MID-1950S (1953–1957)

A second Les Paul model was introduced in 1953. Called the Les Paul Custom, this black guitar with gold-plated hardware was dubbed the “Black Beauty.” Various bridge and tailpiece designs were added in 1953 and 1954, including the popular Tune-o-matic bridge. The Goldtop and Custom models continued without significant changes until 1957. In 1957, P-90 pickups were no longer offered on Les Pauls. New humbucker pickups designed by Seth Lover in 1955 (U.S. Patent 2,896,491) debuted on Les Pauls in 1957. This innovation in pickups became the flagship pickup design most associated with Gibson. Many other guitar companies followed suit, outfitting their electrics with versions of the humbucking pickup.

In 1958, the Les Paul saw its first major design change. A new model, called the Standard, retained most features of the 1957 Goldtop. However, Standards featured a cherry-red sunburst finish. These guitars were priced higher than the Goldtop models, but lower than the Customs. At this time, Gibson instruments were marketed toward an older, jazz-oriented audience rather than young burgeoning guitarists. As a result, over the three-year period of production, only c. 1,700 Standards were made.

These Les Pauls were considered to be too heavy and old-fashioned, and they initially did not find favor amongst guitarists. In 1961, Gibson stopped producing the traditional Les Paul in favor of a lighter redesign which was later called the SG. The mid-1960s, however, brought a resurgence of interest in the Les Paul Standard. In 1964, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards began using a sunburst, 1959 Les Paul Standard – becoming the first “star-guitarist” to play a Les Paul on the British scene. The guitar, outfitted with a Bigsby tailpiece, served as one of the guitarist’s prominent instruments and provided the first impetus to the use of Les Pauls during the British blues boom. In 1965, Eric Clapton began using Les Pauls because of the influence of Freddie King and Hubert Sumlin, and played a 1960 Standard on the groundbreaking album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. In America, Mike Bloomfield began using a 1954 Les Paul goldtop while touring with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and recorded most of his work on the band’s East-West album with that guitar. A year later, he traded it for a 1959 Standard with which he became most identified. Concurrently, artists such as Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff, and Jimmy Page began using sunburst Les Paul Standards in the late 1960s. Responding to this influence and increased pressure from the public, Gibson reintroduced Les’ single-cutaway guitar in July 1968.