Once upon a time, players would marvel over a Les Paul that weighed 10 lbs, 11 lbs, even close to 12 lbs and exclaim how such a heavy guitar “must sustain for days!” Perhaps in the dark ages of boat-anchor guitars we just needed to give a positive slant to our struggle to strap on such beasts, but today’s player is well aware that the misguided “weight = tone” equation of the ’70s just doesn’t hold water. More to the point, when you can achieve just the right balance of weight, comfort, and tone, that’s the sweet spot—and that’s exactly where Gibson’s wide range of weight-relief procedures comes in.

According to Gibson Master Luthier Jim DeCola, weight relieving “is just a good thing. It costs us extra time and effort to do it, so we’re not saving anything. It’s an expense on our part, but we feel good about doing it.” Over the years, Gibson has cultivated several effective methods of lightening the load while retaining that characteristically thick, rich, singing tone that players expect from their Gibson Les Pauls.

Let’s examine how Gibson’s weight-relieving techniques have evolved, from the traditional nine-hole weight relief, to chambering, to our Modern, and even Ultra-Modern weight relief. Each has its purpose, its place in the lineup, and its fans.

Traditional Weight Relief

Gibson Weight Relief

The longest standing of such techniques, Traditional Weight Relief involves routing nine round holes in a Les Paul’s mahogany body before the maple top is attached. The holes are strategically placed around the body, with the majority in the lower and upper bouts on the bass-side of the guitar, along with a hole on the treble side of the pickups. The result, DeCola says, “is a guitar that’s lighter than a non-weight-relieved guitar, but which still has some weight to it and feels solid.”

Although Traditional is our earliest method of weight relief, it has earned many fans over the years, and has still been used on several guitars from Gibson USA in recent years. The 2017 Les Paul Classic T and 2017 Les Paul Tribute T, for example, both have Traditional nine-hole weight relief, as did several of their predecessors.


Gibson Weight Relief

One means of “lightening the load,” as practiced by Gibson and other makers, involves full-on chambering of the body. Achieved by routing large, oval chambers either side of the central core where the bridge and pickups are mounted, chambering has resulted in the lightest Les Pauls made. “This is the most dramatic technique,” says DeCola, “and results in a guitar that almost has more of an acoustic resonance to it.”

In some cases, this type of weight relief is still desirable—where players are looking for a “semi-solid” sound and response, which is essentially the next step up on the solidity scale from a semi-hollow guitar like an ES-335. Fully chambered guitars, however, are more prone to feedback in high-volume, high-gain situations, and therefore aren’t best suited to such playing, unless you’re able to curb those tendencies on stage.

Fewer guitars are chambered these days, but the technique is still used when its specific benefits are required. Gibson Custom has made chambered versions of its iconic 1959 Les Paul Reissue over the years, as well as Limited Run models like the Les Paul Custom Chambered Blackout. The Les Paul Standard Faded of the mid to late ’00s from Gibson USA was also an extremely popular chambered model.

Modern Weight Relief

Gibson Weight Relief

According to DeCola, the Gibson technique termed Modern Weight Relief was introduced as a “best of both worlds” solution. It involves removing far less wood than the extreme weight relief of the chambered ’00 Les Pauls, for example, but still introduces elliptical sound-chambered holes inside the body engineered to provide the most weight relief without making it full-on chambered.

With this pattern of multiple small, elliptical chambers instead of a big open chamber, the desired weight relief is achieved, but the body remains more characteristic of a solidbody overall, so it’s less prone to acoustic resonance that might induce feedback. Essentially, it’s a compromise between the two. As DeCola puts it, “It’s more solid around the business area of the guitar: the pickups and the bridge area.” You’ll still find this original Modern Weight Relief in many Les Pauls from recent years, although not it has largely been usurped by…

Ultra-Modern Weight Relief

Gibson Ultra-Modern Weight Relief

If Modern Weight Relief was a refinement of traditional nine-hole and chambering techniques, consider Ultra-Modern Weight Relief the latest advancement in that kind of thinking. As such, it’s Gibson’s ultimate refinement of the art.

According to DeCola, Ultra-Modern Weight Relief was developed through a slight yet carefully calculated offsetting of the chambers around the perimeters of the guitar’s body to lighten the load further, without impeding resonant characteristics. “Like the Modern Weight relief,” says DeCola, “it’s engineered to provide a solid core through the center of the guitar to retain the classic Les Paul sound. Unlike a full chambered design, this will be less prone to feedback or effecting the tonality and resonance of the guitar.”

“It was designed in response from players who are looking for the classic Les Paul feel and sound,” DeCola adds, “but who desire a lighter weight guitar. It’s ideally suited for live playing situations, when weight is an issue.”

Several 2018 Les Paul models feature this advanced form of weight relief, including the Les Paul Faded, the Les Paul Studio, and the Les Paul Standard HP, among others.

And Where It All Matters: Tone

Of course, none of this does us any good if these lighter, more comfortable Les Pauls don’t sound any good. But here’s the thing: they do. They sound great. They sound just like Les Pauls. One careful, considerate, experienced guitarist after another has tested weight relieved and non-weight relieved Les Paul models side by side and declared that there’s no discernible difference in sound. Even so, we continue to make traditionally constructed, non-weight-relieved Les Pauls for those who want them, such as the Les Paul Traditional and Les Paul Tribute.

As DeCola puts it, “You’re dealing in subtleties there. The most dramatic difference is that the full-on chambering will have more of an acoustic resonance to it, but for the Traditional, Modern and Ultra-Modern techniques, the sonic differences are pretty hard to discern. And if anything, it enhances the resonance—which I feel helps with the sustain.” Try one of Gibson’s many weight-relieved Les Paul models and hear—and feel—for yourself.