What guitar do you think of first when you hear the words 'Gibson Les Paul?' A beautiful '59 Sunburst? A Les Paul Jr. in TV Yellow finish? Maybe even the Les Paul Studio, a true workhorse of the Gibson line? The Les Paul Signature hollowbody is probably nobody's 'default' Les Paul, because let's face it, it's a world away from the single-cutaway solid body Les Paul as we know it - but it's an important stop along the road in Gibson Les Paul history. Not to be confused with the new Les Paul Signature "T", the Les Paul Signature hollowbody was released in 1973.
Nothing about the Les Paul Signature was very 'standard.' Sure, the oversized semi-hollowbody and unusual cutaway layout is your first clue (if you look close it's basically a Les Paul shape on the treble side cutaway and an ES-335 style on the bass side), but there's a lot more going on too. For instance, the arched top and back are made of maple, while the sides are walnut. The neck is mahogany (with a 22-fret, bound rosewood fretboard), and the bridge is a large rectangular take on the Tune-o-Matic style. It was most commonly found as a gold-top, but sunburst examples were made too.
A contemporary advertisement points out that the guitar features two "totally new pickups' that reduce noise while delivering exceptional power" - in fact they were a pair of oblong low-impedance humbuckers. They were paired with the traditional three-way pickup selector switch as well as a rotary phase switch (with two modes, In and Out) and a three position tone switch, "that allows you to tune your guitar to any amplifier for maximum flexibility and sound quality." This switch allowed the user to select between 50, 250 and 500 ohm modes, roughly mimicking single coil, P-90 and humbucker tones. And interestingly, the guitar features a pair of output jacks: one high impedance jack on the top of the body and a low impedance one on the rim, or as the old ad puts it, "One for you, and one for the engineer." The ad was also realistic about the target market for such an instrument, pointing out that "…the new Les Paul Signature is not intended for the beginner or occasional player."
A bass version was also released, which featured a new design Les Paul low impedance bass pickup (actually the exact same pickup as in the guitar version) as well as the three-position tone switch, a bass version of the new-design Tune-O-Matic bridge and the dual outputs. This model serves as the template for the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass.
In the 1990s an Epiphone Les Paul Signature guitar was released, with two Electar JCB-1 low-impedance Alnico VII pickups routed through a unique transformer circuit and also featuring a two-position phase switch and the three-position VariGain Circuit switch. It also had more standard-shaped bridge and only a single output jack.
If you ever get to play one, you'll notice that it really does seem to fall into the gap between ES-335 and Les Paul, but they have a tone that's all their own, from sharp and stingy to sweet and smooth. Between the three-way tone selector, the phase switch and the pickup selections you can dial in a huge range of tones, and although it might look like a great guitar for country-style chording it's incredibly adept at funk, blues, jazz and fusion. The Les Paul Signature hollowbody was discontinued in 1978, and it is a difficult but not impossible guitar to come across today. They're one of those instruments that folks tend to hang onto and cherish rather than buy to sell.