Short History Of The Les Paul

author: TomJ date: 09/13/2012 category: the history of
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Short History Of The Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul, is, alongside the Fender Stratocaster one of the most famous and iconic solid body electric guitars ever built. The Les Paul was designed by Ted McCarthy, Gibson's President between 1950 to 1966, and famous jazz guitarist Les Paul. With Fender introducing the first solid body electric guitar, the Telecaster in 1950, the electric guitar was becoming a public craze. In reaction to this Gibson founded the legendary Les Paul. The design was in consultation with Les Paul a well known Jazz musician with numerous hits in the 50s and 60s. Les Paul was also a guitar innovator having experimented with numerous projects. He had in fact already built a solid body electric guitar 'The Log' and this is widely considered as the first ever solid body electric guitar. Known as 'The Log' as the body was a solid lump of pine wood. He actually showed this design to Gibson sometime between 1945-1946 but the concept was rejected. The initial line of Gibson Les Pauls included only two models, the Goldtop and the Custom, where the Goldtop was the standard model and the Custom had upgraded hardware and a black finish.

1952 Goldtop

This model featured twin P90 pickups and a one piece trapeze style bridge and tailpiece. The strings were fitted under not over the stop bar. The Les Paul construction here is a mahogany body with a maple top. Maple is a hard and heavy wood, thus being great for musical instruments, but in order to keep the weight down it was limited to a cap with a lighter mahogany body. There is some variation in the 1952, where the early models, considered as prototypes, had no serial number, were unbound and had black p90 pickup covers. The later models introduced serial numbering and the iconic cream pickup covers.

1954 Custom

In 1954 the second incarnation of the Les Paul guitar was introduced by Gisbon. The 1954 Les Paul Custom was all black and dubbed the Black Beauty. Putting aside it's cosmetic looks this differed from the 1952 Goldtop in having a solid mahogany body i.e. no maple cap. It also introduced the Tune O Matic bridge system and an Alnico 5 (P480) pickup in the neck. In 1957 Gibson introduced its new PAF (Patent Applied For) humbucker pickups to its guitars. Additionally a three pickup model became available. This still used Gibson's three way switching system so not all pickup configurations were possible. A common modification was to add an additional switch to enable the middle pickup on its own.

1954 Junior

In order to widen its product line Gibson also introduced the Junior model in 1954. This was mainly targeted at the beginner market but over time this design has become popular with even professional players. The differences here with the regular Les Paul was the Junior had a flat slab of mahogany for the body and a less expensive single P90 pickup configuration. The neck was also unbound, had dot position markers and a single stud bridge/tailpiece similar to the original 1952 Goldtop.

1955 TV Model

The TV Model introduced in 1955 was basically a Junior with a natural finish. The finish was in fact more similar to Fender's Butterscotch. The idea behind this model was to overcome the issue of glare on old black and white TVs, hence the more yellowy colour. In 1958 a double cutaway was introduced (pictured right). This was mainly from player requests to have greater access to the upper frets. The looks were also changed with the introduction of the cherry model and the TV with a more tinged yellow finish.

1956 Les Paul Special

This model featured two P90 Soapbar pickups and was finished in TV yellow but not called a TV model.

1957 Goldtop

PAF humbuckers and tunomatic bridge with stop bar.

1958 Les Paul Standard

The main difference here is the finish. The 1958 Standard had pretty much the same spec as the 1957 Goldtop: PAF pickups, tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar and a maple top. Here the sunburst finish, that was already being used on Gibson's archtop and acoustics, was applied to the Les Paul. This product line initially only lasted from 1958 to 1960 as the finish wasn't received well by players. Hence there was only a limited number of around 1500 units made. Today Gibson Les Pauls from this period are highly collectable with the legendary 1959 Standard valuing in excess of 500,000 USD! Production of this model also stopped due to the introduction of the double cut away Les Paul i.e. the SG in 1961. Due to popular demand the Les Paul Standard model was re-introduced in 1968. Todays Les Paul Standards feature Burstbucker pickups or Burstbucker Pro on higher end models.

1959 Les Paul Standard

2008 Les Paul Standard

The new Les Paul Standard, the 2008 model, features an asymmetrical neck design with a long tenon. Gibson also started using their Plek system, a machine for levelling the frets giving a more consistent result on large production runs. They also introduced body chambering, a method of routing strategic chambers in the body in order to reduce weight. Prior to 2008 Gibson used the Swiss Cheese method for weight relieving. This drilled out a set of holes in the main body under the cap. The 2008 models also feature Grover locking machine heads.

2008 Standard Traditional

This retains most of the features of the traditional Les Paul prior to the new 2008 model i.e. non chambered body, Kluson style tuners and 57 Classic pickups. The traditional plus features a AAA flame maple top. The traditional Pro model differs from the Standard Traditional in that it has a Classic 57 pickup in the neck and a Burstbucker Pro in the bridge. The Trad Pro also features coil splitting push pulls on the tone pots. Additionally the Traditional Pro has Grover locking machine heads.

2012 Les Paul Standard

Introduced at NAMM 2012 this model uses Gibson's modern weight relieving system as opposed to the chambering method. It has two Burstbucker Pro pickups with coil splits and pure bypass. Pure bypass allows you to bypass the volume & tone circuit and send the signal direct to the output jack. Additional features also include a compound radius fretboard and phase switch. Thanks to
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