Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.
The Original Signature Series Guitar
The first run of the Gibson Les Paul was considered a failure. This is inexplicable to the person today, who is seeing the price tag for one of those original production instruments. You can get a nice house for the price of a beat-up one.
Fender was winning the solid-body electric guitar sales competition with its Telecaster. But Les Paul himself was the hottest guitar picker in the USA, and the guitar bearing his name was the original signature series instrument.
Before the thing called rock n' roll had officially been born, before the term was coined, Les Paul was playing it on his Gibson Les Paul. So the Les Paul is the original rock guitar, just as the Telecaster is the original country and western electric guitar. But the Gibson Les Paul wasn't selling. It was too heavy to stand and play, people thought. And it cost too much.
It Was the British Invasion Guitarists Who Made the Gibson Les Paul so Successful
By 1960, the Les Paul guitar was thought a failed product. Gibson decided to turn it instead into the lighter, less expensive SG double-cutaway without the maple top. They were still calling that SG a Les Paul, though. The original Les Paul guitars all sounded good, but they weren't so twangy as the Tele. Gibson seemingly made their first solid-body electric to be the anti-telecaster. They succeeded at that.
The British Invaders saved the Gibson Les Paul. Keith Richards started playing one in 1964. His was a 1959 model. Then some young whippersnapper named Eric Clapton got a job with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, and he utilized them hum-bucking pickups to crank up a Marshall amplifier as far as it would go. Soon enough, everyone wanted a 1959 Gibson Les Paul.
But Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, and the other famous Brit guitarist who played Les Paul guitars were forever imitating authentic African American bluesmen such as Freddie King, Lightning Hopkins, and others.
I'm sitting here now looking at a website from out of Chicago where a 1960 Gibson Les Paul is being sold. The asking price is just $245,000. So I can only imagine what a 1959 model would sell for.
1. Gibson 1959 "True Historic" Les Paul Guitars
It seems like every year these days, Gibson makes a 1959 True Historic Les Paul reissue. What we're talking about here is their every move, and every iota of work done on these is to capture the most exact essence of an actual 1959 Gibson Les Paul. So these guitars go for nine thousand bucks new.
You can see how the guy who bought last year's copy could be irked if the next year's version is somehow better. You can grow jaded. But Gibson is doing its part to bring to the table what people want. There's nothing wrong with that. The craftsmanship can always improve. Probably they can make a better guitar now than ever before. How could we live in this day and age of technological wonders and think otherwise?
Straight up, they can make a brand new True Historic 1959 LP better looking than ever before. The burst finishes in 1959 weren't as good then as they are now. These guitars these days are outrageously beautiful. Gotta do something to look as good as some of those Paul Reed Smith guitars, you know.
These guitars are for the persons obsessed with details and with their gear. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but you don't really wish to be a gear snob. Someone's much more typical Les Paul may sound and play every bit as good as these super expensive ones. If you can't tell the difference between the $9,000 guitar and the $2,000 dollar guitar while playing it or hearing it blindfolded, you might want to consider whether or not the True Historic is what you should spend your money on. But if money isn't an object for you, have at it.
Read More From Spinditty
- True Historic Plastics: Molecular-level analysis delivers authentic vintage design
- True Historic Pickup Covers: Designed and engineered based on the originals
- Double-Carved Top: Authentic vintage dish profile
- Double-Carved Neck: Hand sanded for ideal playability and accurate profile
- 'Broken' Peghead Edges, Smoother Edges: Vintage Looks and Feel
- Thinner Peghead Veneer: A testament to obsession with detail
- Thinner True Historic Wet-Sanded Finish: More work, more authentic
- Hide Glue Top Construction: A real vintage-spec on the most' original' Reissue yet
- Rolled Fingerboard Binding: It's all about feel and playability
- Reissue Les Paul Brown Case with Pink Fur Lining
2. Gary Moore, the Les Paul, and the Gary Moore BFG LP
Gary Moore is one of the best guitarists to ever play the Les Paul. He was a much more highly skilled musician than some of the ones who were much more famous than him, who also played the LP.
The musical excellence of Gary Moore is trans-genre. He was so skilled he could play virtually anything flawlessly. While he had some commercial success as part of bands like Thin Lizzy, he's really someone who is most known in guitarist circles because he was so good and could play so many styles, fusing them together so deftly.
Gary Moore wasn't exactly one of those British invasion guys. He was from Northern Ireland. The distinction was likely important to Moore. Gary passed away one night in 2011, leaving behind a lot of music which if you've not yet heard it, will be a treasure to discover.
