The Gibson Les Paul


The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most famous and popular electric guitar models. It was first sold in 1952 and is named after guitar player Les Paul who designed it with Ted McCarty.


The Gibson Les Paul is available in a wide range of versions, like the Standard, the Custom, the Special, the Studio as well as signature models designed in cooperation with well-known guitar players.


Certain years in the history of Gibson's production of the Les Paul are said to be better than others, and some very famous recordings have been made with a Gibson Les Paul. These two factors have increased the value of certain types from certain years mainly because they have turned into collectors items. A 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst for instance can be worth over 500,000 USD.


What are the main features of the Les Paul?

The Les Paul is a classic electric guitar model and has a typical sound which some people can easily recognize.

The Les Paul is a solid-body guitar with an arched top, although some Les Pauls have a chambered body or have "Swiss Cheese" holes in the body.

The body has a single cutaway which enables the player to reach the highest frets.


The construction is usually made with mahogany and maple, and a rosewood or ebony fingerboard.


The neck has 22 frets and has trapezoid or block position marker inlays.


The guitar has a so-called tune-o-matic bridge which lets you set the intonation per string. Because there is typically no whammy bar (vibrato), a Les Paul usually stays in tune pretty well, depending on the cuts in the nut and depending on how the guitar is strung. The height of the strings is set using two thumbwheels.


The Les Paul has a short scale length (24.75 in/629 mm), which means that the distance from the nut to the bridge is shorter than on a Stratocaster (25.5 in /648 mm), for instance. This makes for a slighty lesser string tension and a different feel when compared to longer scale guitars.


The headstock has the string tuners in a 3-by-3 configuration and is slightly angled backwards from the neck which is believed to improve sustain, because of the bigger angle that the strings make behind the nut.


The Gibson Les Paul has two humbuckers (three on some models, like the Custom. Some Les Pauls have P90's). These dual-coil pickups have a slightly 'fatter' and 'warmer' tone than single coil pickups. The midrange is slightly louder and the bass and treble frequencies are slighty softer when compared to single coils. Humbuckers have very little hum, thanks to their construction. The pickup selector switch lets you choose between neck pickup, bridge pickup, or both. There are tone and volume controls for both pickups.

a Gibson Les Paul collection


A heavy guitar

The Les Paul is a heavy guitar when compared to other models like the Stratocaster and Telecaster. This is not noticed when playing sitting down, but it's something to take into account if you plan to play two-hour gigs with it with the guitar hanging from your shoulder.


The weight varies greatly from guitar to guitar, from as light as 7 lbs to as heavy as 13 lbs, depending on woods and construction (chambered or completely solid). If you plan to play 3-hour gigs while standing up, it's a good idea to take weight into account.


Should i buy a Gibson Les Paul?

If you are attracted in the classic looks, long sustain, fat tone and good playability of the Les Paul, and you're not afraid of the bigger weight, the Gibson Les Paul might be the guitar for you. Gibson Les Pauls are generally expensive. This counts for new examples but also for older, used ones from the 70's, 80's and 90's. If your budget is limited, you could also look into the more affordable Les Paul models as made by Epiphone and other brands.


How do i find a good Les Paul?

If you have the opportunity to play the guitar before having to decide whether or not to buy it, play it. The quality and 'vibe' is different from guitar to guitar because of differences in the wood used and in the amount of craftsmanship put into the construction of the instrument, even when comparing 2 guitars of the same year, brand, model, range and so on.
Be aware that the build quality and the quality of the materials of new Gibsons is not as constant as you'd hope. This is also true for older, used Les Pauls.

The following things can tell you if a specific Les Paul is a good one:


- workmanship/finishing: closely examine the bindings and edges of the body, neck and headstock. Flawed piantwork and messy bindings means a lack of workmanship, which will also hold true for less visible features of the guitar.


- resonance: sit down with the unplugged guitar in playing position. Play the thickest string (low E). Now if you can feel the guitar trembling against your stomach, it has good resonance. This means the wood is able to resonate with the string's frequency, which is good. If you attack the thick string(s) hard and you don't feel the guitar at all, it's less resonant.


- neck: look down the length of the neck, from the headstock, while checking out the edge of the fingerboard. If it curves in a visibly different angle on both sides of the fingerboard, the neck is warped. Not good, stay away from warped necks. If the curve is the same on both sides, but the instrument doesn't play very easily or the strings buzz against the frets on some parts of the fingerboard, that can be fixed by adjusting the trussrod, which can be accessed by the little cover plate on the headstock. Leave that to someone experienced, if you've never done it yourself.


- neck feel: grab the neck and slide up and down while keeping contact with your thumb. This should feel smooth and the neck should not feel awkward or uncomfortable to your hands and there should be no evident dents under your thumb at the back of the neck. There are different neck profiles which have each their own feel. The only way to find out which profile is right for you, is to play a couple of guitars with different neck profiles and find out which is most comfortable to you.


- headstock: on used Gibsons, checking the headstock for repairs is very important. A headstock that was broken and repaired seriously devalues the guitar and can weaken it.


- electronics: check if both pickups, the selector switch and the tone and volume controls work as they should. A bit of crackling noise when turning the pots can be easily solved.


- playability and setup: a lot of guitars will not be properly set up when you play them. Most of the playability problems like string height, buzzing, out-of-tune intonation, volume differences between the two pickups, etcetera, can be corrected with a proper setup job. This has to be done be a proffesional guitar technician and can make a world of difference for the playability, feel and sound of the instrument.


If you can find a resonant example of a Les Paul within your budget, and the workmanship, neck and electronics seem good, you might consider buying it. Slash, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Zakk Wylde and Gary Moore all play or have played a Les Paul, so you'd be in good company.
On the other hand, a Les Paul is not designed to deliver the tone and feel of other classic electric guitar models like the Stratocaster or Telecaster, it has its own thing. You'll have to play 2 or 3 Les Pauls and compare the sound, feel and playability to other models, in order to find out whether this is the right model for you!


Check out the Gibson website to find out more about te various the Les Paul.


the gibson les paul - player's guitar