In 1952, Gibson enlists Les Paul—the most popular recording artist of the era—in the launch of the company’s first solid body electric. Dubbed, appropriately, the “Les Paul Model,” the instrument becomes the most successful “signature” guitar in history.
With Ted McCarthy at the helm, the Gibson Company wanted to make sure they acquired a share of the solid body market, and came up with the concept of approaching a well known musician, Les Paul, to design a range of solid body electric guitars. Interestingly, Les Paul had already approached Gibson in 1945 with some designs and ideas for an electric solid body guitar, and had been ridiculed by Gibson.
“Les Paul was a respected innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years…”
There is some ambiguity over just who designed which parts of the original Les Paul, with Les Paul himself telling a very different story to the Gibson employees at the time. In the Gibson version of the story, the company had already completed the design of the 1952 Les Paul before Les was approached to endorse it, the only modifications he made to the design were bridge and the name itself. The story told by Les himself is a little different, he tells that he already had the ideas for the Gold Top and the Black Custom, and Gibson gave him the final say in every part of the design process.
The original Les Paul design later came to be known as the Gold Top, due to the actual finish of the guitar. Most Les Paul guitars produced in this period came with a maple top that was gold colored, with the back left natural. Hence gold on top, or Gold Top. The actual finish of the guitar was accomplished using a bronze powder, and over time, this took on a greenish due, resulting in the unmistakable vintage Gold Top look. The Les Paul quickly grew into a family of four models—the Junior, the Special, the Standard and the Custom, which continues to enjoy use by all ranges of guitarist.
The rich history of the Gibson Les Paul is quite the read, and we recommend that you start your journey here and here. A quick comparison of the body types can be attained by this video by our friends over at Chapman Guitars.