Billy Morrison is a UK-born actor, musician and LA scenester who plays with Dave Navarro in ‘supergroup’ Camp Freddy. Oh, and he really likes cream. Review by Richard Purvis
Fancy treating yourself to a Gibson Les Paul but can’t decide which one? It’s understandable. At the last count there were 37 US-made Lesters to choose from, plus 41 Custom Shop jobs – and that’s not counting the Epiphones.
Still, there’s always room for another, and this one won’t struggle to make itself noticed on a wall of sunbursts. You might say that Billy Morrison is no idol – but he has been touring with Billy Idol. Morrison once did a stint on bass for the Cult, and his covers band Camp Freddy is crammed with large rock names: Dave Navarro, Matt Sorum, Donovan Leitch Jr and Chris Chaney, plus assorted guest stars.
The starting point for Billy’s siggie guitar is the familiar Les Paul with its chunky mahogany body for warm, fat tone with a carved slice of maple stuck to the top to brighten up the attack, a glued-in neck with 24.75″ scale length and a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stud tailpiece. There are other variables to play with, of course, and several have been tampered with to make this particular model what it is.
The pickups are uncovered Seymour Duncans, the body is chambered to cut down on weight (like the current LP Standard), the neck has a slimmed-down ’60s profile, the hardware is gold-plated TonePros, the fretboard is ebony and the nut is corian. On paper, it adds up to a fine rock axe. Morrison’s signature is only to be found on the trussrod cover, so if you really love the guitar but would rather not have the association it’s a simple matter of swapping it out for a blank one. Oh, and getting a new case: this one’s got his name splattered all over it, right next to a punk-styled monochrome Union Jack.
Now then, the colour scheme. It isn’t just cream, it’s very cream. The top, the back, the neck, the outer pickup coils and – something we’ve never seen before – even the headstock, which looks like a conventional one seen in negative. The overall effect falls somewhere between stunning and tacky, depending on your personal taste. It’s a shame about the binding – as any interior designer will tell you, white skirting boards next to a cream wall end up looking greyish and cold, darling – but there’s no obvious solution, as leaving it off would have looked wrong, black would have been too gothy and even more cream would have begun to look like an accident in a tea shop. Also, the Gibson logo on the headstock is a little rough-edged – clearly they need more practice at writing their name in black. On the plus side, the binding is well applied, with tidy black pinstriping on the front, and the overall finish is near to perfection.
No complaints about the neck. It’s a wee bit chubby for a so-called slim taper, but nothing too daunting. The fret ends are immaculate, which is not something you can always say about a modern Gibson, and the frets have a distinctly golden hue. They’re not as bling-bling as the rest of the hardware – plating is clearly not a clever option for fretwire as it would quickly wear through – and this looks as if it could be Jescar’s nickel-free EVO alloy, which is actually harder than standard nickel-silver so should last well.
This Les Paul has a breezily resonant unplugged voice with lots of treble content but not much in the woody lower midrange. You could call it a lightweight by LP standards, but in the nicest possible way. At any rate there’s enough inherent tone here for the pickups to squeeze some juice out of if they’re up to the job. We’ve heard enough guitars with Gibson’s controversial weight-relieving body chambers by now to form a judgement as to whether they do or do not have an adverse effect on tone. Personally, I think they don’t. I also think, as a dedicated SG fan, that anything they can do to make these unwieldy lumps a little bit lighter is fine by me!
It’s not uncommon for hard rock players looking for more power to switch out the stock humbuckers in their LPs for Seymour Duncans, and that’s what Morrison has specified. The neck unit is a ’59, Duncan’s closest copy of the original PAF, while at the bridge we have the much hotter JB. Duncan describes this as ‘the world’s most popular humbucker’, which seems like a big old claim.
Anyway, all the classic Les Paul tones are here in one form or another, although this isn’t a guitar dripping with vintage mojo. True to its PAF intentions the neck pickup is clear and smooth, but there’s a slight coolness which may have a little to do with the hard ebony fretboard. The middle setting shares some of that character but it is supremely rich and sparkly as the overpowered JB exerts its influence, providing plenty of edge for clean rhythm work. The bridge pickup on its own is loud, with more bite but less honeyish charm than, for example, a Burstbucker Pro or ’57 Classic. It’s especially good on the low E and A, which can be prone to muddiness on a guitar carrying this much mahogany but here cut through beautifully. All in all we’re not looking at the most expressive Les Paul ever, but it excels at snarling punk chords and aggressive riffing.
You might take one look at that livery and conclude that the Billy Morrison Les Paul is a poser's guitar. You might be right, but there’s no harm in that – Albert King played a Flying V, for heaven’s sake – and judged as a musical instrument, this is an effortless player with some rocking tones on tap. There are better-value Gibsons for sure, but you can’t deny that this one does its specified job with panache... and with a cream headstock.