f there’s a single electric guitar range that’s synonymous with Epiphone , and in particular its Gibson copies, it’s the Les Paul. Epiphone currently lists 19 Les Paul guitars in its line-up, including legends like the Les Paul Custom, Les Paul Studio, and the Les Paul Junior.
While it’s widely assumed that Les Paul designed the original guitar which bore his name for Gibson and that Epiphone later made less expensive versions from factories in Korea and Japan, this only scratches the surface of the real, much more interesting, story.
Paul started building what eventually became the Gibson Les Paul in 1941, using Epiphone parts and facilities in Epiphone’s New York factory. The Log, as Paul nicknamed that first guitar was made by attaching an Epiphone neck, fingerboard and body parts to a 4in by 4in board. Les Paul then took a couple of body halves from an Epiphone and attached them either side of a centre block.
Sometime later, while he was in Chicago, Paul took The Log to the Chicago Musical Instruments Company, which owned Gibson. He was politely, but firmly, shown the door. The words of CMI’s president, MH Berlin, who described The Log as a ‘broomstick with pick-ups’, must have stung, but they didn’t discourage him from designing and building guitars. Eventually he managed to attract Gibson’s interest and in 1952, the first Les Paul solid body electric guitar was produced, and the rest, is history.
The Gibson Les Paul, in its many and various models, has become arguably the most recognised electric guitar shape on the planet. Only Fender’s Stratocaster comes close. Almost every great rock and blues guitar player has owned and played at least one. And even guitarists like Eric Clapton who later became identified with other makes and models, played some of their best riffs on a Les Paul.
And of course, the Les Paul was introduced to a whole new set of fans when it was used as the basis for the controller in the video game, Guitar Hero III.