Do you love the look and sound of a Gibson Les Paul? Chances are, your answer will be a big fat YES! For most guitarists, a Gibson Les Paul is synonymous with rock'n'roll. Here's a look at the Top 7 crucial moments that made Les Paul history, and which helped to turn it into the world's most desirable electric guitar...
The Gibson Les Paul is so desirable, in fact, that original, vintage models can cost you almost as much as buying a small house. A Gibson Les Paul in sunburst finish, made between 1959 and 1960, can cost over £120K if in great condition!
But the funny thing is that it wasn't always like that - in the beginning, the Les Paul was fairly unpopular, almost to the point of being considered a commercial failure. Can you believe this?
It took some of the best guitarists ever to rescue this magnificent beauty out of semi-obscurity and bring it to the front of some of the world's biggest stages!
Here's our pick of Top 7 Crucial Moments that made Gibson Les Paul history, and definitely put it on the map:
1) Les Paul Plays 'How High The Moon' with Mary Ford, 1951
It's fitting enough that it was the late, great Les Paul himself the one responsible for the first ever memorable appearance of a Gibson Les Paul guitar. After all, he created it!
His song with wife Mary Ford, 'How High The Moon', was a smash hit in 1951, and his guitar playing was simply extraordinary: Les Paul was basically playing rock'n'n'roll guitar before rock'n'roll even existed! This was 1951, remember - before Elvis, before 'Rock Around The Clock', before rockabilly. It set the standard for the Gibson Les Paul - an instrument that would herald exciting new sounds in the future. The song also introduced double-tracking, making it one of the most revolutionary recordings of the era
2) Keith Richards Becomes First Celebrity Les Paul Player in Britain, 1964
Despite the early breakthrough, the Gibson Les Paul was soon considered old-fashioned, heavy and too expensive, and other brands and models became much more popular than the Gibson Les Paul during the rock'n'roll boom in the 50's.
By the early sixties, the guitar was considered a "market failure". The biggest band in the world, The Beatles, loved their Gibson acoustics, but their choice of electric guitars were Epiphone, Gretsch and Rickenbackers. But when, in 1964, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones bought a 1959 Gibson Les Paul (fitted with Bigsby) he became the first celebrity guitarist of the 60's to play one, introducing the Les Paul to a new generation.
3) Eric Clapton Invents New Rock'n'Roll Sound with the Bluesbreakers, 1966
OK, now the stage was set for the true revolution. Keith Richards may have been the first celebrity Les Paul player, but he played so many different guitars that the Les Paul was just one among many. What happened next was perhaps the most important moment in the Les Paul history - Eric Clapton's stellar performance on the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers' "Beano" album:
Clapton, who had already made a name for himself with The Yardbirds, simply changed the game: by playing a Gibson Les Paul Standard 1959 (inspired by blues guitarist Freddy King) through a Marshall 1962 Combo (now, called Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker), he played the most ferocious guitar of the time, making full use of the Les Paul's powerful no-hum humbucking pickups and a cranked Marshall amp. Sounds familiar? This Les Paul + Cranked Marshall amp was the template for most heavy rock'n'roll music made ever since!
The result: Clapton was nicknamed "God" and other serious guitarists started to consider playing a Gibson Les Paul, too!
4) Jeff Beck Goes Further with The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group
Jeff Beck was an unknown player when he replaced Eric Clapton as the Yardbirds' lead guitarist. But not one to be overshadowed by Clapton or anyone, Jeff Beck soon became one of the most innovative guitar players in the sixties. One of his main guitars during the era was the Gibson Les Paul. Whereas Clapton was a blues purist, Jeff Beck used his Les Paul to go where no guitarist had gone before, including using feedback and Indian musical influences in rock'n'roll... before the Beatles.
With his Gibson Les Paul + Vox AC30 + fuzz pedal formula, he set a template of gritty rock'n'roll that inspired many garage rock, punk and rock'n'roll bands who came after: including The Stooges, White Stripes and even Aerosmith (who still do a cover of a Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds song today!) With his Jeff Beck Group, Beck and his Les Paul pretty much "invented" the Led Zeppelin sound:
5) Mike Bloomfield Buys a Goldtop Les Paul, then a LP Standard
Mike Bloomfield, then lead guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Band, is considered one of the main figures who helped to popularize the Les Paul, when he recorded most of their 'East West' album with a 1954 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. His work was simply fantastic, and inspired many to first pick a Les Paul. Not surprisingly, a few years ago Gibson Custom made a Mike Bloomfield signature Les Paul - which is considered by many one of the best models in recent years.
6) Peter Green Takes Fleetwood Mac to the Top, 1969
With his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, singer-songwriter and lead guitarist Peter Green took Fleetwood Mac to the top of the UK charts for the first time, thanks to songs such as 'Oh Well', 'Man of the World', 'Albatross' and 'Black Magic Woman'.
The tone of his Les Paul is the stuff of legend, and Green is considered one of the masters of the Gibson Les Paul Standard sound, with the reversed magnet on the neck pickup of his guitar said to be one of the special ingredients of his tone, giving it an out-of-phase sound.
Today, the Gibson Les Paul Lemon Burst models look very similar to the aged Les Paul that Green used to play. That guitar was later bought by Gary Moore, who called it his "Holy Grail".
7) Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin. Enough Said.
By the end of the sixties, several of the most respected players were adept of the Gibson Les Paul. Even The Beatles eventually used one! There's no way the Gibson Les Paul would be left to the sidelines again, but there was still one important thing missing - the guitar being associated with the Biggest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World.
And it finally happened when The Beatles split up, and the crown was passed on to Led Zeppelin. And thanks to Jimmy Page, the Gibson Les Paul was once and for all, forever etched in our minds as a true symbol of authentic rock'n'roll!
IN 2015... THE LES PAUL GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE!
Today, Gibson Les Paul guitars continue to be some of the coolest and most desirable instruments for many guitarists the world over! When Gibson releases new Les Paul models they quickly become something to talk about.
And of course, that's what happened with the Gibson 2015 Les Paul models, when, once more, Gibson decided to innovate, introducing many cool new features and specs.
To be honest, not everyone was convinced at first - because some guitarists still want their Les Pauls to be just like the ones played by those seven guitarists we mentioned above.
Which is fair enough, but they also miss the point: the Gibson Les Paul, as originally conceived by Les Paul himself, was not necessarily meant to be a "traditional" instrument, but an innovative, modern guitar. That's the real tradition that the new 2015 Gibson Les Paul guitars keep alive. Les Paul was an inventor, who'd fiddle with his guitars and change and tweak things all the time.
The new models, with new features such as the zero-fret nut, booster switches and more, are perfect tribute to Les Paul in the year of his 100th birthday. But, of course, they still retail that classic Les Paul vibe...