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Seven Moments That Made Gibson Les Paul History

Published: Thu September 18, 2014  News Feed
Today, the Gibson Les Paul is the most revered and desirable guitar for rock and blues guitarists worldwide, with prices for an original 1958 Gibson Les Paul being comparable to what you'd pay for a house!

Gibson Sunrise Teaburst les paul LP guitar vintage retro

But, what many people don't realise, is that it wasn't always this way - and, once upon a time, the Les Paul guitar wasn't very popular at all. It took some of the best guitarists ever to rescue this magnificent beauty out of semi-obscurity and bring it to the front of some of the world's biggest stages - and to our hi-fi's! Here's our pick of Top 7 Crucial Moments that made Gibson Les Paul history and put it on the map:

1) Les Paul Plays 'How High The Moon' with Mary Ford, 1951

It's fitting enough that it was the late, great Les Paul the one responsible for the first ever memorable appearance of a Gibson Les Paul guitar. His song, with wife Mary Ford, 'How High The Moon', was a smash hit in 1951, and his guitar playing was simply extraordinaire: Les Paul was basically playing rock'n'n'roll guitar before rock'n'roll even existed! This was 1951, after all - before Elvis, before 'Rock Around The Clock', before rockabilly. It set the standard for the Gibson Les Paul - an instrument that would herald exciting new sounds in the future. The song also introduced double-tracking, making it one of the most revolutionary recordings of the era:

2) Keith Richards Becomes First Celebrity Les Paul Player in Britain, 1964

Keith Richards and his Gibson Les Paul 1959

Despite the early breakthrough, the Gibson Les Paul was soon considered old-fashioned, heavy and too expensive, and other brands and models became much more popular than the Gibson Les Paul during the rock'n'roll boom in the 50's. By the early sixties, the guitar was considered a "market failure". The biggest band in the world, The Beatles, loved their Gibson acoustics, but their choice of electric guitars were Epiphone, Gretsch and Rickenbackers. But when, in 1964, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones bought a 1959 Gibson Les Paul (fitted with Bigsby) he became the first celebrity guitarist of the 60's to play one, introducing the Les Paul to a new generation.

3) Eric Clapton Invents Hi-Gain Rock'n'Roll with the Bluesbreakers, 1966

Eric Clapton with his Gibson Les Paul and Marshall JCM 45 during the Bluesbreakers album sessions

OK, now the stage was set for the true revolution. Keith Richards may have been the first celebrity Les Paul player, but he played so many different guitars that the Les Paul was just one among many. What happened next was perhaps the most important moment in the Les Paul history - Eric Clapton's stellar performance on the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers' "Beano" album. Clapton, who had already made a name for himself with The Yardbirds, simply changed the game: by playing a Gibson Les Paul Standard 1959 (inspired by blues guitarist Freddy King) through a Marshall 1962 Combo (now, called Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker!), he played the most ferocious guitar of the time, making full use of the Les Paul's powerful no-hum humbucking pickups and a cranked Marshall amp. Sounds familiar? This was the template for most heavy rock'n'roll music made ever since! The result: Clapton was nicknamed "God" and other serious guitarists started to consider playing a Gibson Les Paul, too!

4) Jeff Beck Goes One Further with The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group

Jeff Beck playing a Les Paul with The Yardbirds

Jeff Beck was an unknown player when he replaced Eric Clapton as the Yardbirds' lead guitarist. But not one to be overshadowed by Clapton or anyone, Jeff Beck soon became one of the most innovative guitar players in the sixties. One of his main guitars during the era was the GIbson Les Paul. WIth his Gibson Les Paul + Vox AC30 + fuzz pedal formula, he set a template of gritty rock'n'roll that inspired many garage rock, punk and rock'n'roll bands who came after: including The Stooges, White Stripes and even Aerosmith (who still do a cover of a Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds song today!)

With his Jeff Beck Group, Beck and his Les Paul pretty much "invented" the Led Zeppelin sound.

5) Mike Bloomfield Buys a Goldtop Les Paul

Mike Bloomfield, then lead guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Band, is considered one of the main figures who helped to popularize the Les Paul, when he recorded most of their 'East West' album with a 1954 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. His work was simply fantastic:

6) Peter Green Takes Fleetwood Mac to the Top, 1969

Peter Green and his 1959 Gibson Les Paul

With his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, singer-songwriter and lead guitarist Peter Green took Fleetwood Mac to the top of the UK charts for the first time, thanks to songs such as 'Oh Well', 'Man of the World', 'Albatross' and 'Black Magic Woman'. The tone of his Les Paul is the stuff of legend, and Green is considered one of the masters of the Gibson Les Paul Standard sound, with the reversed magnet on the neck pickup of his guitar said to be one of the special ingredients of his tone, giving it an out-of-phase sound. Gary Moore later bought this guitar, which he called his "Holy Grail". Thanks to Peter Green (who soon left the band) Fleetwood Mac got a foot on the top of the charts, and went on to become one of the most popular bands ever.

7) Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin. Enough Said.

Jimmy Page playing a late 50s Gibson Les Paul in Led Zeppelin

By the end of the sixties, several of the most respected players were adept of the Gibson Les Paul. Even The Beatles eventually used one! However, even so... as the era came to a close, Jimi Hendrix didn't play one at his seminal performance in Woodstock! There's no way  the Gibson Les Paul would be left to the sidelines again, but there was still one important thing missing - the guitar being associated with the Biggest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World. And it finally happened when The Beatles were no more, and it soon became clear that the crown had been passed on to Led Zeppelin, and, thanks to Jimmy Page, the Gibson Les Paul was once and for all forever etched in our minds as a true symbol of pure rock'n'roll!


Gibson Les Paul guitars continue to be some of the coolest and most desirable instruments for many guitarists the world over! And, of course, when Gibson releases new Les Paul models they quickly become something to talk about. And so is the case with the 2015 Les Paul models, where, once more, Gibson seeks to innovate, introducing many cool new features and specs. Check out our article about the new Gibson Guitar Models Announced For 2015 to learn more!

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