Our Top 5 Les Paul Players – And How To Sound Like Them!

The iconic Les Paul has long been the tonal cornerstone for some of the most influential guitarists of all time. But what's the Yin to the Les Paul's Yang? We look back at some of our favourite episodes of Sound Like with Matt and Rabea to bring you some of the best gear to complement your Mahogany-bodied beauties...

Sam Beattie

Sam Beattie

The Gibson Les Paul is undoubtedly one of the Holy Grails of the guitar world. Its famed weighty sustain and buttery tone has left a timeless legacy and defined the sound of countless artists over the years. We decided to pick out 5 of our favourite Les Paul players a revisit how the Les Paul helped shape their sound. But what else did they use? If you’ve got a Les Paul, you might be wondering what your next bit of gear will be to find that sound in your head. With the help of Matt & Rabea, we delve into the best gear that perfectly complements the Les Paul – whatever it takes to get you the sound that you seek!

Gary Moore

Our list begins with the late, great Gary Moore. Widely considered one of the most influential blues players of all time, Moore’s influence extends far beyond the blues arena. He had lengthy stints with Skid Row & Thin Lizzy (as well as handling guitar duties for Phil Lynott’s solo material). It’s undeniable that he left a lasting impression on the guitar world. It’s no secret that his expressive playing style shaped his sound, but the gear played a huge part.

First up, the Gibson Les Paul. Moore played a number of guitars in his time, but his 1959 Les Paul Standard offered that famous soaring sustain and gloriously warm PAF-style sound. Rabea and Matt chose a ‘50s Tribute Les Paul, but any humbucker-loaded Mahogany body Les Paul will do the trick. Bonus points for vintage pickups and non-weight relieved models for extra sustain!

In terms of amps and pedals, any vintage British-style valve amp will do the trick. Moore’s backline usually consisted of some Marshall Plexi or Hiwatt action. He used an original TS808 to enrich the front end of the amp, which again added to his famed saturated sustain. Rabea and Matt went for an Egnater Tweaker valve combo, with a TS808 reissue, Boss Reverb and Tone City delay for huge ambience. Well done boys!

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Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa opened for B.B. King in 1989 at the tender age of 12; it’s safe to say that the stage was set for a legend in the making. 15 solo albums, a Grammy nomination and an eye-watering gear collection later, he’s one of the most celebrated blues players of our time. He’s performed with the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks and many more.

While Smokin’ Joe is known for playing (and owning) just about every bit of vintage gear under the sun, he’s most often seen with a Les Paul of some description. With Les Pauls, vintage usually means heavy. So again, Mahogany body (non-weight relieved where applicable) with vintage-voiced pickups will do the trick. Matt and Rabea chose an Epiphone Les Paul Custom Pro, an affordable but undeniably beautiful instrument.

Next up, amps and pedals. Our chaps went for the Marshall Origin 20, a vintage-style valve combo. Any amp of this description will do it; think old-school, responsive British crunch. To tip it over the edge, a midrange-rich overdrive will add fizz, clarity and heaps of sustain – for Matt and Rabea, it was none other than the Way Huge Bonamassa Signature DoubleLand Special. Add some reverb and wah for a bit of colour and your rig is fully Bona-fide.

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Jimmy Page

There are few more iconic images than Jimmy Page in his dragon suit tearing it up on a Les Paul. It’s in image that’s graced the walls of rebellious teens and music lovers alike for generations. But it’s the sound that’s truly stood the test of time.

Page’s snarling Les Paul-fuelled tone was one of the major driving forces behind Led Zeppelin’s timeless sound. While he used a number of instruments, including a double-neck SG and a ’59 Telecaster, he particularly favoured two instruments: a ’59 Les Paul bought off Joe Walsh in the ‘60s, and a ’59 Les Paul Standard bought in 1973.

The second component was a chunky Brit-style valve sound – the Marshall logo was often displayed loud and proud as part of Led Zep’s backline. He reportedly also opted for American amps in the studio that he’d crank to try and replicate his famed British grit, including Fender & Supro models.

