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15 Iconic Les Paul Players

Jonah Bayer
|
01.08.2009



The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most recognizable guitars of all-time and the artists who brandish it seem to transcend age, era, gender and genre. From heavy metal enthusiasts to indie rock icons to reggae superstars, it seems like nearly every musical legend has strapped on a Les Paul at some point to take advantage of its signature sound. Sure, the axe is heavy, but that’s part of the secret to its tone—and if it’s good enough for the 15 legendary players listed below it should be good enough for you, right?

Slash: Guns N’ Roses’ former guitarist Slash is probably best known for three things: his messy mop of black hair, signature top hat and sunburst Gibson Les Pauls. In fact his Les-Paul-through-a-Marshall-stack sound is responsible for some of the most popular guitar riffs of all-time: “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” anyone? Oh and speaking of the latter riff, if you really want to nail the tone be sure your pickup selector is in the rhythm position — and despite Slash’s own preferences we don’t recommend downing a fifth of Jack Daniel’s prior to plugging in. 

Jimmy Page: Led Zeppelin’s Page has penned so many classic rock riffs that it’s hard to even know where to start with the guitarist’s list of accomplishments. However he couldn’t have done it alone and the chunky sound of his Les Paul was intrinsic to tracks like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Black Dog” and helped add a welcome dose of heaviness to the classic rock formula. Regardless of what you think of rumors of the upcoming Robert Plant-less Zep reunion, you can bet that Mr. Page and his Les Paul will both be present.

Randy Rhoads: As the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, virtuoso Rhoads was the first guitarist to meld classical guitar chops with a heavy metal sensibility to create a unique hybrid of music that still sounds groundbreaking today. In order to accomplish this impressive feat, when he wasn’t playing on nylon strings he was finger-tapping and sweep-picking on his white Les Paul. Sadly Rhoads died in 1982 at the age of 25, but tracks like “Crazy Train” continue to be karaoke staples and inspire future generations of guitarists to strap on their own Les Pauls.

Zakk Wylde: Ozzy Osbourne has been blessed with a plethora of amazing guitarists, but next to Rhoads he’s probably best known for enlisting the bearded shredder Wylde. Although Wylde started out playing tracks like “No More Tears” with Ozzy, armed with his bull’s-eye-painted Les Paul Wylde has further established himself via his metal outfit Black Label Society and his solo work. While it’d admittedly be tough for any guitar to endure Wylde’s hard-partying lifestyle and playing, the Les Paul is the only axe that’s been able to rise to the challenge thus far.

Ace Frehley: Frehley could have picked any kind of guitar to install a smoke bomb inside, but he picked — you guessed it — a Gibson Les Paul. In fact his arsenal of Les Pauls is almost as closely associated to the guitarist as the make-up he rocked every night during KISS’ '70s heyday. Not only was Frehley’s Les Paul-fueled sound responsible for riffs like “Cold Gin” and “Shock Me,” it also helped make KISS one of the most recognizable bands (or as bassist Gene Simmons describes it, “brands”) in rock history.

Duane Allman: Allman was best known for donning Gibson SGs and other axes from time to time, but the most famous era of his playing featured him rocking sunburst and Goldtop Les Pauls. Allman’s Southern-fueled brand of rock was partially due to the Les Paul’s unique tone and his most famous solos, such as “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, proved that Allman had a special symbiotic relationship with his guitar. Sadly, Allman passed away when he was only 24, but that only makes his accomplishments with the Allman Brothers Band and Derek And The Dominos even more impressive.

Eric Clapton: Although Clapton experimented with different styles of guitars throughout his four-decade-long career, his time with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and the Yardbirds were both defined by his use of the Les Paul. In fact it’s remarkable how many versatile tones the British guitarist was able to coax of his favorite axe as he channeled the ghosts of classic delta Blues acts and recontextualized them into a rock context. While you can debate all day what your favorite era of Clapton’s career was, we’ll always have a soft spot for the sonic discovery of his Les Paul years.

Joe Perry: Perry is known for a lot of things — including avoiding the aging process — but his most recognizable trait is the Les Paul that you can find hanging around his neck when he performs with Aerosmith. In fact, Perry is such a Les Paul enthusiast that in addition to playing nearly every variation of the axe for the past 30 years he also has his own Custom model. Perry reportedly has a collection of over 600 guitars and we’re betting that his Les Paul arsenal alone could give any Guitar Center in America a run for its money.

Pete Townshend: Townshend is another guitarist who's experimented with different axes, but his '70s output is largely defined by his Gibson Les Paul Deluxes. It’s safe to say that Townsend’s legendary windmill guitar strums wouldn’t look nearly as impressive if he wasn’t rocking out on a giant slab of mahogany. If you want a great example of Townshend and his Les Paul obsession in action we recommend checking out the classic Who documentary The Kids Are Alright.

Paul Kossoff: Paul Kossoff may not be a household name, but as the guitarist for Free, Kossoff was able to take soul, blues and rock and merge them into a unique amalgam of music with a little help from his Les Paul. In fact you can hear some of his extended guitar solos on Free’s early output such as Tons Of Sobs and Free. Although Kossoff passed away at the age of 25, his playing has been immortalized in several posthumous selections such as Koss.

Gary Moore: Moore is another terminally underrated Les Paul player who has played with Thin Lizzy, Colosseum II and Greg Lake among others. For a sizable chunk of his career his axe of choice was a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst, which used to belong to British Blues legend — and Moore’s close personal friend — Peter Green. While it’s impossible to know whether the warm tone of the Les Paul influenced Moore’s sound or vice versa, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Moore left an indelible mark on the music world with his playing.

Peter Green: When you have a musical superstar like B.B. King saying things like “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats,” you know you’re doing something right. King was talking about Fleetwood Mac guitarist Green whose axe of choice was incidentally a 1959 Les Paul. The secret to Green’s tone was the fact that a magnet of his neck pickup was reversed, creating a unique effect. However, if Green wasn’t such an inventive and original player we highly doubt he would be as celebrated as he is today.

 Bob Marley: Marley is unquestionably the most influential reggae player ever and it’s no secret that he often utilized the Gibson Les Paul to help craft his sound. While most of the other guitarists in this list used walls of distortion to bring out Les Paul’s inner beast, Marley utilized clean tones and upstrokes to develop his own signature sound and proved that the Les Paul isn’t just one of the heaviest-sounding guitars in existence but it’s also one of the most versatile.

Billie Joe Armstrong: Although Green Day’s Armstrong didn’t start out on a Les Paul, these days you can see him sporting his own signature edition of the Les Paul Junior. However don’t let the diminutive nature of Armstrong’s axe convince you that his tone is any less aggressive than his peers, because listening to the band’s opus American Idiot, it’s clear that the exact opposite is true. Green Day’s next album will reportedly be out next summer and we can’t wait to see what Armstrong is able to pull off with a little help from his Les Paul Jr.

Steve Jones: As guitarist for the Sex Pistols, Jones is responsible for arguably the greatest punk album of all-time, 1977’s Never Mind The Bollocks. His aggressive guitar sound ushered in a whole new era of music — and out of all the guitars in the world, Jones decided that the Gibson Les Paul would be the best conduit for this pioneering new sound. These days this former iconoclast is just one of many influential guitar players to have his own signature version of the Les Paul, which will hopefully motivate today’s neophytes to craft their own musical sea change.

Who did we miss? Give us an earful; leave a comment below and we'll consider your suggestions for Part 2!
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