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Gibson Les Paul

Solid body single cutaway electric guitar

Gibson Index | Gibson Les Paul
Les Paul Custom | Les Paul Deluxe | Les Paul Junior / TV | Les Paul Standard
Les Paul visits the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo circa 1956Les Paul examing a Les Paul Custom at a visit to the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, circa 1956

Les Paul was one of the most important figures in the history of modern day music. He was an inventor, an innovator in studio recording and an incredible guitarist. After his death, an auction of his guitars included dozens of projects with experimental electronics dating back decades.

But the best invention he was associated with was the Les Paul solid body guitar; probably the most recognised, and copied guitar design, alongside the Gibson SG and Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster. Les Paul certainly had input on the design, features and finish of the instrument, but the name on the original patent was that of Gibson president Ted McCarty.

Rickenbacker had had a solid body over twenty years before the launch of the Les Paul, and Fender and Bigsby had also recently produced solid bodies. Fender launched the Esquire and Broadcaster (which became the Telecaster) in 1950. There had been public demand for more conveniently sized solids for some time, and Gibson finally responded in 1952. McCarty wanted a guitar that would be better than the harsh-sounding 'junk' that Fender was producing. The Les Paul was to have a carved top and a set-neck - beyond the ability of Fender at the time. Gibson produced several mock ups, trying different woods, but ended with the mahogany body/maple top combination of their first solid body, the Les Paul Model. And what a sucess: with a small gap in the early 1960s, it has been in production ever since.

Les Paul, in an advertisement from 1953

Click on the images for more details of some of the Les Paul models

1970 Les Paul Custom (high impedance) 1970 Les Paul Deluxe (high impedance) 1970 Les Paul Personal (low impedance) 1970 Les Paul Professional (low impedance)
Les Paul Custom Les Paul Deluxe Les Paul Personal (low impedance) Les Paul Professional (low impedance)
1975 Les Paul Recording guitar 1977 Les Paul Standard 1977 Les Paul Artisan 1980 Gibson Les Paul Artist
Les Paul Recording guitar (low impedance) Les Paul Standard Les Paul Artisan Les Paul Artist
Keith Richards advertises the Les Paul
The 1975 Les Paul catalogue featured Keith Richards playing a Les Paul Custom
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Les Paul Gold Top 1955 with a Bigsby played by Carl Perkins live at ranch party
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Just about every famous guitar player has played one, though it is particularly associated with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Eric Clapton (Cream), Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Paul Kossoff (Free) and Slash (Guns and Roses). Keith Richards appeared on the cover of the 1975 Les Paul catalogue with an LP Custom.

The Les Paul came in several variations. The 'Les Paul Model' of 1952 had a Honduras mahogany body and neck, with a gold finished maple top (gold top). It was regularly upgraded throughout the 1950s, and many would argue that it was at its pinacle in 1958. It had had two soap bar P90 pickups from 1952, however in late 57 they were replaced by standard Gibson humbuckers. Cherry sunburst became the standard colour rather than the goldtop, and to differentiate itself from the other Les Paul models, it was renamed the Les Paul Standard by about 1960.

The single pickup Les Paul Junior was launched in 1954. Once again this was a mahogany instrument, both body and neck, but without the carved maple tops of the other Les Pauls. It was the only model not to change its pickup to a humbucker in 1957. A limed-mahogany version was also available (at a slightly increased price, and was known as the Les Paul TV.

1954 also saw the first mention of the two pickup Custom (the black beauty), which again started out with single coil pickups, but became a three humbucker model in '58. Beautifully appointed with gold hardware and split diamond headstock inlays contrasting the ebony (black) finish and matching ebony fretboard.

But in early 1961 the whole range was redesigned - it was given a new double cutaway body shape (todays SG). For one reason or another, Les Paul did not approve, and his name was removed from these guitars. So briefly, in the early-mid 1960s Les Paul guitars were not available. GHowever, a lot of the early guitar heros mentioned above were discovering these great instruments, and finding them perfectly suited for the overdriven blues-rock scene that was emerging, particularly in the mid-sixties UK.

Public demand for Les Paul guitars precipitated a reissue in 1968; they sold well and have been available ever since, both in well-known and a myriad of lesser-known configurations. Some of the first models were the low-impedence Professional, Personal, and Recording designed largely for studio use. These guitars were developed by Les Paul himself, using some of the novel circuitry he had been experimenting with in his own studio.

The Les Paul Special 55 was reissued in 1975, and the Les Paul Pro Deluxe, another guitar based on the 1950s models was first launched in 1978.

The late seventies saw big sales of the Les Paul, and a lot of newer models added to the line. Amongst the high-end Les Pauls were the Artist, Artisan and The Les Paul, each with custom features, top-of-the-range appointments and price tags to match.

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There are 3 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
Cherry Sunburst Comment left 14th August 2012 10:10:33
Is there a best Les Paul? I mean surely the 1958 Les Paul Standard *should* be, but is it really any better than a 1968 or even a 2008? My 72 LP Custom absolutely rocks, but it's only worth 2k apparently. Best damn geetar i've ever touched.
James E Sampson Comment left 11th May 2013 07:07:43
I have an original 53 and a half Gibson Les Paul without the trapeze, with case that I'm trying to sell. Not restored still plays great, has that cool green stain all across the body. My father bought it in 53, played 25 years on that same guitar. Kills me to part with it but it was made to play not sit on display. If you would like pictures I will send pictures of guitar and case. I need to know its true value SN 3-2236.
Alan Totten Comment left 28th June 2013 09:09:35
Hi there, I have a Les Paul with an inked on number 8 7772. I think it is supposed to be a Custom Shop 58 reissue but theseller also said prehistoric, R8 and goodwood era which sounds like gobbledgegook to me. Could you please confirm what I've got? Do you need photos? Thanks Alan

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