Skip to main content

Les Paul Style Guitars with Koa Tops

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard Koa Top Electric Guitar Natural Finish

2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard Koa Top Electric Guitar Natural Finish

The quest to forever make a better, or just a different Les Paul is forever worthy. Too many options can be a problem for people who aren't likely to take the time to comprehend what all the many options mean. But if you're the type of person who likes to digest new information and new specifications and their consequences in regards to your guitar, you have to love the koa craze.

Koa is absolutely not a new wood being used in the manufacture of expensive guitars. Koa has been used in the building of guitars for a very long time. It IS fairly new in regards to solid body electric guitars such as the Gibson Les Paul.

Koa is a native tree to the Hawaiian Islands. It is the second most common tree there, and it grows very tall and rather quickly. So while koa isn't the slightest bit endangered, there is a finite amount harvested for use in guitar manufacturing. It isn't cheap, and it is well regarded for visual and tonal properties.

Why buy a Les Paul like guitar with a Koa top?

Before we venture further we need to get some philosophical things straight. A Koa top on a Les Paul or Les Paul like guitar is not something we can ever say is objectively better or worse than the traditional maple top on the same such instruments. The value you choose to give to, or not, a guitar with a koa top is only going to be your subjective value judgement.

The Koa top provides a fundamentally different visual aesthetic than the traditional maple top. Concerning tonewoods and electric guitars, some people think the whole idea that this wood or that wood combination in a solid body electric guitar as having a distinct affect upon tonality is all some grandiose marketing scheme. The persons who feel that way think other things besides the woods used, namely the electronics, are what makes all the difference in a guitar's sound. Pay those persons no mind.

Every single last bit of specification on a guitar matters. Some things make more substantive differences in looks and sound than other things. The best way for you to know whether a koa top makes a difference to the tone of a LP, and if that difference matters to you, is to play one with koa, and then one with maple. A chambered body Les Paul with a koa top will be more affected by the koa tonal properties than an all solid, old school style Les Paul with a koa top.

The koa top guitar will cause you to stand out from the crowd. If you're driven by the need for distinction or by visual aesthetic appeal, then don't overthink this. You want the koa top, and so you should get one for yourself as soon as the finances and opportunities align.

Gibson Les Paul Standard Koa Top

Gibson Les Paul Standard Koa Top

Les Paul Custom Koa-Top

Les Paul Custom Koa-Top

Gibson Les Paul Standard, and Gibson Les Paul Custom - both available with koa tops

It would prove rather impossible to demonstrate a guitar more Les Paul - like than actual Gibson Les Paul guitars. Well, using koa instead of maple had to have been a worrisome thing for the purists to accept. Such things aren't especially common, but have become yet another specification Gibson has become willing to offer continually. These are most certainly available both new and used.

I hope the reader here will realize Gibson will use this kind of tuning machines and buttons on such models one year, and then the next year decide to use the old green keys and Kluson machines. In any event, the primary differences between the Gibson LP Standard Koa top and LP Custom Koa top are cosmetic. The custom guitar comes with a much more highly figured koa top, gold hardware, and some additional abalone inlay.

Whether you are interested in the Gibson LP Standard Koa or the LP Custom Koa, we are talking about chambered body instruments. The chambers are carved into the mahogany body for weight relief. So the guitar doesn't weigh ten or more pounds. The chambers, however, are exactly what makes the koa top vibrate as though it were an acoustic guitar's soundboard. The koa tops here are absolutely tonewoods, and not pure ornamentation.

At this time Gibson is only making a koa top an option on its premium Les Paul guitars. They aren't offering koa on the lower end models, like the studio versions. Well, this means you absolutely get the bells and whistles on the circuitry and pickups. You get push pull pots. What are push pull pots? These are your coil taps or coil splits. You can split the humbuckers into single coil pickups if and whenever you like.

What kind of money are we talking here? Dear reader, whenever we're talking about a Gibson Les Paul with fancier than normal accouterments, we're talking about big money guitars. The LP Standard Koa can be had in the neighborhood of twenty five hundred bucks. Take a deep breath, the Custom Koa can be seen for sale at prices ranging from five to eight thousand dollars. These are great guitars, but is a Lexus really better than a Toyota?

Gibson Custom Les Paul Custom Koa Top 60's Thin Neck Electric Guitar

Epiphone Ltd Ed Les Paul Custom Pro Koa

Epiphone Ltd Ed Les Paul Custom Pro Koa

Epiphone Ltd Ed Les Paul Custom Pro Koa

Epiphone, of course, is Gibson's subsidiary. Their affordable brand. Currently, Epiphone guitars are made in Japan and in China. The Japanese make considerably fewer Epiphone guitars, and theirs are only for sale in Japan. The Chinese Epiphone guitars are available all over the world, representing a terrific value in guitar for the money spent.

Epiphone's Les Paul Custom designs are forever very very good guitars. Lots of persons find them preferable to lower end Gibson Les Paul offerings. These guitars come with the 1960s neck profile, which is a much thinner and faster neck than the Gibson 1950s neck profile.

Scroll to Continue

You can see from the image there is figuring on the koa top. And this is a top, not a veneer. The guitar is chambered so the koa will be acting more like a true soundboard. The pickups here are Epiphone's ProBuckers, and they do come with the push pull pots for coil splitting.

