It makes perfect sense that history’s most majestic guitar solos have been played on a Gibson Les Paul. With its rich sustain, distinctive tone, and finger-friendly fretboard, the Les Paul is part and parcel to the inspiration behind some of music’s most exhilarating moments.

Les Paul and Mary Ford

Whether ecstatic and heart-stopping or languid and elegant, the solos collected here perfectly capture the ease with which a Les Paul translates into various genres. Reggae, blues, pop, and rock are all represented, and each solo occurs within the context of a great song. The latter component is key. After all, the best guitar solos are simply the icing on an already-tasty cake.

“How High the Moon”—Les Paul
Les Paul & Mary Ford—How High the Moon

No song better illustrates all facets of Les Paul’s six-string wizardry than this one. Packed with staccato runs, stinging bends, and thick slurs, this 1951 smash set a new standard for lead guitar in the pop arena, while showcasing the versatility of the instrument that bears Mr. Paul’s name. Foreshadowings of the styles of a host of future Gibson players—from Chuck Berry to Keith Richards—can be heard in Paul’s aggressive, tasteful playing.

Slash

“Sweet Child O’ Mine”—Slash
Guns N’ Roses—Appetite for Destruction

Slash would offer up more virtuosic solos, but none surpassed those on Sweet Child O’ Mine for sheer feel and economy. Playing his Les Paul Standard, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist showed shredders everywhere that a mere handful of notes—played with emotive bends and melody—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.

“Ballrooms of Mars”—Marc Bolan
T. Rex—The Slider

T. Rex’s Marc Bolan offered up the most exquisite solo of his career on this 1972 ballad. Against the backdrop of a strummed acoustic, the glam pioneer takes his Les Paul on a soaring, galactic ride evocative of everything the song’s title implies. More associated with boogie riffs than dexterous lead playing, Bolan nonetheless plays as if inhabited by space aliens who’ve discovered a new six-string language.

“Sympathy for the Devil”—Keith Richards
The Rolling Stones—Beggars Banquet

Keith Richards used his Les Paul Custom to come up with the perfect solo for this 1971 Stones classic. Jagged, witch-doctor-y, and unpredictable, Richards’ playing alternates between frantic flurries of notes and stinging bends evocative of Freddie King. Even the “slide” that ushers out the solo spits like a snake. The bright, trebly tone Richards employed on his Les Paul adds even more teeth to the song’s skittery bite.

“Concrete Jungle”—Wayne Perkins
Bob Marley & the Wailers—Catch a Fire

Island Records president Chris Blackwell got more than he bargained for when he asked Muscle Shoals guitarist Wayne Perkins to add some rock guitar to this 1972 Bob Marley song. Perkins strapped on his Les Paul and—in a single take—crafted one of the most sinuously elegant solos ever to appear on a reggae recording. Years later Marley recruited his own rock guitarist—Junior Marvin, also a Les Paul player—whose style fit very much into the Perkins mold.

The Replacements

“Sixteen Blue”—Bob Stinson
The Replacements—Let It Be

Original Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson is more associated with manic, scorching rave-ups than tender interludes. On this 1984 gem, however, the late, troubled Les Paul devotee crafted a strikingly poignant solo for one of frontman Paul Westerberg’s best ballads. Stinson’s stair-stepping lines unfurl like a blooming flower, or like the six-string equivalent of a stroke of affection. It’s a fitting moment, given that the song was an ode to Stinson’s 16-year-old brother Tommy—who also happened to be the band’s bassist. It was as if Stinson used the solo to tell his kid brother something that couldn’t be put into words.

The Sex Pistols

“Anarchy in the U.K.”—Steve Jones
The Sex Pistols—Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols

Steve Jones’ Les Paul playing on this punk standard epitomizes the idea that a solo should serve the song rather than the guitarist’s ego. Framed on both sides by his own ferocious riffing, Jones plays—with subtle vibrato—just three or four notes in a repeated figure before slamming back into the song’s rhythmic crush. A second solo, even more brief, finds Jones negotiating a bouncy pop riff that puts irony and humor into the song’s menace and swagger.

“Spoonful”—Hubert Sumlin
Howlin’ Wolf—Howlin’ Wolf

Hubert Sumlin’s incendiary solos on this Howlin’ Wolf classic show exactly why he was so integral to the Wolf’s sound. Employing a dry, clean tone on his ’56 Les Paul Goldtop, Sumlin spanks the strings while playing bends that epitomize the Chicago blues that influenced rock giants like Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. Sumlin’s stinging attack emotes like a human voice, and serves as the perfect counterpoint to the Wolf’s growl.

