’50s vs ’60s Les Paul Guitars: What’s The Difference?

Many a guitarist reveres the iconic Les Paul and dreams of owning one – but it's not as simple as picking any old model off the shelf. The Les Paul differs from range to range, and it's certainly the case with both Gibson and Epiphone LPs styled after the first two decades of the guitar's production.

Let's take a look at what separates '50s and '60s Les Pauls...

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

Early Gibson Les Paul guitars are synonymous with rock and roll. There’s a long list of great guitarists famous for championing the LP: Jimmy Page, Slash, Ace Frehley, Gary Moore and Peter Green, just to name a few. What links each of these players, in particular, is that their favourite Les Pauls were made in the 1950s and ’60s. Some of them opt for the classy style and smooth tone of the ’50s, while others like the streamlined, more aggressive sound and feel of the ’60s.

Les Paul guitars made in those first two decades underwent a lot of changes in a very short time frame. Each instrument created back then had something unique about it depending on the year. It’s one reason why original LPs are now valued so highly. Gibson and offshoot company Epiphone make Les Pauls based on both ’50s and ’60s iterations, picking out the key features in order to create the ultimate homage to the instrument.

'50s vs '60s les paul guitars

Why did the Les Paul change so much? Guitar builders were still coming to grips with what worked best for an electric guitar. Discovery was rapid and as we’ll see diving into more detail, the design gradually became more refined, sleeker and further suited to extreme styles. On top of that, those early guitars were made by hand – so each one felt and sounded different as builders mixed up the hardware and electronics.

’50s Les Pauls

The Les Paul of the 1950s was simply a revelation. They standardised a number of key features that have influenced a vast amount of guitars made today. These include: humbucker pickups, a 24.75-inch scale length, a three-by-three headstock, mahogany wood bodies and necks, rosewood fingerboards and fixed bridges.

What separates a ’50s Les Paul from its 1960s evolution, however, are a few features to do with the time of production. Guitar music was mainly focused around clean tones and a smattering of saturated tube amp drive. The Les Paul started off with soapbar P90 pickups. These single coils create a much thinner, raspier sound than the humbuckers introduced towards the end of the decade. The PAF humbuckers that came in were low output, and produce the quintessential vintage tone. You’ll find both options in the Gibson Standard range.

The ’50s Les Paul also feels different to play than its successors. The neck is large and deep in an old school Vintage ’50s profile equipped on the Gibson Standard guitar. Style plays a big part too, as the ’50s models are topped in a simple, yet elegant maple wood or famous flat Gold Top. The control knobs and tuners are also unique to the guitar.

Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s Key Features

  • Burstbucker/P90 pickups
  • ABR-1 Bridge normally found on Custom Shop models
  • Vintage-style Kluson machineheads
  • Traditional 50s style fatter neck carve
  • No weight relief

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Epiphone Les Paul Standard ’50s Key Features

  • Maple cap
  • ProBucker humbucker pickups
  • Epiphone Vintage Deluxe tuners
  • ’59 Rounded Medium C neck profile
  • 2 Tone CTS Electronics ’50s-Style Wiring

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’60s Les Pauls

Rock music came to the fore as a mainstream genre in the sixties and Gibson were the brand leading the charge, alongside the likes of Marshall and Fender. Grittier, crunchy tones were gaining popularity. Gibson were focused on getting the most out of that sound with the hum-cancelling humbucker design, as well as improving the ease of which players could manoeuvre the guitar neck. Guitar playing became more technical in the form of quick legato and arpeggio, and Gibson were the ones making the changes.

That’s where the ’60s Standard comes in. This fiery “new and improved” model has a much thinner Slim Taper neck, which would feel far more familiar to most modern guitarists. The other major change comes in the form of Burstbucker 61 R and T pickups. These boast alnico V magnets, which give you a sharper attack, punchier midrange and slightly more clarity than before.

In the style department, the ’60s model is dressed up in a fancy new flamed maple top. Although the previous ’50s guitars wear some slight maple figuration, the flame here is extra striking and what most players would think of when picturing the definitive Les Paul. To match the hot-rodded look, the ’60s Standard comes equipped with silver Grover tuners and silver top control knobs.

Gibson ’60s Standard Les Paul Key Features

  • Grover button machineheads
  • Thinner 60s style neck carve
  • Alnico V Burstbucker 61R and 61T pickups
  • AA figured maple top
  • Gold top hats with silver reector & pointers

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Epiphone ’60s Standard Les Paul Key Features

  • Slim Taper 60s C neck
  • Grover Rotomatic tuners
  • Indian Laurel fretboard
  • ProBucker-2 and 3 humbucker pickups
  • AA flame maple top

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If you enjoyed this read, check out more of our Learn and Industry articles!

Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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