Some guitarists shopping for the ultimate Les Paul might be baffled by the wide variety of choices available from Gibson today. After all, a Les Paul is a Les Paul, right? Why all the variations? Well, it’s precisely because this model is the king of set-neck solidbodies that so many guitarists want to get their hands on it, and just a little tweak of the format this way or that adapts Gibson’s classic to the needs of different players.
This plethora of options might seem like a modern phenomenon, but even in the golden years of the model there were some different specifications—in neck and fret dimensions in particular—that made a big difference to the way different Les Pauls felt in the hands. Today, Gibson offers some simple yet crucial variations between even the best of its reproductions of late ’50s Les Paul Standards to suit players’ differing preferences for feel and performance.
Ostensibly the 1958-’60 Custom Shop Les Paul VOS models are extremely similar. Look a little closer at the specs, however, and you’ll see how examples designed specifically to emulate different years in the range embody historical changes that served to make each “the ultimate Les Paul” to different players. The 1958 Les Paul Standard VOS reflects the chunky neck of the original by incorporating Gibson’s early ’50s rounded neck profile, with 22 thin vintage-gauge frets on its rosewood fretboard. Because these necks were profiled by hand back in the day, and their shapes tended to evolve discernibly from year to year, the otherwise very similar 1959 Les Paul Standard VOS has a neck with a profile that is still quite full and rounded, but significantly less chunky than that of earlier Les Pauls. Roll the clock forward just one more year and things change even more. The 1960 Les Paul Standard VOS has a slim-taper neck profile that’s extremely different from the profiles that came before it, and characteristic of the last year of the original model’s production. Along with the changing neck profiles, the 1959 and 1960 VOS Les Pauls have wider frets, reflecting a similar change to the originals. This introduces another significant difference in the “feel factor” between otherwise identical-appearing guitars from this short three-year period.
Plenty of players swear by the fat tone of the big, round early ’50s Gibson necks, so the 1958 profile gives them this in the classic sunburst-plus-humbuckers Les Paul format. Additionally, the thin vintage-gauge frets offer a fretting accuracy within both chords and single-note runs that some players really appreciate. The slimmer necks and fatter frets, however, do suit a lot of rock and blues lead players, and tend to help some guitarists with their speed and wide bends respectively. Eric Clapton, who made some of the first big blues-rock noises heard from a Les Paul Standard with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers on the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (aka Beano) album of 1965, has always said his Les Paul had a particularly thin neck, so it was most likely a late 1959 or ’60 model. (Since even Clapton himself was unaware of exactly which year his Les Paul had been made, and the guitar was stolen from him in 1966, it’s impossible to determine its exact year of manufacture.) Jimmy Page’s No. 1 Les Paul was a 1958 model with a modified neck that ended up with an unusual, but very comfortable, elliptical profile, reproduced by Gibson in the Jimmy Page Signature Model Les Paul.
In the market for the perfect Les Paul for your own sound and playing style? Try the fine variations on the format that are available side by side from Gibson today, and nab the one that fits you best.