Named after one of the 20th century's most important musicians and musical inventors, the Gibson Les Paul is quite possibly the most well-known and successful "signature model" of all time. Les Paul was not only a popular jazz and country guitarist, bandleader and TV show host, he also made significant contributions to the field of audio multi-track recording and musical electronics.
A constant tinkerer and inventor, in the 1940s, Les set out to design a guitar that would sustain notes for far longer than the big hollow-bodied electric guitars that were commonly used in the middle of the 20th century. After considerable experimentation, Les determined that by anchoring the guitar strings to a solid piece of wood, sustain could be greatly increased, while simultaneously reducing the tendency for the guitar to feed back at higher volume levelsâ€“ which is a considerable issue with hollow-bodied guitars. When a prototype was presented to Gibson, they initially passed on the idea of a solid body guitar, but they soon changed their mind, and the Les Paul model was released in 1952.
The original Goldtop model from 1952 featured a trapeze tailpiece, two single coil P-90 pickups with a separate volume and tone control for each pickup, a "set" or glued-in 24.75" scale mahogany neck, mahogany body with a thin maple top cap, and a distinctive "gold top" finish. Later models, such as the 1954 Custom model introduced features like the now-classic "tune-o-matic" bridge and fancier cosmetics. In 1957, the Seth Lover-designed "Patent Applied For" humbucker pickups were introduced. These pickups are "hotter" than the original P-90s, with a thicker and heavier sound, and are much less susceptible to hum and noise than the original single coils. The 1958, 1959 and 1960 Standards featured a distinctive sunburst finish over their often highly figured maple tops, and surviving examples of the originals are today among the most highly sought after and most expensive vintage guitar models in the world. In the mid-1950s, Gibson also broadened the LP line with the addition of the somewhat stripped down and less expensive Special and Junior models, and later did so again with the introduction of the mini-humbucker-equipped Deluxe in 1968 and the affordable Studio model in 1983.
Today, Gibson is still making many different versions of the Les Paul in their Nashville USA factory. Long a favorite of blues and rock guitarists, it remains one of the best-selling and most popular guitars in the world, and has been associated with such artists as Slash, Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Joe Perry and Jimmy Page.