The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most popular electric guitars played today. Known for its unique sound and versatility, musicians from many different genres choose this as their ax of choice.
If you’re a fan of classic rock, and we’re pretty sure you are, it’s likely your favorite guitarist plays a Les Paul. While it might not be their main instrument, they probably have one they play for certain songs.
We’re highlighting seven classic rockers who play this beautiful guitar. There are certainly many more musicians we could have listed, but these are some of our favorites.
What is a Gibson Les Paul?
The Gibson Les Paul is a solid body electric guitar. It’s typically made from mahogany, maple, and rosewood, and it has certain features that give it a unique sound. Not just for rockers, you can hear Les Pauls used in reggae, pop, country, soul, and jazz music.
In the early 1950s, Gibson Guitar contacted Les Paul to help create a new design to compete with the popular models sold by Fender. Paul, a respected guitarist, experimented with his own designs for several years.
Paul developed a prototype guitar nicknamed “The Log” and presented it to Gibson in the mid-1940s. Gibson rejected this design.
Together with the Gibson design team, Les Paul created the first guitar model named after him, released in 1952.
Known for its deep, rich tones, once you become familiar with the sound of a Les Paul, it’s easy to identify it in music. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular guitars used for 70 years.
If you’re not a guitar geek like some of us, you might not know what features give a Les Paul guitar its unique sounds. Telling you it’s the humbuckers, pick-ups, shape of the neck, the body cutaway, and the wood used might not mean anything.
But that’s exactly what makes it stand out from other guitars.
Since the 1950s, numerous models have been made, including ones for specific artists. Joe Perry, Peter Frampton, and Slash are among the guitarists who collaborated with Gibson to create their signature Les Paul-style guitar.
This list of musicians could be much longer. While not included here, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to honor two other legendary guitarists no longer with us. Allman Brothers founder Duane Allman and Quiet Riot founder Randy Rhodes both rocked Les Pauls almost exclusively.
Let’s look at seven well-known musicians who played Gibson Les Paul guitars for some or most of their music.
#1 David Gilmour
Guitarist and singer David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1967, shortly before founding member Syd Barrett departed. Gilmour eventually became the frontman for the band in 1985 when founding member Roger Waters left the band.
Pink Floyd released 14 studio albums with Gilmour on guitar and vocals. He produced many of the band’s albums, including The Wall, Wish You Were Here, and The Division Bell. Additionally, he worked with singers Kate Bush and Roy Harper.
Gilmour played a Gibson Les Paul 1955 Goldtop model for his solo in Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, released in 1979.
He played two other Les Paul models in Pink Floyd – the Black Beauty and Les Paul TV. The latter he purchased in a pawn shop in Seattle, Washington, in 1970. He played the TV model for only a short time though it remained in his vast guitar collection.
#2 Eric Clapton
English rocker Eric Clapton played in notable bands, including The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos. Heavily influenced by blues music, Clapton began playing guitar at 15.
Clapton got a taste for performing live at age 17 when he joined The Roosters, a British blues band. From there, he continued playing in various high-profile groups.
Considered one of the best guitarists of all time, Clapton’s skill on his chosen instrument is undeniable. He played Gibson guitars exclusively in the mid-1960s.
Clapton credited his Les Paul and Gibson SG guitars for creating his “woman tone.” He explained in a 1967 interview, “I am playing more smoothly now. I’m developing what I call my ‘woman tone.’ It’s a sweet sound, something like the solo on ‘I Feel Free.'”
#3 George Harrison
George Harrison, the lead guitarist for The Beatles, received his first guitar from his father at age 13. His earliest musical influence included Slim Whitman, who he said was the first person he ever saw play the guitar.
Harrison met John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1958 when he auditioned for and eventually joined their band, The Quarrymen. By 1960, they began calling themselves The Beatles.
Early on in his career, Harrison developed his unique style of guitar playing. Throughout the 1960s, he played multiple instruments, including a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar.
In 1968, Eric Clapton gifted Harrison with a 1957 Gibson Les Paul with a cherry red finish nicknamed “Lucy” after famed redhead Lucille Ball. Harrison played Lucy as his principal guitar for the remainder of his time with The Beatles.
“Lucy” remained in Harrison’s guitar collection until he died in 2001, despite being stolen from his Beverly Hills home in 1973. Lucy had quite the story to tell, being one of the most famous electric guitars in history.
#4 Jeff Beck
Considered one of the most influential guitarists in modern music history, Jeff Beck’s style incorporates jazz, blues, hard rock, and electronica. He replaced Eric Clapton as the lead guitarist in The Yardbirds early in his career but was ultimately fired in 1967.
