A Les Paul From Every Year: 1952-1960

A while back, we posted an epic timeline of the Fender Stratocaster here on the GAS Tank. It was only a matter of time before the Gibson Les Paul got the treatment. In this post, we'll look at the original generation of Les Pauls produced from 1952 until late 1960. In future posts, we'll tackle each era of Les Paul all the way up to the present.


1952 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 1952

The Les Paul that started it all. The original Les Paul model was designed by Gibson in response to the growing popularity of the Fender Telecaster. Upon its introduction, the new model sported a pair of single-coil P-90 pickups, a clumsy trapeze tailpiece, and a Mahogany slab body with a curved Maple top. Les Paul himself endorsed a solid gold finish to make the guitar appear high-end and luxurious.


1953 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 1953

While Les Paul was a well-known innovator often credited with the development of the solidbody guitar itself, his contribution to the new model remains controversial. He did have some say in the selection of woods as well as the flimsy trapeze bridge, though most of the actual design was spearheaded by Gibson chief, Ted McCarty. By early 1953, a new combination bridge-tailpiece replaced the original trapeze design.


1954 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 1954

In conjunction with the evolution of the tailpiece, Gibson's engineers also gradually increased the depth of Les Paul's neck angle. This change improved the action of the instrument by allowing easier adjustment of the bridge. By 1954, Gibson had expanded the Les Paul line with the student-level Les Paul Junior and the top-of-the-line Les Paul Custom.


1955 Les Paul Custom

1955 Les Paul Custom

Like the Goldtop, the Les Paul Custom's tuxedo-like cosmetics were meant to look high-end, earning this model the nickname Black Beauty. The Custom differed from the Standard in its use of multi-ply binding, square inlays on an Ebony fingerboard, gold-plated parts and comparatively low frets. The Custom also did not incorporate a Maple top in its body as the Standard did. This model was the first to use the new stopbar tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge, an innovation closely associated with Ted McCarty which was added to the standard in 1955.


1956 Les Paul Special

1956 Les Paul Special

To complement the higher-end Les Paul and Les Paul Custom, Gibson also introduced two student-level Les Paul models in the '50s: the Les Paul Junior and Les Paul Special. These guitars lacked the curved Maple cap of their more expensive counterparts, and used a more Telecaster-like slab body style. While the Junior packed just one P-90, the Special sported two. The other main difference is that the Special had a snazzy TV Yellow finish, while the Junior offered a more traditional sunburst (though a yellow version of the Junior was also produced as the "TV Model.")


1957 Les Paul

1957 Les Paul

The introduction of the stopbar tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge brought the Les Paul close to the format of the modern Les Paul. The addition of the Seth Lover-designed "Patent Applied For," or PAF, humbuckers of 1957 elevated the Les Paul to a status of all-time icon. By connecting two pickup coils in series and out-of-phase, Lover and Gibson sought to combat the common 60-cycle hum of conventional pickups. This innovation also fostered a beefier new tone that would be embraced by rock musicians for decades to come.


1958 Les Paul Custom

1958 Les Paul Custom

Like the Les Paul Standard, the Les Paul Custom received the humbucker makeover in 1957. The Custom, however, packed three humbuckers instead of two (though some examples maintained the traditional two pickup configuration). In 1958, Gibson switched from Kluson tuners to Grover Rotomatics for the Custom.


1959 Les Paul Junior Doublecut

1959 Les Paul Junior Doublecut

Much like the Les Paul Special, the Les Paul Junior began life as a single-cutaway, lower-end Les Paul shaped guitar. Neither model made the jump to humbuckers and also continued to use the single-piece bridge/tailpiece instead of the tune-o-matic. In mid-1958, both models changed to a double-cutaway body shape, which was replaced by the SG body shape in 1961.


1960 Les Paul "Burst"

1960 Les Paul "Burst"

In the fall of 1958, Gibson abandoned the original Goldtop finish in favor of a new Cherry Sunburst. The "Burst" Les Pauls of 1959 to late 1960 remain atop the list of the most collectible guitars ever made. The 1960 model, in particular, is known for having a slimmer neck, leading many modern Gibson models to either replicate the slim '60s neck profile or the fatter '50s neck profile.

The Les Paul model in its classic form was replaced entirely by a new design that would later be known as the SG at the end of 1960. More on that in Part II of "A Les Paul From Every Year."

Click here for a closer look at this 1960 Les Paul Burst.

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