branded Les Paul guitar
was named after its inventor
, noted guitarist
(and inventor) Les Paul
. First manufactured
in 1952, the Les Paul was a revolution
in guitar making, being the first solidbody guitar
(i.e. made of one solid piece of wood). Les Paul experimented with many designs, but eventually found that a string tied to a solid mahogany railway sleeper
gave the longest sustain. The mass
of this construction is what gives rise to the excellent
sustain and tonal properties of the guitar.
The first series was introduced in 1952, and it soon became the preeminent guitar within fledgling rock circles. After a short production hiatus between 1960-1962 (during which time it was replaced by the Gibson SG), public demand was so great it was reintroduced and, 50 years later, it is still an unquestionable guitar and one of the finest solid body electric guitars ever designed. Nice looks, huge 'ballsy' rock sound and a very warm and full clean tone. Perhaps the polar opposite sound to the jangly and bright Fender Stratocaster. It is used throughout a number of musical styles (from punk and heavy metal all the way to jazz) as it has a very versatile sound and is easy to play, with a fast fingerboard and easily controlled dynamics.
Initially the instrument was concieved as a jazz guitar. However, at the time jazz was going through a rather difficult period; losing popularity and lacking a clear stylistic direction. Consequently, it never became a major jazz instrument, but was ideally suited for the rock and fusion sounds that were emerging at the time. Many noted musicians have played Les Pauls over the years, including Eric Clapton (moreso during his Cream days), Slash from Guns n' Roses, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and of course Les Paul himself. Peter Hook of New Order played a Les Paul bass.
There are currently about 13 or so variations on the basic Les Paul design around today. The main models are:
- Les Paul Standard
The original model from 1952. Mahogany neck and back, with a carved maple top. Up until 1957 they featured single coil soap bar pickups, after which they switched to Humbuckers. The hardware is chrome. In the 1960s Gibson introduced the 'slim-taper' neck, which changes in thickness only about a tenth of an inch from the first fret to the twelfth and maintains a precisely controlled width to thickness ratio, designed to promote speed while reducing player fatigue. The Standard is now available with or without the slim-taper neck.
- Les Paul Custom
Introduced in 1954, the Custom is perhaps the most beautiful Les Paul with its elegant colourings and gold hardware. It features multi-ply binding on a maple neck and mahogany back and top. Essentially it is the same as a Standard, but with slicker aesthetics.
- Les Paul Studio
Introduced in 1983. A more refined version of the guitar, with a thinner body and more advanced electronics designed by Les Paul himself. Low impedance electronics were used for an improved signal to noise ratio and a very clean tone. The thinner body changed the tonal qualities of the instrument somewhat, but the improved electrics allowed higher quality in recording situations. The same woods are used but there is no binding. This model is slightly cheaper than the others (since not as much wood used? I dunno...something like that).
All models feature a 'Tune-o-matic' bridge and a stop bar tailpiece, and can be with or without a scratch guard. Apart from reissues, all Les Pauls now feature humbuckers. They are mostly mahogany, but there is now a series called 'SmartWood Exotics' which feature a number of exotic woods. There are a number of variations and reisues based on the above but slightly different, and they all feature Les Paul's signature on the headpiece. Recent reissues include the 1957 Goldtop, a fine looking instrument.
The instruments are manufactured in a number of different places. The most expensive custom-built and highest quality guitars are built at Gibson's factory in Nashville, Tennessee, and the other factories are in Korea and Taiwan, the Korean being higher quality and more expensive accordingly.
Les Pauls, as with most other beautiful pieces of craftsmanship and art, retain there value extremely well. An original Les Paul from 1959 (considered a good year) can fetch upwards of 112,000 USD. Costs for a new one range from about $1000 for a Junior model to upwards of $10,000 for a signature or custom series. Along with the Stratocaster, it is the most copied and common guitar shape nowadays.