He went on to form The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, and a few other revolving members. This band played together for two years before Beck announced their breakup on the eve of the Woodstock Festival, where they were to perform.
Beck put together a completely new band in 1970, but it would only last until 1972. Since the mid-70s, Beck has been chiefly a solo artist. He’s won eight Grammy Awards and joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
While mainly a Fender guitarist, Beck played a Gibson Les Paul during his time in The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group. He played three different models of Les Paul guitars, including the Oxblood, which he still plays today.
Beck’s 1954 Gibson Oxblood Les Paul is slung across the guitarist on the cover of his 1975 album Blow By Blow. Beck also credits Les Paul as one of his earliest musical influences.
#5 Mark Knopfler
Mark Knopfler, the guitarist and co-founder of the rock band Dire Straits, has a truly unique playing style. His improvisational way of playing comes from various genres, including blues, folk, and rockabilly.
While Knopfler is left-handed, he plays guitar right-handed. That alone sets him apart from other natural lefty players like Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney. Knopfler also fingerpicks rather than using a guitar pick.
While Knopfler mainly played rock and blues music, he did venture into the country genre for a bit. In 1988, he formed the short-lived Notting Hillbillies with Guy Fletcher, Brendan Croker, and Steve Phillips.
Knopfler’s other country music collaborations included work with John Anderson, George Jones, and Emmylou Harris.
One of Knopfler’s earliest guitars was a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Doublecut. In a documentary called Guitar Stories, he mentioned that this model was one of six guitars that helped create his unique sound.
Another famous guitar in Knopfler’s arsenal was a 1983 Les Paul Standard, though some confusion exists about whether it’s actually from the 70s or 80s.
In an interview with Vintage Guitar magazine, he said, “I could never afford to buy one from the “classic years,” so I got a reissue in the ’70s, and I recorded things like “Brothers In Arms” and “Money for Nothing” with that one, and I toured with it.”
Apparently, in the 90s, he felt he earned enough to buy two late-50s Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars. Knopfler still plays these instruments along with some of his favorite Fenders.
#6 Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend may best be known as the co-founder, guitarist, and primary songwriter for The Who. However, he’s also led an extremely fulfilling career as a solo artist.
Not just a guitar whiz, Townshend is also proficient on the keyboards, banjo, ukulele, violin, accordion, and mandolin. Amazingly, he is self-taught on all these instruments.
Townshend’s aggressive and rhythmic style helped revolutionize electric guitar playing. There’s really no one else that plays the ax quite like him.
Pete Townshend’s signature windmill strumming during the 1970s was typically done on Gibson Les Paul Deluxe guitars. While he played other models such as Fenders and Rickenbackers, his Les Pauls were among some of his favorites.
Gibson issued three Pete Townshend Signature Edition Les Paul guitars in 2005. And in 2016, they introduced a Les Paul Deluxe series based on Pete’s 1976 Deluxe Gold Top model.
Fans may recall Townshend famously smashing guitars at numerous Who concerts. At the Boston Gardens on April 1, 1976, Pete beat a Les Paul Deluxe. It turns out Pete was able to repair most of his smashed guitars. He specifically avoided damaging the necks, which allowed for a relatively easy fix of the broken bodies.
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, born Saul Hudson, is another musician with a unique style. He’s considered one of the greatest guitar players in music history. Slash is in excellent company with some of the other guitarists on this list.
Slash’s guitar riffs on Guns N’ Roses songs like Sweet Child O’ Mine and Welcome to the Jungle are legendary. Even if you aren’t a fan of the band, you can’t deny their talent and place in rock music.
After Guns N ‘ Roses ended, Slash formed two other bands, Snakepit and Velvet Revolver. But he’s also known for his session work with artists like Michael Jackson and Lenny Kravitz. Additionally, in 2003, he performed on The Yardbirds’ comeback album Birdland.
Gibson Les Pauls are among Slash’s favorites in his collection of over 100 guitars. In an interview with Gibson, he says the Les Paul is “the best all-around guitar for me.”
Slash collaborated with Gibson to create 17 signature Les Paul models. Gibson credited Slash and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde for bringing Les Paul guitars back into the mainstream in the late 80s.
Which Gibson Les Paul Guitarist Is Your Favorite?
While this list is far from complete, these seven rockers helped make Gibson Les Paul guitars famous through their music. If you’re not that familiar with these instruments’ tones and overall sound, listen to some of these musicians.
Did we forget to mention your favorite Les Paul guitarist? Tell us in the comments who we missed.