Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II - anybody else?

Deaf Eddie

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Last month, I picked up a "broken" Epi LP Ultra II off eBay. This is the model that is basically a Les Paul Standard, BUT... Chambered body, tummy-cut, gold hardware - and a NanoMAG "Shadow" pickup mounted in the fingerboard after the 22nd fret. The NanoMAG pickup, which gives you an acoustic sound, can be output from the same jack as the humbuckers and "blended" with them, but also has its own separate jack that removes it from humbucker's jack - they call it stereo, but I'd call it dual mono - so, the guitar can be played as: one jack for the humbuckers, and one jack for the NanoMAG.

The seller's disclaimer was that the NanoMAG pickup worked, but the humbuckers didn't. Those who know me will tell you that I spend far more time tinkering than playing, and this seemed like a pretty good deal on what I hoped would be an easy challenge.

This guitar has probably the nicest finish I've ever seen, very flamey.
The NanoMAG is the "black bar" after the 22nd fret.

upload_2021-11-29_15-43-50.png


It turned out to be the easy fix that I anticipated it would be, and it's a killer guitar!

The reason for this post is that I did some web searching to get some more info, and about half of the "opinions" I came across were bad data, so I thought I'd post some GOOD data here.

From the Epiphone Wiki:

Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II, made 2008-2010

Body:
  • Chambered Mahogany body
  • Carved top
  • Quilted Flame Maple veneer
  • Belly scarf
Neck:
  • Set mahogany neck with Slim-Taper "D" profile
  • Rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays
  • Satin finish
  • 12" fingerboard radius
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • 24.75" scale length
  • 1.68" nut width
Binding:
  • Single-ply body & neck
Electronics:
  • Alnico Classic & Classic Plus pickups
  • 1 Bridge & 1 Neck Volume
  • 1 Nano-Mag Volume
  • 1 Master Tone control
Nano-Mag:
  • 1 Shadow Nano-Mag pickup mounted to fingerboard
  • Bass, Treble & Gain controls on back of guitar
  • Mono & Stereo output jacks
  • 9 volt battery
Hardware:
  • Gold hardware
  • LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Grover 16:1 tuners
  • Gold or Black speed knobs
  • Elevated pickguard
Colors:
  • Midnight Ebony (ME)
  • Faded Cherry Sunburst (FC)
So, that's all good.

Some of the "bad" info I found:

It has low impedance pickups - WRONG.
They are standard Epiphone Alnico Classic (neck) and Alnico Classic Plus (bridge) pickups. Further, they will play even when the battery for the NanoMAG pickup's electronics is DEAD - the onboard amp for the NanoMAG has no effect on the humbuckers.

The volume for the NanoMAG is a "blend" pot - WRONG.
It simply controls the volume of the NanoMAG pickup, whether it is played with the humbuckers through the "mono" jack or played by itself out of the NanoMAG jack. If you're using the mono jack, to hear only the NanoMAG, you will have to turn its volume up and turn the humbuckers down.

The humbuckers "bleed" across the selector switch, making it virtually useless. WRONG.
The selector switch works just as expected.

More info: The volumes for the humbuckers are in their normal spots, the volume for the NanoMAG is where you would normally find the bridge pup's tone control. At the spot for the neck pup's tone control is a master tone, that effects the mono output only. So, it always works on the humbuckers, but only works on the NanoMAG when it is played through the mono jack. When you play the NanoMAG through its own jack, the tone control does NOT affect it.

There are three models of the Ultra, each distinctly different. The original Ultra (no model number) has the chambered and contoured body, but no "acoustic" pickup or extra output. The Ultra II is as described above. The Ultra III has all the Ultra II stuff, plus a built-in tuner and USB output!
 
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Fretting out

Doctor of Teleocity
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I don’t have one but think they are neat

Nancy Wilson of Heart endorsed them

I always saw her in the ads so ashamedly I always thought of it as “girly” guitar

I wouldn’t mind having one now days though

Dang that toine control! ;)
 

stratisfied

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I had an Ultra III for a number of years. I wasn't crazy about the pickups but liked the way it sounded with a bit of the nanomag dialed in. I thought about swapping them out but sold it before doing that. It was actually a really nicely made guitar and played very well. The satin neck on the Ultra was especially nice.
 

Deaf Eddie

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More about the NanoMAG Shadow pickup:

If you only use the mono output, the Shadow will add some sparkle and twang to the humbuckers, but played by itself through a guitar amp, it's kind of "meh." You can tell what it's supposed to do, but it doesn't really deliver acoustic tone through a guitar amp. It won't really shine unless you use its separate jack and plug it into an acoustic guitar amp (typically with some kind of horn or tweeter).

So, to REALLY get the most out of this guitar, you need a two-amp setup - a standard guitar amp (for the humbuckers) and an acoustic guitar amp (for the Shadow).

Since I have an Ovation and a few other acoustics with under-saddle pickups, I do have the "specialty" amp that those guitars require to sound realistic - but LOUD.

Plugging the Shadow into that amp revealed its true purpose. It takes a little tweaking, but you can get a very realistic and usable acoustic guitar tone - from a Les Paul!

http://www.epiphonewiki.org/images/3/31/LPultraIIcontrols.jpg

http://www.epiphonewiki.org/images/b/bd/LPultraIIjack.jpg


For mine, I initially found that the low E puts out too much signal, and overdrives/distorts the amp's input. I can address this by turning the pickup's "bass" control down on the LP, and turning the bass down on the amp, but if you go too far, the tone gets a bit brittle. IMHO, what the Ultra II really needs is a mid-control for the Shadow... but since that ain't gonna happen, I'm going to try putting a small cap in series with the Shadow's output, to choke out some of the bottom. I'll start with an .001uF (minimum effect) and try values up to, maybe, an .005uF. Perhaps I will find a sweet spot. If it works, I'll open the Ultra up and solder it right to the "stereo" output jack where the signal comes in from the preamp.

I bought one of these cables, clipped the plugs off of one end, and soldered on two right angle plugs:
s-l200.jpg


... And there's my perfect cable for a two-amp setup. I'm having a lot of fun goofing with the rig.
 
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Deaf Eddie

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Just an FYI, my serial number shows it as a January 2008 build from Unsung, Korea. So, I assume it's a very early production model. They may have gone through some changes, but on such a short run (only two years), I'd be surprised if much really changed over the run. I've seen posts that say the control cavity is a rat's nest, and I HAVE seen a pic of someone who showed a "loose end" of a wire in the control cavity. I don't know what that's all about, mine was neat and clean, almost identical to this drawing from NanMAG:

upload_2021-11-30_10-35-59.png


The only difference I can see is that in my Ultra, the pots are mounted on the back of the board - between the board and the guitar - rather than on the front of the board as shown. Everything else seems the same. The PCB is strictly for the traces between the pots and the clip-on connecters. The only "electronic" part is the cap for the tone control.

IF I get a wild hare in the future, it seems like I could simply remove the PCB and install some regular (or P/P) pots without much fuss, hard-wiring the clip-on connecters' leads, and leave the function of the output jacks intact. The P/P pots would be so that I could install my favorite set of humbuckers, and do the coil-shunts and phase tricks that I use on my other dual-humbucker guitars. Not that there's anything wrong with the stock humbuckers...
 
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