Les Paul Copies: Are Gibsons Good Enough?

By Editorial Team •  Updated: 02/11/23 •  14 min read
Les Paul copies can be as good as Gibsons. Learn the key differences.

When I first heard about Les Paul copies, I was floored.

Why would someone take such an iconic, nearly perfect guitar and recreate it? Further, why on earth would anyone want to play a copy over the real thing?

Believe it or not, the reasons are quite convincing.

Gibson Les Paul vs Les Paul Copy: The Differences

Definitively summarizing every specific difference between Gibson Les Pauls and their copies wouldn’t take hours—it would take days. The simple truth is that not all Les Paul copies are created equal; each copy is created for its own purpose, with specific tonal, aesthetic, and budgetary goals in mind. Because of this, there is no single objective list of the differences between copies and real Gibsons.

That being said, here are some common areas where genuine Les Pauls can differ from their copies, and how these differences change the character of the guitar:

Why Are Gibson Les Pauls Copied?

As it turns out, the motives behind making Les Paul copies actually do make some sense.

There are three main reasons to copy a Les Paul: 1) to enhance or achieve a particular sound; 2) to customize aesthetics; 3) to meet a certain buyer budget.

It’s important to note that while we’ve broken these down into three separate categories, usually Les Pauls are copied due to a combination of all these reasons.


Sound is undoubtedly the biggest driver behind the creation of Les Paul copies. While the Les Paul is known for its versatility, some advanced musicians have developed extremely specific tastes and tonal preferences.

With a customized Les Paul copy, the desirable aspects of an original Gibson model can be mostly preserved, and additional tonal requirements can be met.

For electric guitars, wood type, body style, and internal components (like pickups and wiring harness) are the primary sculptors of the sonic landscape. In particular, they impact tone, volume and sustain.

Later on in this article, we will examine three of the most popular Les Paul copies, going into more detail about how exactly these changes affect the guitar’s sound.


The Gibson Les Paul is elegantly classic, quintessentially American; and this is one of the reasons it is so beloved in the musical world.

But, for obvious reasons, not all guitarists want this to be their look. In our article about what makes the Les Paul so special, we talked about its unique ability to be used in almost any genre. Take heavy metal as an example: many of these guitarists don’t want to sacrifice the Les Paul’s performance, but want a darker, more modern-looking guitar in order to complement the rest of their act.

Queue a custom-made, jet-black Les Paul copy to make even the most pious metalheads stumble in temptation.


A much less exciting reason to make a Les Paul copy, buyer budget is an important factor nonetheless. With a new Les Paul Standard going for around $2,800 from Gibson, it’s clear that not all guitarists (especially beginners) are able to take this plunge.

Usually due to international manufacturing and cheaper materials, some Les Paul copies do a wonderful job of providing the buyer with a comparable sound for a much cheaper price tag.

Types of Les Paul Copies

Les Paul copy next to a 1957 GIbson Les Paul Junior.
Les Paul Copy next to a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Jr.

At this point, we can at the very least justify the existence of Les Paul copies.

But now let’s take a deeper look into how the sonic, aesthetic, and budgetary considerations actually play out in three of the most common types of Les Paul copies: Heritage Guitars, Epiphone, and Made in Japan (MIJ) Les Pauls.

Heritage Les Pauls

Maybe not-so-shockingly, Heritage Guitars was founded in 1985 by three former Gibson employees. Since it’s a much smaller operation than Gibson, Heritage has always put an emphasis on careful, handmade guitar construction.

By far the most famous Heritage guitar is the H-150 solid body. It is blatantly obvious to even the most casual guitarist that this model was created unashamedly as a Les Paul copy. What are the benefits of using an H-150? Proponents cite a higher general build quality and better body construction, with resulting tonal changes (or perhaps improvements).

Key Differences


Out of the three Les Paul copies discussed in this article, the Heritage Guitars H-150 is arguably the closest to the actual Gibson Les Paul. Differences are small, and they affect the guitar’s performance and tone only minimally.

The H-150 has a higher build quality and subsequently different (some would say better) tonal qualities. Pricing starts at $2,600.

