The Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars in the world and has been used by some of the biggest names in music history. So, what is it and where did it come from?
The Les Paul was designed by guitarist/inventor Les Paul with the assistance of Ted McCarty and his team. The Les Paul was originally offered with a gold finish and two P-90 pickups.
In 1957, humbucking pickups were added, along with sunburst finishes in 1958. The sunburst 1958–1960 Les Paul – today one of the best-known electric guitar types in the world – was considered a failure, with low production and sales.
For 1961, the Les Paul was redesigned into what is now known as the Gibson SG. This design continued until 1968, when the traditional single cutaway, carved top body style was reintroduced.
The Les Paul has been continually produced in countless versions and editions since.
Along with Fender’s Telecaster and Stratocaster, the Les Paul is one of the first mass-produced electric solid-body guitars.
In this article, I’ll explain what it is and how it became so popular among musicians.
The Innovative Legacy of Les Paul
Les Paul, born Lester William Polsfuss in 1915, is the undisputed godfather of the solid-body electric guitar and a major figure in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. But his achievements in the field of recording are just as impressive.
A Life-Long Love of Sound and Technology
From a young age, Les Paul was captivated by sound and technology. This fascination would become his greatest gift, allowing him to push beyond the boundaries of conventional music.
Revolutionizing Home Recording
In 1945, Les Paul set up his own home studio in a garage outside of his Hollywood home. His goal was to break away from the rigid recording practices of professional studios and to keep the technology behind his recordings a mystery.
The Pop Success of the 1950s
Les Paul and his then-wife Mary Ford had a string of pop successes in the 1950s. Their hits, including How High is The Moon and Vaya Con Dios, topped the US charts and sold millions of copies. These singles showcased and promoted Les Paul’s recording techniques and technological innovations.
Rock ‘n’ Roll and the End of an Era
Unfortunately, the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1960s spelled the end of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s pop success. By 1961, their hits had dropped off and the couple divorced two years later.
A Fun Look at the Gibson Les Paul
The Man Behind the Guitar
When it comes to electric guitars, there are two names that stand out above the rest: Gibson and Fender. But before the British Invasion, before Rock ‘n’ Roll, there was one man who changed the game: Lester Polsfuss, better known as Les Paul.
Les Paul was a successful musician and inventor who was always tinkering in his workshop. His inventions, like multitrack recording, tape-flanging, and echo, helped shape modern music as we know it. But his most famous invention was the Log, one of the world’s first solid-body electric guitars.
Gibson Gets Onboard
Les Paul took the Log to several manufacturers, including Epiphone and Gibson. Unfortunately, they both declined to put his idea into production. That is, until Fender released the Broadcaster in 1950. In response, Gibson’s then-President, Ted McCarty, worked with Les Paul to bring the Log to market.
Contrary to popular belief, Les Paul didn’t design the Les Paul guitar. He was consulted and had some input on its look and design, but the guitar itself was designed by Ted McCarty and Gibson factory manager John Huis.
The Gibson Les Paul Debuts
In 1952, the Gibson Les Paul was released in its iconic Goldtop livery with two P90 pickups and a trapeze tailpiece. It was praised for its easy playability and woody, sustaining sound. The luxuriously carved top, set neck, and romantic-looking curves were created in direct opposition to Fender’s utilitarian Telecaster.
The following year, the first Les Paul Custom was released. This model was said to have been instigated by Les Paul himself, who wanted a more glamorous look for his TV appearances. It featured more binding, pearl block inlays, and the Split-Diamond headstock inlay from Gibson’s Super 400 model. It was available in black with gold hardware.
The Gibson Les Paul has since become one of the most iconic guitars in the world. It’s a symbol of luxury and style, and it’s easy to see why it’s been so popular for so long.
The Fascinating Story of Les Paul’s Log
The Man Behind the Log
Les Paul was a man with a mission: to make a guitar that could sustain and reproduce the sound of the string without any added distortion or change in response. He wanted the string to do its thing, without any interference from a vibrating top or any other enhancement.
The Log Prototype
In 1941, Les Paul took his log prototype to Gibson, who were based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They laughed at the idea and called him the “kid with the broomstick with the pickups on it”. But Les Paul was determined, and he kept working on the log prototype at Epiphone every Sunday.
The Log Takes Off
Les Paul eventually moved to California and took his log with him. It was seen by many musicians, manufacturers, and even Leo Fender and Merle Travis. Les Paul also invented his own vibrola, inspired by an existing one that had gone extinct.
The Log Today
Today, Les Paul’s log is a legendary piece of musical history. It’s a reminder of the dedication and passion of one man, and the power of perseverance. Les Paul’s log is a symbol of what can be achieved when you believe in yourself and never give up.
Gibson’s Journey to the Solidbody Guitar
The Trade Show Strategy
Back in the late 40s, Ted McCarty and his team had a plan to get the attention of dealers. They’d take prototypes to trade shows in Chicago and New York, and based on the reaction of the dealers, they’d decide which models to produce.
