Mick Ronson

There is no doubt the decade boasted some of the Les Paul’s greatest moments when it came to players. Here are just 10 recommended Les Paul legends who made their name in the ‘70s.

Duane Allman

The slide maestro started to turn heads in the late ‘60s, but became truly famous as the ‘70s broke. Allman played a ’59 Cherry Sunburst Les Paul Standard and a ’57 Les Paul Gold Top. He also used a ’58 Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul on the classic Eat a Peach and The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East albums. 

Allman’s slide playing was revered. Unusually, he most often played in standard tuning and used a Coricidin bottle as his slide. The bottle is too short to cover all six strings at one time, so Duane favored playing triads for his unique sound. More on Duane Allman in this Gibson.com feature.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Gary Rossington has been the constant in Skynyrd’s ever-changing line-ups. His masterful soloing and riffs were a big part of Skynyrd’s three-guitar attack. In 2002, Gibson’s Custom division launched an exact replica of Rossington’s main ’59 sunburst used in Skynyrd. Now, he relies on ’59 reissue Les Pauls, but it is safe to say he always be associated hitting it big with Les Pauls in the ‘70s.

“I love Les Pauls,” Rossington says. “Most of the time I use standard tuning for slide. Early on, we didn’t have the time to change tunings on stage, plus I only had one guitar back then, so I learned to play slide in standard. But I like to play in open E a lot. I use that on this CD a lot, and open G. We were still teenagers when we’d go to see the Allman Brothers. When I first heard Duane he was tuned to open E [a rare occurrence, see above – Editor] and I didn’t know what the hell he was doing until I discovered open tunings for myself.”

Read more in this Gibson.com Gary Rossington interview.

Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy became a classic twin-lead Les Paul band when Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham joined for the Nightlife album of 1974. Robertson favoured a black Custom, Gorham (initially) a ‘burst Deluxe with mini humbuckers. Raucous solos and subtle interplay followed, proving a huge influence on many bands, including Iron Maiden.

Mick Ronson

Mick Ronson was David Bowie’s right-hand man as the band leader of The Spiders from Mars, and helped catapult Bowie into rock ‘n’ roll history. Mick sanded down the top on his twin pickup Les Paul Custom because, reportedly, someone told him it would improve the sound. True or not, Ronson’s LP became a visual icon with its blond top and black back and neck. Ronson went onto play the LP while backing Bob Dylan and others, before retiring it to the Hard Rock Cafe in Australia. It was later sent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where it was on display for two years.

Trivial fact? The Cult’s Billy Duffy sanded down one of his own black LPs in the ‘80s because he was such a big fan of Ronson. I asked him if it changed the sound. Duffy’s answer: “No, not really!”

Ronson’s unique Les Paul can be seen on the cover of his 1975 solo album, Play Don’t Worry.

Ace Frehley

The KISS guitarist’s LP Custom was built in the ‘70s, and became an icon as KISS went stellar. Gibson recently recreated the original Ace Frehley “Budokan” Les Paul Custom, loaded with three period-correct double-cream DiMarzio humbucking pickups—two PAF models in the neck and middle positions, and a Super Distortion in the bridge. 1970s spec also means a four-piece maple top glued to a “sandwich” body made from a middle and back section of solid mahogany joined by a thin maple veneer, with no chambering. The ‘burst colors are bright and boast a lot of contrast with the white pickups.

Jimmy Page

Page’s #1 and #2 Les Pauls were central to Led Zeppelin’s swaggering riffology of the ‘70s. Both guitars were made in the fabled year of 1959. #1 was bought from Joe Walsh. The neck of #1 is quite thick at the nut and heel, like a typical 1959 Les Paul, but it tapers to a super-slim depth in the middle. Page modded it with a push/pull pot in the rear volume control that reverses the phase, in order to get a tone like Peter Green or B.B. King.

#2 was another pristine ’59, and Page added coil splitting, series/parallel, and phase-reverse options for total tonal versatility. He also had the neck slightly shaved – though not as dramatic as #1 – for a super-slinky action. So yes, Jimmy Page “messed around” with not one but two fabled ‘59s. But we’ll forgive him. If you’re rich, you can buy a perfect replica of the Jimmy Page #2 Les Paul Standard.

Paul Kossoff

Kossoff made his name in the late ‘60s, but for much of Free’s 1970s glory days, Koss used his ’59 ‘burst Les Paul Standard. Besides his main sunburst Les Paul, Koss also played a 3-pickup black mid-50’s Les Paul Custom through Marshall and Laney amps and other Les Paul Standards. His tone was thick and heavy, and his vibrato unique.

Talking to Melody Maker in 1970, Koss stated “I think my vibrato has taken a long time to sound mature, and it’s taken a long time to reach the speed of vibrato that I now have…I’ll use my index to back up the ring finger when I’m using vibrato.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington admits, “Paul Kossoff was a major influence. Hell, to anyone back then interested in heavy blues guitar, Paul was a big influence.”

Steve Jones

Jones’s white 1974 Les Paul Custom remains an icon. At the time of Never Mind The B****cks in 1977, many said the Sex Pistols “couldn’t play,” but you only have to listen to a few Pistols tracks to realize that Jones was a one-off guitarist who certainly could. Impressive, given that he only picked up a guitar a few years before.

Nuthin’ fancy, no, but Jones could rock the rock at 110dB like few other hapless “punks.” Where Jones got such a prime instrument? He’s never said. Gibson did make a replica of the “girlie” stickered Steve Jones Les Paul Custom, which is now discontinued.

Billy Gibbons

Ah, that’ll be “Pearly Gates.” When it comes to 1970s trios, there’s arguably no better than ZZ Top. Billy F Gibbons’ ’59 ‘burst “with divine connections” has become a legend in itself. BFG’s “Pearly” provided the real grit of ZZ Top’s best ‘70s songs. “Nothing else sounds as good as Miss Pearly Gates, that special, special 1959 Gibson Les Paul Burst …,” he said recently. “It’s got its own special blend of herbs and spices, and has stood us in good stead in the studio and on the road.” When Gibbons played just one song on another guitar on 1972’s Rio Grande Mud, he called the tune “Apologies to Pearly.”

Peter Frampton

Peter Frampton’s three-pickup Les Paul Custom was pictured large on his record-breaking Frampton Comes Alive! album of 1976. The album made Frampton a star but his favorite guitar was lost in a plane crash… until it was dramatically returned 2011. Player and repaired guitar and now reunited in a weird, trippy tale that could only have its roots in the 1970s.

There are many more Les Paul legends of the ‘70s. Tom Scholz, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and others… Add your own favorites and comments below.