In 1950, the ancestors of Fender Telecaster (Fender Esquire and Fender Broadcaster) were introduced to the musical market and solid-body electric guitars became a public craze. In reaction to market demand, Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty brought guitarist Les Paul into the company as a consultant. Les Paul was a respected innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years. He hand-built a solid-body prototype called “The Log”,
often suggested as the first solid-body Spanish guitar ever built. “The Log” was given its name from the pine block running through the middle of the guitar whose width and depth are a little more than the width of the fretboard; conventional hollow guitar sides or “wings” were added for shape. Although numerous other prototypes and limited-production solid-body models by other makers have since surfaced, it is known that in 1945–1946, Les Paul had approached Gibson with “The Log” prototype, but his solid body design was rejected.
In 1951, Paul, McCarty and his team at the Gibson Guitar Corporation began work on what would eventually become the Les Paul Model. Early prototypes are very similar to the final version. The new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument in accordance with Gibson’s reputation at the time. Although recollections differ regarding who contributed what to the Les Paul design, it was far from a replica of rival guitar manufacturer Fender’s models. Additionally, Gibson’s president Ted McCarty stated that the Gibson Guitar Corporation approached Les Paul for the right to imprint the musician’s name on the headstock with the intention of increasing sales; in 1951, Gibson presented Paul a nearly finished instrument for approval. Subsequently, McCarty claimed that design discussions with Les Paul were limited to the tailpiece and the fitting of a maple cap over the mahogany body for increased density and sustain, which Les Paul had requested reversed. However, this reversal would have caused the guitar to become too heavy, and Paul’s request was refused. Paul states that the original Custom should have had the maple cap and the Goldtop was to be all mahogany. The Custom did not appear on the market for another two years following the introduction of the Goldtop; it is possible that Gibson had planned a full model range of guitars (with a roll-out over the course of several years) at the time when initial specifications were being set. Les Paul’s contributions to the guitar line bearing his name were more than cosmetic, but certainly included them. For example, Paul specified that the guitar be offered in a gold finish, not only for flashiness, but to emphasize the high quality of the Gibson Les Paul instrument. The later-issue Les Paul models included flame maple (tiger stripe) and “quilted” maple tops, again in contrast to the competing Fender line’s range of car-like custom color finishes.
The 1952 Les Pauls featured two P-90 single coil pickups, and a one-piece, ‘trapeze’-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under (instead of over) a steel stop-bar.