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The Gibson Les Paul is a solid body electric guitar that was first sold by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1952. The Les Paul was designed by Gibson president Ted McCarty, factory manager John Huis and their team, along with guitarist/inventor Les Paul.
The Les Paul was originally offered with a gold finish and two P-90 pickups. In 1957, humbucking pickups were added, along with sunburst finishes in 1958. The sunburst 1958–1960 Les Paul – today one of the best-known electric guitar types in the world – was considered a failure, with low production and sales. For 1961, the Les Paul was redesigned into what is now known as the Gibson SG. This design continued as a separate guitar when the traditional single cutaway, carved top bodystyle was re-introduced in 1968. The Les Paul has been continually produced in countless versions and editions since. Along with Fender's Telecaster and Stratocaster, it was one of the first mass-produced electric solid-body guitars. Les Pauls have been used in many genres, including rock, country, pop, soul, rhythm and blues, blues, jazz, reggae, punk, and heavy metal.Les Paul and "Clunker" (1947) ES-150 (1936)
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 hand-built a solid-body prototype called "The Log", often suggested as the first solid-body Spanish guitar ever built. "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. Although numerous other prototypes and limited-production solid-body models by other makers have since surfaced, it is known that in 1945–1946, Les Paul had approached Gibson with "The Log" prototype, but his solid body design was rejected.
In 1951, Paul, McCarty, and his team at the Gibson Guitar Corporation began work on what would eventually become the Les Paul Model. Early prototypes are very similar to the final version. The new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument in accordance with Gibson's reputation at the time. Although recollections differ regarding who contributed what to the Les Paul design, it was far from a replica of rival guitar manufacturer Fender's models.Les Paul logo on headstock
Additionally, Gibson's president Ted McCarty stated that the Gibson Guitar Corporation approached Les Paul for the right to imprint the musician's name on the headstock with the intention of increasing sales; in 1951, Gibson presented Paul a nearly finished instrument for approval. Subsequently, McCarty claimed 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, and Paul's request was refused. 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; it is possible that Gibson had planned a full model range of guitars (with a roll-out over the course of several years) at the time when initial specifications were being set. Les Paul's contributions to the guitar line bearing his name were more than cosmetic, but certainly included them. 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. The later-issue 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 1952 Les Pauls featured two P-90 single coil pickups, and a one-piece, 'trapeze'-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under (instead of over) a steel stop-bar.[note 4]
The guitar made its public debut when Paul used it onstage in June, 1952, at the Paramount theatre in New York. On July 24, 1952, at a special musicians clinic at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, it was previewed by prominent guitarists such as Tiger Haynes, George Barnes, Mundell Lowe, Tony Mottola, and Billy Mure. The clinic preceded the annual NAMM Show held at the New Yorker hotel starting July 27, where the guitar was first received by the general public at Gibson's exhibit in rooms 611 through 615."Patent Applied For" (PAF) pickups on a Les Paul Standard Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
A second Les Paul model was introduced in 1953. Called the Les Paul Custom, this black guitar with gold-plated hardware was dubbed the "Black Beauty". Various bridge and tailpiece designs were added in 1953 and 1954, including the popular Tune-o-matic bridge. The Goldtop and Custom models continued without significant changes until 1957. In 1957, P-90 pickups were no longer offered on Les Pauls. New humbucker pickups designed by Seth Lover in 1955 (U.S. Patent 2,896,491) debuted on Les Pauls in 1957. This innovation in pickups became the flagship pickup design most associated with Gibson. Many other guitar companies followed suit, outfitting their electrics with versions of the humbucking pickup.1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue Peter Green (1970) Jeff Beck (1968)
In 1958, the Les Paul saw its first major design change. A new model, called the Standard, retained most features of the 1957 Goldtop. However, Standards featured a cherry-red sunburst finish. These guitars were priced higher than the Goldtop models, but lower than the Customs. At this time, Gibson instruments were marketed toward an older, jazz-oriented audience rather than young burgeoning guitarists. As a result, over the three-year period of production, only c. 1,700 Standards were made.