When you are a master guitarist like Moore was, you tend to own a lot of guitars. Gary certainly did. He didn't always play the Les Paul, but he most often did. Also, as you can well imagine, he owned several. There is more than one distinct Gibson Les Paul model with Gary Moore's name on it.
The Gary Moore Les Paul guitars are always lemon burst guitars, and none of them will have the pickguard. Maybe Gary felt the pickguard got in his way. Maybe he found the LP more visually pleasing to his aestheticism without it.
The more expensive Gary Moore LPs go for around three to four thousand. But the Gary Moore BFG Les Paul is much more distinctive. There are no trapezoidal fret-board positioning inlay markers on the BFG. The guitar even has a single coil at the neck and an uncovered two-tone humbucker, as Gary was fond of, at the bridge.
The BFG guitar is atypical and nontraditional. The mahogany body is chambered for weight relief. This could be a big plus or a major drawback for someone, depending on what they are looking for or for what kind of tone they are hunting. I chose this guitar for inclusion here mainly because of its P-90 single coil in the neck position. The P-90 has an all-out cult following, but I suppose most readers here would know all about this already.
What really makes the Gary Moore unique is that it has a killswitch where you would normally find the pickup toggle on a Les Paul, great for throwing in some cool "helicopter" effects to your riffs or feedback. The pickup switch on this BFG is on the bottom of the body where the volume controls are located. The guitar is in great shape, with only a few very light indentations on the back of the body. These are very hard to see, and you can barely feel them running your hand along the wood. This BFG does not come with the warranty or paperwork; however, it does include the original Gibson hardshell case.
These Les Paul BFGs contrast heavily with the 1959 models in more than just specs. These guitars sell for around $1,500 or less. So their unique characteristics and very nice price may just make this guitar the Les Paul for you.
Gibson Gary Moore BFG Les Paul Features:
- Body Style: Les Paul BFG
- Body: Chambered mahogany Back
- Top: Carved maple
- Neck: 1-piece set, mahogany with an angled headstock
- Neck Profile: '50s Rounded
- Neck joint location: 19th fret
- Fingerboard: Rosewood with nickel and steel alloy fret wire
- Scale Length: 24-3/4"
- No. Of Frets: 22
- Nut Width: 1-11/16"
- Hardware: Chrome
- Bridge: Tune-O-Matic with stopbar tailpiece
- Knobs: Black
- Tuners: Grover tulip
- Neck pickup: P-90
- Bridge pickup: BurstBucker 3
- Controls: 2 volume, 1 tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector near volumes, "kill" toggle switch near bridge
- Finish: Surface Texture nitrocellulose Lemon Burst
3. Jimmy Page and the #2 Jimmy Page Les Paul
Even Les Paul himself isn't identified with the Gibson Les Paul so closely as is Jimmy Page. James Patrick Page, of course, plays a lot of guitars. And it was a part of a lot more than just Led Zeppelin.
Neither Keith Richards nor Eric Clapton used the Les Paul guitar very much. Clapton, in the end, turned out to be a Stratocaster man. Keith Richards went with the Telecaster the most. Page played Strats and Teles, but mostly the Les Paul. The reader here likely knows full well Page had not one, but TWO late 50s Les Paul sunburst guitars. And before that, he had a three-pickup black beauty with a Bigsby on it, and that one was stolen. The true blue died in the wool hardcore Led Zep head can tell you Jimmy also had a cherry red Les Paul. And that he's in recent years been photographed with a white one.
I've even seen Page with a gold top. I'm not pedantic so much, but Les Paul aficionados often are. Because of Page, the Les Paul reached stratospheric levels of exposure. Jimmy forever exuded the kind of energy you only hope you can convey onto your audience when you play live.
The two sunburst guitars were simply referred to as number 1 and number 2. Gibson has reproduced both guitars for mass consumption. So which one should be listed here? Both guitars are modified rather heavily. The modifications aren't so obvious to the fan watching and listening.
My advice to anyone wanting a Jimmy Page LP is to go for number two models. The number one models have necks so thin they are described as dangerously thin, or even barely stable. The replicas of number two have thicker necks. To my way of thinking, or to my budget considerations, it would be a tragedy to spend for the Jimmy Page LP and then see the neck needing a reset or replacement.
I'm pricing these guitars at $8,000. Find one used and with a straight neck. The guitar is basically a 1959 reissue with Jimmy's custom electronics configuration. There are endless tonal possibilities with these, but if you are a Led Zeppelin fan, you already know.
