The story of the Gibson Les Paul goes back to 1945, when Lester William Polsfuss, as known as Les Paul – who was already a respected guitar innovator – presented Gibson with his idea for a solid-body Spanish guitar.
How Everything Started?
Les Paul first created ‘The Log’. It was a pine block that ran through the middle of the instrument – ever so slightly deeper and wider than the fret-board – with hollow sides, or ‘wings’ added to give it shape. This name was not exactly an awe-inspiring name, but entirely fitting for what was essentially a chunk of wood with some bits bolted on to it. While Les Paul recognized that solid-bodies were the future of electric guitar production, Gibson didn’t initially share his enthusiasm. They ridiculed the concept and rejected his prototype.
Then in 1951 Fender came out with the ‘Telecaster’ and shortly after the ‘Stratocaster’, and these instruments made a big noise in the guitar-playing music world. That’s when the president of Gibson, Ted McCarty, called Les Paul back and asked to see that prototype, again, they rejected years ago. Ted McCarty would put together a team and got to work on what would eventually become the Les Paul model.
The Les Paul takes shape: on those 1952 models, the tailpiece was actually implemented incorrectly, much to Les Paul’s chagrin. The strings wrapped under it, rather than over, as they were supposed to. This made right hand string dampening impossible.
The following year, after Les Paul’s protests, the tailpiece was corrected. While this improved the playing experience vastly, intonation issues still persisted. As a result, Gibson abandoned the trapeze altogether in 1954.
Nevertheless, the first Les Paul was launched in 1952, and Les debuted the guitar during a live performance at New York’s Paramount theater during that June. That original guitar bore many of the hallmarks we now associate with the Les Paul; the distinctive shape, mahogany body and the iconic “Gold Top” color scheme. However, there were also some differences. The pick-ups were P90s and the trapeze tailpiece was similar to that used on Gibson’s hollow bodies of the time.
Finally it would be in 1957 before the last component of the classic Gibson Les Paul was put in place. The P90s of earlier models were replaced with new “humbucker” pickups designed by Gibson technician Seth Lover. These “PAF” (Patent Applied For) models offered louder output, and a fuller, less toppy tone than their P90 counterparts. With the pickups in place, the iconic sound of the Les Paul was born.
Then in 1958, Gibson phased out the Gold Top finish, replacing it with their enduring Sunburst design. Yet, these sunburst Les Paul’s, produced between 1958 and 1960, were not a hit with consumers. A mere 1700 units were sold in those two years, prompting Gibson to drop them altogether in 1961. That would have been where the story of the classic sunburst Les Paul ended.
In 1964, Keith Richards purchased a 1959 Sunburst instrument, becoming the first guitarist on the British scene to use one. His peers soon followed suit. Eric Clapton switched to a Les Paul in 1965, inspired by Freddie King. By the end of the 1960’s, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Joe Perry, Slash, Bob Marley and Jimmy Page were all Les Paul players and all helped to cement its status and/or were bearing the charge of the Les Paul resurgence.
However, suddenly, Gibson was faced with a dilemma. Their most popular guitar model – and arguably the most popular electric guitar in the world at the time – was a model no longer in production. Responding to increased pressure from the guitar playing public, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul to the market in 1968. It has remained in production ever since.
The second guitar legend playing Gibson is Andrei Cerbu. After being given his ’59 Sunburst Gibson, he has become a YouTube superstar inspiring other young guitar players to pick up a Gibson. And, Andrei is also well on his way to debuting at the Paramount theater in NY.