These Les Pauls were considered to be too heavy and old-fashioned, and they initially did not find favor amongst guitarists. In 1961, Gibson stopped producing the traditional Les Paul in favor of a lighter redesign which was later called the SG. The mid-1960s, however, brought a resurgence of interest in the Les Paul Standard. In 1964, The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards began using a sunburst, 1959 Les Paul Standard – becoming the first "star-guitarist" to play a Les Paul on the British scene. The guitar, outfitted with a Bigsby tailpiece, served as one of the guitarist's prominent instruments and provided the first impetus to the use of Les Pauls during the British blues boom. In 1965, Eric Clapton began using Les Pauls because of the influence of Freddie King and Hubert Sumlin, and played a 1960 Standard on the groundbreaking album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. In America, Mike Bloomfield began using a 1954 Les Paul goldtop while touring with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and recorded most of his work on the band's East-West album with that guitar. A year later, he traded it for a 1959 Standard with which he became most identified. By 1967, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was using mid-1950's, P-90 pickup-equipped goldtops or black custom models, which he used through 1968. Concurrently, artists such as Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff, and Jimmy Page began using sunburst Les Paul Standards in the late 1960s. Responding to this influence and increased pressure from the public, Gibson reintroduced Les' single-cutaway guitar in July 1968, and the guitar remains in production today.
1969 Standard (refinished) 1974 Custom Sunburst
In 1969, Gibson's parent company (Chicago Musical Instruments) was taken over by the conglomerate ECL. Gibson remained under the control of CMI until 1974 when it became a subsidiary of Norlin Musical Instruments.The pancake-like layers, seen on the edge of cross-banding, multi-piece body in Norlin Era
These ownership changes, often called the "Norlin Era", caused Gibson products of the time to decline in quality. Les Paul designs were altered and a reinforced upper neck volute to decrease headstock breaks was added. Neck woods were changed from one-piece mahogany to a three-piece maple design. The body was also changed from one-piece mahogany with a maple top to multiple slabs of mahogany with multiple pieced maple tops. This is referred to as "multipiece" construction, and sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "pancake" body. The expression "pancake body" actually refers to a body made of a thin layer of maple sandwiched between two slabs of mahogany, with a maple cap. The grain of the maple was placed at 90 degrees to that of the mahogany. The "pancake"-like layers are clearly visible when looking at the edge of the guitar. This process is also known as "crossbanding", and was done to make use of less expensive and more readily available thinner mahogany. Crossbanding was phased out by 1977.
In this era, Gibson began experimenting with new models, such as the Les Paul Recording. This guitar was generally unpopular with guitarists because of its complex electronics. Less noticeable changes included, but were not limited to, optional maple fingerboards (added in 1976), pickup cavity shielding, and the crossover of the ABR1 Tune-o-matic bridge into the wide "Nashville" bridge. During the 1970s, the Les Paul body shape was incorporated into other Gibson models, including the S-1, the Sonex, the L6-S, and other models that did not follow the classic Les Paul layout.Gibson Les Paul Custom Florentine
In January 1986, Gibson again changed ownership and began manufacturing a range of varied Les Paul models. The 1980s also saw the end to several design characteristics, including the volute and maple neck. However, because of consumer demand, the Gibson Les Paul guitar is available today in a wide array of choices, ranging from guitars equipped with modern digital electronics to classic re-issue models built to match the look and specifications of the guitar's earliest production runs from 1952 to 1960.
In 1986, to respond to the high demand for vintage models, Gibson formed a "Custom Shop" division. Originally, the Shop began producing accurate reproductions of early Les Pauls as well as one-off orders. Today, the Custom Shop produces numerous limited-run "historic-spec" models, as well as signature artist models. The first Custom Shop artist guitar was the 1996 Joe Perry Les Paul.
The post-1954 Les Paul guitar line included two models: the Standard (nicknamed the Goldtop), and the Custom (which offered gold hardware and a more formal black finish). However, advancements in pickup, body, and hardware designs allowed the Les Paul to become a long-term series of electric solid-body guitars that targeted multiple price-points and market levels.1952–53 Goldtop with trapeze bridge[note 5] 1953–55 Goldtop with stopbar bridge 1955–57 Goldtop with Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece 1957–58 Goldtop with PAF pickups
Goldtops, the first Les Paul model, were produced from 1952–1957. Early 1952 Les Pauls were not issued serial numbers, did not have bound fingerboards, and are considered by some as "LP Model prototypes". However, later 1952 Les Pauls were issued serial numbers and also came with bound fingerboards. Interestingly, the design scheme of some of these early models varied. For instance, some early Les Pauls were fitted with black covered P90 pickups instead of the cream-colored plastic covers that are associated with this guitar. The weight and the tonal characteristics of the Goldtop Les Paul were largely due to the mahogany and maple construction.
