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Gibson Les Paul


The Les Paul model was the result of a design collaboration between Gibson Guitar Corporation and the late pop star, electronics inventor, and accomplished jazz guitarist Les Paul. In 1950, with the introduction of the Fender Telecaster to the musical market, electric guitars became a public craze. In reaction, Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty brought guitarist Les Paul into the company as a consultant. Les Paul was a respected innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years to benefit his own music. In fact, he had hand-built a solid-body prototype called “The Log”, a design widely considered the first solid-body Spanish guitar ever built, as opposed to the “Hawaiian”, or lap-steel guitar. This guitar is known as “The Log” because the solid core is a pine block whose width and depth are a little more than the width of the fretboard. Although numerous other prototypes and limited-production solid-body models by other makers have since surfaced, it is known that in 19451946, Les Paul had approached Gibson with “The Log” prototype, but his solid body design was rejected.

In 1951, this initial rejection became a design collaboration between the Gibson Guitar Corporation and Les Paul. It was agreed that the new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument in Gibson’s tradition. Although recollections differ regarding who contributed what to the Les Paul design, it was far from a market replica of Fender models. Since the 1930s, Gibson had offered electric hollow-body guitars, such as the ES-150; at minimum, these hollow-body electric models provided a set of basic design cues to the new Gibson solid-body, including a more traditionally curved body shape than offered by competitor Fender, and a glued-in (“set”) neck, in contrast to Fender’s bolt-on neck joint design.

The significance of Les Paul’s contributions to his Gibson guitar design remains controversial. The book “50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul” limits Paul’s contributions to two: advice on the trapeze tailpiece, and a preference for color (stating that Paul preferred gold as “it looks expensive”, and a second choice of black because “it makes your fingers appear to move faster on the box”, and “looks classyike a tuxedo”).

Additionally, Gibson’s president Ted McCarty states that the Gibson Guitar Corporation merely approached Les Paul for the right to imprint the musician’s name on the headstock to increase model sales, and that in 1951, Gibson showed Paul a nearly finished instrument. McCarty also claims that design discussions with Les Paul were limited to the tailpiece and the fitting of a maple cap over the mahogany body for increased density and sustain, which Les Paul had requested reversed. However, according to Gibson Guitar, this reversal would have caused the guitar to become too heavy, and Paul’s request was refused. Another switch: the original Goldtop was to be all mahogany and the later Custom was to have the maple cap/mahogany body. Beyond these requests, Les Paul’s contributions to the guitar line bearing his name were stated to be cosmetic. For example, ever the showman, Paul had specified that the guitar be offered in a gold finish, not only for flashiness, but to emphasize the high quality of the Les Paul instrument, as well. The later-issue Les Paul models included flame maple (tiger stripe) and “quilted” maple finishes, and once again contrasted the competing Fender line’s range of car-like color finishes. Gibson was notably inconsistent with its wood choices, and some goldtops or customs have had their finish stripped to reveal beautifully-figured wood hidden underneath.[citation needed]

Models and variations

The Les Paul guitar line was originally conceived to include two models: the regular model (nicknamed the Goldtop), and the Custom model, which offered upgraded hardware and a more formal black finish. However, advancements in pickup, body, and hardware designs allowed the Les Paul to become a long-term series of electric solid-body guitars that targeted every price-point and market level except for the complete novice guitarist. This beginner guitar market was filled by the Melody Maker model, and although the inexpensive Melody Maker did not bear the Les Paul name, its body consistently followed the design of true Les Pauls throughout each era.

Beyond shaping and body design, there are a number of characteristics that distinguish the Gibson Les Paul line from other electric guitars. For example, in a fashion similar to Gibson’s hollow-body instruments, the strings of Les Paul guitars are always mounted on the top of the guitar body, rather than through the guitar body, as seen in competitor Fender’s designs. The Gibson also features a variety of colors, such as Wine Red, Ebony, Classic White, Fire Burst, and Alpine White. In addition, the Les Paul models offered a variety of finishes and decorative levels, a diversity of hardware options, and an innovative array of electric pick-up options, some of which significantly impacted the sound of electric music. For instance, in 1957, Gibson introduced the humbucker which revolutionized the sound of the electric guitar, and eliminated the 60-cycle noise which had previously plagued guitars with single coil magnetic pickups.

