While Gibson's iconic Les Paul may be one of the most readily recognized and popular solidbody electric guitars ever created, the incredible variety of models that bear the Les Paul name is less well known, as is the man behind the model. Les Paul was born Lester Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915, and began learning the harmonica at age 8. By the time he was 13, he was earning money as a country singer and guitar player. He was also a born tinkerer, and experimented with electronics and amplification to try to get more sound out of his guitar. By the mid-1930's he was cutting records and performing on the radio. He successfully branched out into jazz, first with his own trio, and then with his wife, Mary Ford, with whom by the early '50's he had numerous chart-topping records, and a national program on the then-brand-new medium of television. And he also pioneered multi-track recording! In the '40's, however, he had grown dissatisfied with the sound of amplified archtop hollowbody jazz guitars common at the time, and began experimenting with solid electric guitar design, creating one of the very first out of a 4x4, to which he affixed side wings from an Epiphone archtop, and dubbed it "The Log." He presented this prototype to Gibson, but they declined to manufacture a solidbody electric, until Leo Fender's Telecaster began to gain popularity in the early '50's.
The first Gibson Les Paul guitar was introduced in 1952, and set the template for the model, which was meant to continue the Gibson tradition of finely crafted instruments, with luxurious appointments, to contrast with Fender's assembly-line approach to guitar building. The Les Paul featured a body of solid mahogany and a carved maple cap, for deep, rich tone with plenty of sustain, and a "set," or glued-in neck, in contrast to Fender's bolt-on one-piece necks. The guitar also featured dual single-coil P-90's pickups, a trapeze tailpiece, and a striking gold finish. By 1957, the Les Paul featured Gibson's revolutionary humbucking pickups, which delivered a deeper, warmer tone without the annoying hum from electrical interference common to single-coils, as well as a stunning sunburst finish. These Les Paul Standards from the 1957-60 model years have since become some of the most valuable vintage guitars in history. The Les Paul name was dropped in the early '60's, as Gibson switched focus to the easier-to-produce SG model, but demand picked up by the late '60's as rock and blues players like Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield favored the late 50's models for their incredible tone and sustain. The Les Paul model was reintroduced in 1968, and has been a best-seller ever since. Today there are dozens of variants, both from Gibson and their Epiphone subsidiary, including models loaded with three humbuckers, ones with dual P-90 single coils, Bigsby vibrato bridges, 12-string and baritone versions, self-tuning Robot models, double-cutaway versions, stripped-down Studios, Custom models with fancier binding and other details, and entry-level Jr. and Melody Maker models, as well as numerous signature axes from such luminaries as Slash and Zakk Wylde. In short, there's bound to be a Les Paul loaded with anything you could want on your own piece of guitar history. Get yours and make some!