- Carved, figured maple top
- Non-weight-relieved mahogany back
- One-piece mahogany neck with long neck tenon
- Custom elliptical neck profile
- 22-fret rosewood fingerboard
- Jimmy Page custom BurstBucker pickups
- Cream binding on top
- Push/pull series/parallel switching
- Aged nickel and gold hardware
- ABR-1 bridge
- Lightweight aluminum tailpiece
- 24-3/4" scale length
4. The Les Paul Traditional
The Gibson Les Paul Traditional is my ultimate pick for a Les Paul. These guitars combine the best of the traditional Les Paul styling with the best of the modern techniques in guitar building. Yes, it still costs more than the average Telecaster or Stratocaster, but this is because of the price of mahogany and the man-hours involved in building a Les Paul like this.
For the record, I don't consider the Les Paul in any incarnation to be 'better' than either the Strat or the Tele, but rather, I consider it distinctly different, which isn't up for debate. It may be subjectively superior to you or me or anyone, but not objectively superior. The LP Traditional is available in many absolutely gorgeous finishes.
As for myself, I like the look of the Les Paul with the pick-guard. The guitars always look nice without one too. While we're on the subject of visual aesthetics, you'll note the pickups on the LP Traditional guitars are uncovered and with black and white coils in coloring. I prefer the look of the humbuckers uncovered.
Which of the amazing sets of Gibson hum canceling pups does the LP T sport? These have the Burstbucker set. Burstbucker pickups were designed to re-create the sound of original PAF humbuckers to perfection.
These all bases covered, best of two world Les Paul guitars sell for around $2,300 new, and you can find them in great condition used for varying prices. These guitars, featuring the traditional appointments and features, plus newer ones, all come with coil taping.
Gibson Les Paul Traditional Guitar Features
- Top: 2 Piece Grade A Maple Top
- Back: Mahogany
- Weight Relief: None
- Neck: Mahogany
- Neck Shape: C
- Peghead Inlay: MOP Gibson
- Nut: Graph Tech
- Nut Width: 1.695
- Fingerboard: Rosewood
- Fingerboard Binding: Cream
- Side Dots: Black
- Fingerboard Inlay: Trapezoid
- Finish: Lemon Burst
- Pickups: '57 Classic Zebra
- Case: Included
5. The Gibson Les Paul Studio Offers the Most Bang for Your Musical Bucks
The Gibson Les Paul Studio guitar resolves all the issues the original LP guitars had. The weight relief chambered body issue is resolved here, as is the prohibitive cost issue. This guitar costs less than does a 52' reissue blackguard Telecaster and has more features. The wine-red ones are particularly striking visually.
These guitars, priced just over $1,000, feature coil taping. So you can get the classic LP blues and rock tones, and some single-coil glassiness and twang too. The LP studio was built to sell to the working guitarist. It can cover all bases and be sold at a working man's price too.
The Gibson LP Studio has all the same essential specifications as do the most expensive models of Les Paul. The tonewoods are the same. The weight relief in the form of the chambered body is anti-traditional. But who wants to be sore in the neck for having played a three-hour show? This guitar has a slim tapered neck. It's a thinner neck than the True Historic necks but isn't shaved so thin as a Jimmy Page model neck.
These guitars are like Gibson's gift to guitarists. They are working musicians' favorites. Gibson Les Paul Studio features:
- Wine Red Finish
- Carved Maple Top
- Modern Weight-Relieved Mahogany Body
- Mahogany Neck
- Granadillo Fretboard
- 60's Slim Taper Neck Profile
- 22 Medium Jumbo Frets
- 24-3/4" Scale Length
- 12" Fretboard Radius
- Traditional Trapezoid Inlays
- 490R and 498T Humbucking Pickups
- Individual Volume and Tone Controls with Push/Pull Coil Tapping
- 3-Way Selector Switch
- Tune-O-Matic Bridge
- Stopbar Tailpiece
- Min-ETune Tuners
- Chrome Hardware
Questions & Answers
Question: I have an Epiphone1996 lp classic with a birdseye maple top. Any ideas on its value?
Answer: It's tough to say with such a limited amount of data, but I'll throw out a maximum number, assuming all the best possible elements are involved, at fifteen hundred dollars. Where do I get this number? I'm looking at a 1994 specimen of the same, and with a beautiful birdseye maple top, for sale at that price on eBay.
Question: What are your thoughts on the Les Paul Tributes?
Answer: They are great guitars for the money. Not everyone who wants a Les Paul really wants or needs all those bells and whistles the Standard or Custom has. The Tributes, so far as I'm aware, only have a thinner finish than the Studios.