Epiphone Les Pauls

Believe it or not, Epiphone was founded way back in 1873, in the country of Turkey. Come 1957, Epiphone was purchased by Gibson; that’s why the company is legally permitted to call its copy a Les Paul—because, in a sense, it is!

The Epiphone Les Paul is well known for being a budget alternative to the original Gibson Les Paul, with the Standard model going for around $900. Undoubtedly, guitar quality suffers as a result—but this doesn’t mean you should immediately cross it off your list.

Key Differences


The Epiphone Les Paul is an excellent budget alternative to the Gibson Les Paul. Aesthetically, it’s difficult to tell the difference between these two guitars, and to a beginner guitarist, the general playability and tones of each guitar would seem quite similar. That is, until you look at the headstock.

Still, there’s a reason the Epiphone Les Paul is almost $2,000 cheaper than the Gibson; the lower quality of materials used inevitably affects tone and performance in a negative way.

Made In Japan Les Pauls

A ‘Made in Japan’ (MIJ) Les Paul is not a specific model. The term refers broadly to any Les Paul copy that was made (you guessed it!) in Japan. Edwards, Tokai, and Greco are examples of companies that produce MIJ Les Pauls.

These MIJ Les Paul copies are actually quite popular in the guitarist scene, as they offer some of the best value-for-money Les Paul copies in the world. As can be expected, each brand offers its own unique take on the iconic Gibson.

Key Differences


While quality tends to vary from guitar to guitar, it is well known within the guitarist ‘inner circle’ that the above companies have created some of the most superb Les Paul copies, many with exceptionally high degrees of similarity to some original Gibson models.

Overall, these MIJ Les Paul copies provide what are perhaps some of the best value-for-money copies on the market today.

Guitarists That Play Les Paul Copies

Here is where things really got interesting for me.

As it turns out, a Les Paul copy is not just a ‘hack’ solution for cheap guitarists looking to cut corners and save money. Check out these famous guitarists who use Les Paul copies, and prepare to be surprised.

Les Paul Copies vs Les Paul Replicas

As mentioned above, Slash technically plays a Les Paul replica, not a Les Paul copy. What’s the difference? Basically, it’s a matter of the specificity and intent of duplication.

A Les Paul replica is an individual guitar that was created for the express purpose of perfectly duplicating an existing Gibson Les Paul, down to the exact model and year. To take Slash as an example, every minute detail of his Les Paul replica was modeled exactly after the most-sought-after Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard.

On the other hand, a Les Paul copy refers to one out of an entire line of guitars, all manufactured to imitate the look, feel, and features of the Les Paul line in general. As we have seen, some Les Paul copies have striking degrees of similarity to the original Gibsons, while others tend to deviate more.

No Gibson replicas or copies are to be confused with the infamous Chibson line of guitars, which are quite literally illegal counterfeit Gibsons. These differ from the copies and replicas discussed in this article in that they actually use the Gibson name and branding with the intent of deceiving the buyer.

The Final Verdict: Are Les Paul Copies Worth Your Time and Money?

When I first learned about Les Paul copies, I wondered why anyone would trouble themselves with buying one—much less manufacturing one!

But because some of these copies are of such high quality, and some come with a much lower price tag, I’ve lately been turning over the opposite question: are real Gibsons even worth it?
The answer? It’s up to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What guitar sounds most like a Les Paul?

In terms of sound, the Heritage Guitars H-150 is arguably the closest to a real Gibson Les Paul. Other contenders include the Made in Japan Les Paul copies, from brands like Edwards, Tokai and Greco.

Who else makes Les Paul guitars?

A stunning quantity of Les Paul copies have been created over the years, by companies such as Heritage Guitars, Epiphone, Edwards, Tokai, and Greco. However, Epiphone is the only company besides Gibson that can be said to produce real Les Pauls.

Is an Epiphone Les Paul a real Les Paul?

Because Epiphone has been owned by Gibson since 1957, the Epiphone Les Paul is considered to be a real Les Paul. However, that does not mean it sounds or plays the same as a Gibson.

Are Epiphone Les Pauls as good as Gibsons?

The Epiphone Les Paul uses cheaper materials than the Gibson model, and they’re typically made in China. As such, it is generally considered to be inferior in both sound and playability to a Gibson Les Paul.

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