The Leo Fender Effect
The team noticed that Leo Fender was gaining popularity in the West with his Spanish solidbody guitars. He was getting a lot of attention, and Gibson wanted in on the action. So they decided to make their own version.
Les Paul’s Loyalty
McCarty had been trying to get Les Paul to switch from Epiphone to Gibson for a couple of years, but he was loyal to his brand. He had made some modifications to his Epiphone that weren’t available on any other model.
So that’s how Gibson got into the solidbody guitar business. It was a long journey, but it was worth it in the end!
How the Iconic Les Paul Guitar Came to Be
It all started with a broomstick and a pickup. Ted McCarty had a vision of creating a solidbody guitar, something that no other major guitar company had done before. He was determined to make it happen, and he started experimenting with different materials and shapes.
Ted and his team tried out different materials and shapes to get the perfect sound and sustain. They tried:
- Solid rock maple: Too shrill, too much sustain
- Mahogany: Too soft, not quite right
Then they hit the jackpot with a combination of a maple top and a mahogany back. They glued them together to create a sandwich, and voila! The Les Paul was born.
When Les Paul and Mary Ford heard about the new guitar, they were so excited they decided to show it off to the world. They held a press reception at the Savoy Hotel in London and unveiled the Les Paul signature model. It was a hit! Everyone was blown away by the sound and the beauty of the guitar.
So next time you pick up a Les Paul, remember the story of how it came to be. It’s a true testament to the power of innovation and creativity.
The Mysterious Origin of the PAF Pickup
The Birth of the PAF
Back in 1955, Gibson had a genius idea: design a dual coil pickup to cancel out the single coil hum that had been plaguing electric guitars since the dawn of time. So they applied for a patent and waited.
The Patented Pickup
In 1959, the patent was granted, but Gibson wasn’t about to let anyone copy their design. So they kept using a “patent applied for” sticker until 1962. Little did they know, the patent sticker they were using referred to a bridge component, not a pickup. Sneaky!
The Adjustable Screws
The adjustable screws on the PAF pickups weren’t part of the original design. They were requested by the Gibson marketing team to give them something extra to talk about with dealers. Talk about a clever marketing ploy!
The Legacy of the PAF
Gibson’s sneaky tactics worked and the PAF nickname stuck around. To this day, it’s still one of the most sought-after pickups in the world. Who knew a little bit of subterfuge could have such a lasting impact?
The Making of an Iconic Guitar
The Long Road to a Deal
It was a long road to get to the iconic Les Paul guitar. It all started with Ted McCarty’s phone calls to Les Paul. After a few of those, Ted flew to New York to meet Les’ financial manager, Phil Braunstein. Ted brought along a prototype guitar and the two of them drove all day to a hunting lodge in Delaware Water Gap.
When they arrived, it was pouring rain and Ted showed Les the guitar. Les played it and then called his wife Mary Ford to come down and check it out. She loved it and Les said, “We should join them. What do you think?” Mary agreed and the deal was made.
The original design was a flat-top guitar, but then Les and Maurice Berlin from CMI took a trip to the vault to check out some violins. Maurice suggested making the guitar an archtop and Les said, “Let’s do it!” So they made it happen and the Les Paul model was born.
Ted and Les knew they needed a contract, but they weren’t lawyers. So they kept it simple and wrote out how much they’d pay Les per guitar. After that, Ted went back to the factory and they started producing the Les Paul model.
And the rest is history! The Les Paul guitar is now an iconic instrument, used by some of the greatest musicians of all time. It’s a testament to the hard work of Les Paul, Ted McCarty, and everyone else who made it happen.
Gibson’s Creative Marketing Tactics
The NAMM Show
Back in the 1950s, NAMM was strictly for press and musicians weren’t allowed in. So when Gibson was about to launch the new Les Paul model at the summer NAMM show, they got creative. They held a preview in the nearby Waldorf Astoria hotel and invited some of the most prominent musicians of the day. This created a huge buzz and helped the launch be a success.
The Endorsement Contract
When Les Paul and Mary Ford signed their endorsement contract with Gibson, they were told that if they were seen handling any guitar other than the Les Paul in public, they’d lose all compensation from future sales of the model. Talk about a strict contract!
Guerrilla Sales Tactics
Gibson’s marketing team were definitely ahead of their time and used some pretty interesting tactics to get the word out. They held special events, invited musicians and press, and even had a strict endorsement contract. All of these tactics helped the Les Paul model become a success.
The Legendary Gibson Les Paul
The Birth of an Icon
Back in the 1950s, electric guitar manufacturers were in a race to create the most innovative models. This was the golden age of the electric guitar, and it was during this time that the Gibson Les Paul was born.
Les Paul was already a renowned guitar innovator, having created a solid body prototype in the 1940s called ‘The Log’. Gibson approached him for advice and to endorse their new product, which was made in direct response to the Fender Telecaster.
