The latest instalment in our battle of the guitars feature pitches two classic rock guitar legends against each other. We have previously pitched the Fender Strat against the Telecaster and the Jaguar against the Mustang. This time it is an all Gibson battle with the Les Paul vs SG.
Let’s take a look at the Les Paul first.
The Gibson Les Paul is, next to the Fender Stratocaster, one of the most recognizable solid body guitars in music. With its classic single cut-away body, two humbuckers and awesome sustain it has been a consistent friend to the rock guitarist since it was launched in 1952.
The Les Paul was Gibson’s first attempt to compete against Fender’s dominance in the solid body guitar market. It could be said that the introduction by Fender of the Esquire and Broadcaster in 1950 caught Gibson totally unprepared.
In response Gibson Guitars president Ted McCarty employed Les Paul to work with his team as a consultant. Les Paul was a widely respected guitarist who had been experimenting with guitar designs for many years. He also had some experience of building solid body guitars. He had already hand built a solid body prototype which he had nicknamed “The Log”.
Rather interestingly Les Paul had approached Gibson in the mid 1940s with his prototype and they had rejected it.
How Involved was Les Paul in the design of the guitar that bears his name?
In 1951, McCarty and the team at Gibson started work on the solid body guitar which was eventually to become the Les Paul. The team intentionally set out to create an expensive well-made guitar. This was in-keeping with the Gibson brand ethos of the time. However, perhaps more crucially, the guitar had to be distinct from the models being produced by Fender.
Although the guitar was to eventually bear the Les Paul name the man himself was not involved in the early design of the prototypes. McCarty asked Les Paul for the right to brand the guitar with the Les Paul name with the intention of increasing sales. Gibson effectively presented a nearly finished instrument to Les Paul for his approval.
McCarty was later to state that design discussions with Les Paul were limited. He was apparently consulted on the tailpiece and the fitting of a maple cap over the mahogany body for increased density and sustain. Les Paul requested the maple cap feature to be removed preferring the guitar to be solid mahogany. However, Gibson rejected this request because it would have made the guitar too heavy.
Les Paul however has stated that the Les Paul custom should have had the maple cap and the gold top should have been solid mahogany.
The Les Paul made its debut in 1952.
Whoever you believe the 1952 Les Paul featured a mahogany body with a one-inch-thick maple cap. It had a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard and was fitted with two P-90 single coil pickups.
The guitar made its public debut when Paul used it onstage in June 1952 at the Paramount theatre in New York. The guitar received further coverage in July 24, 1952, at a special musicians clinic at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was previewed by prominent guitarists such as Tiger Haynes, George Barnes, Mundell Lowe, Tony Mottola, and Billy Mure.
If it ain’t broke…
When you have a winning design you don’t really need to change much. Which, is very true for the Les Paul. There have been changes but these have never really deviated far from the core design.
The original P-90 single coil pickups were swapped out for humbuckers in 1957. There have been different models – Custom, Special, Professional and recording to name a few. But essentially the design has remained the same and when you have so many famous names playing it why would you change it?
Who plays a Les Paul?
The role call of guitarists who play a Les Paul is long. It is all a who’s who of the greatest guitarist that have ever graced the instrument. Consider – Jimmy Page, Slash, Joe Perry, Pete Townshend, Ace Frehley, Eric Clapton, Paul Kossof and Billy Gibbons all have signature Les Pauls.
The Les Paul is truly a hard act to beat.
It really needs a good guitar to beat it, so in the battle of the Les Paul vs SG which guitar will be the winner?
Let’s take a look at the Gibson SG.
With its slim body, double cut-aways and double humbuckers the Gibson SG is an instantly recognisable guitar. But the SG actually started out as a Les Paul re-design.
The Gibson Les Paul proved to be a huge success when it was first released. However, by 1960 sales had dropped and this prompted Gibson into a rethink. They decided to re-design the Les Paul to try and re-invigorate sales.
The following year, the Les Paul was given a thinner, flat-topped mahogany body, a double cutaway which made the upper frets more accessible, and a contoured body. The neck joint was moved by three frets to further ease access to the upper frets.
The simpler body construction significantly reduced production costs. Perhaps more importantly the new Les Paul, with its slender neck profile and small heel, was advertised as having the “fastest neck in the world”.
A great new Les Paul but there was just one problem.
The problem was that Les Paul himself had not been involved in the re-design. Although the guitar was popular Les Paul just didn’t like it. He requested that his name be removed from the new guitar and the SG was born.
As I have mentioned the SG was designed to have a slimmer body and double cut-aways. For many guitarists the slimmer lighter body and improved access to the upper frets gave the SG an edge over the Les Paul. The scale length of the SG is the same as the Les Paul at 628 mm (24.75″) and the neck is slimmer with easier access to the upper frets.
In most people’s eyes the SG is a rock guitar thoroughbred which is exemplified by the role call of the great who play it. Consider some of these names – Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Robby Kreiger, Mike Oldfield and yes even Eric Clapton played an SG.
Which guitar is the winner – Les Paul vs SG
So there we have it two great guitars but if you had the choice which one would you play?
Cast your vote now as to which guitar would win this battle of the guitars – Les Paul vs SG.