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Jim DeCola: Head Gibson Luthier

Top Gibson Luthier Talks '70s Tribute Guitars, New Les Pauls, and More

As a top luthier at Gibson USA, Jim DeCola has his hand in every step in the guitar-building process. Jim took some time to give us the inside scoop on the 2012 Les Paul Standards and Studios' updated electronics and other design innovations, and also filled us in on the new '70s Tribute series. Take a look at this exclusive interview for news, insights and more from a Gibson insider.

zZounds: What's a typical day for a Gibson luthier like?
Jim DeCola: "Typically, in addition to helping develop new products, we also help introduce new instruments into production. The majority of the day is spent on the factory floor, but some time is also spent in meetings with the other team members at the plant."

Gibson Les Paul Studio '70s Tribute
Gibson Les Paul Studio '70s Tribute Electric Guitar

zZ: What's the first thing I should do when I take my new Gibson out of the box? What are some steps I can take to keep it in tip-top shape?
JD: "Keeping your instrument cleaned and polished is good practice to follow in keeping your instrument in good playing condition, and help keep it looking great for years to come. The use of a good quality polish on the finish, as well as a good quality fingerboard oil will do the job nicely. The most important thing to remember is how you help manage extreme changes in humidity. Do your best to help make the changes in humidity as gradual as you can."

zZ: What is the most time-consuming or difficult part of the guitar-building process at Gibson?
JD: "Finishing is typically the most time-consuming part of the process. Not just the spraying, but the prep work before such as final sanding, grain filling, staining, etc., and after finishing such as buffing, polishing and fingerboard detailing. We also need to wait as the paint and lacquer dries, and that adds days to the process."

Gibson SG Special '70s Tribute Electric Guitar
Gibson SG Special '70s Tribute Electric Guitar

zZ: Roughly how many hours of work do you think go into the making of one Gibson guitar?
JD: "Depending on the model, the average is about a week and a half to two weeks to cycle through the factory from beginning to completion."

zZ: What is your all-time, hands-down favorite Gibson model?
JD: "The Les Paul Standard is my personal favorite. It just has the sound, feel, playability and looks I prefer."

Gibson Firebird Studio Reverse '70s Tribute Electric Guitar
Gibson Firebird Studio Reverse '70s Tribute Electric Guitar

zZ: Any exciting new Gibsons coming out you can tell us about?
JD: "We are really excited about our new Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Studio, but I can also tell you that we will be launching a new '70s Tribute line this year at a very affordable price point that we are excited about."

About 2012 Gibson Les Paul Standard

zZ: How does the new weight relief design differ from that used on previous Les Paul Standards?
JD: "It is more solid around the body core. It's still lighter weight, but the resonance and tone of the instrument is less affected by the weight relieving."

zZ: How was the innovative compound radius fingerboard design developed?
JD: "Since the 12" radius is our standard fingerboard radius, we decided to increase the radius to 10" at the nut end of the fingerboard, making it rounder, which aids in chording. We decreased (flattened) the radius to 16" at the end of the fingerboard to permit lower, cleaner action which aids in soloing, and playing in the higher fret regions."

Gibson 2012 Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar
Gibson 2012 Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar

zZ: The Les Paul Standard's new coil-tapping options are already making major waves all over the Internet. Are these new features the result of customer feedback?
JD: "The new coil tapping was voiced to offer a fatter single-coil tone while maintaining a balanced output between the humbucking and single-coil modes. Our customer base always requests the ultimate in versatility from us, but without changing the core of what makes a Gibson sound like a Gibson. We believe we delivered on this with this coil-tapping option."


zZ: In addition to the coil-tapping, the LP Standard includes a phase switch and a true bypass option. Going forward, do you think more and more Gibsons will feature similar electronics?
JD: "I'm sure we'll incorporate some of these features into other models in the future to some extent. We may add one or more of these features depending on the model and if it would be practical for the instrument and the players."

Gibson 2012 Les Paul Standard Plus Electric Guitar
Gibson 2012 Les Paul Standard Plus Electric Guitar

zZ: Did the luthiers at Gibson encounter any challenges incorporating all these new features into the classic design of the Les Paul Standard?
JD: "The challenge was deciding on the features that would offer the most benefits to the sound and playability, yet still retain the classic looks and feels of the Les Paul Standard. Also, with this being the first compound radius coming out of the plant, there was a capital investment needed in our plant to make this happen."

About 2012 Gibson Les Paul Studio

zZ: What were Gibson's priorities in updating the Les Paul Studio? For what kind of player is this the ideal electric guitar?
JD: "This is more of a working musician's instrument. It still has the feel and sound of the classic Les Paul, but the hotter pickups lend themselves to some of the more modern musical styles. Since it doesn't have binding and a figured top, it's more affordable but the sound and performance are still there."

zZ: The updated Les Paul Studio maintains the 490R and 498T pickups, but adds a versatile coil-tapping switch. What sort of tonal possibilities are unlocked by this new feature?
JD: "A fatter single-coil tone, with a balanced output and hum reduction in the single-coil modes. When both pickups are on as single coils, it is also fully hum-cancelling."

zZ: What are some advantages of using granadillo for the fingerboard?
JD: "There are several advantages to using granadillo as a fingerboard. First off, it is rosewood, but from Central America. This gives us a new source of supply and also lessens the impact on the environment when the alternative is to just have one species of rosewood. Secondly, granadillo does not have the oils that bleed into white paint, like Indian rosewood does. "

Gibson 2012 Les Paul Studio Electric Guitar
Gibson 2012 Les Paul Studio Electric Guitar

zZ: The LP Studio has its fair share of exciting finish and hardware configurations. In what ways do cosmetic considerations impact other phases of the guitar's design and construction?
JD: "Different finish options may require different prep work such as grain filling and/or staining processes, in addition to the actual finish application. Our metallic paints are also sprayed in a separate booth to help keep those paint particles contained. Also, we've color-coordinated some of the hardware and/or trim colors to complement the new finishes."

zZ: How does the redesigned chambering of the new LP Studio affect its sound? How about its feel?
JD: "Like the Les Paul Standard, it is more solid around the body core. It's still lighter weight, but the resonance and tone of the instrument is less affected by the weight relieving."

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