Les Pauls. SGs. Jumbo acoustics. Archtop ES-335s. Flying Vs. Explorers. Gibson has pretty much all tastes covered in its new “headline” guitars every year, but there’s always the player who wants something a little different. Here’s just 5 great alternative guitars you really should try when you’re in the market for a Gibson. These models have some of the greatest reviews the pro guitar press has ever written, but still you don’t see too many players with them. Why not dare to be different, and have a look these. They’re great value, great players, and genuinely great Gibsons...

Gibson Nighthawk

The superbly versatile Nighthawk is now 24 years old, and remains a brilliant blend of time-honored Gibson features and “modern classic” design. You can still get the Nighthawk 20th Anniversary (3 pickup model, in Antique Natural and Fireburst) but there’s also the signature Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard (2 pickups, also in Fireburst) to win you over.

What do you get? Design genius, that’s what. All Nighthawks take a “traditional” Les Paul outline and polishes it with a deeper cutaway and a ribcage contour for enhanced playing comfort. It’s a unique electric in Gibson’s fabled stable. You get a longer 25 ½” scale length for firm but twangier lows and chiming highs too. Uniquely, you have thru-body stringing with a specially-designed Nighthawk bridge. Tone-wise it’s exceptional, offering a huge array of sounds. The 20th Anniversary has Nighthawk mini-humbucker, single coil, and full-size humbucker. The Nancy Wilson Standard is loaded with the versatile pairing of Nighthawk Mini-humbucker and slanted Nighthawk Lead humbucker, with five-way switching for a huge range of fat humbucking and stinging single-coil combinations. It’s a Gibson... but not as you know it.

Gibson Nighthawk

Gibson Nighthawks have a highly figured Grade-AAA maple top added to its mahogany body/neck and rosewood fingerboard. Just like its mistress, the Gibson Nancy Wilson Nighthawk (“Fanatic” truss-rod cover, plus gold hardware) is glamorous and elegant – it will also kick your ass into next week and you’ll damn well enjoy the experience. A highest-spec “designer” guitar at a truly affordable price? Yep: that’s a Gibson Nighthawk.

Dave Davies (The Kinks, 20th Anniversary Model) says: “It’s very bright, but I’m able to get that muddy, bluesy tone as well. I think it’s truly an underrated guitar.”

Nancy Wilson (Heart, signature model) says: “It’s just got this complete growly rock tone that’s kind of retro and is really hard to beat.”

Find out more about the Gibson Nighthawk 20th Anniversary Standard

Find out more about the Gibson Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard

Gibson Midtown Standard

Gibson ES archtops from Memphis are understandably complicated and costly to craft, but the Gibson Midtown Standard is a superb twist on the legendary semi-hollow design. It’s got a flat top. It still covers the ES 335’s sonic spectrum, from bluesy rock to soft jazz, but you get it all at a much more affordable price. The top itself is still maple: two-piece on the Vintage Sunburst, and three-piece on the Ebony and Pelham Blue. Two matched Burstbucker pickups power that big, full sound for hallmark smooth sustain and tremendous tone, while most reviewers also credit the Midtown as more versatile than a Les Paul yet with more “bite” than a traditional archtop ES. Win, win!

Gibson Midtown

With the G FORCE™ Tuning System, for instant standard and alternate tunings, and a hardshell case the Midtown Standard is a bargain semi-solid with a twist. Midtown fans generally shout extremely loud about how damn great it is – perhaps you should think about joining them?

MusicRadar says: “Fantastic looks with sonic versatility (at a) great price. A guitar that can do almost everything you’d want. A beauty and a beast combined.”

Find out more about the Gibson Midtown Standard.

ES-339 Studio

If you’re determined to own a genuine archtop ES, but find them unwieldy and expensive the ES-339 Studio is for you. It has a more compact semi-acoustic construction, and delivers impressive value with P.A.F.-alike '57 Classic and Super '57 humbucking pickups, traditional control setup, rolled fingerboard edge for a delightful playing feel, and more.

Gibson ES-339

The trad control setup is an upgrade on earlier 339 Studios, making it closer to a full ES-339 or ES-335, but the Studio’s simple dot inlays and binding keep it supremely affordable. In its Studio guise, this ES-339 is quite unbeatable value for a Gibson Memphis ES archtop.

Ian Haug (Powderfinger, The Church) said: “Gibson really got it right with his one. For years my ’74 Les Paul Custom was my main guitar, and more recently my ES-335. I love them both, but the ES-339 fills the void between the two. I reckon this is the start of a lovely relationship.”

Find out more about the Gibson ES-339 Studio.

Gibson RD Artist

Gibson’s RD Standard came out in 1977... an update on Gibson’s “modernist” designs of decades earlier. Many described it as a blend of Firebird and Explorer body styling, but it strangely remained in production for only five years. Now it’s back, and with much more than just its unique shape. The current RD Artist has a traditional 24 3/4" scale length, but also comes with groundbreaking new active pickups for a brilliant tone to match its individual looks.

Gibson RD

Gibson RDs are very much back in vogue due to their (live) use by Grammy-winning Swedish melodic metallers Ghost, who also use Gibson SGs in the studio. But don’t think those active pickups just mean a much of overloaded distortion: Ghost’s songs pack heavy riffs but also rely on fidelity, and that’s what the GEM Gibson Active humbucking pickups deliver, with traditional Alnico II magnets and 42 AWG wire. The RD Artist may be every inch an outsiders’ choice: but it’s also every inch a brilliant rock guitar.

The “Nameless Ghouls” of Ghost say: Well, watch the Gibson interview with Ghost!

Find out more about the Gibson RD Artist.

LG-2 American Eagle

Enough of the heaviness! For a Gibson acoustic that is both light on weight and cost, you deserve to take a look at the LG-2 American Eagle. The LG series was originally introduced in the 1940s, offering “student” acoustics when WWII made it hard to source top tonewoods and many players simply couldn’t afford high-end guitars.

But the LG-2 American Eagle of the 21st Century is only really similar in name and dimensions, offering what Premier Guitar calls “top-notch craftsmanship from stem to stern” in quality Sitka spruce and mahogany. With its compact body, the LG-2 American Eagle is ideal for folk, blues and fingerstyle, and for an acoustic crafted by Gibson in Bozeman, Montana, it’s exceptional value. No frills, no fancy inlays: just solid Gibson acoustic warmth and richness. With an LR Baggs™ Element VTC pickup system included and Plek setup for superb playability, it’s crafted with the latest technology, too. A beautifully compact bargain that punches well above its weight.

Gibson LG-2 American Eagle

Premier Guitar says: “With the LG-2 American Eagle, Gibson has successfully revisited one of its entry-level flattops, respectfully incorporating many of its original constructional and cosmetic de-tails while making it friendlier to the modern player.... An absolute peach of an instrument by any measure.”

Find out more about the Gibson LG-2 American Eagle.


Where are you fans of these lesser-spotted Gibsons? Please share your own stories of what you think!