Goldtop (19521957)

The 1952 Les Paul featured two P-90 single coil pickups, and a one-piece, ‘trapeze’-style bridge and tailpiece, with strings that were fitted under (instead of over) a steel stop-bar. The weight and the tonal characteristics of the Les Paul were largely due to the mahogany and maple construction: maple is a hard and quite heavy wood, but was restricted to a cap over somewhat lighter mahogany, to keep weight under control. In addition, the early 1952 Les Pauls were never issued serial numbers, did not have bound bodies, and are considered by some as “LP Model prototypes”. However, the later 1952 Les Pauls were issued serial numbers and also came with bound bodies. Interestingly, the design scheme of some of these early models varied. For instance, some of the Les Pauls of this issue were fitted with black covered P90 pickups instead of the creme colored plastic covers that are associated with this guitar, even today. Of note, these early models, nicknamed “Goldtops”, have begun to gain the interest of collectors, and subsequently, the associated nostalgic value of this instrument is increasing. In fact, re-sale prices of the vintage Les Pauls have begun to compete with already high priced, but more practical (and usable) Les Paul versions issued in later years.

Custom (19541960)

Main article: Gibson Les Paul Custom

Paul McCartney playing a 1960 left-handed cherryburst Les Paul

The second issue of the Les Paul guitar was introduced to the public in 1954. Called the Gibson Les Paul Custom, this entirely black guitar was dubbed the Black Beauty. The Les Paul Custom featured a mahogany top to differentiate the instrument from its Goldtop predecessor’s maple top. It also featured the new Tune-o-Matic bridge design and a pickup with an alnico-5 magnet in the neck position. In addition, since 1957, the Custom was fitted with Gibson’s new humbucker pickups, and later became available with three pickups instead of the more usual two. The three pickup model retained the standard Gibson 3-way switch so not all pickup combinations were possible. The neck and bridge-only settings were retained, but the middle was changed to switch in the middle and bridge pickups. A common modification was to restore the standard neck/both/bridge switching combination and add a switch to enable the middle pickup on its own.[citation needed]

Junior (19541960) and TV (19551960)

Main article: Gibson Les Paul Junior

In 1954, to widen the solid-body electric market still further, Gibson issued the Gibson Les Paul Junior. Although previously the Melody Maker was marketed toward the novice guitarist, Gibson targeted to the beginner again with a Les Paul Junior design. Over time, this Gibson design has proven well-suited for even professional use.

There were marked differences between the other Les Paul models and the Les Paul Junior. For instance, although the Junior’s body outline was clearly reminiscent of the original upmarket Les Paul guitar, the Junior issue was characterized by its flat-top “slab” mahogany body, finished in traditional Gibson Sunburst. The Junior was touted as an inexpensive option for Gibson electric guitar buyers[citation needed]: it had a single P-90 pickup, simple volume and tone controls, and the unbound rosewood fingerboard bore plain dot-shape position markers. However, as a concession to the aspirations of the beginning guitarist buyer, the Junior did feature the stud bridge/tailpiece similar to the second incarnation of the upscale Gold-Top.

Later, in 1955, Gibson launched the Les Paul TV model, which was essentially a Junior with what Gibson called a natural finish. This finish was actually more of a translucent mustard yellow through which the wood grain could be seen, and was not unlike the finish that competitor Fender called butterscotch yellow. The idea behind this TV Yellow was that white guitars would glare too much on early black and white television broadcasts, whereas TV Yellow guitars would not cast a glare.

In 1958, Gibson made a radical design change to their Junior and TV models: with the design change came cosmetic changes to these guitars that would later take on enormous importance. To accommodate player requests for more access to the top frets than the previous designs allowed, Gibson revamped both these electric guitar models with a new double-cutaway body shape. In addition, the Junior’s fresh look was enhanced with a new cherry red finish, while the re-shaped TV adopted a new, rather yellow-tinged finish for its new design.

Special (19551960)

Main article: Gibson Les Paul Special

Neil Young playing Old Black

The Les Paul Special was released in 1955, featuring two soapbar P-90 single coil pickups, finished in a TV Yellow variation (but not called a TV model).

In 1959, the Special was given the same new double-cutaway body shape that the Junior and the TV received in 1958. However, when the new design was applied to the two-pickup Special, the cavity for the neck pickup overlapped with the neck-to-body joint. This weakened the joint to the point that the neck could break after only moderate handling. The problem was soon resolved when Gibson’s designers moved the neck pickup farther down the body, producing a stronger joint and eradicating the breakage problem.

This stabilized version of the Special is currently offered only by Gibson’s Custom Shop in the “VOS” series in TV Yellow.

Standard (19581960, 19682008)

In 1958, Gibson changed the top finish on the regular Les Paul model from the gold color used since 1952 to the Sunburst finish already being used on Gibson’s archtop acoustic and hollow electric guitars such as the J-45 model. This model started to be produced from 58 to 60 and in 61 was modified into what is today known as the Gibson SG. Only 2,000 of these early models were made. These Sunburst-finished guitars were later referred to as Les Paul Standards to differentiate them from the earlier Goldtop. The hardware specification was the same as that of the ’57 Goldtop, featuring PAF humbucker pickups with some models carrying the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece along with the tune-o-matic bridge, with some models also carying the Kahler Tremolo System. Today, the Gibson Les Paul Standard has BurstBucker pickups on the Vintage Original Spec models and Burstbucker Pro on the lower end models bearing the ‘Standard’ name.

2008 Standard (2008)

Gibson’s new version of the Les Paul Standard. Released August 1, 2008, it features a long neck tenon, an asymmetrical neck profile to make for a comfortable neck, frets levelled by Plek machine, and locking Grover tuners with an improved ratio of 18:1. With the 2008 model Gibson has introduced their “weight relief” chambering, which includes routing “chambers” in specific areas of the mahogany slab body as specified by Gibson R&D. Before 2008, Les Paul Standards were “swiss cheesed.” In other words, it had holes routed into the body, but it was not chambered like most of Gibson’s Les Paul lineup now is. In 2008 Gibson also introduced the Les Paul Traditional. The Traditional is built using the traditional Les Paul specifications; such as Kluson style tuners, 57 Classic pickups, and an unchambered body.

1961 Les Paul SG

Main article: Gibson SG

In 1960, Gibson experienced a decline in electric guitar sales due to their high prices and strong competition from Fender’s comparable but much lighter double-cutaway design: The Stratocaster. In response, Gibson modified the Les Paul line. This 1961 issue Les Paul guitar was thinner and much lighter than the earlier models, with two sharply pointed cut-aways and a vibrato system. However, the redesign was done without Les Paul’s knowledge. When the musician saw the guitar, he asked Gibson to remove his name from the instrument and parted ways with the company. Although this separation occurred in 1960, Gibson had a surplus stock of “Les Paul” logos and truss rod covers, and so continued to use the Les Paul name until 1963. At that point, the SG guitar’s name was finally changed to “SG”, which stood simply for Solid Guitar. In addition to the SG line, Gibson continued to issue the less expensive Jrs and Specials (and the Melody Makers) with the newer body style. These were the standard Gibson electric models until the reintroduction of the Les Paul Standard Goldtop and the Les Paul Custom guitars to the market in 1968.

Renewed interest in the Les Paul models

Les Paul Standard, PAF-Pickups with Mahogany Body, Maple Top

In 1964, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards obtained a 1959 sunburst Les Paul. The guitar, outfitted with a Bigsby tailpiece, was the first “star-owned” Les Paul in Britain and served as one of the guitarist’s main instruments through 1966. In 1966, Eric Clapton also recognized the rock potential of the late ’50s Les Paul guitars (particularly the 19581960 Standard sunburst models), and gave them wide exposure. He began using Les Pauls because of the influence of Freddie King and Hubert Sumlin. Soon artists such as Peter Green, Mike Bloomfield, Mick Taylor, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page began using the Gibson model. These 1950s models featured the thicker, more sustaining tone of Gibson’s humbucker pickups with the original units known as “Patent Applied For” (PAF) pickups. These PAFs were designed by Seth Lover while working for Gibson in 1955 (U.S. Patent 2,896,491), and debuted on Les Pauls in 1957. This innovation became a standard pick up design for Gibson, and subsequently, many other guitar companies followed suit, outfitting their electrics with copycat versions of the humbucking pickup altered to avoid infringing Gibson’s patent. Gretsch had their Filtertron pickups, and when Fender entered the humbucker market in 1972, it was with the radically different Fender Wide Range pickup. “Standard” humbuckers from other guitar manufacturers and third party replacement pickups from the likes of DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan were only offered after Gibson’s patent had expired. Over the years, authentic 1950s Les Pauls have become some of the most desirable and expensive electric guitars in the world. Only 1700 were made between 1958 and 1960[citation needed] Although in re-sale today, a 1959 Les Paul in good condition can be easily priced between $US200,000 and $US750,000, even by the mid 1960s prices for Les Paul guitars had begun to increase. (However, a reissue of the 1958, 1959, or 1960 Les Paul can be purchased for less, between $US3,000-$US6,000.) With this value in mind, and with increased pressure from the public, Gibson re-introduced the single cutaway Les Paul in July 1968.

Les Paul models in the Norlin era

Subsequent years brought new company ownership to the Gibson Guitar Company. During the “Norlin Era”, Gibson Les Paul body designs were greatly altered, most notably, the change to the neck volute. Because the Les Paul had the reputation of having an easily broken neck joint, the volute strengthened the neck where it joined the headstock to avert breakage. To further increase the strength, the neck woods were changed from mahogany to a three-piece maple design. The LP body was changed from a one piece mahogany with a maple top into multiple slabs of mahogany with multiple pieced maple tops (also called a “pancake body’).

In this era, as well, Gibson began experimenting with new models such as the Les Paul Recording. This model is often eschewed by guitar purists[citation needed]: considered “too full of gadgetry”.[citation needed] The Recording featured low-impedance pickups, many switches and buttons, and a highly specialized cable for impedance-matching to the amplifier. Less noticeable changes included, but were not limited to, maple fingerboards (1976), pickup cavity shielding, and the crossover of the ABR1 Tune-o-matic bridge into the modern day Nashville Tune-o-matic bridge. During the 1970s, the Les Paul body shape was incorporated into other Gibson models, including the S-1, the Sonex, the L6-S, and many other experimental models.


The DeLuxe was among the “new” 1968 Les Pauls. This model featured “mini-humbuckers”, also known as “New York” humbuckers, and did not initially prove popular. The mini-humbucker pickup fit into the pre-carved P-90 pickup cavity using an adaptor ring developed by Gibson (actually just a cut-out P90 pickup cover) in order to use a supply of Epiphone mini-humbuckers left over from when Gibson moved Epiphone production to Japan. The DeLuxe was introduced in late 1968 and helped to standardize production among Gibson’s USA-built Les Pauls. The first incarnation of the DeLuxe featured a one-piece body and three-piece neck in late 1968. The “pancake” body (thin layer of maple on top of two layers of Honduran mahogany) came later in 1969. In late 1969, a small “volute” was added. 1969 DeLuxe’s feature the Gibson logo devoid of the dot over the “i” in Gibson. By late 1969/early 1970, the dot over the “i” had returned, plus a “Made In USA” stamp on the back of the headstock. By 1975, the neck construction was changed from mahogany to maple, until the early 1980s, when the construction was returned to mahogany. The body changed back to solid mahogany from the pancake design in late 1976 or early 1977. Interest in this particular Les Paul model was so low that in 1985, Gibson canceled the line. However, in 2005, the “DeLuxe” was reintroduced with more popularity due to its association with Pete Townshend and Thin Lizzy.

In 1978 the Les Paul Pro DeLuxe was introduced. This guitar featured P-90 pickups, instead of the “mini-humbuckers” of the DeLuxe model, an ebony fingerboard, maple neck, mahogany body and chrome hardware. It came in either Ebony, Cherry Sunburst, Tobacco Sunburst or Gold finish. Interestingly it was first launched in Europe, rather than the USA. It was discontinued in 1982.


See also: Gibson Les Paul Studio

The “Studio” model was introduced in 1983, and is still in production. The intended market for this guitar was the studio musician; therefore, the design features of the “Les Paul Studio” were centered around optimal sound output. This model retained only the elements of the Gibson Les Paul that contributed to tone and playability, including the carved maple top and standard mechanical and electronic hardware. However, the Studio design omitted several stock Gibson ornamentations that did not affect sound quality, including the binding on the body and neck. The two notable exceptions to this are the Studio Standard and the Studio Custom. Both models were produced in the mid 1980s, and included body and neck binding, though with dot fingerboard inlays instead of more ornate trapezoids. The first Studios from 8386, except for Studio Standard and Studio Custom, were made with alder bodies rather than mahogany/maple. The current Studios come with either a chambered mahogany body with a maple cap, or a chambered mahogany body with a mahogany cap. The latter also include “faded” finishes.[citation needed]

Gibson Les Paul Studio.

Custom Shop models

Due to the popularity of the Les Paul guitar, hundreds of unendorsed imitations or copycat versions began to sell in the U.S. and overseas. Due to the lack of U.S. legislation addressing patent infringements or restricting import sales, the cheaply priced imitations created legal and financial problems for the Gibson Guitar Corporation. Although troublesome, there were overseas copycat companies that produced very high quality Les Paul and Stratocaster imitations. In fact, during the 1970s and early 1980s, a Japanese company, Tokai, made superb replicas of the 195759 Les Paul designs.

Modern Les Pauls

In January 1986, Gibson changed ownership and began manufacturing a range of varied Les Paul models to suit different user needs. The 1980s also saw the end to several design characteristics that were classic to the Les Paul, including the volute and maple neck. However, due to consumer demand, The Gibson Les Paul guitar is available today in an array of choices, ranging from guitars equipped with modern digital electronics to classic re-issue models built to match the look and specifications of the guitar’s earliest production runs from 1952 to 1960.

Les Paul’s guitar

Until his death in August of 2009, Les Paul himself played his personal Les Paul Guitar onstage, weekly, in New York City. Paul preferred his 1972 Gibson “Recording” model guitar, with different electronics and a one-piece mahogany body, and which, as an inveterate tinkerer and bona fide inventor, he had modified heavily to his liking over the years. A Bigsby-style vibrato was of late the most visible change although his guitars were formerly fitted with his “Les Paulverizer” effects.

Epiphone Les Pauls

Main article: Epiphone Les Paul

The Gibson-owned Epiphone Company makes around 20 models of the Les Paul, which are copies of the original. Made in places outside the U.S., the Epiphone Les Pauls are made from more commonly-available woods and have less hand detailing than the Gibson models, and, as a result, sell for a lower price. Epiphone Guitar Co. has been owned by Gibson Guitars since the 1950s. Once Gibson purchased Epiphone they quickly began making lower quality guitars based on Gibson designs.

Epiphone currently produces several models of the Les Paul including The beginner/entry level guitar the “Les Paul Special II” which typically costs about $US170. It is generally made of a basswood body and a thin veneered top, bolt on neck (with dot inlays instead of the usual trapezoid inlays), lacks a binding, and has simplified electronics.

The next model up is the “Les Paul 100”, which costs approximately $US300, has similar setbacks but it has the standard Les Paul wiring, mahogany body and a higher quality paint job. The standard models are the “Les Paul Standard Plain Top” and the “Les Paul Standard Plus Top”. They cost $US550 and $US650 respectively. They both feature a solid mahogany body with a maple veneer and carved top.

Epiphone also makes several less common models of the Les Paul such as the “Les Paul Goth”, “Les Paul Goldtop”, “Les Paul Ultra” and “Les Paul Ultra II”, “Les Paul Custom”, “Les Paul Black Beauty”, “Les Paul Prophecy Series”, “Zakk Wylde Custom Les Paul Model”, “Slash signature Les Paul Models” and the “Les Paul Studio”.

Gibson Robot Guitar

Main article: Gibson Robot Guitar

Gibson Robot Guitar (alongside assorted guitar effect pedals).

In 2007, Gibson announced an idea to create a computerized Les Paul, dubbed the “Robot Guitar”. It was released on December 7, 2007. The guitar has a computer integrated into the body with a “master control” knob next to the volume knobs, which can be pulled out, turned, or pressed to issue different commands to the guitar. One of the more notable features is the ability to tune the guitar to standard tuning simply by pulling out on the master control knob and strumming the guitar, while the tuning pegs adjust themselves to standard tuning. Another use of the master control knob is to be able to tune the guitar to alternative tunings, such as drop D, by pressing on the control knob to fit the setting. The new Les Paul has a new custom silverburst blue finish. While the product was advertised in the American popular press as a “world’s first”, similar systems, some external, have been in use for decades.

Gibson Dark Fire

Main article: Gibson Dark Fire

Gibson announced a new interactive computerized Les Paul that produces more sounds, named the Dark Fire. It was released on December 15, 2008. The guitar has a computer integrated into the body and controlled by the “Master Control Knob” (MCK) The MCK allows players the ability to change the pickups and coils, adjust each tone and tunings automatically and simultaneously, even during a song being played. Like the Robot, the Dark Fire features the ability to tune the guitar; however, in an improvement over the Robot, the player can tune it up to 500 times per battery charge, allowing the tuning pegs to adjust themselves to different tuning styles. Using the “Chameleon Tone Technology” Gibson claims this guitar will produce every imaginable guitar sound. In addition to the improved and advanced tuning features, the guitar has three various types of pickups, which includes: Burstbucker (humbucker), a P-90 single-coil and a bridge-mounted piezo acousticll of which contribute to organic blends of original sounds.

Gibson Dusk Tiger

Gibson has made another guitar in the robot series. The Dusk tiger. This 3rd robot guitar has lightweight 45 gram tuners. A chameleon tone editor support(which means you can make your own sounds by modelling in chameleon tone)

Signature models

Slash Model

Slash also created his own signature Gibson Les Paul. Since the VOS model, the next Slash Signature model was a Les Paul Tobacco Burst. It features Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro 2 pickups and Slash’s custom neck profile. Following this model was an ‘Inspired By’ Les Paul guitar. It was a Goldtop model that wasn’t much different to the original Goldtop. Both guitars carry Slash’s pickups, the Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro 2s and the line also has his custom neck profile. The Slash Signature Tobacco Burst and ‘Inspired By’ Goldtop Les Paul, are both produced by Epiphone as well with the same pickups and neck profile as the Gibson models.

Gary Moore Signature Model

Northern Irish blues/rock guitarist Gary Moore also created his own signature Gibson Les Paul in the early 1990s. Characterised by a yellow flame top, no binding and a Gary Moore truss rod cover. It featured two open-topped humbucking pick-ups, one with “zebra coils” (one white and one black bobbin). Gary formerly owned Peter Green’s vintage Les Paul with the accidentally reversed pick-up magnet that gives it its unique sound.

In 2009, Gibson released another Gary Moore signature guitar, the Gibson Gary Moore BFG Les Paul. The Gary Moore BFG is much like their previous Les Paul BFG series, while having the style of Moore’ 1950s Les Paul Standards.

Jimmy Page Signature Model

The Jimmy Page signature model has two extra mini-switches fitted, hidden just underneath the lip of the pick plate to provide addition pick-up routing options; some settings are reputedly electrically duplicates of others. It also has non-standard neck shape, to reflect that of the original which Jimmy reputedly shaved down himself and upgraded Grover machine heads. Sunburst finish (faded cherry sunburst/honeyburst/desertburst?).

Ace Frehley (KISS) Signature Model

The Ace Frehley signature model has three humbucking DiMarzio SDHB (Super Distortion Humbucking) pick-ups, a dessert sunburst finish and a black and white image of Frehley’s face in his Kiss make-up on the headstock.

Billy Gibbons / “Pearly Gates” Signature Model

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has a signature model and pick-up based on his favorite “Pearly Gates” Les Paul.

Buckethead Signature Model

Electric Guitar virtuoso Buckethead’s signature model has an oversized alpine white chambered body, a baritone neck, a push/pull pot on the tone knob for the bridge pickup, Gibson contemporary-voiced Ceramic series humbucking pickups. (496R in the neck, 500T in the bridge) The electronics are also re-wired to make use of the two arcade style “killswitch” buttons on the guitar.

Sammy Hagar Signature Model

Sammy Hagar’s signature Les Paul model is equipped with dual “zebra-striped” humbuckers on a red quilt maple top. The headstock is inlayed with the logo of Sammy’s new supergroup, Chickenfoot.

Joe Bonamassa Signature Model

Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

Notable Les Paul users

Main article: List of Gibson players

Les Paul imitations

Gibson Les Paul specifications during 1958-60 varied from year to year and also from guitar to guitar. Typical 1958 Les Paul Standard necks had a thicker “club-shaped” neck, thinner fret width and lower fret height which changed during the course of 1959 to develop into typical 1960 necks with a thinner shape, wider fret width and higher fret heights. On the other hand, Les Paul Customs from the same period had totally different frets and were referred to as “The Fretless Wonder”, which were designed for jazz guitarists of the day with thick flat-wound strings and they are generally unsuitable for modern blues-based playing. Coupled with a luxurious use of selected naturally seasoned quality tone wood with its harmonic qualities and causing notes to sustain and the hand-wound “PAF” humbucking pickups, the original Les Paul Standard became the most desirable electric guitar in the history matching the status of Stradivarius. The huge premium it started commanding as early as in the late 60s following Eric Clapton’s recording with Bluesbreakers, began inspiring replicas and imitations.

Although early Les Paul imitations in ’60s and ’70s such as those made by Hofner, Hagstrom, Harmony and Greco differed visibly from Gibson’s design, different electronics, and even bolt on necks, in the late ’70s some Japanese companies came very close to perfecting copies of the original 1958-60 Standards. In particular, starting in 1978, under the guidance of Tommy Hidaka of Garo, who was the first professional musician to perform in the public with a 1958 Les Paul in Japan and also an avid collector of vintage Les Pauls, the Japanese manufacturer Tokai made an imitation 1958 spec vintage Les Paul initially called “Les Paul REBORN” and later, the “Love Rock” that featured such a perfect reproduction of the vintage top arch, body construction, neck construction, flame top, nitro cellulose finish and trademark headstock profile as well as tonal characteristics of 1958-60 Standards that Gibson Guitar Corporation sued them. The headstock on Gibson instruments has a recognizable profile called an “open-book” cut. The lawsuit ended with victory for Gibson with a court-mandate that the necks on Tokai models for the U.S. market could not have the Gibson trademark headstock profile. Following on from Tokai in 1980, Greco who manufacture Ibanez guitars also began making very high quality vintage Gibson imitations under the banner “Super Real Series”. These replicas were marketed to satisfy the demand for vintage spec Les Pauls during a time period when guitars of Japanese make were both affordable and of superior quality to the 70s mass manufactured US Les Pauls, and effectively became forebears of Gibson made re-issues, Historic Collections and VOS models.

It is considered among vintage guitar experts that the early- and mid-70s marked a low point in the quality of guitars from the major manufacturers including Gibson, which helped contribute to the popularity of the Japanese-made vintage replicas. These guitars later became known as “lawsuit” guitars. The actual lawsuit referred to was brought by the Norlin Corporation, the parent company of Gibson guitars, in 1977, and was based on an Ibanez headstock design that had been discontinued by 1976. Ibanez settled out of court, and by 1978 had begun making guitars from their own designs.[citation needed]

ESP Guitars makes seven types, the Eclipse series, James Hetfield Truckster, and Kirk Hammett KH-3 from ESP, the LTD EC series and Truckster, the Edwards E-LP series, and the Navigator N-LP series, that are based on the Les Paul design. Certain EC models have 24 fret necks and active electronics using EMG pickups instead of the standard passive pickups and 22 frets found in the traditional Les Paul. The Edwards and Navigator lines are made in Japan, and only available retail on the Japanese market, they come standard with Gotoh hardware and Seymour Duncan pickups (EMG pickups in a few models), and unlike the EC and Eclipse series guitars which are updated variants on the Les Paul, these are made to be as close to the Gibson ’59 Les Paul design as possible, in the vein of the late ’70s and ’80s “Lawsuit” model guitars from Tokai, Burny, and Greco, complete with Gibson style headstocks.

Heritage Guitars, founded in 1985 by four long-time Gibson employees when Gibson relocated to Nashville, continues to build high-quality guitars in the original factory at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Many of their models evoke memories of Gibson’s late-’50s/early-’60s “golden years.” The H-150 and H-157, for instance, are reminiscent of the original Les Paul and Les Paul Custom, while the H-535 is a modern version of the Gibson ES-335. Because Heritage guitars are built in the original factory, some don’t consider them imitators at all, but a continuation of the Kalamazoo legacy.

In 2006 Gibson lost a lawsuit against PRS Guitars, Gibson claiming PRS was stealing the Les Paul shape and design.

The music retailer Rondo Music produces several popular models that are similar to the Les Paul, under the Agile brand.

Gibson lost the trademark for Les Paul in Finland. According to the court, Les Paul has become a common noun for guitars of a certain type. The lawsuit began when Gibson sued Musamaailma, which imports Tokai guitars, for trademark violation. However, several witnesses testified that the term “Les Paul” denotes a character in a guitar rather than special guitar model. The court found it also aggravating that Gibson had used Les Paul in plural form and that the importer of Gibson guitars had used Les Paul as a common noun. The court decision will become effective, as Gibson is not going to appeal.

In other media

In the movie This Is Spinal Tap, guitarist Nigel Tufnel (a.k.a. Christopher Guest) shows off a Les Paul Standard in his collection, attempting to demonstrate its impressive sustain without actually playing a note. When the interviewer states that ‘he can’t hear anything’, Tufnel replies, “You would, though, if it were playing”.

In the anime K-On!, the main character Yui Hirasawa plays a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar that she nicknames ‘Giita’ (?). K-ON! was also famous for pointing out (through Azusa Nakano) that the Les Paul tends to be somewhat unwieldy due to its relatively heavier weight and thick neck.

In an episode of George Lopez, George’s son Max possibly breaks George’s guitar, to which George says that it’s “a genuine Les Paul.” His wife Angie responds that it’s a Los Paulo that he had bought at the swap meet.


^ a b Gibson USA: Gibson Les Paul Standard Guitar, The Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar Facts and Pictures

^ Image of “The Log”

^ Wheeler, Tom (1992). American Guitars. Harper. p. 140. ISBN 0-06-273154-8. 

^ Freeth, Nick; Charles Alexander (2004). Ray Bonds. ed. The Illustrated Directory of Guitars. Barnes & Noble, Inc.. pp. 290293. ISBN 0-7607-6317-8. 

^ Wheeler, Tom (1992). American Guitars. Harper. p. 141. ISBN 0-06-273154-8. 

^ Duchossoir, Andre (1998). Gibson Electrics: the classic years. Hal Leonard. p. 44. ISBN 0-7935-9210-0. 

^ >Duchossoir, Andre (1998). Gibson Electrics: the classic years. Hal Leonard. pp. 4243. ISBN 0-7935-9210-0. 

^ >Duchossoir, Andre (1998). Gibson Electrics: the classic years. Hal Leonard. pp. 4243. ISBN 0-7935-9210-0. 

^ Nonetheless, most guitarists consider a standard Lester to be a very heavy guitar, especially at the end of a long set

^ a b “Les Paul Custom Guitars”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ Gibson Les Paul Classic Custom Guitar, Black Beauty Custom Style Guitar Pictures and Specs

^ “Les Paul Custom (1957)”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ “Les Paul Junior”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ Gibson USA: Gibson Billie Joe Armstrong ’57 LP Junior Electric Guitar, Pictures and Information, Buy Electric Guitar Online


^ “Les Paul Junior”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ “Vintage Guitars Info’s Gibson Solid Body Model”. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 

^ “Les Paul Junior Double Cut”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ “Les Paul Special”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ “Les Paul Special Double Cutaway”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ a b “Les Paul Standard”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ Gibson guitar Weight relief chambering

^ “SG”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ Burrluck, Dave (September 2007). “‘The Keithburst Les Paul'”. Guitarist Magazine: 5558. 

^ Bacon, Tony (2000). Electric Guitars:The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Thunder Bay Press. pp. 123. ISBN 978-1-59223-053-2. 

^ Bacon, Tony (2002). 50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul. Backbeat Books. pp. 38, 50. ISBN 0-87930-711-0. 

^ “Les Paul Deluxe”. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 

^ Yuri Kageyama (The Associated Press) (December 3, 2007). “World’s first robot guitar takes care of the tuning”. Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 

^ “Gibson’s computerized Dark Fire Les Paul”. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 

^ “Gibson Dark Fire Les Paul Guitar”. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 

^ “Buckethead Les Paul”. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 

^ PRS win victory over Gibson guitars

^ Les Paul loses trademark in Finland

Further reading

Electric Guitar Man: The Genius of Les Paul (Library Binding). Edwin Brit Wyckoff. Enslow Elementary (April 2008). ISBN 978 0766028470

50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul: Half a Century of the Greatest Electric Guitars (Paperback). Tony Bacon. Backbeat Books 1st edition (April 26, 2002). ISBN 0879307110

External links

Gibson’s Les Paul front page

Les Paul Guitars User Reviews

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Gibson Les Paul submodels

Custom  Doublecut  Junior  Melody Maker  Standard  Studio  Robot  Dark Fire

Categories: Gibson electric guitars | Gibson Les Paul submodelsHidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements from May 2008 | Articles with unsourced statements from July 2008 | Articles with unsourced statements from August 2009 | Articles with unsourced statements from February 2007

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