Les Paul Guitars

Short little Les Paul Rant

When the Steinberger headless bass was introduced, it caused a sensation worldwide with it's unprecedented combination of form and function... a complex engineering feat which produced a super simple, road tough instrument with amazing performance and features.

Later innovations included the headless guitar, fretless bass, trans trem, 12 string track tuner, doubleneck, tripleneck, active EQ circuit, and DB tuner. Steinberger also offered some more traditional shapes, many of which were short lived and some that were deemed classics.

Some of the reasons for Steinberger's "must have" status, was its ability to stay in tune while playing whole chords and depressing the tremolo in unison, and its ability to withstand temperature and humidity changes, dramatically improving balance, active circuitry, excellent sustain, ease of playability, full fret access, double octave neck, and its ability to withstand severe shocks.

Ned Steinberger, a true genius, is credited wrongly for the invention of the headless neck, even though the US Patent number he holds is #RE31722. However, from what I have been able to gather, the original inventor was Les Paul.* The problem Les Paul would have had in the early 1950ís was that the technology did not exist for calibrating the strings to pull from both ends.
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Les Paul is considered to be the designer of the Les Paul Guitar. I don't think so. Les Paul was a visionary and an innovator. A proponent of neck through body design & other radical ideas for his day. It is hard for me to believe that he would design an electric guitar that adopted all the old Gibson style jazzbox designs. From the bulky, neck joint to the archtop body and the traditional Italian Florentine cutaway, it's all just a little too reminiscent of guitars that Gibson had been putting out for 20 years before the Les Paul model appeared. I submit that Les Paul had little to do with designing the guitar. After all, it's an exact copy of the old Gibson archtop acoustic design that was just made smaller and solid. Yes, it sounds great, if you like muddy chords and a fat thick lead tone. But, if you want it to sound like a guitar, it simply doesn't cut it. The fact that the Les Paul sounds great is a function of our culture.

Because we have been hearing them for so many years we have become conditioned to the thick fat throaty tone that they emanate. Not necessarily a bad thing.  Just as long as it's a realized thing. Remember, the Les Paul was dropped from the Gibson Line from 1960 through 1967 because it wasn't selling. Those were the glory days of Rickenbackers and Stratocasters. Gibson replaced it with the SG which, in part, was designed by Les Paul except that Gibson refused to make it to his design specs. Les Paul became upset with Gibson and severed his relationship with them for a number of years. Les Paul had designed a guitar called "The Log," a neck through body guitar. The original SG was supposed to be a neck through body design with wings attached to the sides of the neck. Gibson's bean counters thought that would be too expensive so they opted to build it like their traditional, cheaper set neck design. Even though it could have been better as a neck through design, My opinion is that the Gibson SG is probably the best designed guitar that Gibson ever built. The new ones seem to have lots of tuning problems, The other good one, in my opinion, is the Explorer. Just play an Explorer standing up with a strap and you will see what I mean. The balance is excellent.

Ed Roman

January 1993

Les Paul jokes that a lot of people don't know he plays the guitar. "They think I am one," he says with delight. As father of the solid body electric guitar, thousands of musicians around the globe covet Gibson's famed Les Paul guitars. But few realize the other contributions Paul has made through the years to the art of sound recording.

As an inventor, Les Paul is credited with creating sound-on-sound, over-dubbing, the electronic reverb effect and multi track tape recording. He made the first eight track recorder in the late 1940s by stacking eight Ampex tape machines and synchronizing them. Old friend W.C. Fields dubbed the contraption "the Octopus."

By 1952 Les Paul was not only the most popular guitar player in  America, he was also a leading innovator in guitar and electronics design. He had been experimenting with electric guitars for as long as there had been electric guitars. He had once mounted a guitar string on a railroad tie to confirm his belief that a solid body guitar would maximize sustain, and he had incorporated a mini-railroad rail-a 4"x4" piece of pine-into the body of a homemade solid body electric guitar he nicknamed "The Log."

Les had approached Gibson in the '40s with his ideas for a solid body electric guitar, but Gibson was already leading the industry with archtop electric guitars. Furthermore, Gibson had always been very conservative when it came to aligning with artists. In 50 years, only two players had their names on Gibson models: Nick Lucas, an early guitar star and crooner whose "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" was the biggest record of 1929, and Roy Smeck, a multi-instrumentalist so talented he was nicknamed "The Wizard of the Strings."

In the early '50s, when the solid body guitar first became commercially viable, Gibson designed an instrument that would change the image of the solid body electric from a simple plank of wood to an elegant, stylish piece of art. Such a guitar would be a radical move for a traditional company like Gibson, but Gibson had been founded on the radical mandolin and guitar designs of Orville Gibson back in the 1890s. This new model would have the same carved-top contours that had set Orville's instruments apart from all others.

With the new model almost ready for market, Gibson approached Les Paul, the obvious choice to help launch it. Les was already intimately familiar with the unique characteristics of a solid body electric guitar. And he was at the top of his career. His 1948 hit, "Brazil," featured six guitar parts, all played by Les in a virtuoso demonstration that would eventually earn him recognition as the father of multi-track recording. When he combined his guitar and electronic talents with the vocals of his wife Mary Ford, the result was gold-two million-selling records in 1951, "Mockin' Bird Hill" and "How High the Moon."

The Les Paul Model, as it was originally called, has changed little since its debut in 1952. Except for an updated bridge and humbucking pickups, the Les Paul Standard of today is still the same guitar. The Les Paul has been the driving force behind many changes in popular music. It powered the blues rock sound of the late '60s and the southern rock of the late '70s. By the '90s the Les Paul was providing signature sounds for every genre of rock, from alternative to metal.



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