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The History of the Gibson Les Paul

When talking about the most popular electric guitars in the world, the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar will surely come at the top. It has a one-piece body, two powerful electronic sensors, the surface is finished with maple. This model appeared in 1952 and was named after Les Paul, a guitarist known in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They are now Gibson's first products: items of interest to collectors.

The first guitar

Gibson Les Paul was released in 1952 in the United States, becoming the world's second electric guitar. At the time, Gibson had only one Les Paul model, which was called the Les Paul model without any additional words like Standard, Classic, etc. In time, when Les Paul became the name of a whole series of guitars, this first model became known as Les Paul 1952 GoldTop. The term GoldTop is reminiscent of the gilded body of a guitar, and the number 1952 marks the year in which this model appeared, and thus the birth of the first Les Paul guitar.

New models appear

Two years after his debut, Les Paul went from one model to a series. In addition to the main one, Gibson released two more models - one was a "cheaper, simplified" version (Les Paul Junior) for the poor and students, and the other, on the contrary, was a "rich, classy" guitar for the rich elite (Les Paul Custom). In addition to the external characteristics - rich finishing (gilded fittings and multi-layered edges of the body, neck, and head), the new guitar had a slightly different solution in terms of wood. 

Custom quality

In particular, unlike GoldTop and generally most of those Gibson Les Paul guitars, the new Les Paul Custom guitar had a body not of two layers of different breeds (thick layer of mahogany and a thin layer of maple on top), but only of mahogany - both top and bottom layer. Les Paul claims that this "solution for wood" is a common mistake of Gibson - they say that in 1954 it was decided to make GoldTop entirely of mahogany, and Custom, as a more expensive model of mahogany with maple. And then Gibson mingled. Whatever it was, the Custom was actually produced until 1960 with mahogany holsters.

All Custom guitars from 1954 to 1960 had two bridge options - either a fixed (Tune-o-Matic in combination with a Stop Bar) or a Bigsby tremolo bridge. The Les Paul Custom backrest had diamond inserts that became a symbol of this model for decades. 

Competing with Fender

Interestingly, when it first started, Gibson Les Paul guitars were not popular, and so the ergonomic Gibson SG replaced the standard model in 1961 as a counterpart to the cheap Fender Stratocaster. A similar fate befell the futuristic Explorer and Flying V models, which were an innovation of company president Ted McCarthy and were far ahead of their time. Reconstruction of Les Paul production began only in 1968, and in 1974 the Gibson factory moved from Kalamazoo (Michigan) to Nashville (Tennessee), where instrument production continues to this day. The plant for the production of semi-acoustic guitars is located in Memphis, Tennessee, and acoustic guitars in Bozeman, Montana.

Eras of production

1) 1952-1960 (the golden time of playing authentic guitars - creation of instruments from solid body, invention of PAF humbucker, appearance of sunflower color, use of tune-o-Matic bridge in combination with stoptail bridge, reduction of neck thickness "58, "59, "60 with deep adhesion to the body, use of light Honduran mahogany and Brazilian rosewood);

2) 1968-1982 (continuation of guitar production - experiments with gluing the neck and body from several parts, using maple as a material for the neck and fretboard, reducing the depth of gluing the neck to the body, using the volute on the neck, opening another factory in Nashville, which set the beginning of the competition with Kalamazoo factory and the release of customized and innovative instruments (The Les Paul, Artisan, 25/50 Anniversary, Artist, Custom Super 400, Spotlight);

3) 1983 - to the present day (return to the production of guitars from solid pieces of mahogany, gradual introduction of various perforations within the body, diversification of the model range, the appearance of inauthentic reprints of Prehistoric, closure of the plant in Kalamazoo);

4) 1993 - to date (creation of Gibson Custom, Art & Historic Division, regular limited editions of historical reissues, rare and anniversary versions, as well as signature models of famous guitarists).

Models of Les Paul guitars:

  • Goldtop,
  • Sunburst
  • Custom
  • Standard
  • Junior
  • Special
  • The Paul
  • SG
  • Deluxe
  • Dark Fire
  • Studio
  • Memphis ES-Les Paul
  • Epiphone Les Paul
  • Various signature models

Most notable musicians that play Les Paul

Over the past half century, many legendary musicians and bands have played on Gibson Les Paul guitars: Les Paul, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Vivian Campbell, Slash, Billy Gibbons, Gary Moore, Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, etc.

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