WATCH: Vintage Video of Les Paul Playing Early Versions of his Gibson Signature Guitars
If you're from southwest Michigan, you know all about the Gibson Guitar Factory in Kalamazoo. The number of rock stars that must have walked through those doors over the years to see their signature guitars being made had to have been amazing.
But one rises above the rest as the innovator of the signature guitar, and very easily one of the most popular, and coveted guitars in all of history - Mr. Les Paul himself.
In the 1950s, Fender was introducing their first signature guitars into the market. The Esquire and Broadcaster, early predecessors to the Telecaster and Stratocaster. Gibson wanted in on the public craze, and solicited the aid of guitar legend Les Paul.
Paul was an innovator who had been experimenting with guitar tone and design for years, and Gibson president Ted McCarty had the means to help Les bring his dreams to life.
So Gibson designers and engineers got to work with Les to develop the ultimate guitar, based off a hand-made prototype that Les had nicknamed "The Log," after the single pine block running through the middle of the guitar.
(Fast forward to 4:03 in the video below to see when Les debuted "The Log.")
In the mid 1940s, Gibson initially rejected Les' design based on the Log, but would eventually come up with the most legendary guitar in history. Early models were prototyped in the early 1950s, and finally, in 1952, the first Gibson Les Pauls were rolled off the line.
The new guitars were designed to be expensive, but well-made instruments in accordance with Gibson's reputation at the time, and distinct from Fender's model.
Footage from Les Paul's premiere of the Gibson Les Paul on stage in June of 1952 at the Paramount Theatre in New York is difficult to find, but as the line rolled on, Les Paul made videos to show exactly how amazing the guitar was, and how great it sounded.
This first video below is from 1953 of Les and his wife, Mary Ford, on the "Home Show," which were five minute episodes of the two playing and performing songs in their home. In fact, in this video, you can see Les working on "The Log," before picking up the Gibson Les Paul and playing "Alabamy Bound" and "Darktown Strutters Ball."
(How 'bout those retro commercials, right? LOL)
Les and Mary would do a few of these episodes in the early 50s, but one of their rarest appearances was on TV, when the two played and performed together. In the 1950s, most performances for Television were lip-synched.
But you just can't duplicate the ad-libbed beauty of a Les Paul and Mary Ford performance.. especially one where he toys with Mary a bit while playing, and even recovers after breaking his E String... just watch.
And CHECK OUT those beautiful 1952 Gibson Les Paul guitars!