The Gibson Les Paul Special, Tribute and Special Tribute models all offer a more affordable option for players looking to get an American-made Gibson. However, they all have different features and cost different amounts.
In this article, I’ll compare the Les Paul Special, Tribute and Special Tribute electric guitar models so you can see which option is the best for you.
The Quick Answer
Let’s quickly summarise the differences between the three Les Paul models.
Les Paul Special vs Tribute
The Gibson Les Paul Special has two P90 pickups, a wrap-around bridge and thicker neck compared to the Les Paul Tribute which has two humbucker pickups and a tone-o-matic bridge. There are also cosmetic differences such as the pickguard design, inlays, finish and color options.
Les Paul Tribute vs Special Tribute
The Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute comes with either P90 or humbucker pickups, whereas the Les Paul Tribute only comes with a humbucker pickup option. The main differences are cosmetic, with the guitars having a different pickguard, inlays and color options. They have the same neck profile.
Les Paul Special vs Special Tribute
The Gibson Les Paul Special has P90 pickups, whilst the Les Paul Special Tribute has the choice of P90 or humbucker pickups. The Special model has a thicker neck and gloss finish, whereas the Special Tribute has a satin finish. The Special is $700 more expensive on average than the Special Tribute.
Here is a table showing the differences between these three electric guitar models. Note: Turn the device horizontally or scroll sideways to see the full table if you are viewing on a smaller-screen.
|Feature||Les Paul Special||Les Paul Tribute||Les Paul Special Tribute|
|Pickups||P90s||Humbuckers||Humbucker or P90|
|Neck Profile||Vintage ‘50s||Rounded||Rounded|
|Inlays||Acrylic Dots||Acrylic Trapezoid||Acyrlic Dots|
|Tuning Machines||Vintage Deluxe (White Button)||Vintage Deluxe (Keystone Button)||Vintage Deluxe (White Button)|
|Pickguard||Black Flat Design||White Angled Design||Black Flat Design|
|Controls||Black Top Hats||Gold/ Amber Top Hats||Black Top Hats|
|Average Price (USA)||$1700||$1300||$1000|
|Average Price (UK)||£1500||£1000||£800|
The Gibson Les Paul Tribute has two humbucker pickups and the Les Paul Special has two P90 pickups, whilst the Special Tribute model comes with the choice of either pickup configuration.
The humbucker versions have a fuller and warmer tone with more bass and mid-range frequency emphasis compared to the P90 versions which have a brighter tone with more emphasis on the treble frequencies.
The P90 versions are more susceptible to humming and feedback than the humbucker versions, hence the P90s are often used for more overdriven tones seen in blues and rock ‘n roll, compared to the humbuckers which are great for higher gain and heavy rock tones.
The pickups used in humbucker version of the Special Tribute and Tribute models are both the same. You’ll find a 490R in the neck position and a 490T in the bridge position.
Check out this video comparing the different pickups on YouTube.
The Gibson Les Paul Tribute and Special Tribute both have the same neck shape (rounded) and satin, however, the neck is made from maple on the Special Tribute and mahogany on the Tribute. The Les Paul Special has a Vintage ’50s neck profile which feels a bit thicker than the neck on the Tribute/ Special Tribute.
The Les Paul Special and Special Tribute models have a wrap-around bridge, whereas the Tribute model features a more traditional tune-o-matic bridge. The wrap-around bridge improves sustain, however the tune-o-matic bridge makes it easier to get the correct intonation on the guitar.
The Gibson Les Paul Special and Special Tribute models are the most similar looking and share cosmetic features such as the flat black pickguard, acrylic dot inlays and black top hat controls. The main difference between the two is that the Special Tribute has a satin finish whilst the Special has a gloss finish.
The Les Paul Tribute looks the most different out of the three guitars and more closely resembles the Classic, Studio and Standard versions in the Les Paul range. This is due to it’s pickguard design, color options, acrylic trapezoid inlays, gold/ amber top hat controls and vintage deluxe keystone tuners. However, the Tribute does also have a satin finish, similarly to the Special tribute model.
The guitars also come in different color options:
- Special: TV Yellow and Vintage Cherry (all gloss)
- Tribute: Iced Tea, Honeyburst, Tobacco Burst and Cherry Sunburst (all satin)
- Special Tribute: Worn White, Vintage Cherry, Natural Walnut and Ebony (all satin)
Here are some images (all link to Amazon) to show the design differences.
Considering other LP models? Check out my complete guide to the Les Paul guitar range to learn more.
Despite their being many differences between the Tribute, Special and Special Tribute models, there are a number of similarities including the body wood, fretboard wood, scale length, fret number and controls. Here is a table highlighting the features that stay consistent on all three Les Paul models.
|Fret Size||Medium Jumbo|
|Controls||2 x Vol, 2 x Tone|
Here are some more articles you might find useful: