With its rich sustain, distinctive tone and finger-friendly fretboard, it’s hardly surprising that many of rock’s greatest solos have been played on Les Pauls. Through the years, thousands of unforgettable solos have been unleashed on the instrument, often within the context of classic songs. Below is a sampling of some of the most brilliant. Please add your personal favorites in the comments section that follows.
“Walk This Way” – Joe Perry (Aerosmith, Toys in the Attic, 1975)
Joe Perry came up with the perfect solo for the bridge section of this Aerosmith classic. As regards that funky riff, Perry told Gibson.com he developed it at a sound check. “I can remember sitting there thinking how much I like James Brown, and The Meters, and I wanted to write a song that had that sort of R&B feel. That was the motivation, and that’s what started the riff.”
"Sweet Child O' Mine" – Slash (Guns N' Roses, Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
Slash has often pointed out that the solo for this hit was done spontaneously, in one take. Playing his Les Paul Standard, the Guns N' Roses guitarist demonstrated that a handful of notes — played with emotion — could do the job of many. Only in the song's final section does he cut loose with a flurry of rapid-fire riffs, putting a hard punctuation on the splendor of what went before.
"Sympathy for the Devil" — Keith Richards (Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet, 1968)
Keith Richards used his Les Paul Custom to come up with the ideal solo for this Stones classic. Jagged, "witch-doctor-y," and unpredictable, Richards alternates between frantic flurries of notes and stinging bends evocative of B.B. King. The bright, trebly tone Richards employed adds teeth to the song's skittery bite.
"Moonage Daydream" — Mick Ronson (David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
Mick Ronson's solo on this Ziggy Stardust centerpiece showcases the late sideman's talents in all their unfettered glory. Shaping his Les Paul Custom's tone with a wah pedal, Ronson unleashes a series of thrilling slides and bends seemingly headed for astral plains. Think Jeff Beck in a space suit and you get an idea of Ronson's finest solo on record.
“Sweet Jane” – Steve Hunter / Dick Wagner (Lou Reed, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, 1974)
Hunter and Wagner used Les Paul Juniors to craft the majestic twin-guitar intro for this live version of the Velvet Underground classic. The duo's crunchy riffs and stinging runs helped establish a template for future urban two-guitar bands like Sonic Youth and Television. The suddenness with which the Hunter and Wagner lock into the song's signature riff – following their fiery 3-1/2-minute intro – is one of rock's most thrilling moments.
“Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two” – David Gilmour (Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1979)
David Gilmour’s tasteful solo on this classic was played on his famous 1955 Les Paul Goldtop. Gilmour continued to use the ’55 Goldtop throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, most notably on substantial portions of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Divison Bell. He also played a ’56 Goldtop that was nearly identical to the ’55, except for a custom-fitted Bigsby bridge and tremolo.
“Heartbreaker” – Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
Jimmy Page recorded this striking 45-second solo unaccompanied by any of his ‘mates. “I just fancied doing it,” he once told Guitar World. “That whole section was recorded in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.” Page went on say he came up with the solo on the spot. “I think that was one of the first things I ever played through a Marshall,” he said. “By that time I was using a Les Paul … a classic setup.”
“Shock Me” — Ace Frehley (Kiss , Alive II, 1977)
Frehley has admitted he actually played a wrong note during this amazing solo. “If you listen carefully you can hear a mistake about two thirds of the way through,” he told Guitar World. “Instead of tapping a B at the 19th fret of the high E string, I accidentally hit the A# note at the 18th fret — definitely a wrong note for the scale I’m using.” No matter. As Frehley himself points out, “That’s rock and roll!”
“Sharp Dressed Man” — Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top, Eliminator, 1983)
Billy Gibbons delivered the second half of this blistering solo on – you guessed it – the ever-reliable Pearly Gates. The bearded maestro says he plugged into a Marshall plexi 100-watt head with two angled cabinets and 25-watt Celestions. “There are, of course, more intricate and demanding solos, but [this one] stands as one of the band’s favorites,” he told Guitar World. “The track just has a really raucous delivery, which is a good ignition point on stage, sitting on the tailgate out in the middle of nowhere, sipping a cold one, or wherever you may be.”
Don Felder — “Hotel California” (Eagles, Hotel California, 1976)
Don Felder used a 1959 Les Paul Standard to duke it out with Joe Walsh on this dual-guitar classic. Walsh spoke with Gibson.com earlier this year about how he and Felder developed the climax. “We decided that, at the end of the song, we would have a go at one another,” Walsh explained. “Felder and I pushed each other. It was competitive. It was like, ‘Okay, watch this!’ We did that on purpose, because it created tension, that effort to be the tougher guy. You can hear that in our performances.”