The Gibson Les Paul – Axe of Choice

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Les Paul photo by Michael Ochs Archives and Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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…

Format: Union Jack flagUK English


  1. MarcoC

    June 9, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Yes you left out someone – a really great player actually – Alex Lifeson of Rush

    • uDiscover

      June 9, 2014 at 11:50 am

      Marco, good call!

  2. Michael Johnson

    June 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    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.

  3. Andy

    June 9, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    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.

    • uDiscover

      June 10, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Really good shout out for Clem Clempson.

  4. Andy

    June 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Dave “Clem” Clempson.

  5. John Walton

    June 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    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.

  6. Tim Reardon

    June 14, 2014 at 1:50 am

    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 😉

  7. David

    June 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    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………….

  8. Roy Fawcett

    July 7, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I think you missed Steve Howe of Yes. He owns Less Paul.

  9. Skydog81

    July 9, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Dickey Betts,Warren Haynes and Toy Caldwell !

  10. Mr P

    September 17, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I do believe you may have left out Leslie West .

  11. Michael Gorman

    October 31, 2014 at 9:35 pm

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

  12. Doubleg23

    October 31, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    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.

  13. Eric

    November 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

    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.

  14. Duffy

    November 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    How about Les Paul!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Dave Decker

    November 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    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…….

  16. Ján Miklas

    November 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    …and where is The Edge from U2?

    • peter luck

      May 21, 2015 at 9:35 pm

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

  17. Alex

    November 11, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Sultans of Swing was done with a Fender Stratocaster, which is Mark Knopfler’s classic guitar…

  18. finn

    November 11, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Neil Young and his Old black..

  19. Mike

    November 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    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.

  20. Raydog

    May 18, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Joe Bonamassa, DUH!!!!!

  21. Bruce

    May 20, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    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?

  22. Chris hosier

    May 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Steve Hillage, Dave Brock, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, guaranteed not to get a mention

  23. Russ MacKay

    May 20, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    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….

  24. Leif

    May 20, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    At times George Harrison and Paul Mccartney have used Les Pauls

  25. Paul reus

    May 21, 2015 at 6:53 am

    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.

  26. Christopher Aamti

    June 11, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    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

  27. Staffan

    June 16, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Doug Aldrich from Whitesnake.

  28. Kevin

    February 13, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    So many names left off, unintentionally of course…
    Alvin Lee one of the more prominent players of The Gibson.

  29. Paul Beltrán

    March 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Randy Rhoads & Zakk Wylde

  30. Peter Shelton

    June 9, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Robert Fripp

  31. Chris Baker

    June 10, 2016 at 3:15 am

    All Dimeola sure could burn one up!

  32. jambes o brien

    June 10, 2016 at 10:21 am

    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.

  33. Nordin

    June 11, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Snowy white and the iconic goldtop

  34. Stefan Granberg

    August 13, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Steve Lukather, Frank Zappa

  35. Shedworld

    August 13, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    The late Billy Jones of the Outlaws. And didn’t Richard Betts play a Les Paul?

  36. Jim Koss

    August 14, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Yes Al Di Meola Yes i know he’s not a “rocker” but he is one of the best players in the world right now.

  37. Barry

    August 14, 2016 at 12:23 am

    How in the world could you have left off….

    Steve Marriott!

  38. TelecasterTom

    August 14, 2016 at 12:23 am

    Jim McCarty..Detroit Wheels…Cactus..just sayin,

  39. Edward wonch

    August 14, 2016 at 1:37 am

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

  40. Mark1959

    August 15, 2016 at 2:33 am

    Mick Ralphs of Bad Company!

  41. Tim Houser

    June 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Uhhh…Tom Scholz

  42. Ray Symmes

    August 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Pete Ham; Badfinger

  43. Bill

    August 14, 2017 at 12:33 am

    Dave Davies, the Raging Bull of the Les Paul.

  44. URIEL

    August 14, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Andy Latimer, Robert Fripp & Jan Ackerman.

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