That this guitar would be built in limited edition numbers was announced in September of 2016. At this time, that means last month. So it is not presently for sale, but will be. And I can not say what it will be selling for. I have managed to find a specifications list, however, and it is below:

  • Top Material: Figured KOA
  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: "1960s" Slim-Taper, D-Profile
  • Nut: Graphtech
  • Neck Joint: Glued In
  • Truss Rod: Adjustable
  • Scale Length: 24.75"
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood w/Block Inlays
  • Neck Pickup: Epiphone ProBucker-2, 4-Wire
  • Bridge Pickup: Epiphone ProBucker-3, 4-Wire
  • Controls: Epiphone All-Metal 3-Way Pickup Selector, Neck Pickup Volume w/Push/Pull Coil-Splitting, Bridge Pickup Volume w/Push/Pull Coil-Splitting, Neck Pickup Tone, Bridge Pickup Tone
  • Binding: Body Top - 5-Ply (Pure White/Black), Body Back - 5-Ply (Pure White/Black), Fingerboard - 1-Ply (Pure White), Headstock - 5-Ply (Pure White/Black)
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Frets: 22, Medium-Jumbo
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-o-matic/Stopbar
  • Nut Width: 1-11/16"
  • Hardware: Gold
  • Machine Heads: Grover, 18:1 Ratio
  • Knobs: Black "Speed" Knobs

ESP LTD EC-1000 Koa


ESP LTD EC-1000 Koa

The ESP eclipse guitars are mainstays. Very successful products does ESP create. Primarily people buy an eclipse for use in heavy metal sorts of music. There are many people who will tell you to always go for the ESP eclipse EC1000 guitars instead of a Gibson Les Paul Studio.

I'll tell you one thing I know for sure, and that is I prefer an ebony fingerboard over a rosewood one every single day of the year, every year. While I'm not scientist enough to say whether or not I know for sure an ebony fretboard makes the guitar sound different from a rosewood one; I certainly know they FEEL better to me. When you buy a guitar, the idea is you'll be spending countless hours playing it. So getting what feels right to you matters a lot. This guitar has an ebony fingerboard.

Most eclipse guitars do not have koa tops. But the ESP LTD EC-1000 Koa does. This is a limited edition run. But the eclipse has become such a successful product for ESP the koa top version of it may later become another of the many great EC-1000s produced yearly for global distribution.

Most of the ESP LTD EC-1000s in this world come packaged with EMG pickups. This guitar does not, it has Seymour Duncan pickups. First there's the Eclipse EC-1000's neck pickup, a Seymour Duncan SH-2 model that gives you great articulation and bright tone. It's the perfect sonic complement to the Duncan SH-14 model pickup at the Eclipse EC-1000's bridge, whose much hotter output lets you hit your amp harder.

This guitar has a five piece neck. Multi layered necks are becoming more common because they are increasingly thought to provide more stability than necks with fewer layers. Of course the woods used in the neck matter quite a lot too. This eclipse has a five piece thin U profile neck of bubinga and maple.

Bubinga is another new wood for use in manufacturing of fine electric guitars. Bubinga is also being used for tops by some in the same way koa is being used here. These guitar manufacturers are doing everything they possibly can do to forever make a better guitar, or at least a different one. Global trade makes for a much more exciting trip to the guitar store, that's for certain.


  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Koa
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: Thin U
  • Neck wood: Mahogany/bubinga
  • Joint: Neck-through
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Satin
  • Fretboard Material: Ebony
  • Radius: 13.75"
  • Fret size: Extra-jumbo
  • Number of frets: 24
  • Inlays: Pearloid block
  • Nut width: 1.65" (42mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: HH
  • Neck: SH-2
  • Middle: Not applicable
  • Bridge: SH-14
  • Brand: Seymour Duncan
  • Active or passive: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, master tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: Tune-o-matic locking
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Black Tuning machines: LTD locking
  • Number of strings: 6-string
  • Special features: Pickups
  • Case: Sold separately
  • Country of origin: South Korea

ESP LTD EC-1000 Koa Review

Solidbody Electric Guitars by Taylor. SB-C2-T Custom Koa Tremolo

Solidbody Electric Guitars by Taylor. SB-C2-T Custom Koa Tremolo

Taylor. SB-C2-T Custom Koa

Full disclosure time, I've stood within a five foot distance of Bob Taylor on multiple occasions to hear him speak about Taylor guitars. I've had my two hands, two eyes, and two ears on more fine Taylor guitars than I'd ever be able to remember. So what I'm saying is I know what quality Taylor brings to the table.

But I have never had the opportunity to lay eyes, hands, and ears on the same occasion into a Taylor solid body electric guitar. So without having experience with any Taylor solid body guitar, I'm still very comfortable here telling you these are going to be amazing guitars. These guitars aren't overtly Les Paul-ish in nature. They are of a singlecut, two pickup design though. The scale length used is a minuscule distance longer than Gibson's.

What makes this guitar fundamentally different from the others discussed here is its body wood. The body is made from Australian Blackwood. This is a wood Taylor guitars use, and they are as a company very open to the use of new materials.

While our photo of this guitar does not show a tremolo arm on the bridge, that is still a tremolo bridge there. The electronics scheme Taylor uses on this guitar is something altogether new in its approach. And again, an ebony fretboard is a wonderful thing.


  • Solid body custom koa
  • Shaded edge Australian blackwood body and neck
  • Figured koa top with ivoroid binding
  • Ebony fretboard with 15'' radius and 22 frets
  • Controls: Master Volume
  • Master Tone: Traditional control for first two-thirds, last third peaks the mids
  • Pickups: Taylor Style I Humbuckers
  • Pickup Switching: Position 1. Full neck pickup
  • Position 2. Inside coils of the neck and bridge in parallel (skinny neck tones)
  • Position 3. Full neck pickup with the inside coil of the bridge pickup
  • Position 4. Inside coil of each pickup in series (fuller and fatter than position 2)
  • Position 5. Full bridge pickup
  • Tremolo bridge
  • Taylor standard tuners
  • Scale Length: 24.875''Nut width: 1.6875''

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw

Related Articles