I think it's great Gibson makes such guitars available. You can get a real Les Paul by Gibson without breaking your finances for it - and if you do happen to want a few more bells and whistles for comparable money, the Epiphone Les Paul Pro guitars are also amazing.
I really believe that right here, and right now is the golden age of guitars, and there have never been more amazing options for the prospective guitar buyer than what there is today.
Question: What are your thoughts about the Les Paul Tributes before the received the 2019 changes?
Answer: I think they're great guitars for the money. I love the Les Paul, and was raised to have mad respect for Gibson, and not just regarding guitars, but also their mandolins, banjos, etc. My brother has an ancient gibson amplifier, which has to be worth a fortune.
I often think the top of the line Epiphone Les Paul models, like the plus top pro, and the custom are every bit as good as the Gibson tributes and faded guitars. One has to decide what matters most to them, having Gibson on the Gibson headstock shape, or having some of the extra features the high end Epiphone's offer for comparable prices.
Of course, we all know there were years when there were a lot of reports about poor quality control at Gibson. I've not personally seen a Les Paul which I thought was subpar from the past decade, however, I've seen so many posts online, including photos of flaws, that I can't doubt that there were some issues here and there.
Myself, those minor cosmetic flaws wouldn't bother me at all were I buying a used guitar. They would definitely bother me were I buying a new one though.
© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw
Franck on October 28, 2019:
I play guitar since 45 years.
I have played a lot of L esPaul's. I am the owner of many Les Paul's Classic Tradings, Standard, Customs ....
My best Les Paul is my Reissue R0, with a 2pieces fretboard...incredible sound and no issue with it.
So please, don't ask about problems you don't know what it means.
(Luc Lambert), and stop feeding yourself with ....someone told me .....
Congrats on all Les Pauls owners
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 17, 2019:
Congrats on your purchase, Robert, I bet it surely is!
Robert Bolognese on June 17, 2019:
I have a 2019 les paul classic that’s amazing
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 04, 2019:
John I've not seen problems myself, with my own eyes. I mean dating back to at least 2014 I've been playing the new Les Pauls in guitar shops, which I frequent so as to have a good look, and be up to date on things.
The complaints I'm seeing are entirely online, and in groups on Facebook.
Gibson Custom Shop stuff is WAY out of my own price range at this time. Best thing I could personally hope for in my present economic state would be a nice Studio Faded guitar, like the red wine one shown above.
John on November 09, 2018:
In reply to the persistent (and ridiculous) claims that quality is below par at Gibson USA, all I can say is that I've bought two in the last two years - both perfect. Before buying the two I did I must have tried literally hundreds: LEs Pauls to SG's to Firebirds, you name it. I never encountered a single issue with any of them...not one. And I've been playing for forty years so I know what to look for.
Hell yes, I'd love to get a Gibson Custom Shop model but since I can't right now I'll be more than happy to 'settle' for a USA or Memphis model.
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 23, 2018:
Nobody questions that Gibson has had lapses in quality control. The same exact thing happened decades ago, and those issues were resolved. The issues of quality control with Gibson in more recent years are also now resolved.
Luc Lambert on September 14, 2018:
The reissues aren't always to par. In 2012, Gibson used a 2 pieces fingerboard and they forgot to mention that some of the reissue had them too. It was funny that in 2013 they were mentioning on their ad that it had a one piece fret board. Money first, always...
h3ndrix on November 06, 2017:
I love how often 'experts' throw GibsonUSA guitars into comparisons with GibsonCustomShop guitars. Besides the name (and debatable CEO), they are just worlds apart. They are different people, different management, and different locations.
IMO (and owning both) the Custom Shop compares to the core PRS line. As far as workmanship and playability, GibsonUSA can hardly even keep up with PRS' overseas SE line (pickups and probably tuners are ok though at GibsonUSA, whereas I'd change SE pickups and trems to US versions).
I have a '92 studio, and '05 standard faded and the frets are ridiculous. The binding on the standard was scraped so hastily I had go over it myself to soften the edge especially around the nibs. Also needed a fret dress to make those speed bumps more playable. Add some quality TOM and tailpiece and you're in business, but off the rack GibsonUSA is a joke when asking over $2K. Anyone paying list price for a traditional or standard these days is out of their mind, when you can get a used custom R8/9/0 in the same ballpark.
Anyone 'loving' their GibsonUSA out of the box has never touched a CustomShop or PRS.
Dave Makowski on July 27, 2017:
What a great article. I have owned (2) Les Paul Customs and (3) Les Paul Standards. Right now I am playing a 2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard Heritage Cherry Finish and I absolutely love it. It's the most versatile Les Paul ever.