Gear Review: Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard

Several years ago, Rush’s Alex Lifeson partnered with Gibson Guitars to create the Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess. The specs for these guitars looked amazing, but they had a limited production run, and the starting price tag of $5,499 was more than cost-prohibitive for most guitarists. Shortly thereafter, Gibson released the Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess, which had an even more limited production run, and a heftier starting price tag of $6,699. Needless to say, few guitarists could scrape together that kind of cash, regardless of how amazing the guitars were.

But then a strange thing happened at the January 2020 NAMM show: an Epiphone version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess turned up rather unexpectedly among the collection of other guitars that Epiphone had on display. The following video from the great folks at Andertons Music Company shows a pair of reviewers who stumble across the guitar (which occurs at 16:47 in the video). This unofficial announcement generated a fair amount of chatter within the guitar community, based on the assumption that there might be an affordable version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess released sometime in the future. However, COVID19 turned the year upside down, and news of this guitar faded away into the background while everyone was focused on the pandemic.

After a year-and-a-half of silence about this guitar, Alex Lifeson broke the news on his website on June 15th, 2021, that Epiphone had finally released the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard; which promptly sold out everywhere in the country. Nevertheless, I managed to get my hands on one, which arrived last Saturday, and I'll be using it for today's review.

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Anyone who's been reading my blogs knows that I am a sold-out, card-carrying fanboy for Rush, but this guitar has several features that set it apart from other guitars on the market. With that in mind, even the guitarists who don't like Rush might want to take a moment to consider this guitar if they're in the market for a new axe. (And let's be honest, that includes just about every guitarist, doesn't it?)

Since its arrival, I've been putting it through the paces, and here are the big ticket items that people should know about.

Graph Tech Floyd Rose Bridge with Piezo Pickups

This guitar has the Graph Tech Floyd Rose bridge. There are a few Les Pauls with Floyd Rose bridges, so while that might not seem unique, here's the differentiator: the Graph Tech bridge has piezo pickups built into it, so at the flick of a knob, you're an acoustic, or an electric, or both at the same time. And the sound is amazing.

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ProBucker™ humbucker Pickups

The stock pickups for the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard are Epiphone's ProBucker™ pickups, which designed as an homage the classic Gibson PAF pickups, and the sound is quite good. I compared it against a set of Seymour Duncan Invader pickups that I have in a modded Les Paul, and I have to admit - the ProBuckers seemed to hold their own pretty well.

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Split Coil Pickup Switching

The traditional bridge and neck pickups are configured so that pulling up on the volume knob for either pickup splits the coils, so you can switch from a double-coil humbucker sound to a single-coil sound while playing. In other words, it's a Les Paul that can sound like a Strat, or a Les Paul, or a combination of the two.

With that in mind, the range of pickup configuration possibilities are: full-bridge only, half-bridge only, full-bridge with full-neck, half-bridge with full-neck, full-bridge with half-neck, half-bridge with half-neck, full-neck only, half-neck only, piezo only, or piezo blended with any of the other full/half pickup configurations.

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Separate Output Jacks

The guitar has two output jacks. If you use a single output jack, then the piezo and humbuckers are wired through that. However, if you use the second output jack, you can send the piezo and humbuckers to separate effects/amps, thereby allowing you to craft a totally different sound for each output.

Sculpted Body Design

The Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard features a traditional arched top of flame maple over a mahogany body, which should be familiar to anyone who's played a Les Paul. However, another feature that sets this guitar apart from the competition is that the neck and back have been sculpted like a Strat, which makes it easier to reach highest frets, and it makes the guitar a pound or two lighter, and it's also the most comfortable Les Paul you've ever played.

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Thankfully this guitar didn't have the traditional Les Paul pickguard attached, which most guitarists remove and toss in the recycle bin anyway.

Final Touch

It might seem like a small detail to have, but this is a signature edition, so it was nice to see that the truss rod cover carried Alex's signature (just like the Gibson model).

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A Kind of Demo

I tried to find a video on YouTube of Alex Lifeson switching back and forth between the humbuckers and piezo pickups, but every video that I found where Alex was playing one of his Custom Gibson Les Paul Axcess guitars he was only using the humbuckers.

However, I did manage to find a video where Alex was playing one of his older Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitars that had a similar setup with humbuckers and piezo pickups. With that in mind, consider the first minute of the following live video where Rush is playing their song "Driven," which should give you an idea of what you can do with this concept. On the verses, Alex is just using the humbuckers for the electric sound. On the pre-choruses, it's just the piezos for the acoustic sound. On the choruses, you can hear the humbuckers and piezo pickups layered, which adds a huge amount of depth to the wall of sound that Alex is creating.

So... yes, I am aware that the video has Alex playing a PRS, not a Les Paul. Gibson designed Alex's Custom Les Pauls a few years after that video was created. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, this should give you an idea of what you can do with this guitar.

Parting Thoughts

I was glad that I was able to get my hands on one of these guitars for a review before they were sold out. (Although I expect that there will be more guitars hitting the market before too long.)

That being said, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is an incredibly versatile guitar. If I were to have any second thoughts about this guitar they would be pretty minor.

For example, if I were buying one of these guitars today, I would much prefer the Royal Crimson finish featured on the Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess, or the "R40" Ruby finish featured on the Gibson Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess. However, as of this writing, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is only available in Viceroy Brown finish, which is reminiscent of the classic Gibson Tobacco Sunburst finish.

One last nitpick is a personal preference: I prefer Gibson Speed knobs over the Gold Top Hat knobs that come with this guitar. But as I said, that is a minor, personal preference, so I cannot count that against the guitar. Nevertheless, if I had this guitar and the inclination, that’s a mod that I would probably make.

All in all, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is a great guitar that could easily find a home in any guitarist's arsenal. Even if they're not a Rush fan.

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