Something of an 'about time' ukulele review this one. The Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele has been around for a few years now, and although I have played many of them, I just haven't seemed to have one long enough to write a detailed review up. It must also be said, this musical instrument was probably the one that was most requested as a review on Got A Ukulele. Now is that time, and I suspect this one will divide opinions.
The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele, as the name suggests, is an instrument designed to look like the iconic Gibson Les Paul shape guitar. I feel I should get one thing out of the way before getting into the meat of this review. I don't like the concept of making ukuleles look like famous guitars. They are not guitars. They are ukuleles. Why not come up with novel designs that are original? I get that this is going to be highly subjective, but it's just me. I mean, as ukulele players we all have to deal with the claptrap that is 'oh it's just a small toy guitar', so why play a uke that looks, well, like a small toy guitar? I think the style of it, whilst clearly 'Les Paul' in design looks a bit silly. It's not Les Paul guitar - Les Pauls are big heavy things. To me this is just a novelty. Glad to get that off my chest.
So, we have a Les Paul shape and this one is in Heritage Cherry Sunburst. They are also available in 'Vintage Sunburst' which loses the red colour and replaces it with brown. They come in at about £90 in the UK and are in concert scale.
But when we get in to the detail there are one or two things that just jar with me. First of all, let's look at that top. Shiny, sparkly and with a stripy flame that is, I admit, quite eye catching. Epiphone bill it as 'grade AAA flame maple' yet it is also laminate. Hang on... As my readers will know, I am not one of those who sneers at laminate and to be fair to Epiphone, they do make it clear that it is laminate, but to call it grade AAA? I don't buy that. That sort of terminology should, in my opinion, be reserved for solid woods of the highest calibre. The fancy flamed outer of this instrument is just an extremely thin veneer stuck on to a piece of plywood. Grade AAA? And that laminate is thick thick thick. Sorry, just because the outer (which for all intents and purposes could be a photograph sticker) looks like flamed maple, that doesn't make this grade AAA tone wood in my book. What we have is a thick laminate top, but albeit one that looks pretty.
The top is attached to what Epiphone call a 'solid mahogany body'. Ah, that 'solid' word, but again, a misnomer here. The body is indeed made from mahogany, with a deep red colour, but it's made from various pieces of mahogany. Blocks of mahogany in fact as this body is not constructed in a traditional ukulele way. Like the top, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that, but I think the 'solid' word misleads. It's all marketing speak and I don't much care for it. There is nothing incorrect in the words Epiphone use but for 'grade AAA' and 'solid' read 'grade AAA veneer on plywood' and 'solid chunks of mahogany glued together into a guitar shape'.
So the body creates kind of a swimming pool type chamber on to which the laminate top is laid. And looking inside the sound hole the chamber actually isn't that big. The sides of this are not thin at all. Reaching in with my finger I would estimate they are about 1cm thick. The top and body are all finished in gloss and nicely done too with no flaws that I could find. The joint between the top and body is bound with a cream edge binding. Elsewhere on the top we have a rosewood looking slotted bridge with a plastic saddle, and a cream plastic 'pick guard'. I really don't like the pick guard. I know it's there to mimic the guitar, but Les Paul pick guards don't look like that and I think this one would look better without it.
Oh, and then we have a sound hole - not something you see on Les Paul guitars but more on that later!
On the base of the body we have a strap button and a jack socket mounting in an offset position and faced in chrome. That's right - this instrument has a pickup, and a passive one at that, meaning no need for batteries.
Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany and also finished in a deep red gloss. The neck appears to be in two pieces, jointed about halfway along and has quite a chunky D shaped profile that I like. What I dislike though is that it's on the narrow side. The neck is joined to the body with four chrome bolts.
The fingerboard sits on the neck and is made of rosewood which is nice and even in colour. We have 19 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body and all are finished nicely with no rough edges. We have inlaid pearloid fret markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th spaces and these are repeated on the side. I found that an odd choice for marker positions myself, and certainly don't see a need for one at the 3rd. They are also dots, and think this would have looked far nicer if they were trapezoid markers like on higher end Gibson guitars, but we can't have everything...
Past the plastic nut we have a typical Epiphone Les Paul shaped headstock (in a symmetrical scroll shape) faced in black gloss. The Epiphone logo and ubiquitous Les Paul signature are applied in gold transfer and look 'OK' but nothing special.