Ziggy Stardust

“Moonage Daydream”—Mick Ronson
David Bowie—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Without Mick Ronson’s muscular Les Paul playing to anchor him, David Bowie’s fey spaceman might have floated off into the void. Ronson’s solos on this Ziggy Stardust centerpiece showcase the late sideman’s talents in all their unfettered glory. Shaping the tone of his iconic, stripped blonde Les Paul Custom with a wah pedal, Ronson unleashes a series of thrilling slides and bends seemingly headed for astral plains. Think Jeff Beck in a spacesuit and you get an idea of Ronson’s finest solo on record.

“Statesboro Blues”—Duane Allman
Allman Brothers Band—Live at Fillmore East

Duane Allman’s solo work on this Blind Willie McTell cover expresses the full range of his bottleneck skills. Sometimes thick and muscular, other times biting and agile, Allman’s compact licks are the equivalent of a conductor’s wand, as he leads the band through the perfect kick-off to one of Southern rock’s definitive albums. Coupled with Dickey Betts’ ringing, melodic leads—also played on a Les Paul—twin-guitar Southern rock was never better.

Yeah, yeah, we got it all wrong, we know. Tell us who we left out:
webmaster@gibson.com, subject: Les Paul solos.

 


 

Comments

Bob H: Sympathy for the devil solo - in the 10 best les paul solos, beggars banquet was released in 1968 - not 1971

Sam F: You've got some great solos listed, but these are the ones that really do it for me:

  1) Andy Latimer (Camel): "Stationary Traveler", title track. Personally, there is no other solo that can move me like this one; goose-bumps and hair standing up on the back of my neck, guaranteed. Tasty, soaring and melodic, with some great runs near the end, all with that brilliant Latimer tone.
  2) Gary Moore: "The Messiah Will Come Again"
  3) Randy Rhoads: "Goodbye to Romance"
  4) Steve Hackett: "Firth of Fifth"

All IMHO, of course :-)

Thanks for providing the Top 10 list; I've heard most of them, but now have a few new things to look forward to hearing.

Steve L: I'm heart broke. You didn't even think about Jimmy Page..? ( the all mighty God of the LP ). Just pick any song from this guy. If it weren't for Page I wouldn't even own a LP. What a let down to not see Jimmy number two on the list after Les himself.

Travis P: Any Eric Clapton solo on the John Mayhall Bluesbreakers "Beano" album. "All your love", Ramblin on My Mind", or "Steppin' Out". That tone is the tone that most guitarists dream to have. The purest Les Paul tone ever. No master volume amps or pedals to cover it up.

Also, how about some respect for Jimmy Page's work. Solo in "Since I've been loving you" comes to mind.

Peter Green & Mike Bloomfield also deserve some Les Paul solo credit.

At least you got Duane Allman right, although I would have picked "Statesboro", "Done Somebody Wrong" or "Whipping Post" are a little more dynamic & show off the Les Paul tone more.

J T: What about the solo on another brink in the wall by pink floyd, thats the only thime d. gilmour used his 56 goldtop lp, Robert Fripp from king crimson played nothing but lps in the 60's and 70's.

Jim M: Hi Guys,
From a total nobody here but one who loves the sound of a Les Paul played in anger or any other emotion for that matter here is my top 5 list:
  1. Gary Moore... Still Got The Blues. Played on the same guitar that Peter Green used for his early Fleetwood Mac records.
  2. Lou Reed... Intro/Sweet Jane. The opening track on the Rock'n'Roll Animal live album where Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner duel it out on Les Paul Juniors.
  3. Hideaway.... Eric Clapton with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
  4. Gary Moore... Parisienne Walkways. Spine tinglingly good and that long note says it all for the Les Paul's sustain.
  5. Walk this Way...Aerosmith. Joe Perry's solos in that song are economical and raunchy and his tone on the second, neck pickup outing sounds pure evil!
Thanks guys.

Deiter: Dear Mr Hall, Well, ya left out Ace Frehley on say....................................................well darned near anything he played!!!!!!!!!!! The live, laying on his back, 3 pickup les paul standard in tobacco sunburst would be a place to start apologizin!!!! LOL!!! This is on BLACK DIAMOND by the way, VERY GOOD version of it on Kissology volume 1..

