"Up Close" is a special portion of this site dedicated to taking a closer look at each of the main Les Paul model years from 1952 thru 1960.
Here you will find articles based on information gathered online, from books, and experts about the unique characteristics of Les Pauls as they evolved throughout the decade of the '50s.
From the initiatl Trapeze tailpiece, to the Tune-o-matic bridge, to humbuckers, each year brought upgrades and new features to the Gibson Les paul, culminating in the late '50s Bursts of '58, '59 and '60.
So join us as we take a deeper dive into the evolution of the Les Paul. What follows is information from an unknown source that is no longer available online. If anyone knows the source, please let me know, so I can properly site this content.
In 1950, with the introduction of the radically innovative Fender Brodcaster the musical market, solid-body electric guitars became a public craze (hollow-body electric guitars have more acoustic resonance but are, therefore, more prone to amplifier feedback and have less natural note duration "sustain".) In reaction, Gibson Guitar president Ted McCartybrought guitarist Les Paul into the company as a consultant.
Les Paul was a respected innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years to benefit his own music. In fact, he had hand-built a solid-body prototype called "The Log", a design widely considered the first solid-body Spanish guitar ever built, as opposed to the "Hawaiian", or lap-steel guitar.
This guitar is known as "The Log" because the solid core is a pine block whose width and depth are a little more than the width of the fretboard; conventional hollow guitar sides were added for shape. Although many individuals see this guitar as being similar in design to the popular Gibson ES-335 semi-hollowbody guitar introduced in 1958, the sides on the Log served a purely aesthetic purpose, rather than serving as sound chambers, as on the 335.
Although numerous other prototypes and limited-production solid-body models by other makers have since surfaced, it is known that in 1945–1946, Les Paul had approached Gibson with "The Log" prototype, but his solid
body design was rejected.
In 1951, McCarty and his team at the Gibson Guitar Corporation began work on what would eventually become the Les Paul Model. Early prototypes - created well before Les Paul was ever involved - are very similar to the final version. An early prototype can be viewed in Robb Lawrence's book,
The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy: 1915-1963. It was agreed that the new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument in Gibson's tradition.
Although recollections differ regarding who contributed what to the Les Paul design, it was far from a market replica of Fender models. Founded in 1902, Gibson began offering electric hollow-body guitars in the 1930s, such as the ES-150; at minimum, these hollow-body electric models provided a set of basic design cues for the new Gibson solid-body, including a more traditionally curved body shape than offered by competitor Fender, and a glued-in ("set-in") neck, in contrast to Fender's bolt-on neck.
The significance of Les Paul's contributions to his Gibson guitar design remains controversial. The book "50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul" limits Paul's contributions to two: advice on the trapeze tailpiece, and a preference for color (stating that Paul preferred gold as "it looks expensive."
Additionally, Gibson's president Ted McCarty states that the Gibson Guitar Corporation merely approached Les Paul for the right to imprint the musician's name on the headstock to increase model sales, and that in 1951, Gibson showed Paul a nearly finished instrument.
McCarty also claims that design discussions with Les Paul were limited to the tailpiece and the fitting of a maple cap over the mahogany body for increased density and sustain, which Les Paul had requested reversed. However, according to Gibson Guitar, this reversal would have caused the guitar to become too heavy, and Paul's request was refused.
Les also later claimed that the original Custom should have had the maple cap and the Goldtopwas to be all mahogany. However, it should be noted that the Custom did not appear on the market for two full years following the introduction of the Goldtop; it is doubtful that Gibson had planned a full model range of guitars, with a roll-out over the course of several years, at the time that initial specifications were being set. Rather, it appears that Les Paul's contributions to the guitar line bearing his name were purely cosmetic, and relatively minor. For example, ever the showman, Paul had specified that the guitar be offered in a gold finish, not only for flashiness, but to emphasize the high quality of the Les Paul instrument, as well.
The later-issue Les Paul models included flame maple (tiger stripe) and "quilted" maple finishes, again in contrast to the competing Fender line's
range of car-like color finishes. Gibson was notably inconsistent with its wood choices, and some goldtops have had their finish stripped to reveal beautifully figured wood hidden underneath.