Gibson. Les Paul. The Gibson Les Paul. Brand and man have been inseparable for 64 years now and, despite Les Paul's passing in 2009, it's not going to end any time soon. Any visitor to this site, any guitarist, even any casual music fan, will know that the Gibson Les Paul is one of the greatest guitars ever made.
But the Gibson Les Paul keeps evolving. 2016 brings a host of innovation and new features. Les would have liked all this... Les was an innovator and visionary, after all.
Origins of the Gibson Les Paul
It's complicated! Les Paul was not solely responsible for the design. Fabled Gibson CEO Ted McCarty and a host of Gibson engineers/luthiers (notably John Huis) did the groundwork – although they already knew the then-star Les – and popped their ideas back at him. Les, as an official consultant to Gibson, suggested refinements.
The Gibson Les Paul Model debuted in 1952. It had single coil P-90 pickups and a one-piece, 'trapeze'-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under (instead of over) a steel stop-bar. Two years on, the range added a Custom model. And soon, Gibson's also legendary pickup designer Seth Lover had come up with the humbucker for 1957. Les helped refine the superb Tune-o-matic bridge along the way.
Just as importantly, Les knew how he wanted guitars to look. The original Goldtop was meant to “look expensive”. The black Custom? “Like a tuxedo.” The sunburst Les Paul Standards of 1958-1960 remain the most covetable and valuable instruments in guitar history. It took a few years, maybe, but the Gibson Les Paul was soon a legend in itself.
Fine woods – mahogany body and neck, plus a maple top – pickups, tone, aesthetics, all came together with brilliant design. Thanks, everyone involved.
It's no wonder there are many “guitar-nerd” books on Gibson Les Pauls. Huge books just on '58-'60 bursts. The numerous books cover Gibson Les Paul history well, but – as we'll see – 2016 sees new chapters of the story being written...
Gibson Les Paul Artists
Many, of course. Les Paul himself. Bluesman Freddie King in the '50s. King inspired Eric Clapton to buy his sunburst Les Paul (when with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) to cement the British Blues Boom. Then came Peter Green and Free's Paul Kossoff. At times, George Harrison. Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Aerosmith's Joe Perry and KISS's Ace Frehley. Humble Pie's Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton. Al Di Meola. Thin Lizzy's dual Les Paul melodies. The Sex Pistols' Steve Jones. Gary Moore, Tom Scholz, Alex Lifeson, Randy Rhoads, Slash, Zakk Wylde, The Stone Roses' John Squire, Joe Bonamassa.... The list just goes on and on.
The Gibson Les Paul is usually associated with fat, fiery tone, but its recorded history illustrates just what a versatile guitar it is. And 2016 has raised the bar once again...
The Gibson Les Paul In 2016
There are many variations on a Gibson Les Paul, such as the Special and Junior, but let's feast – for now – on the classic single-cutaway mahogany/maple design. With a few side-orders!
Gibson Les Paul Standard 2016 HP
A classic 'burst in its flagship look, but with so many 2016 High Performance improvements. Modern weight relief, AAAA maple top, G-Force tuning, soloist neck width, fast access heel, gold-plated multi-contact jack input, luxury aluminium case and more. This High Performance Gibson Les Paul Standard points to a shining future as well as the guitar's stellar past.
And if a classic 'burst is not for you, there are plenty of other colour options, from Ebony to Blue Mist, Trans Amber to Trans Black or even – yes – a Goldtop Standard.
'50s and '60s Tribute Models
If you want history now, Gibson Les Pauls can do that too. '50s and '60s Tribute models are made with just the right visual vibe, but still with modern High Performance innovations. “Back to the future” is the decree, and it's spot on. Personally? I like the '60s one with P-90s... but I wouldn't turn down a rounded-necked '50s either. And they are at great prices. Here are the '50s and '60s Tributes...
Gibson Les Paul Collector’s Choice Models
As the Gibson Les Paul is one of the most collectible guitars ever, it's only right some unique ones have been recreated. For Gibson Custom, this is science. Taking artists' favorite Les Pauls, X-raying them, measuring every dimension, examining electrics, replicating historical and sometimes quirky mods, and then... building them all over again with every road-worn ding. From Gary Moore to Waddy Watchel to Bernie Marsden to Tom Scholz and beyond. These are as close as you'll get to owning the exact guitars of your heroes.
Here are the Gary Moore '59 and Tom Scholz '68 Collector's Choice models.
Gibson ES-Les Paul
And here's the fresh side-order! Courtesy of Gibson Memphis, here's a hybrid of Gibson's ES (Electric Spanish) builds with Gibson Les Paul styling. This time it's maple/poplar/maple semi-solid bodies, but still with a mahogany neck. With a light weight and a blend of ES and LP tones, it's a modern classic already. Given that Les Paul's first “Log” guitar (built at the Epiphone factory, after-hours) was a semi with a center block, he's surely smiling from the heavens at this one. Historic nut, no G-Force tuning... it's Gibson “tradition” brilliantly reinvented.
Where to even begin? The Thank You Les DVD, organized by Les Paul Trio sidekick Lou Pallo, is a great watch and tribute to the man with numerous star guests. The Les Paul Foundation also has its own YouTube channel.
As for Gibson Les Paul artists, I'll leave that at your discretion. But I do like this tone tips video from Joe Bonamassa for Guitarist magazine showing just how versatile a Gibson Les Paul is.