So at the core of Page’s sound is a heavy Mahogany guitar with vintage pickups and a cranked British-style valve amp. Any heavier Les Paul with classic pickups will do the trick, and sticking with Marshall would be sensible. Matt and Rabea chose an Epiphone Les Paul Standard with a versatile Marshall DSL40 combo. Page used a classic Echoplex unit, famed for its gorgeous warm and responsive tone, so the boys also found a Jim Dunlop Echoplex preamp for good measure. Add some chorus (like the MXR Micro Chorus) for a beautiful old-school shimmer over the top of everything.

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The Darkness

You might not have expected The Hawkins brothers to make an appearance in this list, but we reckon the guitar world owes them a fair bit. The Darkness’ debut album Permission To Land was released in 2003, a time when guitar music meant indie-pop, and everything else was either R&B or The Cheeky Girls (don’t look them up).

Enter The Darkness, wearing either spandex, flares or a combination of the two, with their anthemic and borderline-sleazy brand of rock ‘n’ roll. The band bulldozed the charts, with two Top 10 UK singles and numerous awards and accolades. In doing so, they injected the guitar world with some much-needed mojo – and made Les Pauls cool all over again.

Both Justin and Dan Hawkins have used a number of Les Paul Standards, before and after Permission To Land. Having said that, their primary instruments were a little different. Justin’s was a Gibson Les Paul Custom in White, while Dan favoured a ‘50s Les Paul Black Beauty (triple humbuckers).

For amps, it’s the Brit parade once again – we think it’s fair to say Jimmy Page was an influence. Think Marshall, Vox and a little bit of Friedman (a US company who do the British thing really well). Pedals include a Pro Co Rat distortion, Ibanez TS808 and a Strymon Timeline. But the Les Paul + Brit amp combination is the dream team here.

As you may have already guessed, you’ll ideally want a rig that’s similar to the Jimmy Page one mentioned earlier. Matt and Rabea opted for an Epiphone Les Paul Custom and Les Paul Black Beauty (Epiphone version of the Hawkins bros’ Gibsons). For amps, they chose a pair of DSL40 Marshall combos. A little bit of delay and that Pro Co Rat adds a little more variety, and we’re away.

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The Les Paul has been in the hands of countless players across the musical spectrum for decades. But you simply can’t do a top Les Paul players list without including the mighty top-hatted one. Taking the Jimmy Page formula and injecting it with a little extra gain and some ‘80s attitude resulted in one of the most sought-after guitar tones of all time.

Slash has used numerous Les Pauls over the years, including a number of signature models (remember the Anaconda Burst?). But arguably his most famous one is the AFD Les Paul, a near-mythical instrument that’s supposedly one of three identical replicas. If you haven’t worked it out, the AFD refers to Guns ‘n’ Roses’ seminal album Appetite For Destruction. PAF-style pickups with medium output and that hefty Mahogany/Maple/Rosewood combo have earned their place in guitar history. Slash is also partial to Seymour Duncan pickups, with a number of signature sets over the years offering glorious crunch.

Amp-wise, it’s all starting to sound a bit familiar. He’s used amps from the likes of Vox, Roland and even Ampeg – but it always comes back to Marshall. There’s no pairing quite like it. Slash has also never been one to shy away from experimenting with effects, but nothing too abstract; we’re talking chorus, gritty overdrive to boost the output of his pickups, EQ pedals for some midrange honk and so on.

Matt and Rabea opted for an Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus, featuring Gibson pickups for that classic Les Paul sound. The trusty Marshall DSL40 also made the cut, along with a Seymour Duncan pickup booster, Tone City Angel Wing chorus and an MXR Carbon Copy delay. We’d go so far as to say that once you’ve got the Les Paul in the bag, all you’ll need is a Brit-style valve amp, crispy overdrive pedal and a wobbling chorus – then you’re in Paradise City.

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Enjoyed reading this piece? Check out the rest of our Sound Like, Learn, Labs & Industry content while you’re here! If you wanna know more about our Les Paul selection, check out the range here!

Sam Beattie
Sam Beattie
Sam is one of our content writers, as well as being our resident southpaw and synth enthusiast. He spends his free time composing for music libraries and playing in a post-rock band. Sam's desert island gear would be his Mexican Tele, Strymon El Capistan and Teenage Engineering OP-1.

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