Designed by Ted McCarthy the president of Gibson, factory manager John Huis and the guitarist / inventor Lester William Polsfuss (also known as Les Paul) this solid body electric guitar made its public debut in June 1952.
To make a long story short: from there on it became one of the most recognized, influencing and copied instruments of about all time.
Slash, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Gary Moore, Peter Frampton, Billy Gibbons and Joe Perry are just a few legendary musicians getting their very own signature models, let alone playing Les Pauls.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT
In 1961, under the pressure of dropping sales Gibson started making some fundamental changes to their Les Paul models. A thinner body, double cutaways and a more accessible fretboard resulted in the Gibson Les Paul SG Standard. Due to personal issues Les Paul, who wasn’t involved in the design of this guitar anyway, asked Gibson to remove his name from the piece later on.
This cheaper to produce guitar, from 1963 until now known as the Gibson SG, went on to become Gibsons best-selling model of all time.
But as this isn’t supposed to be a history lesson let’s try to focus on three topics / questions specifically:
DATING A GIBSON LES PAUL
It seems that, when it comes to serial numbers there’s always a certain science to it. A distinctive code that varies depending on which brand you look at.
As I don’t want to throw tables of numbers at you (and there are lots) I recommend you’ll head over to the friendly guys from guitarinsite.nl who created a calculator where you just type in your serial and you’re good.
STANDARD vs. CLASSIC vs. TRADITIONAL
Looking at the differences of “the big three” from afar is quite nitpicky as each run made slight changes within itself over the years. Just prepare to get nerdy. That being said, adding a „vs.“ here is actually stupid. This is not a competition. Which guitar you favor is a 100% personal decision. But we’ll get to that later…
To get the basics done:
All three models have a mahagony body and neck, a rosewood fingerboard, maple top, two humbuckers, a four-control layout (V-V-T-T), a three-way toggle-switch and are made in the USA.
Minor deviations might occur depending on which year the guitar was made in but over all these are the components of a common foundation. The “main” differences are pickup design, weight and neckshape which are outlined as following.
neck varies widely through the years
pickups with exposed coils
thinner C-shaped 60s neck
heaviest in terms of weight
thicker “50s” neck
THE GOLDEN YEARS
This is more like a referendum or common agreement than hard facts to say the least but of course the very first models (from the 50s) are hailed to be the best Les Pauls ever made while everything on from 2015 isn’t really favored by the customers. “Back in the good ol’ days… blablabla”
What kind of stuck out were the 90s and early 00s. Considering the price structure on the 2nd hand market and overall agreement the models manufactured within this period of time are quite appealing. But, and I can’t stress this enough, Gibson Les Pauls are in general instruments of high quality. So whatever you’ll choose you’ll hold a very good piece of craftsmanship in your hands.
WHAT’S NEW GIBSON?
According to hearsay along with some very reasonable and reliable sources Gibson Brands Inc. is in serious trouble nowadays. People in management positions leaving the company, the headquarter moved from their long-time offices in Nashville etc. Just take a look at this article from the Nashville Post earlier this year.
Above that, guitarists from around the globe are complaining constantly about the lack of innovation, the unsatisfying quality of recent models and the questionable gadgets their newer guitars offer to justify the increasing prices.
Setting aside that the internet is a melting pot for complains in general you can be quite sure that where there’s smoke there’s fire.
A major problem might be, that currently there are simply no role model – guitarists playing a Gibson. And before anyone throws rocks at me, let’s look at the facts:
Slash, for example, an extraordinary guitar player for sure, has just been named the “Global Brand Ambassador”. His rise to fame was more than 30 years ago when Guns and Roses released their debut album.
Other features on Gibsons website include Judas Priest, Mark Knopfler, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jones and Def Leppard. All highly respectable bands and artists, but, to speak frankly, their heydays date back even further.
Correct me if I’m wrong but these are not exactly the kind of guys to thrill the youth of today and may be the cause the overall image of the brand comes across a little dated.
One of the latest breaths of fresh air might have been Zakk Wylde, who unfortunately has founded his own company for musical equipment back in 2015.
This article has been written over a couple of days. And made public on March 2nd 2018. 19 hours ago musicradar.com reported that Gibson files for bankruptcy.