Types Of Guitars. Part 4: Les Paul

The fourth article in the "Types Of Guitars" series. Contains a short description of Les Paul guitars.

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Oh sweet, sweet Les Paul! I think most people feel butterflies in their stomach they hear a screaming Les Paul. Anyway, lets get straight to the article...

History

As always, I´ll begin the article by telling a bit about the guitar's origins. Back in 1954, what we now know as the Telecaster was the most popular guitar in the market. This proved that solid body guitars could provided sellers with a great way of increasing sales. Gibson began to pursue a design that could beat Fender´s Broadcaster, so that they could continue to compete in the market. But where was the guitar? They searched for designers the country over until someone recalled of a man named Les Paul, who had shown them a composition guitar a couple years ago. The people at Gibson turned down the initial model scrutinizing it as a broomstick with pickups. Ha Ha! Can you believe that? Well, soon after that they started building their first solid body guitar. History paints two versions of the story according to what you want to believe: One of them says that Gibson hired Les Paul to help them with the concept design and when he had finished, he was later called to thank him for his work. The second story says that Gibson had already finished the guitar and had decided to call it the Les Paul to put a big name behind their new design. In 1954, Les Paul was a well known guitarist, similar to how Joe Satriani is known nowadays, so you can imagine that when the guitars came to stores, everyone would want one (Hey, right now I still want to buy Steve Vai´s guitar, so why wouldn't your grandfather want to buy a Les Paul?). Anyway, the Les Paul "Goldtop" was born, it had a sparkling gold top with P90 pickups. Well, if you want to read more in depth about it, I recommend this website. This is where I got the information for the History.

Overview

How am I suppose to describe one of the most beautiful guitars ever made? It's such a pretty looking guitar, I don't know... The Les Paul has the shape similar to a traditional acoustic guitar but it has a thick solid wood body with one cutaway, a quilted or flame top with bindings and a pickguard (it is close to an SG "Solid Guitar" style guitar). The neck has more or less the same feel as a SG, they're usually made from the same woods (Mahagony body and Maple necks) too, although its soundwell that's not as similar. A difference between a Les Paul and SG, is the location of the pickup selector (I think over frets 17 or 19 on a LP). It may be harder to reach in the middle of a song but it provides much more security. On SGs, it's below the tone and volume controls. When I played an Sg, I used to switch pickups by mistake with my right hand. As well as in SGs, the Les Paul has two humbucking pickups, sometimes covered by a plate for a sound that is brighter. The bridge is tune-o-matic (attached directly to the body), it is almost the same as the SGs. It has no whammy bar (which some argue can kill sustain), although some guitarist have added one such as Mark Tremonti.

