When I first spotted the 2015 Gibson Midtown Standard at Summer NAMM in Nashville this July, I was intrigued. I’d recently fallen back in love with my vintage Gibson ES-345, which subsequently led to a renewed dalliance with my Epiphone DOT, too. But the Midtown Standard looked like a different kind of sleek, charming and modern beast, albeit one with classic f-holes. It was a bit lighter than either of those guitars — and way lighter, of course, than my trusty Gibson Les Pauls. Also, instead of an arched top, it was flat, which made the guitar appear more trim and contemporary. And yet it felt truly sturdy and the neck was flat, comfortable and slim — just how I like ’em.

So, as any guitar junkie would be, I was juiced when Gibson USA asked me to take one out for a spin. I was even more juiced after using the guitar for a rehearsal and three hometown gigs marking the release of my new album Love & Live in Nashville: a show at the world-famous Bluebird Café; an in-store at Grimey’s, which is routinely voted one of the top 10 records stores in the U.S.; and a full-tilt loud-and-proud gig at the club the Basement, Music City’s much beloved “Cellar Full of Noise.”

The Specifics

But before I get into the verdict on this guitar, let’s check out the instrument itself. The Midtown Standard I played came in a gleaming, perfect-finished Vintage Sunburst — one of three finish options — and had that heavenly new-guitar smell. With double-cutaways, the fast fretboard was super accessible, which is important to me when I play live, because I’m a radical slide player. The white binding that wraps around the body and traces the neck says “classy” and the vintage angle of the headstock says “classic.” Ditto the Grade A maple top, which was figured enough to have a vintage look without being ostentatious. Tough hardshell case? Check!

The mahogany back and maple top are a historic combo for resonance, and unplugged this guitar had plenty of sonic character and a literally vibrant mahogany-with-rosewood-fingerboard-neck. Initially, I was uncertain of how the BurstBucker 1 neck pickup and BurstBucker 2 bridge pickups would voice the Midtown Standard through an amp. Were they Ted-Drozdowski-Road-Test-Gibson-Midtown-Standardtoo hot for a semi-hollowbody guitar?

Nah… The Midtown was instantly awesome and versatile. Running the guitar through a vintage 6L6 equipped American low-gain amp with the guitar’s tone pot rolled off to “six,” the neck pickup produced deep voiced jazz and blues tones. In the middle position, nice spanking chords and biting single notes emerged, and in the neck spot, the Midtown Standard was surprisingly bright — in a really good way. If you’re a one-guitar-on-stage player, the Midtown’s tonal versatility is a big win. You can cover throaty Gibson Les Paul like parts as well as non-P-90 single coil style guitar tones effortlessly. When I say the Midtown Standard can cut, I mean it can CUT! Like the brightest country music guitar playing. It can purr, too.

It can also growl, which is more my usual tonal territory. At home, I plugged the Midtown Standard into a 1974 Marshall Super Lead through a 1x12 closed back Weber cabinet, and the results were OMG. Ditto with a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier. A variety of Tony Iommi, Angus Young and Slayer types sounds were immediately in reach without pedals. And speaking of pedals, the mid-articulate voice of the Midtown Standard took to both overdrive and modulation effects really well, with lots of shimmer and clarity – especially with both vintage and modern delay pedals.

The Live Test

I play guitars hard, in a context of psychedelic roots music — so my tones are dirty and crunchy, but still have presence and natural voicing that lets the instrument speak in its own tongue. I’m also unconventional in that I use a variety of open tunings, often with variations on their classic iterations, like double high string notes and atypical sharps and flats to produce unconventional sounds. The Midtown Standard was ready for all of that.

I don’t often play guitars with co-called robot tuning, but found it very handy for switching between standard, open D, open E and open G tuning – all available among the three banks of presets available with Gibson’s G-FORCE Tuning System — at home. It is important the strings be struck evenly for G-FORCE™ to do its thing efficiently. And it take some time to commit the G-FORCE™ menu to memory, so all G-FORCE™ equipped guitars come with a cheat sheet that can be taken to gigs in road cases.

For stage I decided to tune the Midtown Standard to D-G-D-G-D-D, which I use to produce chorus-like shimmer on chords and an eerie spectral slide sound. Taking the guitar out of the case at the gig, I activated G-FORCE™, switched to the second bank of tunings and then pushed the button for Open G. I stuck the strings once, and hit the top two strings a few times, and the Midtown Standard dialed itself in. All good. (For the record, all guitars with G-Force can also be tuned manually.)

The one thing I didn’t tell Gibson USA before I left the plant with the Midtown Standard is that I abuse the heck out of guitars. I smack their tops with my palm to get shimmy and sustain, I hit the strings really hard and down-pick with a lot of force. I also sling my guitars from around my neck into the hands of audience members, sometimes letting them strike the strings or slide, and I play slide with all kinds of objects, from ash trays and martini glasses to shoes and, on one occasion in a Mississippi juke joint, a 9 mm pistol, followed by its clip and the bullet that had been in the chamber.

But here in the tamer environs of Nashville — through beer glasses, bottles and cans; ash trays and miscellany; and a variety of sweaty palms including my own orangutan-like paws, the Midtown Standard — pumped loud and delirious through a Mesa/Boogie and a Micro-Terror run in stereo — took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’. And soaring. And moaning. And growling. And howling.

The Verdict

The Midtown Standard is a bargain priced Gibson with amazing tonal versatility and good looks that straddles the modern and vintage guitar design realms. But its wide palette keeps its sound from being anchored to any single era, and the fast neck makes its super playable. G-FORCE™ simplifies the tuning process, but can also be effortlessly bypassed. Overall, the Gibson Midtown Standard is a lot of guitar for $1,299 ! And it is perfect for the player who wants a very well built, dependable, road-tough instrument that can literally do it all.