A history of the Gibson Les Paul

all images courtesy of Gibson.com

An Imaginative Start

Without the restrictions of a typical luthier, Jazz guitarist Les Paul envisioned a wild guitar build that featured a solid bodied stick like guitar with detachable hollow wings to form the shape of a more traditional acoustic guitar. Although both Fender and Gibson did not take a liking to his idea, the fact that Les Paul imagined a solid bodied guitar in 1940, 10 years prior to the Telecaster’s debut as the world’s first solid body guitar speaks miles in itself.

Fusion of the Past and the Future

As competition from Fender amassed huge sales with their ground breaking Telecaster, the team at Gibson began to see the value in putting a well known name to their own take on the modern electric solid body guitar. Gibson President Ted McCarty led the design team to creating a work of craftsmanship that blended the company’s history of building carved top acoustic instruments with the changing times of modern technology. The result was a solid body electric guitar unlike any other on the market.

Les Paul’s Big Debut 1952

Enlisting the final input and fame of Jazz guitarist Les Paul, the company prepared for the guitar’s release in 1952. The guitar featured a pair of P-90 single coil pick-ups and a distinctive gold top body. The early years saw three bridge revisions made to the instrument as flaws found their way through McCarty’s design. The initial tailpiece style bridge made it near impossible to palm mute and the second revision held issues with intonation of each string.

The third time lucky gave way for another one of McCarty’s designs, the ‘Tune-o-matic’ that features a fixed adjustable bridge piece ideal for sustain and intonation which can still be found of Gibson guitars to this day.

A Contribution Like No Other

During the 1950’s McCarty anticipated a desire for a different type of sound from the Les Paul that the single coil P-90’s could not provide. He tasked employee Seth Lover with the job of creating a less noisy, rounder and fatter sounding pick-up. By 1955 Lover had created the Humbucker prototype and in 1957 the pick-ups began going out in Les Paul guitars. The idea was so ingenious that they knew others would instantly copy the concept. As such, the guitars of this era left the factory with a ‘Patent Applied For’ sticker and would later be highly coveted for this very reason.

A Disappointing Reception

With the 1950’s coming to a close, Les Paul sales had disappointed the marketing team at Gibson and they felt the need for innovation on their solid body guitar. The Les Paul was discontinued in 1961 for the company’s new solid body guitar, also called the Les Paul. As fate would have it the revised Les Paul was re-named after Les Paul’s disapproval as the Gibson SG in 1963. However, the original Les Paul guitar was brought back to the production line in 1968 due to high public demand.

The Legend Lives On

The Gibson Les Paul remains in production to this day and has developed a reputation as an incredibly versatile highly sought after instrument. Musicians throughout the decades have made a career for themselves with a Les Paul in their hands, from Jimmy Page and Slash to Gary Moore and Billy Gibbons, each of these guitar heroes honed their sound with a little help from their friends in Kalamazoo.

Slash – Guns ‘n’ Roses – Les Paul fan

Slash Playing a Gibson Les Paul

The legendary lead guitarist Slash can often be seen thrashing a Gibson Les Paul (photo courtesy daigooliva / CC BY-SA)

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