The Gibson Les Paul Goldtop
Gibson had mostly produced mandolins, banjos and hollow body guitars before the Les Paul. But when the Fender Telecaster was released in 1950, it highlighted the potential of solid body guitars and Gibson was eager to get in on the action.
So in 1951, they released the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. It quickly became an iconic guitar and is still revered today.
The Legacy of Les Paul
Les Paul was a true guitar pioneer and his influence on the industry is still felt today. His solid body prototype, ‘The Log’, was the inspiration for the Gibson Les Paul and his endorsement of the guitar helped to make it a success.
The Gibson Les Paul is a testament to the genius of Les Paul and a reminder of the golden age of the electric guitar.
Comparing the Les Pauls: Gibson vs. Epiphone
Gibson: The Rock Icon
If you’re looking for a guitar that screams rock, the Gibson Les Paul is the one for you. From Jimmy Page to Slash, this guitar has been an essential part of the rock and popular music scene since its release in 1953.
But with so many Les Pauls out there, it can be hard to decide which one to get. So, let’s compare the Gibson Les Paul to its budget-friendly cousin, the Epiphone Les Paul.
The History of the Les Paul
The Les Paul was created by the one and only Les Paul himself. After hours of tinkering in Epiphone’s New York plant, he created the prototype design, known as ‘The Log’. He then went on to work with Gibson in 1951, before the iconic guitar was released two years later.
In 1957, Gibson won the battle between the two guitar giants and bought out Epiphone. This allowed Gibson to expand its distribution and reach overseas. For a while, Gibson used the same parts and the same factory for Epiphone guitars until the 1970s, when manufacturing was moved to Japan.
Comparing the Components
So, what makes the Gibson Les Paul different from the Epiphone Les Paul? Let’s take a look at some of the main components:
- Gibson guitars are made in the US, in Gibson’s Nashville, Tennessee factory. Epiphone guitars, on the other hand, are made in China, Indonesia, and Korea. You can always trace where an Epiphone has come from by its serial number.
- Gibson Les Pauls are usually heavier than Epiphone Les Pauls, due to the higher density of the hardwood used and its thicker body.
- When it comes to looks, Gibsons usually have a prettier grain of wood and more intricate neck inlays. Gibsons are finished with a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer, while Epiphones use a poly finish.
So, Is Gibson Worth It?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. While Gibson Les Pauls are usually seen as the more expensive option, Epiphone can provide a great alternative. Just remember to check the serial number and do your research before you make your purchase!
Les Paul Vs Telecaster
When it comes to sound, the Les Paul and Telecaster couldn’t be more different. The Telecaster has two single-coil pickups, which give it a bright, twangy sound, but can hum when you crank up the gain. The Les Paul, on the other hand, has two humbucker pickups, which give it a warm, dark tone that’s great for genres like jazz, blues, metal and rock. Plus, it won’t hum when you crank up the gain. The Les Paul also has a mahogany body, while the Telecaster has an ash or alder body, which gives the Les Paul a thicker, darker sound.
The feel of the two guitars is quite similar, but the Les Paul is much heavier than the Telecaster. Both have a single cutaway, flat body shape, but the Les Paul is more rounded and has a maple cap on top. The Telecaster, on the other hand, has flatter edges and more solid colour options. The Les Paul also has two tone and volume controls, giving you more versatility than the Telecaster, which only has one of each.
Les Paul Vs Sg
The SG and Les Paul are two of Gibson’s most iconic electric guitars. But what makes them so different? Well, the SG is much lighter than the Les Paul, making it easier to handle and more comfortable to play. It also has a slimmer profile, so it won’t take up as much space in your guitar case. On the other hand, the Les Paul is chunkier and heavier, but it’s also known for its low-end sound. The SG is made of solid mahogany, while the Les Paul has a maple cap. And the SG’s neck joins the body at the 22nd fret, while the Les Paul joins at the 16th. So if you’re looking for a bright, mid-range sound, the SG is the way to go. But if you want a beefier low-end, the Les Paul is the one for you.
Les Paul Vs Stratocaster
The Les Paul and Stratocaster are two of the most iconic guitars in the world. But what sets them apart? Let’s take a look at five key differences between these two legendary instruments.
First off, the Les Paul has a thicker body and neck than the Stratocaster, making it heavier and more difficult to play. It also has two humbucker pickups, which give it a much warmer and richer sound than the Stratocaster’s single-coil pickups. On the other hand, the Stratocaster has a thinner body and neck, making it lighter and easier to play. It also has a much brighter and more cutting sound due to its single-coil pickups.
So, which one is better? Well, it really depends on what kind of sound you’re looking for. If you want a warm and rich sound, then the Les Paul is the way to go. But if you’re looking for a brighter and more cutting sound, then the Stratocaster is the one for you. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which one is better for your own personal style.
The Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars in the world, and for good reason. It’s versatile, reliable, and a great instrument to learn on. Plus, it’s got a great history!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into the history of the Les Paul guitar model.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe