The Les Paul Standard has been an icon for decades, but why does everyone want one?
The Les Paul Standard is such a permanent fixture in the rock ‘n’ roll world that it’s hard to conceive a time when it wasn’t around. Unofficially, the model first appeared in 1958, followed by the sought after ’59 Burst models, but didn’t get the name ‘Standard’ until later in 1960. Remarkably, the guitar was discontinued in the same year, and it wasn’t until 1968 that it would reappear due to increased demand.
Since then, the Les Paul Standard has enjoyed a reputation as the ‘tool of choice’ for those looking to play the heavier, rockier reaches of music. And whilst it would seem entirely justifiable, you have to ask why it is? Could Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel have turned it ‘up to 11’ with anything else? If not, why not? Whilst Jimmy Page played other guitars, the Led Zep guitar sound was forged with a Les Paul Standard. But why is this?
Aside from the historical significance, and esteemed players of the Les Paul Standard, the guitar is unarguably one of the most desirable ever made. So, what is it that makes the guitar so good at what it does, and makes guitarists go to great lengths to own one?
Pickups – They’re One (Coil) Better
In the world before Les Paul Standard (B.L.P.S.), pickups were all single coil. The Les Paul was still equipped with P90 pickups, and whilst their wider coils could deliver a far ‘fatter’ more powerful tone than its contemporaries, it still didn’t quite have that warm, thick tone for which the Les Paul Standard became renowned (and the roar it that ensued when the gain was turned up…)
In 1957, Gibson introduced the first dual coil, humbucking pickups- the legendary PAFs. These gave the Les Paul Standard the voice with which we are all familiar. These became a regular feature, and were retained when the guitar we know as the Standard appeared in 1958.
Mahogany with a lovely piece of flamed maple, mmmm…
The core of a Les Paul has always been a mahogany body, capped (with the exception of early custom models) with a piece of maple. This is in no small way responsible for the Les Paul’s rich tone, with tight lower frequencies and focused, detailed mids and highs.
Gibson has always been a premium guitar brand, and that has always been reflected in their guitar’s cosmetics. In 1959, the plain maple top was switched for a spectacular piece of flamed maple, and the Les Paul Standard gained its familiar appearance. The quality of the ‘flame’ is still a major draw to fans of the Standard.
Go have a bite, and you’ll still be hearing that one…
Nigel Tufnel was always a fan of the Les Paul Standard ‘s sustain, and with good justification. There are several major contributing factors to this particular tonal quality, however. Firstly, those PAF humbuckers, with the increased gain, are a major factor. Also the combination of maple and mahogany creates an instrument of a very resonant density (the ’59 models are often thought to have the ‘perfect balance’ in this regard).
The Les Paul Standard ‘s set neck with tenon joint is also a key component. Finally, the Tune-o-matic bridge vastly increased sustain, whilst also increasing tuning stability, even when using extreme string bends.
There are many other reasons you may feel drawn (like a moth to the ‘flame’) to a Les Paul Standard, but these are some of the features that have seen it become an enduring classic. Many of these features have been emulated by other manufacturers, some more successfully than others.
However, Jimmy Page, Slash, John Squire, Gary Moore, Ace Frehley, Pete Townshend, Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton and countless others played the original, and that alone gives it an extra air of myth and magic. If you want to own a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history, then only a Les Paul Standard will do.
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