I wanted to buy myself an Epiphone Les Paul for my upcoming birthday, Id bought me a Squier Standard Telecaster for my last birthday and the new axe really did alot for my playing as well as more frequent. So naturally a new Les Paul could only help! I enjoy the whole buying/shopping experience, and like taking the time to learn about what Im about to purchase. To be honest, a buddy's new Epiphone SG got me warmed up to the idea of a new Epiphone, but it didnt take long before my attentions were diverted to a Les Paul vs. an SG. Jimmy Page was always my number 1 guitar hero/idol...thats why I had to have a Tele! So a Les Paul just seemed natural. Well my buddy ordered his SG online...it arrived within days, but to his missfortune, the neck was broke upon delivery and it was weeks before the replacement arrived. So I decided that maybe mail order wasnt for me...but I did learn a valueable lesson from this...if you order a guitar mailorder, youd better buy a case with it! I think this works out best for a couple of reasons, for one, they have to take the guitar out of the original box before shippment, if the neck is broke they should notice. And secondly, youve got the added protection of a case in trasnsit, so its likely the gorrillas shipping it will have a harder time breaking it. I live in a small town, but am surrounded by bigger cities with more guitar shops to chose from. Unfortuantely not that many shops carry Epiphone, so I had to drive out to Orlando to try out a few Les Pauls. BUT fortunately I had 3 shops to chose from. I called the shops ahead of time to find out which models they had, I was looking for an Ultra, a Custom, Plus Top and a Plain Top Standard...each shop said they had all the models I was looking for to compair. I went to the first shop, George's Music next to the attractions(Wet n'Wild)...they were very helpful and let me try out everything I wanted to, BUT upon further inspection and a scrutinizing eye, it was obvious these guitars had been sitting on the shelf for an extended length of time. Most of the metal or gold plated parts had sweat that had tarnished thier finish, the frets were so dry from being exposed to constant AC that the fret wire was rising out of the fretboards and the binding shrinking...not to mention all the fingernail scratches on all of these guitars. But this was the first shop I went to...yeah I wanted a Les Paul, but these were just nasty! I had told the sales associate(s) that I just couldnt buy a guitar in this shape...and they scoffed at me and told me if I were looking for "quality" then I should be shopping for a Gibson! I just walked away...but later I wondered what these minimum wage jerkoffs were playing?(I just assume they play Ibanez!) The second shop was nicer, it was a Guitar Center, they had all the same guitars in much more desireable colors! They were just as nice as the other place and let me test drive everything I was interested in...but still the quality wasnt there and I was beginning to doubt my mission...is this the Epiphone quality I keep hearing about? Once again, dried out fret boards, corrosion, scratches and binding that had seams exposed like it was shrinking...nothing I could live with. The third shop was also a Guitar Center, same guitars and still even more color choices...but this shop was cramped and several guitars(in my sellection) suffered from this in the way of broken headstocks! BUT the good news was they had lots of stock still in the box! At this point I was really interested in a plain top vintage burst, my salesman opened a box and before he could get it out of the foam wrapping I could see the headstock was busted! Which makes me tend to believe this is VERY COMMON! I asked to see a honey burst in a plus top, and he came out with a new one still in the box, he opened it and it was flawless! "I'll take it!!!" In reading about purchasing an Epiphone or even a Les Paul, the most common reply was "try before you buy!" but having 2 Squiers that Id bought sight unseen, I didnt really "get it" until I did shop around for this Epiphone. My conclusion was that the reason they say this is because of shelf life and the conditions these guitars are subject to in the store as well as in transit, really affect the playability and quality of these delicate instruments. BUT also I kinda get the impression you can buy a really excellent guitar mail order, but a case would be advised. These are just my observations, but I thought Id pass em along...maybe theyd be of some help or use to somebody else.