The wide variety of prices is in part down to differences in visual/cosmetic appointments like binding and finishes and the production cost, and also pickups and hardware; but it's also due to Gibson's marketing. There are those for whom a Studio or Classic will do, some who will want a Standard or a Traditional, some who will like having another famous artist's signature-model Les Paul, with TWO famous-player names on the guitar (funny that there are sig-model sig-models, huh?
), and those who must have a "Reissue" or a "Virtual Old Stock" model, or even one with artificial aging. Some of the differences make a real difference, some of the differences are very real, and some, honestly, are largely marketing spin. When you buy a Les Paul, like a buying a Harley Davidson, you're buying heritage, image and "lifestyle" as much as the guitar itself, and the amount of all that seems to generally increases along with the price-tag.
Some also insist on a brand-new guitar; but you might do very well to try a number of used Les Pauls- you might get more for your money. Besides, all of those extremely expensive vintage Les Pauls are, after all, used guitars themselves!
I appreciate the info. I did buy an Alhambra online a few years ago from one of the larger sites, but the idea of buying a Les Paul without playing it first is tough to swallow.
Personally, I generally agree with you; overall quality HAS varied from one to another to another Gibson Les Paul, even amongst the same specific sub-model and year. You will find some that are OK, some embarrassingly sub-par, and some particularly excellent specimens when trying out a number of them, especially if you spread that out over several retailers. You might luck out buying sight-unseen, or you might get a lemon, or one that is so-so. Add to that the fact that this is partially subjective- one that you love will seem just "OK" to another player, and vice-verse. Of course, strings and set-up are a factor here, as well.