Classic Guitars, part 2: Gibson Les Paul

When Fender came out with its first creations – the Esquire and the Broadcaster (aka Telecaster) – in 1950, the small start-up from California was derided and its products put down as ”snow shovels” or ”toilet seats”.

But after a short while the Fenders started to get a following, especially among Country guitarists.

Gibson Guitar’s boss, Ted McCarty, decided something had to be done, unless they wanted to leave the whole marketplace to Fender without competition.

This ”something” became the world’s most successful signature model – the Gibson Les Paul Standard.

Les Paul was a huge guitar hero in the 1950s, who also did inventing as a sideline.

Naturally, Gibson decided to create a solid body guitar along their own design priciples, using a glued-in neck joint and a sandwich body with a beautifully carved top. The neck, as well as the back of the body, were made from mahogany, the bound fingerboard used rosewood and the carved top was made from maple.

The first version was equipped with two P-90 pickups, and the model’s top was painted in a gold metallic finish. The sound is somewhat softer that that of a typical Fender, but still surprisingly pokey and fresh.

It took Gibson until 1957 to hit upon the now classic combination of two humbuckers and a cherry sunburst top.

The updated Les Paul Standard sounds bigger and fatter, leading to the Blues Boom of the late 60s and the birth of Heavy Rock. Guitarists started to lust after the model’s ”endless” sustain.

The posher Les Paul Custom – available mostly in solid black or white – features more intricate inlays and binding, and has also been a favourite of a lot of Rock and Metal guitarists from Keith Richards and Randy Rhoads to the likes of Zakk Wylde and Matt Heafy.

The Les Paul’s non-vibrato bridge keeps tuning problems at bay, which is a great plus for a beginner. And the model’s shorter (than Fender) scale, as well as the flatter fretboard radius, make for much easier string bending.

On the negative side is the Les Paul’s higher weight, and Gibson’s back-angled headstock, which makes the guitars more prone to headstock breakage should they fall over. A well-padded gigbag, or better still, a quality case is a useful investment should you buy a Gibson-style guitar (most US-originals include a bag or case in the price).


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