If you want to know what guitar a great guitarist really plays — you need to look beyond what they are playing now — and hearken back to what guitar they were playing when they were poor, unknown, and hungering for fame. I argue today, that the greatest guitarists of our time started off their careers playing the Gibson Les Paul — even though Fender and the Stratocaster and Telecaster were cheaper and beat the Les Paul to market.
The seminal year for the Gibson Les Paul — then and now — is the 1959 version.
Eric Clapton played his Les Paul in all of his early groups. Today, he plays a Fender Stratocaster with his name on it, but he owes his early recording fame to Gibson and a Les Paul fingerboard.
Here’s Jeff Beck playing, in the early years, his famous “Oxblood” Les Paul. Jeff is also owned by Fender today, with his own namesake guitar, but Jeff built his reputation on the back of Gibson mahogany.
Jeff has recently tried to recant his Les Paul years — by calling it a “sissy” guitar — but I think he was making a joke because a Les Paul is much easier, and much less complicated, to play than a Fender. You have a whammy bar on a Stratocaster — which does make things more tonally tougher.
Here’s Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones wielding a Les Paul.
Do you recognize a young and vibrant Keith Richards playing his Les Paul during a Rolling Stones recording session?
Pete Townshend of “The Who” also picked up a Les Paul and made it sing for you.
Fender-fabulous Jimi Hendrix played a Gibson Les Paul in performance.
Let’s don’t forget the infamously talented Bob Dylan — and his on stage Les Paul inspiration.
Money makes the moment and cash carves the man — and if Gibson had a more aggressive PR department and larger promotional budget, the company might have its old adopters back in the fold — but Gibson would have to pay a lot to play, and in the Age of the Boutique Gibson Guitar that sells for $6,000.00USD, they don’t need no stinkin’ stars!
So, we’re left with Slash and Ace Frehley and Lenny Kravitz and Joe Bonamassa and Gary Moore as our current Les Paul luminaries — but we still can’t help wondering which guitar our old favorites would play if we removed money from the table and currency from the mindset — and our mind is met with the pinging strings of a resonating Les Paul as the passion and the purpose replace the momentary monument to mainstream ease of popularity.