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When Gibson finally decided to enter the solidbody electric guitar market in 1952, company president Ted McCarty worked with the chart-topping guitarist and innovator Les Paul to create a guitar that would compete with Fender's then newly-released Telecaster. The result was the Les Paul Goldtop, a striking, meticulously crafted guitar that differed from the Fender in several ways, most notably with a glued set-neck design, rather than Fender's bolt-on approach, as well as a solid mahogany body capped with a carved maple top, for deep, rich tones with plenty of sustain. In 1954, the Gibson Les Paul Jr. was released as a more affordable, entry-level guitar, still of high quality materials and workmanship, but with only one P-90 single-coil pickup, single tone and volume controls, and without the carved maple cap. Originally released as a single-cutaway body with a sunburst finish, Gibson soon offered a limed mahogany, or "TV Yellow" finish, which looked good on the then-new medium of black-and-white television, but which did not cause excessive glare from the tube-powered TV cameras of the day, as high-gloss finishes tended to do. Double-cutaway models were introduced in 1958, and the Junior has undergone numerous changes in the intervening years, but it has remained a popular instrument for beginners and professionals alike ever since.
Famous players who have favored the Gibson Les Paul Jr. include modern-day guitar slingers like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, who has his own signature model, and uses several vintage single and cutaway Juniors on stage and in the studio. Perhaps the guitarist who first gave the model widespread exposure was Leslie West of Mountain, who generated massive tone from his Junior on tunes like "Mississippi Queen" and "Theme for an Imaginary Western," and wailed on one at the legendary Woodstock festival. John Lennon often used a modified Junior with a Charlie Christian pickup added at the bridge for his post-Beatle work, and Keith Richards has been known to sling a Jr. or two, as has Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls, and Mick Jones of the Clash.
Today, the Gibson Les Paul Jr. is available in both single and double-cutaway versions, some with dual pickups, in a variety of finishes like Vintage Sunburst, TV Yellow and Heritage Cherry, and loaded with the legendary crunch of the P-90 single-coil or Gibson's iconic humbuckers. Gibson's Custom Shop even offers VOS (Vintage Original Spec) models crafted with painstaking attention to detail to capture every nuance of those now astronomically-priced vintage collectibles.
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