John C: I think you should consider the solo from the Led Zeppelin classic, "Since I've Been Loving You" one of the best Les Paul solos. The emotion that you of Page's solo is incredible, perfectly synchronized with Jones on the Organ.

Nick S: Guys, you missed Jimmy Page's "Whole Lotta Love" solo. That is the best solo he did without having to use the doubleneck.

Lou P: you got a lot of them right....my additions: in memory of elizabeth reed-dicket betts and duane allman while my guitar gently weeps-eric clapton slither-slash born on the bayou-john fogerty anything live by lead zeppelin-jimmy page thanks!

Radolph P: A good list! Of course, it could go on...... and on. Some additions, some obvious, others less so:
  1) Carlos Santana: Pick any of several. "Incident At Neshabur"? "Europa"?
  2) Peter Green: "The Supernatural"
  3) Eric Clapton: "All Your Love"
  4) Mike Bloomfield: "Another Country"
  5) Jeff Beck: "Diamond Dust"
  6) Robert Fripp: "The Sailor's Tale"
  7) Andy Latimer: "Lunar Sea"
  8) Al DiMeola: "Song To The Pharoah Kings"
  9) Phil Miller: "Lounging There Trying"
  10) Steve Hackett: "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight"
  11) Phil Lee: "Darker/Brighter"
  12) Jim Hall: "A Nice Day"
  13) Leslie West: "Theme From An Imaginary Western" (if you include the Jr. instead of various Standards, Customs and Gold Tops).

Mark H: Wow...
How'd you miss anything by Ace Frehley, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, Joe Perry - all of them had great live albums using a Les Paul..and..
They sold a TON of Les Paul's along the way for Gibson. Trust me, I've had over 20 because of them.

Kurt Z: Hey, How about Mick Jones from Foreigner. The solo for "Hot Blooded"

Chris D: Dear Gibson,
You have a great list of Les Paul solos but I thought of a few more that should have made the cut.

1. "Black Dog" - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page) 2. "No More Tears" - Ozzy Osbourne (Zakk Wylde) 3. "Crazy Train" - Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhodes) 4. "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour....yeah I know he usually plays a Strat but this track, it was a Goldtop with a Bigsby) 5. "Cowgirl in the Sand" - Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse 6. "Shock Me" - KISS (Ace Frehley 7. "Don't Look Back" - Boston (Tom Scholz) 8. "High & Mighty" - Govt. Mule (Warren Haynes) 9. "The Grudge" - Tool (Adam Jones) 10. "Heroin" (Rock and Roll Animal version) - Lou Reed (Dick Wagner/ Steve Hunter)

Steven C: No problem with the brothers in the #1 spot... would have just picked bluesky from Eat a peach... Dickey & Duane...power & glory...

Gregory S: Great start, great article. The kind of stuff I like to read on your site!

As long as you add anything from Page, Clapton, or Beck....your list is complete. Oh....Peter Frampton, "Do You Feel Like We Do". Alex Lifeson.....I'm guessing "Working Man" might have been played on an LP. Tom Scholz, Boston..."More Than A Feeling"

Wow...I'm just getting started!!

Thanks for the great article!!!

Anthony T: Hi. In response to your question as to who you left out in the greatest ten Les Paul solo's ever, the answer is obvious. Jimmy page. He uses some of the most melodic riffs, and shortest expressive phrases in "Tangerine", and demonstrates what a les paul can do with minimal distortion and a hint of treble push in his solo, and intro solo in "The Song Remains The Same." Also his lead riffs that hide behind Plant's vocals in "That's The Way" are masterfull. They resonate with the sweetest tone without ever taking attention away from the lead vocals. He also makes the solo in "Celebration Day" seem like an anthem for Les Paul players everywhere. He always knows how to make his Paul sing out and express it's tone without over or under doing it. It's hard to believe he's not on the list already.

Alex M: You Guys Totally Left People Out. I Love Gibson And Les Pauls But Come One Those People Are Awesome (Expecially Les Paul) But You Forgot A Few. What About Guitar Players Like Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, And Steve Gains. If You Ask Me You Focous On Players Like Slash To Much. Im Not Trying To Disrespect Anyone In This Email, Thank You

Van W: how come no Mick Taylor?
or Buddy Guy-not always a Strat player or Michael Bloomfield?

I would rate them much higher than some of the dogs you have on this list...