For plenty of players, the search for that eternal soul mate of a guitar can sometimes feel like an endless quest. A little perspective often helps to narrow the field, though, as does the acceptance of the old “different horses for different courses” theory. Obviously, given their druthers, everyone would play a Historic Series 1960 Les Paul Standard VOS or Custom Shop Class 5 Quilt Top, right? Not necessarily. And that’s the beauty of the electric guitar: certain models might indeed be acknowledged as the epitome of their breed, but that doesn’t mean that these are the right guitars for every player. That’s why Gibson offers the variety that it does, both in accurate replications of vintage models and updated or “hotrodded” designs suited to the full gamut of modern playing styles.

Billie Joe Armstrong

Take a moment to break it down and you quickly realize that more diverse elements contribute to forming your opinion of a guitar than of perhaps any other item of consumer goods. And I guess that’s partly because a guitar isn’t just another piece of consumer goods: it’s a companion, a confidant, a partner in creative expression. As such it needs to have a sound that suits your style, with enough sonic versatility to offer some mileage; needs too feel right to your left hand, your right hand, your lap and your shoulder; and needs to appeal to your aesthetic sense. In short, you need to dig it inside and out, frontward and backwards. Given all these variables, it’s extremely important to seek out the guitar that’s the best guitar in the world for you. Don’t just grab the guitar that someone else tells you is the “best one made,” or get a guitar just like your hero’s, or the one that merely looks the coolest, or that got the best review in the magazines last month. Play, listen, clear your mind of all preconceptions, then play and listen some more. Does it sound right? Does it feel right? If the answer to both is “yes” you’re on the right track.

Both feel and sound are subjective, although, if you’ll permit me an inexactitude here, feel is rather more subjective than sound. While one player might declare that the fuller, more rounded profile of the Historic 1958 Les Paul Standard’s neck makes for the most playable guitar on the planet, you might get along better with the slimmer neck on the Historic 1960 Les Paul Standard (one reason the Gibson USA Les Paul Standard is available with both neck tapers). Or, you might find you prefer that slimmer neck feel partnered with the slimmer, lighter body of the ’61 SG Reissue. As for tone, although the sound of any guitar has to appeal first and foremost to its player (and he or she is the final judge whether that’s a “good” or a “bad” sound), if you get a collection of sharp-eared musicians together in a room they can often agree pretty closely on a range of tones from inferior to superior—even when all are “different.”

Tom Delonge

There’s a common misconception afloat that if you put the same make of pickups and style of hardware on two different guitars made largely of the same wood, but in different styles, they’ll come out sounding much the same. The truth is, every aspect of a guitar’s construction affects its sound. Factors such as neck attachment, neck thickness, wood combinations, and even body shape all play their part in determining a guitar’s voice. Which goes to say that just because the Les Paul Studio, SG GT, and Les Paul Goddess all have a 498T humbucker in the lead position and a tune-o-matic bridge doesn’t mean they’re going to sound the same. Not by a long shot. But they’ll all sound superlative if they prove to be the right guitar for you.

Assess a range of name players, even those plying the same genre, and it’s easy to see that their choice of creative tool is dictated as much by their own personal desires as by the requirements of the music they play. Both Billie Joe Armstrong and Tom DeLonge play fierce, raging contemporary punk, but they do it on two very different Gibsons, the Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Junior and ES-335-inspired Tom DeLonge Signature respectively. Looked at from the flipside, both Steve Howe and Herb Ellis are inextricably associated with the ES-175, but use the template to produce inspiringly different music. Of course, put a vintage-inspired Les Paul in the hands of virtuoso riff-rockers Jimmy Page, Warren Haynes, or Joe Perry and they’re all perfectly content, so maybe even the soundest theories have their exceptions. Then again, they do at least prefer different colors.