Not many players today like to struggle with the back-breaking weight of an overly heavy guitar, but relatively fewer realize that relieving the load can very often also have positive consequences on an instrument’s sound. Gibson first put unseen routes, or “chambers,” in some Les Paul bodies purely as a weight-reduction measure at a time when adequately light stocks of mahogany were difficult to come by. Today, however, the craftsmen at Gibson USA take a more holistic view of the construction process, with the awareness that every change to the formula will have repercussions on an instrument’s sound. The result is a synchronicity of weight and tone that benefits the customer from whichever angle you approach it.
“Back in the early 1980s, when Gibson started weight relieving the Les Paul models, there was not a specific rhyme or reason to the weight-relief holes,” says Frank Johns of Gibson USA. Lately, however, Gibson has refined the process considerably. “We wanted to focus on a more scientific approach to weight relieving our guitars, to update the design to give it more of a purpose with both tone and weight in mind.”
The chambering process applied to many Les Paul models in the Gibson USA range results in guitars that appear entirely “solid,” yet benefit from this finely tuned approach to weight reduction. In fact, a guitarist could play one of these models for years and never realize there was air within that solid tonewood. To achieve this cutting-edge form of weight relief, Gibson carves carefully mapped-out chambers in the solid mahogany backs of applicable Les Pauls using a CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) Router before the maple top is glued on. The positioning of these routes has been determined through close examination of the resonant characteristics of the Les Paul—so as well as taking the kinks out of your back and shoulder, these lighter Gibsons also display further nuances of tone that aren’t found in a heavier, solid-mahogany-backed guitar.
Of course, Johns reminds us, “no two guitars sound or react the same,” even side-by-side examples of the same model, which is part of the beauty and appeal of a finely crafted instrument. But taking the chambered Les Pauls as a whole, Johns says some common threads emerge as a result of the process: “Acoustically the guitars are louder, and we have also noticed increased sustain and resonance. Customers are echoing the same conclusions with their new Les Pauls on various guitar forums, too.”
Check out the success of Gibson USA’s chambering techniques by picking up any of a number of new Les Pauls, including the LP Studios, Classics, and Standards. Alongside these, the Les Paul Supreme has its own, entirely different weight relief system, which has been engineered specifically to benefit that model. Les Pauls in the Custom Shop’s VOS range, on the other hand, are prepared with bodies that are not weight relieved, but which are generally light and resonant thanks to the rare and expensive wood stocks acquired for use in these guitars, which is reflected in the increased prices of these models.
This article was prepared with the input of Frank Johns, Keith Medley, and Kevin Philbin of Gibson USA.