Description

The body may be made of many different woods but what makes Les Pauls bodies different from others guitars is that it is heavier (Les Pauls tend to be some of the heaviest guitars), which ads to sustain and a graver bass. Perfect for that fat sound. Almost every Les Paul has the same hardware: 2 volume pots, 2 tone controls and 2 humbucking pickup and a switch providing 3 different combinations:
  • Position 1: Switch turned downwards (looking at the floor), the Bridge Pickup. This generates a crunchy sound, mostly used for leads, in Reggae and Ska they use this for cleans (it's used in Guns N Roses´s "Paradise City" intro).
  • Position 2: Middle Position (both pickups active), this position provides a sound not too bright nor too grave, perfect for balanced tone.
  • Position 3: Switch turned upwards (up towards you), here is, in my opinion, the magic of this guitar. It switches to the neck´s pickup so that the sound you get is really grave. Turn the tone control to 0, and ABRAKADABRA! You get the well known woman tone a favorite of Eric Clapton and Slash. When you do this, your sound becomes really fat so it´s perfect for the "sad" sounding solos, like the one in Don't Cry. You also get a lot of sustain too. The neck is medium thickness but just remember that it´s not as thin as the ones in "Superstrats" and Stratocasters, so it may be more difficult to play "fast". I'm not saying it is impossible, just listen to Jimmy Page or Zack Wylde. What more can I say? Er...umm, it's very expensive shit, no seriously, a good Les Paul (in my opinion Gibson's are the best) can cost $3000 (You can of course buy a used LP for much cheaper or a LP copy). So start saving money now if you want one of these! Alright, so you might be thinking Yeah, yeah it is a good-looking guitar but why is it soooo loved by the expert musicians? I´ll tell you why... First of all, it has a characteristic to its sound that can't really be found in any other guitar. Although you can get a really customized "Superstrat", which will achieve a similar tone. Second, it is a really soft guitar. What do I mean by soft? When bending notes with a guitar that has any kind of mobile bridge (standard tremolo, floyd rose) you are fighting with both the strings tension and the bridge´s force to keep strings in the same place. Also when bending a note with a solid bridge, you only fight against the strings force to stay there, so you can get to higher notes with less effort in my opinion. Third, despite having two humbucking pickups, it can get a wonderful clean tone (Bob Marley used an LP), and at the same time a really nice overdriven sound. Fourth, a "tune-o-matic solid bridge" is almost synonymus with "always in tune". You won't have problems tuning in the middle of a gig, of course you´ll have to act as a gentleman to enjoy this advantage. Fifth, it is a versatile guitar, you can play rock to heavy metal and reggae to pop etc. As I said before, this is a guitar that sounds at least proper in most situations but there are a few situation which this guitar really upstands the other types in my opinion:
  • With lots of distortion/overdrive.
  • At the moment of playing slow and romantic solos.
  • At the moment of playing a middle/high speed solos.
  • When looking for a rather grave sound that won't make your windows shake. As well as advantages, there are also disadvantages. For example; if you want to play as fast as Jason Becker or Michael Romeo, you may want to try a "Superstrat" or a Stratocaster for a faster neck. What I mean by this is, If you want to shred, buy a Superstrat. Someone wrote this in an article I published before. Okay I think that's enough for now, thank you very much for reading the article and I hope it was useful. The next one (and last) will be about Superstrats so if you are an Ibanez, Jackson, BC Rich and Ernie Ball etc fan, stay tuned!
  • 102 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      allenm
      wooo.. 1st. great article man. i loved it. i didnt really know much about les pauls but what i do know matches up well.
      ac/guns n zep
      i was thinking of getting a LP but ive heard that they are really heavy and the weight of it can effect your playing
      GibsonSg12
      i just like the sound better of gibson fender is like a bluesy sounds hence hendrix clapton stevie ray vaughn gibson is more of a hark rock sound hence led zeppelin acdc kiss
      alexjones
      dude i have a 72' gibson lp goldtop with 2 p90s and a 79' fender fat strat, both kickass. it just depends on what music you play stop being close minded you ***s
      Jarrott
      THECLASHROCK1: Strats are a little better than LP's because, they are made by FENDER, and better sounding.
      And that means? Personally, I think Fender is shit. I can't stand to play through one of their amps let alone their guitars. Fender doesn't pack enough of a crunchy sound to them without a pedal along side of it. I stick with my '92 SG. The channel switch has such a difference in tone when I run it through a Cube 60; it's great. Seeing as my SG has kicked a lot of ass so far I'm thinking of checking out a Les Paul and this article just strengthened that. Good job.
      THECLASHROCK1
      Strats are a little better than LP's because, they are made by FENDER, and better sounding.
      fenderplaya015
      I usually play strats but I played a les paul with my friend and it kicked ass. It would be hot if Fender made a LP.
      demez
      I WOULD LIKE TO SEE AN ARTICAL DONE ON SGs but this was very informative
      jimmcs2000
      My most prized possession: 1980 les paul custom. Great fat tone. bThe only thing that i think rivals it is something like a PRS. I think the difference between gibson and epiphone a one piece neck (great sustain) and workmanship. One is handmade in the U.S. of A and the other mass produce in like Korea or something. I have a couple of epiphones and they sound great but don't hold tune very well. I wouldn't play out with the ep. Peace.....
      GibsonSg12
      THECLASHROCK1: hey why dont you stop taking it so seriously, now were gettin somewhere im just telling my opinion how am i taking it to seriously
      Martyrion
      Les Pauls are awsome! Not best, somewhere high up there. Great article too! 5 stars to both the guitar and the article!
      GNRobsessed013
      tomobrien: les pauls are good billie joe from green day uses 1
      And we care about green day, why? Les Pauls are amazing and beautiful. End of story.
      Mispeled
      Very good article, but I'm more interested in how it sounds than its history.
      slincoln.
      Clapton was one of the first to use Les Paul/Marshall for the Blues. Check out Guitar Player 'The Marshall Amp' mag. My Les Paul Std [black] is my most treasured possession, alongside my TSL 60 and vintage quad. Match made in heaven, and I'm in LOVE!!!
      Strat_Monkey
      Turn the tone control to 0, and ABRAKADABRA! You get the well known “woman tone” a favorite of Eric Clapton
      Clapton used an SG played through a wah pedal in a fixed position to get his Woman Tone. I don't think he ever played a Les Paul.
      Spity90
      i kinda of disagree on the mention of the whammy bars taking away sustain, i have a floyd rose on mine.. yes i drilled the poop outta my pauly and its killer!!!.. great article
      voodoochilli499
      If the guitar head says gibson and it cost over $1500 then its a gibson les paul custom. If it says epiphone and cost around $600 then its an epiphone les paul custom
      ledbelly
      Are all LP "Customs" made by epiphone? Even if the inlay says 'Gibson'? Really?
      jimmcs2000
      These *******s are exactly the reason i hate most guitarists. It's always a ***ing competition. If you love strats that's cool. Gibson,PRS,whatever. I am a guitarist and i love GUITARS! I would play any guitar and love it because i am a guitar player. Can't we stop judging everyone and trying to pick a fight. This is my last visit to this site because theres way too many *******s who criticize what they seem not to understand. If you played as much as you whine, you might just actually have something worth listening to. Some of you are cool but i just can't take this aggravation anymore. Some sound like a 13 year old girl comlaining about a zit. Good luck with the bitchin'. Peace
      cool_geek_dude
      I have the epiphone zakk wylde les paul and its going into the shop to get active emgs installed, i was talking to one of my tutors at college and he reckoned that the only real other difference between mine and the gibson was a slightly better neck on the gibson or something. All i know is the gibson one is like $3799 and buying the epiphone and putting the pickups in comes to about 700... think i made the right choice but to summarise... LP RULES!
      2ndslash
      You're still posting this drivel? *groan* If its drivel mate, dont read it
      waldo899
      I have a epiphone les paul custom and i love it and i dont see how they say its hard to bend all i do is bend on mine and i guess its easier to do on my friends strat but i love the feel of the les paul cause im a stronger guy and i dont want a paperweight so i think its one of the greatest guitars ever made and just play one and agree with me and my custom has the same pickups as a gibson so it sounds amazing and i think its better than a gibson for my playing style so theres my 2 cents ok maybe 4
      Vinura
      i bought me an Epiphone Les Paul Studio... its great..the sound..the look and feel of it...love it...great price too...LP's are great...
      kaplac
      And that's why I'm ordering meself an lp body from warmoth. for Fender neck speed and les paul body tone.
      XGuitar_1X
      I still cant get enough sustain or compression to get the feedback on the last part of the solo for dont cry by guns. its so hard to get it to squeel on the note.
      IndieSucks
      gibsons are kick ass guitars, but i play an old peavey jazz guitar and i think that is the best guitar in my opinion. i have try'd playing epiphones lp but i dont kno anyone rich anough to have a gibson.i think that guitars that have a stratocaster body and kcik ass pick ups is all i need 3000$ is to danm much. but still kick ass article 5 stars, thatnks for the info
      lxtkn1989
      This article was awesome, I love the les paul model, and sgs too, but the artice I would really like to see is one on the Explorer model, which I think just looks amazing.
      FrAzEr1803
      thanks again dude, i'm buying byself an Epiphone Les Paul in a few weeks anyway (i can't afford a Gibson :S lol) so this really helped!! Thanks and God Bless dude
      GiutarOverlord
      Nice article lots of info but u left out Jimi Page and for quite some time he was playing a Les Paul and he did some crazy-ass stuff with it. Like in the live version of Dazed and Confused he played his Les Paul with a violin bow and achieved one of rocks most amazing sounds. Still great article, keep em coming.
      Cliff Burton
      your opinions are really good, les pauls are one of the bests, but they also cost the most. but everyone knows the best is....GIBSON!!!..
      That_Pink_Queen
      Les pauls kick. Now that were done with that, let me say that Epiphones, if your smart, really arn't bad guitars. I have both an Epi and a Gibby, and they sound literally identical with the addition of some gibson pickups int he EPI. The biggest difference is in the wood that they use. In Gibsons the wood is usually higher quality, and is one solid block. Epis also sometimes have a bunch of wood blocks all glued together, making the body less resonant. The way to get a good guitar from Epiphone is to get a model with a semi transparent finish. I have an EPI SG and you can clearly see through the red finish, that the guitar is one solid chunk of mahogany. It has a beatiful grain too. There is no doubt you could play it at gigs.
      Dark_Sanity
      loved the article, i have a epiphone les paul standard and it sounds great. it sounds almost or just as good as my mockingbird and it has active pickups in it. i don't have the cash to buy a gibson but i've played a few gibson lp's and they are some of the best guitars, if not the best you can play, to me at least. 5 stars
      punk_pwincess
      sweet... u learn somethin diffrent evry day ... dat was 1 of tha best articles ive eva read .. it waas definetli worth readin.. nice job!
      Slash6969
      I like how jimmc2000 thinks. I dont hate Gibson's I just like Fender better
      Dude did u not read what he said GAH stupid people and i complete agree with what he said i will play anything why cause a guitar is a guitar and each guitar may play diferently but that is what makes it fun ... i dont want a perfect guitar cause that takes the fun out of trying to make the perfect sound or get my crappy guitar to sound like somone overly expesive guitar. but thats just my thoughts