Gear Review: Gibson Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior

Lukas Nelson has had his trusty original 1956 Gibson Les Paul Jr. on the road with him for years, and there is a definitive reason why he uses it as his primary guitar for his lengthy shows. For Nelson, who fronts the acclaimed Promise Of The Real (which also backs Neil Young), your number one guitar has to be an extension of you and allow the player’s personality to shine through whenever you pick up the instrument.  

The new Signature model Gibson Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Jr. accurately emanates what Lukas feels when he’s performing night after night. This instrument definitely accentuates the sound of your fingers, heart and soul through its barebones yet timeless outfit.

Sporting mainly spec appointments to Nelson’s original ‘56, this rock-solid guitar features the classic single-cutaway slab mahogany body and neck in a Satin Vintage Sunburst finish. The fat ‘50s neck has a rosewood fingerboard with modern jumbo-frets that makes soloing effortless and comfortable. 

Nelson worked very closely with Gibson on recreating the exact sound from his original P90 pickup, which gives you a super dynamic and responsive performance plugged in. This axe goes from screaming like a banshee to cleaning up delicately by manipulating the gold volume speed knob or softening up your touch. Its wrap-around bridge was modified with the stealthy “compensation contour” to improve intonation without having individual saddles. The Vintage Deluxe strip style tuners are incredibly solid, so much so that this guitar was perfectly in tune out of the box. The satin Vintage Sunburst captures the same patina as the original 1956’s had, and with the aged hardware this axe looks like it’s been played well and broken in for years. 

This guitar is a rock. I’ve always been a Les Paul Junior fan and have had a few original ‘56s in my possession, and this rides right up there with them. The biggest test for me is to open up the case on delivery day and play the axe completely unplugged, listening for how the guitar naturally resonates without any influence the amp makes. This guitar passed that test right away. The amount of sustain and volume that comes off the guitar is almost acoustic-like, which makes the guitar sound even better after it’s plugged in to an amp. I even found myself passing up writing on my acoustics and picking up this LP for inspiration on a few occasions.

The tuning is so incredibly stable, and I was actually able to bring it out to a couple long gigs and found myself only tuning once or twice, mainly just to bring it into drop D. The intonation is also better than most of my axes, with the original design of the wrap-around tailpiece. The fat neck is great for soloing but doesn’t cause any fatigue with big expanded open-chords or “Chuck Berry” style barre-chord rhythm comping.

Plugged in, this guitar is an absolute animal. I always say that any serious guitar player needs to figure out how to do their entire show on a Les Paul Junior, bypassing any indecision that pickup selection causes. Taking out the other pickups actually gives you more from just the singular pickup itself, without the perpetual magnetic-pull of the other pickups while only the one is engaged. With its Orange Drip capacitors and 500k vintage pots, this guitar can go from 0-60 with the turn of the volume knob. There’s not any audible tone loss by rolling down the volume, and I’ve found myself cranking up my amp and using the volume and tone knobs to manipulate my tone for soloing or differing parts rather than relying on pedals. Less “tap” dancing invokes a better stage-show, especially when I’m fronting a band with a million different things on my mind. Having every tone at my fingertips makes everything more streamlined and lets me focus on playing more musically rather than technically.

To the singer-songwriter looking to bring an electric into your show, or to the seasoned lead-guitar player, you’ve got to check this axe out. Juniors always back-up the “less is more” mentality, and the Lukas Nelson ‘56 Les Paul Junior will give you a solid workhorse straight from the factory to studio and stage. This is a limited run, so get yours as soon as you can.

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