The Gibson Les Paul Guitar. A star in the making.

by Terry Booth

In terms of solid body electric guitars, the Gibson Les Paul is one of the standout instruments of the guitar arena. Les Paul and the Gibson Guitar company first crossed paths in the 1940s. Les (Lester) Paul was a very prominent and well known guitarist entertainer of the time with his own radio show. But Les Paul was also interested in experimenting with the dubbing and amplification of the guitar sound.

In his home, Les Paul would begin to play around with the idea of the solid body guitar and come up with some of his own draft models. One of the thoughts of the time was that this would give an honest sound as the hollow body guitar shape does alter the acoustics. The solid piece of wood would also emphasise the sustain quality of the sound.

The first solid body model that Les Paul was to produce was named the log guitar. the log was a very simple instrument with nothing special to entice any sort of following in the guitar world at all. In fact it was regarded as no more than a broom and disregarded by many. In spite of this Les Paul persisted with his tinkering. He contacted the Gibson Guitar company in 1946 with his log guitar.

Unfortunately there was not a positive reaction from Gibson Guitars and they did not take his ideas and prototype seriously. However the continued development of the solid body guitar continued on around them and Gibson Guitars were forced to take notice when Fender Guitars released the first Fender Telecaster in 1950.

The Gibson Guitar company need to start thinking seriously about the possibilities of the solid body guitar and got back in contact with Les Paul in 1951 wanting to work with him and his ideas. There was now an urgency to the issue as besides Fender, other guitar manufacturers such as Richenbacker, National and Bigsby were also testing the idea.

The collaboration between Gibson Guitars and Les Paul was a successful one as history now shows. In 1952, Paul signed an endorsement contract to have input into the design and also play Gibson’s first solid body guitar and so the Gibson Les Paul was released. For his part Les Paul was to receive 5% in royalty of sales for a 5 year period.

The first guitar model released was the Gibson Les Paul Standard and it sold for $210. This made it $20 more expensive than the Fender Telecaster. The first Les Paul Standard was referred to as the Gold Top because of its gold coloured finish. The guitar had a carved maple top with was attached to a mahogany back. The maple top allowed the crisp, bright sound typical of that form of wood and combined it with the more well rounded sound of the mahogany.

The First Gibson Les Paul Standard used two single coil P-90 pickups. There was a volume control and tone control for each pickup and a 3 way selector switch. The neck of the guitar was made of mahogany and was covered with a rosewood finger board. The finger board had crown shaped pearl inlays as position markers. The first guitar had a combined bridge/tailpiece. The bar shaped bridge was attached to the end of the guitar to give it support. This setup was originally designed by Les Paul for use with hollow body archtop guitars but was soon found to be not required on solid body guitars and was changed in 1953.

Happy with its early success the Gibson Guitar company soon saw the need to expand its range of solid body guitars. They branched in both directions from the original Les Paul Standard and produced the Les Paul Junior which was targetted at the beginner guitar market. They also saw the market for the guitarist with some extra cash and released the up-market Les Paul Custom Guitar with its gold hardware. The Gibson Les Paul continues to this day to epitomise the rock guitar industry and has had many superstar advocates.

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