The Gibson Les Paul – Axe of Choice

June 9, 2017

The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars of all-time and was first sold in 1952 having been designed by Ted McCarty in collaboration with guitarist Les Paul, whom Gibson had enlisted to endorse the new model. It followed Fender’s introduction of the Telecaster two years earlier. Les Paul's contributions to his Gibson guitar design remains controversial, according to some his contributions were to advise on the trapeze tailpiece, and a preference for color (stating that Paul preferred gold as "it looks expensive", and a second choice of black because "it makes your fingers appear to move faster on the box", and "looks classy―like a tuxedo"). But his biggest single contribution was to popularize it as he was by far the best known guitarist in America with huge hits on the Billboard charts with his wife, Mary Ford, many of which featured Paul’s multi-tracked guitar playing.

The Les Paul guitar line was originally conceived as the regular model (nicknamed the Goldtop), and the Custom model, which offered upgraded hardware and a more formal black finish. The second issue of the Les Paul guitar was introduced to the public in 1954. Called the Gibson Les Paul Custom, this entirely black guitar was dubbed the ‘Black Beauty’.
Subsequently there have been many versions of this iconic guitar and with the coming of the rock era in the 1960s many guitarists took up the Gibson Les Paul as their guitar of choice. One of the earliest was Peter Green who played a 1959 Gibson Les Paul while in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and then Fleetwood Mac; in the early 1970s Gary Moore bought Green’s guitar.

While Eric Clapton was with John Mayall's band he played a 1960 Les Paul Standard on the Bluesbreakers album, the one affectionately known as 'The Beano Album'. Tragically Clapton's guitar was stolen later in 1966, while Clapton was rehearsing with Cream for the band's first tour, and was never recovered.

What makes the guitar so special? Many will say that it is heavy, and that’s part of the secret to its unique tone. We guitar greats know something about great guitars… Have we missed anyone?

Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
Slash (Guns ‘N’ Roses)
Peter Frampton
Ace Frehley (Kiss)
Joe Walsh
Duane Allman
Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
Pete Townshend
Paul Kossoff (Free)
Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osborne’s band)
Randy Rhoads
Alex Lifeson (Rush)
Snowy White
John Fogerty
Joe Bonamassa
Steve Hillage
Gary Moore
Peter Green
The Edge
Bob Marley
Steve Jones (Sex Pistols)
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
Lindsay Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac)
Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones)
Mark Knopfler
Mick Ronson
Clem Clemson (Colosseum)
Neil Young
Mick Box (Uriah Heep)
Leslie West (Mountain)
Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Check out our great playlist that features many of the artists on our list…but not all are playing a Gibson…

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  1. Michael Johnson

    Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Montrose, Toy Caldwell, Charlie Daniels, Dickie Betts, Michael Bloomfield, Robert Fripp, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, John Sykes, Joe Bonamassa, Mick Jones-Foreigner, Neal Schon.

  2. Andy

    Dave “Clem” Clempson was a fantastically gifted exponent of the Les Paul…as good as ANY of the more well known greats, particularly when he was playing live with Colisseum and then Humble Pie. In those days I believe he rarely went on stage with anything else.
    In later years he seems to have switched to a Stratocaster but that could be because he plays a lot in blues festivals. Personally i prefer the tone of the Les Paul.

  3. John Walton

    He probsbly won’t really feature on anyone’s radar here, but he’s enjoying a bit of a resurgence at the moment; take a bow please, Mr Johnny Winter.

  4. Tim Reardon

    Allen Collins and Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jeff Beck, Bob Welch and Danny Kirwin of Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young w. his longtime companion Old Black 😉

  5. David

    Well said Jonathan, there are too many stories about who used the Les Paul in rock first!
    Personally, although it sounds great, it’s a stubby, uncomfortable and heavy guitar to play although some of the Custom models are better………….

  6. Michael Gorman

    You have missed out John Fogerty who plays a Gold Top Les Paul and is one of the great American rock players

  7. Doubleg23

    Perfectly put Jonathan. Clapton may be known mainly for Strats now but he played Gibsons in Blues Breakers and Cream. Les Paul actually credited him for saving the Les Paul from going out of production (to be replaced by the SG). Michael Bloomfield is also a must for this list.

  8. Eric

    You’ve forgotten Randy Rhoads, yet remembered Zakk Wylde, How is this possible? Randy Rhoads is one of Zakk’s main influences and a huge reason he plays Les Paul’s.

  9. Dave Decker

    I’m surprised that Buckethead was not mentioned, he eclipses most mentioned in talent and creativity, and is only one of a very few that actually have a Les Paul designed especially for him and sell as a signature model by Gibson, but because he’s not a sold out artist by a record company again he gets forgotten. Slash? Really? What is his contribution to music, “Sweet Child O Mine” riff? It’s all about the music, not the stove-pipe hat…….

    1. peter luck

      out of FoK!n space ! we put him in a non returning spacecraft without telling him…..!
      that was very satisfying to write actualy !

  10. Mike

    I don’t see Dave Davies of the Kinks on this list. Which I guess is just another example of how this underrated band continues to be overlooked.

  11. Bruce

    Maybe you should compile a list of guitar players who weren’t known for playing a Les Paul?

    Many great players use different guitars to get a different sound. Some of these players, Jeff Beck for example, play Strats, Pauls and others. I’m sure Hendrix, who is the ultimate poster hero with a white strat, played a Flying V and I’m sure he played a Paul occasionally – flipping it upside down for his lefty playing would have been a little problematic, maybe he used a LH model?

  12. Russ MacKay

    Mick Taylor – various solos with the Rolling Stones. George Harrison – used the LP “Lucy” for much of Abbey Road including his lovely understated solo on Something. EC used same guitar for While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Others – Joe Perry, Mike Bloomfield, Peter Frampton….

  13. Paul reus

    Dear Jonathan Gregg, Wow, what a passion. A real believer.
    Big words too.
    I think a lot of guitarist have played a Les Paul and They have played a lot of other guitars too.
    I miss Chuck Berry. He played a Les Paul Custom in the fifties.
    What do you think of Jan Akkerman, guitarist of Focus? He played a Les Paul Custom too.
    The list is long. So, dont blame anybody missing.

  14. Christopher Aamti

    No one ‘save the les paul from going out of production’ It was out of production between ’61 or so and 1968, depending if you count the SG- style double cutaway models that Paul didn’t like. Clapton played an SG in Cream- see the famous painted’ woman tone’ white one he is so famous for. Les Paul was one of the principal developers of the sold body electric guitar with his ‘log’ which Gibson laughed at until Leo Fender started kicking their ass in the sales department. And yes the thicker body produces a different tone then the thinner SG When I think Paul I think Duane and Dickey. thanks for Soth Shore’s own Mike Bloomfied, by the way, too often forgotten

  15. jambes o brien

    It is the not so dense Mahogany wood and the humbuckers in the Les Paul, that gives it that smooth sound and the very hard and dense Ash and Maple, with single coil, that gives the strat that plucky sound.
    I changed my Les Paul, with, four push pull switches, so can have any variable combination of sounds from, two humbuckers to four singles and also made my own guitar, from solid maple, neck through body and custom wired, both sound brilliant and completely different.

  16. Edward wonch

    You forgot Brad Whitford Aerosmith, he played his at Cheyenne frontier days, great sound, Joe Perry played his as well.

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