Les Paul’s Les Paul That Sounded Nothing Like A Les Paul

By Ryan Gabrinetti, Burbank Shop Manager

Conventional logic would lead you to believe that if a guitarist had a signature instrument in production, they might be at least somewhat content with the design. For Les Paul, namesake of arguably the most iconic solidbody instrument of the 20th century, the original production run of Gibson models worshipped by millions of gearheads never quite measured up to his expectations. A perpetual tinkerer and recording innovator, Les was always chasing tone by modification, and in 1971, Gibson finally allowed the opportunity to give his namesake instrument the proper “Les” treatment. 

A smorgasbord of tonal options — anyone know what “Decade” does?

The Gibson Les Paul Recording model utilized a wide array of features concocted by Les on his personal test bed guitars like tone presets, phase switching, passive bass and treble controls, an eleven position “Decade” circuit to tame highs, and most prominently, a set of “low impedance” humbucking pickups. Les preferred to plug his guitar direct into the recording console in the studio and found that low impedance electronics preserved a wider range of sonics with lower noise for his style of speedy clean high-fidelity licks. Since he needed his guitars to be friendly to the stage as much as the studio, a small transformer can be introduced to step up the circuit for use with conventional amplifiers. Speaking on his years-long preference for the model, Mr. Paul said: “That particular guitar is the type of guitar that gives me the sound that I want without any equalization and all the problems you have with all the other guitars with all the voodoo stuff on them. I don’t have any of that. I just go right into the port and do my thing and we just make the album. There’s no equalization at all. Nothing.” 

Birds of a feather — Gibson Les Paul Recording and sister Les Paul Triumph Bass.

Though many of the Recording’s features were unprecedented in production guitar design, the average guitar buyer of the mid 70s did not share his enthusiasm. In an era where high gain and distortion became the defining sound, a low impedance Les Paul with complex electronics did not look or sound anything like the 50s PAF-clad “Bursts” rocking stages across the world. Production numbers were fairly low over the decade and the model was discontinued in 1979.

Perhaps the Les Paul Recording was just a little ahead of its time, because the instrument has clear and promising applications for music-making in the 21st century. Sitting down with a 1974 example, its comfortable all-mahogany construction serves up a variety of warm tones with low noise and pairs just as well with an Apollo Twin and Pro Tools as an old Studer console. Les originally intended his guitars to be versatile tools for working guitarists on stage and in the studio, and the Recording more than delivers on that promise. This rare bird would be a formidable flavor in any modern studio or performance arsenal and is sure to break both your audience and producer’s expectations. 

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