This week’s starring guitar is the fantastic Gibson Les Paul, beloved by the likes of Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
Les Paul had been experimenting with solid-body guitars since the 1930s. Two of his handmade, experimental solid-bodies – the ‘Log’ and the ‘Clunker’ – led to the 1952 release of the Les Paul model, Gibson’s first solid-body, which was to become one of the world’s most influential guitar designs.
The Les Paul’s construction was complex. A two-pickup guitar, it was built from a mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard, set into a mahogany body with an arched, carved maple top, distinguishing it from the flat-top Fender models.
The Les Paul’s controls – two tone, two volume and selector switch – were mounted on to the top and accessed by two separate plastic covers in the back. The set-neck construction and choice tonewoods, in conjunction with hardware that was screwed directly into the top, made for a warm, creamy tone with considerable sustain.
The original Les Paul was completed with a lavish gold-coloured metallic finish, earning it the nickname ‘Gold Top’, although some models had gold-coloured sides and backs as well.
The Holy Grail
Gibson created several Les Paul variations, including the fancy custom no-frills Les Paul Junior. The most coveted Les Paul is the Standard, introduced in 1958. On that model, the original gold finish was replaced with a transparent cherry sunburst finish – which graduated from red to orange – revealing the instrument’s maple top; this was sometimes covered with spectacular ‘flames’ or figuring in the grain. The Standard featured two powerful humbucking pickups.
The Standard was discontinued in 1960, but as players like Clapton and Page picked up the instrument later that decade, it essentially became the first collectible electric guitar. Owing to its quality and rarity – only 643 models were produced in 1959 – the original Standard is now considered the Holy Grail of electric guitars, with clean examples currently fetching more than $200,000.
Controls: Three-way switch, two volume, two tone
Characteristics: Versatile, rich, powerful tone, excellent sustain
Played by: Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Al Di Meola, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Slash
Image of Standard Historic 1960 Les Paul Standard courtesy Gibson.com
If the Gibson Les Paul is your favourite make, we have a fantastic foiled notebook featuring one on its cover, available in three different sizes: standard journal, pocket journal and blank sketchbook. If you love all things guitar, we also have a book called Rock Guitar Heroes – jam-packed with fascinating text and photos of guitar-playing legends – available here.