A Les Paul From Every Year: 1961-1969

Welcome to part two of our ongoing series, A Les Paul From Every Year. In part one, we looked at the first era of Les Paul production from the model's introduction in 1952 through the "Burst" of 1960.

In this post, we'll see the Les Pauls of the '60s from the switch to the SG body shape in the first year of the decade through the return of the original body shape at decade's end.

Close-up on a 1961 Les Paul Standard, the first with the SG body shape.

1961 Les Paul Standard

By the close of 1960, sales of Gibson's flagship solidbody, the Les Paul were waning. While maintaining the Les Paul moniker, Gibson designers completely changed the model's body shape with two sharp cutaways and beveled edges. Gibson retained the dual humbucker configuration (with original PAF humbuckers up until 1962) and implemented a new tremolo system with a lever that pulls to the side. This body shape would eventually be known as the SG for "solid guitar."

1962 Les Paul Custom

Like the Les Paul Standard, the Les Paul Custom also made the leap to the SG body shape by 1961. Apart from the body shape and finish, the original SG-style Les Paul Custom shared much with its single-cutaway predecessor. Both models featured block inlays on the fingerboard with the unique diamond headstock inlay design. These guitars also used a triple set of humbucker pickups which changed from PAF (Patent Applied For) humbuckers to Patent Number pickups in mid-1962.

1963 Les Paul Junior

The Les Paul Junior and its two-pickup counterpart, the Les Paul Special, both switched to the SG body shape after a stint with a double cutaway slab body shape in the '50s that was not used on the Standard and Custom. According to most accounts, Les Paul himself was never happy with the SG body style, which prompted the removal of his name from the model in 1963.

After the Les Paul named was dropped and the SG name was introduced, no Les Pauls were produced until 1968. Here are a few distinctly '60s Gibson electrics from this period:

Left to right: 1964 Firebird V, 1965 Melody Maker D, 1969 ES-335-12, 1968 SG Standard in rare Pelham Blue.

1968 Les Paul Standard

By 1968, interest in the Les Pauls of the '50s was on the rise thanks to their use by such players as Eric Clapton. When Gibson first brought back the Les Paul Standard, the new model was most similar to the 1956 model with a Goldtop finish and two P-90 pickups instead of humbuckers. These guitars can essentially be seen as the first Gibson Les Paul reissues. The original '68 models are very close to the a '50s Les Paul save for a few details such as Indian instead of Brazilian Rosewood for the fingerboard and chrome instead of nickel hardware. This model would evolve into the Les Paul Deluxe of the early '70s.

1969 Les Paul Custom

Like the Les Paul Standard, Gibson brought back the Les Paul Custom in 1968. This model was also very similar to its '50s counterparts, but featured a Maple top on the Mahogany body, where most '50s Customs used all Mahogany bodies. Both of these reissue models changed through 1969 with the introduction of a three-ply "pancake body" and a three-piece laminated Mahogany neck with a volute (a small bump) where the neck meets the headstock. For collectors, these changes all signify a steady departure from the pinnacle designs of the '50s and the beginning of a general decline in quality that would continue into the '70s and the much maligned Norlin era. Stay tuned for Part III for more on that.

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