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Les Paul Guitar Turns 50

Fifty years ago, on May 20, 1952, a clerk at the Gibson guitar company wrote in a shipping ledger:

“2 Les Paul Models Les Paul.” It was a routine entry, sandwiched between two inexpensive electric models, but it marked the source of a revolution in the world of music.

The “2 Les Paul Models” were Gibson’s first electric guitars made with a solid body. The second mention of “Les Paul” in the entry referred to the recipient, the most popular guitarist in the world in the early 1950s and Gibson’s first guitar endorser since of the postwar era.

Fifty years later, the Gibson Les Paul’s trademarked body shape is recognized around the world as an icon for rock and roll music, and it represents the most successful artist endorsement relationship in the history of music. Such influential guitarists as Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page (with Led Zeppelin), Duane Allman and Dickey Betts applied the power of the Les Paul to the blues and created modern rock music in the late 1960s. The Les Paul torch has been carried forward by Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Slash (Guns ‘n Roses), Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne), among many others. Vintage Les Pauls from the 1950s are now among the most highly sought guitars by collectors and players throughout the world. Today, the Les Paul is still the flagship of Gibson’s guitar line and the Gibson USA factory in Nashville crafts tens of thousands of Les Pauls every year.

Gibson’s Custom, Art & Historic division is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Les Paul with a reissue of the original 1952 Les Paul Model – the “goldtop” as it is known to collectors – and a special 50th Anniversary model with a curly koa wood top and other elegant appointments.

Les Paul was one of the earliest proponents of the electric solidbody guitar, appearing with his homemade “Log” – built on a 4-by-4 pine board – in the early 1940s. His solo records featuring himself playing multiple guitar parts laid the groundwork for modern multi-track recording, and his recording of “How High the Moon” with his wife Mary Ford is included in the Hall of Fame of the Recording Academy. At age 87 he still performs weekly, playing his customized Gibson Les Paul, at the Iridium club in New York.

Originally Published