for Les Paul type guitars. I had two criteria; the guitar had to be mahogany with a set neck and less than $200. Ideally with humbuckers, but OK with P90s (like the Soapbar).
This should put me in Epiphone Les Paul Standard territory, but ownership of these budget, Chinese-made Gibson versions seems to indicate a tenuous grasp of reality. Unlike Telecasters there is always quite a few on sale, but the prices sought are usually unrealistic: “No I am not going to pay you $350 for a used guitar I can get for $400 new, even with a ‘deluxe gig bag’ “.
But I found one interesting option; a dude selling a Chinese-made Les Paul copy for $200 including a hard case. Mahogany, set neck. Checked all the boxes.
From the description in the ad it appeared to be a SVK ELPC400. From some sniffing around the web I found out that these guitars seemed to be highly regarded. They’re also no longer made as the manufacturer had been sued by Gibson for copying the Les Paul design too slavishly. When available then they seemed to sell for $350…$400 without a case. Here’s the spec run down which the seller had clearly copied from the importer’s webpage:
SVK Guitars ELP-C400 Single Cutaway Electric Guitar Features:
Set-Neck 50’s Body shape
Solid African Mahogany Body
Canadian Hardrock Maple Neck
1960’S Neck Profile
Bound Indian Rosewood Fingerboard
Thin High 190NS Fretwire Exclusive
Pearl Block Inlays
Bound Top and Back
Two Way Truss Rod
Tune-O-Matic III Die-Cast Bridge Tailpiece
Die-Cast Vintage Tuners
EVJ-Alnico 5800 Humbucker Pickups
The above basically equates to a Les Paul Standard, with the exception of the maple neck. Gibson use mahogony on real LPs. I figured that this would be at least as good as an Epi Standard. Possibly better.
I went to play it, thought it was OK and then tried to haggle. The seller was claiming he had paid over $300 new for the guitar plus another $100 for the case. I was GASing and I caved, giving the guy $200 and took it home.
On opening the case at home I felt sick to my stomach. I’d made a mistake. Because the ad had said ‘set neck’, I hadn’t even noticed that in fact the neck was bolt-on. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid that I hadn’t noticed. After some research I realized that the guitar was actually the slightly cheaper ELP-C300 like this one but in black. Identical specs to the 400 but with a bolt-on neck. Man I was pissed. I only blamed the seller slightly (could even have been an honest mistake, copying the wrong specs to his ad) but I was really angry at myself. The only criteria I was really focusing on was that set neck — supposedly essential to true Les Paul tone, but I hadn’t noticed the bolts. Dammit.
I nearly re-listed the guitar on Craigslist immediately. But then I calmed down a bit. It’s a great looking guitar. It’s in good condition. It has a pair of supposedly Alnico humbuckers and perhaps a fair price for what I got would still have been about $150, so I haven’t done too badly. It’s also a nice addition to the arsenal of guitars. It does sound like a Les Paul. It doesn’t feedback like my other humbucker guitar, the Ibanez Artcore hollowbody. I cracked open the can marked Jimmy Page riffs and started to enjoy it. I then put a lead line on a Garageband track I’d been working on and enjoyed it some more.
So now I figure I’ve got a guitar I quite like. I paid more than I should for it, but it’s not going to kill me. I can also use this as a guitar to experiment with doing home setup and modifications without getting too scared I’m going to damage something valuable. I could even swap out the pickups. Put on a Bigsby tremolo. Whatever I feel like.
Also as a bonus, that slot for a ‘real’ Les Paul style, set-neck all-mahogany guitar still remains open in my collection, waiting to be filled at some point down the line…