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.
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