A Timeline of Vintage Gibson Les Pauls

Gibson Les Pauls have come in many distinct flavors, from their original Goldtop stylings through Juniors, Specials, Customs, Deluxes, and more. And as one of the most remade and reissued guitars to ever exist, there are many modern versions of the vintage classics.

Let's take a look at some prime examples of vintage Les Pauls, starting from the 1952 originals through the 1970s. You can also find links to standard production and Custom Shop models from recent years that pay homage to the specific vintage models.

Need a hand finding the right Les Paul for you? Visit our Les Paul Buying Guide.


1952 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 1952

The Les Paul that started it all. Upon its introduction, the new model sported a pair of single-coil P90 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 when compared to Fender's more utilitarian Telecaster, released the year before.

Modern alternatives: Gibson Les Paul '52 Tribute, Custom Shop Historic Collection '52 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue.


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 trapeze bridge, though most of the actual design was spearheaded by Gibson chief Ted McCarty. By early 1953, a new combination wraparound 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.

Modern alternatives: 1954 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue, Les Paul Standard '50s P90 (with tailpiece and Tune-O-Matic instead of wraparound bridge).


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 P90, 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").

Modern alternatives: Les Paul Special, Les Paul Special Tribute P90, Custom Shop '57 Les Paul Special Reissue TV Yellow, 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue, Custom Shop Historic '56 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue.


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 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.

Modern alternatives: Les Paul Standard '50s Goldtop, Les Paul Studio '50s Tribute with Humbuckers, Custom Shop 50th Anniversary '57 Les Paul Goldtop.


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.

Modern alternatives: 1957 Les Paul Custom Reissue 3-Pickup, Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty Les Paul Custom Outfit.


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 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.

Modern alternatives: Les Paul Junior Tribute, Custom Shop '58 Les Paul Junior Double Cut Reissue, Custom Shop Historic Collection '58 Les Paul Junior Double Cut.


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 late 1958 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.

Modern alternatives: Les Paul Standard '50s, Les Paul Standard '60s, Les Paul Standard (1990 - 2001), Les Paul Standard with '60s Neck Profile, Custom Shop 60th Anniversary '59 Les Paul Standard Reissue, Custom Shop Special Order '59 Les Paul Standard Reissue, Custom Shop Standard Historic '59 Les Paul Standard (2013 - 2017), Custom Shop Historic '59 Les Paul Standard Reissue (2020), Custom Shop Special Order '60 Les Paul Standard Reissue, Custom Shop Standard Historic '60 Les Paul Standard Reissue (2013 - 2017), Custom Shop 60th Anniversary '60 Les Paul Standard Reissue.


1961 Les Paul Standard

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 vibrato system with a lever that pulls to the side. This body shape would eventually be known as the SG for "solid guitar," and today, this is most often referred to as the first SG, but in 1961, it was technically a Les Paul.

Modern alternatives: SG Standard '61, Gibson SG Standard '61 with Maestro Vibrola, '61 SG Reissue, Custom Shop '61 Les Paul SG Standard Reissue, Custom Shop '61 Les Paul SG Standard Reissue with Vibrola, Custom Shop 60th Anniversary '61 Les Paul SG Standard, '61 SG / Les Paul Reissue with Deluxe Vibrola (1999 - 2002).


1962 Les Paul Custom

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.

Modern alternatives: Custom Shop 60th Anniversary '61 Les Paul SG Custom, Custom Shop '63 Les Paul SG Custom Reissue with Maestro, Custom Shop Murphy Lab '63 Les Paul SG Custom Reissue, '61 / '62 SG Custom Reissue (1987-1991).


1963 Les Paul Junior

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.

Modern alternatives: SG Junior, SG Junior '60s, Custom Shop '63 SG Junior Reissue Lightning Bar, Custom Shop Brian Ray '62 SG Junior.


1968 Les Paul Standard

1968 Les Paul Standard

After the Les Paul name was dropped and the SG name was introduced, no Les Pauls were produced until 1968, when interest in the original Les Pauls of the '50s was on the rise. 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 P90 pickups instead of humbuckers. These guitars can be seen as the first Les Paul reissues. The original '68 models are very close to the '50s Les Paul, save for a few details, such as Indian instead of Brazilian Rosewood for the fingerboard and chrome instead of nickel hardware.

Modern alternative: 1968 Les Paul Standard Goldtop Reissue.


1969 Les Paul Custom

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.

Modern alternatives: Les Paul Custom, Les Paul Custom (1990-2011), Custom Shop '68 Les Paul Custom Reissue.


1971 Les Paul Custom

1971 Les Paul Custom

The pancake-style body—a four-ply body construction style with two plies of mahogany, a thin ply of maple, and a maple top—continued until 1977. In this era, Gibson started producing the Custom in new finishes including the Cherry Sunburst seen above.


1971 Les Paul Deluxe

1971 Les Paul Deluxe

Starting in 1969, Gibson's main production Les Paul was dubbed the Les Paul Deluxe. The Les Paul Deluxe differed from the original Standard in its use of mini-humbuckers instead of PAFs, and its use of the four-ply "pancake" body style. The Les Paul Standard was not actually brought back to the Gibson catalog until 1976. Between 1972 and 1975, you could special order a Les Paul Deluxe with normal-sized humbuckers and the word "Standard" on the truss-rod cover; for all intents and purposes, these Deluxes were Les Paul Standards even if not on paper.

Modern alternatives: Les Paul '70s Deluxe, Les Paul Deluxe 30th Anniversary, Les Paul Deluxe (2004-2005), Les Paul Deluxe 2015.


1971 Les Paul Recording

1971 Les Paul Recording

Perhaps the strangest new Les Pauls brought about in this era are the Les Paul Professional, Personal, and Recording (pictured). In 1969, the Les Paul Personal and Professional launched with new low-impedance oblong pickups and an onboard phase switch. The Personal was the higher-end of the two, featuring gold-plated hardware and multi-ply binding like a Les Paul Custom. Both models were replaced by the Les Paul Recording in 1971, which introduced a high/low impedance switch with internal transistor. This guitar was considered a personal favorite of Les Paul himself.

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