In 1950, the ancestors of Fender Telecaster (Fender Esquire and Fender Broadcaster) were introduced to the musical market and solid-body electric guitars became a public craze. In reaction to market demand, Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty brought guitarist Les Paul into the company as a consultant.
Les Paul was a respected innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years. He had hand-built a solid-body prototype nicknamed “The Log.” “The Log” was given its name from the pine block running through the middle of the guitar whose width and depth are a little more than the width of the fretboard; conventional hollow guitar sides or “wings” were added for shape.
In 1951, McCarty and his team at Gibson began work on what would eventually become the Les Paul Model. The new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument in accordance with Gibson’s reputation at the time, and distinct from growing rival guitar manufacturer Fender’s models.
McCarty approached Les Paul for the right to imprint the musician’s name on the headstock with the intention of increasing sales. McCarty stated that design discussions with Les Paul were limited to the tailpiece and the fitting of a maple cap over the mahogany body for increased density and sustain, which Les Paul had requested reversed. However, this reversal would have caused the guitar to become too heavy. Paul states that the original Custom should have had the maple cap and the Goldtop was to be all mahogany. The Custom did not appear on the market for another two years following the introduction of the Goldtop.
Les Paul’s contributions to the guitar line bearing his name were more than cosmetic; for example, Paul specified that the guitar be offered in a gold finish, not only for flashiness, but to emphasize the high quality of the Gibson Les Paul instrument. Later Les Paul models included flame maple (tiger stripe) and “quilted” maple tops, again in contrast to the competing Fender line’s range of car-like custom color finishes.
The guitar made its public debut when Paul used it onstage in June 1952 at the Paramount theatre in New York.