The tuners are open gears in chrome with vintage shaped buttons. They are nice enough but would have preferred something more akin to the Kluson Tulip shaped tuners on vintage Gibsons to really set this off. On the back of the headstock are more stickers that you can shake a stick at (serial number, QC check and the label stating proudly that it is Made In Indonesia). Completing the deal are some black unnamed glossy strings (GHS?) and a reasonable zippered gig bag with the Epiphone logo and front pocket.
So all in all, a nicely finished ukulele but one that I don't think is quite what you think it is. If you are a fan of the Les Paul guitar and absolutely must have a miniature version, then you probably already own one and nothing I write will matter. And, hey, it's £90. But that low price does make these very attractive to new players and I see this instrument named as a recommendation from many players to beginners. On that basis, I need to delve a bit deeper!
Setup and action at both the bridge and nut are good. It's a very playable instrument. The neck is too narrow for my tastes, but will be perfectly acceptable to many. It's not overly heavy (unlike the guitar equivalent!) and nicely balanced in the hands. It's a nice thing to hold.
Let's try it unplugged first of all. And that is the first major disappointment. If they set out to make this sound like the proverbial toy guitar, then they succeeded. This has an incredibly thin tone, with very low volume and little sustain. In fact, exactly the sort of 'plinky' cheap sound that some people expect the ukulele to have. I really don't have much good to say about it in this department. I put it down to the overly thick top and relatively small sound chamber inside the body - there just isn't enough instrument to resonate.
Some people may say 'but it's great for quiet practice'. Perhaps, but why not ditch the sound hole altogether and make this a solid body? You could still have quiet practice or use a headphone amp plus the instrument would look more like a Les Paul, which as I say, don't have sound holes! You would never be heard playing this at a jam session or club alongside other more traditional acoustic instruments, and what you can hear is very one dimensional. What staggers me is that I regularly see 'reviews' of these where people claim the acoustic tone is pretty good. No it really isn't. For me, they should have made this as a solid body and then I would have had no grounds to complain. For those who may say, 'but it's not designed to be an acoustic' I would reply with two things. 'Then why put a sound hole in it?' And, 'It better sound good plugged in then!'.
So, I could forgive it on the acoustic front if it then shines through an amplifier. Yet, I am afraid to say, it doesn't. Again, I see many people review these claiming that they have a great tone. I can only assume those people have not played anything better. And I am not talking high cost here, just better pickups generally. The tone for me is muddy, slightly noisy and worst of all, uneven across the strings. It's just a louder version of the acoustic tone and therefore totally lacking in sustain or character. And here is the thing. Over the years I have played a few of these and they all suffered in the same way. I have also had my hands on one and tried to adjust the pickup and that really showed me where the problem lay. The pickup Epiphone use in these is cheap cheap cheap. Basically the cheapest I have seen - a basic Piezo braid that is thick, doesn't sit well under the saddle (hence the uneven sound issue) and and just sounds plain nasty. Sure, through a 2.5W battery amp you may have some giggles, but I couldn't ever imagine performing with this though anything else and being pleased with the sound. Don't get me wrong, it makes a noise. It just doesn't make a particularly pleasing one. The tone of something like the Risa Uke Solid leaves this in the dust, and in reality those instruments are not hugely more expensive.
I've tried it through a variety of pre-amps, EQ's and into a couple of very nice acoustic amplifiers and whilst I can improve the tone with some tweaking it is still quite noisy, incoherent and uneven with a lack of any sustain. Perhaps you could change the pickup, but really, why would you? And in reality, who is going to buy a £90 ukulele and then part with more money for a £200 EQ pre-amp and a £300 amplifier just to improve the tone? They missed an opportunity here and I just think it could have been so much more.
For me it is a classic case of Epiphone jumping on the ukulele bandwagon. I like the Epiphone brand and just think they could have done better here (or could have introduced a great acoustic ukulele of their own). It seems to trade only on the looks. 'All mouth and no trousers' as the saying goes. Style over substance. I can almost forgive it the lack of acoustic tone if it then did the one thing it needed to do, well. Yet it doesn't. Which leaves me with something of a novelty and nothing else.
This tuned out to be one of the most divisive reviews I have written. I had a number of people accuse me of just having an 'issue' with Epiphone as a brand. I consider that strange when the two instruments below are both mine, both Epiphones and both sublime. I love Epiphone. No - the Les Paul Ukulele is just a very disappointing instrument..
Be sure to check out my other ukulele reviews here!
Looks (if you like miniature guitars!)
General build and finish
Zero acoustic tone
Terrible plugged in tone
Questionable product marketing speak
Looks - 8
Fit and Finish - 8
Sound - 5
Value For Money - 7
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.1 out of 10
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
AND - Sound comparison against other beginner ukuleles
© Barry Maz