Re: WTF GIBSON???
Gibson Les Pauls are, in my opinion, way overpriced these days. Even a lot of Gibson Les Paul owners think so. Just read through the forums at mylespaul. com or "The Les Paul Forum" (I think just lespaulforums. com or something like that).
Personally, I would not buy a current Les Paul. If I were to really buy a Gibson, I would go used. For used, at a good price, you are probably talking about a Norlin-era instrument, or possibly just after. Norlin-era Les Pauls have a bad rep, but there are quite often a few real gems that sneak through. Therefore, if I were to buy a Norlin-era Les Paul I think I would definitely have to do it in person and not the fleabay or online classifieds, etc.
But really, I would instead go for something completely different, unless you just HAVE to have the name on the headstock. The Epiphone Elite series are literally on par with, and sometimes BETTER than their American counter parts. Quality Control in asia seems to be better these days than it is at Gibson unless you are talking about the custom shop. The Epiphone Elites are less than half the cost of the USA Gibson Les Pauls.
I would seriously look into import models as well. ESP makes a line of Les Paul copies under the "Edwards" brand name. These are not sold in the USA for legal reasons and are only sold in Japan. However, you can find them on fleabay and in classifieds pretty regularly. For around $800 these are probably the single most consistently made (in terms of quality, etc.) LP copies around right now, and in terms of feel, quality, tone, construction, etc. they are easily on par with the current Gibson Les Paul standards, etc.
You can also search fleabay for used "Orville" and "Orville by Gibson" guitars. Both were made by Gibson in Japan. The "Orville by Gibson" brand is a little higher end than the plain "Orville" brand. The "Orville by Gibson" are essentially the Epiphone Elites before they existed, but were intended only for the Japanese market.
Older Tokais, Burnys, and a few others are (and they each vary from instrument to instrument) all high quality instruments, many often far better quality and tone than what Gibson is making today, for 1/2 the price as well.
If you want to go high-end, Navigator is a brand that is essentially the ESP Custom Shop, and their LP copies are right up there with the Gibson Custom Shop instruments. They cost it though. New Navigators are in the $4k range. You can get really nice used ones for around $2k though. Not too shabby, a Gibson Custom Shop, handmade instrument for $2k? About 1/3 the cost of a Gibby Custom Shop? There is the brand "History" as well. They have low end, and they have very high-end. The high-end use Timeless Timbers (wood up to around 400 years old), are individually hand-made, pretty rare, and cost around the same as the Navigators, sometimes close to Gibby Custom Shop prices for top of the line, exotic wood handmade instruments. Bacchus is another brand. Their upper-end instruments are hand-made as well, but they are often no-frills and therefore reasonably affordable. You just can't beat $1200-$1500 for a brand new handmade Les Paul copy. The Duke series use a simple oil rubbing finish. THis means that if you want to refinish the guitar it's really easy to do so, and you can get a real Nitro finish done on it rather than a poly if you want.
Many of the above mentioned have features that you just can't get from Gibson anymore unless you got for an R8 or R9, like long tenon neck joints, often 1-piece mahogany bodies, etc. Many of them come with nice pickups from the get go (like REAL Seymour Duncan JB and 59s in the Edwards, etc.). Some of the older (used) ones will not only have 1-piece bodies, but they will be REAL honduran mahogany, not african (Honduran is less dense and therefore more lightweight, and has far better tonal qualities), and many will have REAL brazillian rosewood fretboards. You simply can't get those woods from Gibson anymore w/o paying a nice chunk of change.
But, if you are really concerned with the name on the headstock, get the Gibson. It's the real thing, even if the real thing isn't what it used to be.