In 1953, the trapeze tailpiece was dropped, and a new stopbar design was added. This design combined a pre-intonated bridge and tailpiece with two studs just behind the bridge pickup. This increased the sustain of the Goldtop noticeably; however, the intonation and string height adjustability were limited. A new design, the Tune-o-matic, replaced the stopbar in 1955. It consisted of a separate bridge and tailpiece attached directly to the top of the guitar, combining an easily adjustable bridge with a sustain-carrying tailpiece. This design has been used on most Les Pauls ever since. The tuners were produced by Kluson.1954 Custom with P90 pickups. 1960 Custom reissue with PAF pickups. Main article: Gibson Les Paul Custom
The Les Paul Custom features gold hardware, multilayer binding including the headstock, ebony fingerboard, real mother-of-pearl inlays and two or three-pickup layout. 1950s Customs were all-mahogany, rather than the mahogany-with-maple-cap of the Goldtop. The original Customs were fitted with a P-90 pickup in the bridge position and an Alnico V "staple" pickup in the neck. In 1957, the Custom was fitted with Gibson's new PAF humbucker pickups, and later became available with three pickups instead of the usual two. The traditional Les Paul Custom was discontinued in 1961 and its name transferred to the custom version of the then-new Gibson SG.
In 1968, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul Custom as a two-pickup-only model. The headstock angle was changed from 17 degrees to 14, and a wider headstock and a maple top (in lieu of the original 1953-1961 mahogany top construction) were added. White and two sunburst finish options were added to the color palette in 1974. Also new in 1974 was the optional TP-6 fine-tuner tailpiece, allowing for micro-adjustment of string tuning from the bridge. The mahogany neck was replaced with a three-piece maple neck in 1975 (though mahogany still saw limited use) with this change lasting till around 1982. Popular colors, such as wine red and "silverburst," were added in the 1970s and '80s. Gibson currently produces several Custom models with various finishes and pickups.See also: Flame maple § Gibson Les Paul Standard Paul McCartney playing a 1960 left-handed cherryburst Les Paul Gibson Custom 50th Anniversary 1959 Les Paul Standard (2009)
In 1958, new Standard model retained most specifications of the 1957 Goldtop, including PAF humbucker pickups, a maple top, and a tune-o-matic bridge with a stop tailpiece or Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. The gold color used since 1952 was replaced by a cherry-red version of the Sunburst finish long used on Gibson's flat-top and archtop acoustic and hollow electric guitars. Since the maple cap was now visible, tops were made either with a solid "plaintop" piece of maple or two bookmatched pieces of figured (curly or quilted) maple. To differentiate from the earlier Goldtop model, the new Les Paul was referred to as The Les Paul Standard. Specifications during 1958–60 varied from year to year and also from guitar to guitar. Typical 1958 Les Paul Standard necks had a thicker neck, thinner frets and lower fret height, which changed during the course of 1959 to develop into typical 1960 necks with a thinner cross-section and wider, higher frets.[note 6][note 7] The cherry dye used on the 1958–59 models faded rapidly from ultraviolet light exposure, so in early 1960 Gibson switched to a new, fade-resistant formulation which was also less translucent and slightly more orange; this is sometimes called the "tomato soup burst." Original production of the Standards lasted from 1958 to early 1961. Only about 1,700 of these early models were made and have subsequently become highly valuable.[note 7]
Production ended when, in 1961, Gibson redesigned the Les Paul to feature a "double cutaway" body, which has subsequently become the Gibson SG. Because of high demand, Gibson resumed production of Les Paul Standards in 1968.Main article: Gibson Les Paul Junior 1958 Junior 1959 TV reissue
(Junior DC in TV Yellow)
In 1954, the Les Paul Junior debuted, targeted the beginning or student guitarist. The Junior is characterized by its flat-top "slab" mahogany body, finished in sunburst. It had a single P-90 pickup, simple volume and tone controls, an unbound rosewood fingerboard with plain dot-shape position markers, and a combination bridge/tailpiece unit similar to the Goldtop.
In 1955, Gibson launched the Les Paul TV model, which was identical to the Junior except for the name and a fashionable contemporary "limed oak" style finish, later more accurately named "limed mahogany". This natural wood finish with white grain filler often aged into a natural wood or dull yellow appearance, and eventually evolved into the opaque mustard yellow, popularly called "TV yellow". The model was not, as a popular myth says, to avoid glare from old TV cameras, but a modern look and a name to promote "The Les Paul & Mary Ford Show" then on television.
Gibson made a radical design change to their Junior and TV models in 1958: to accommodate player requests for more access to the top frets than the previous designs allowed, these electric guitar models were revamped with a new double-cutaway body shape. In addition, Juniors were now available with a cherry red finish, while the re-shaped TV adopted a more yellow-tinged finish.1956 Les Paul Special Singlecut in TV Yellow 1960 SG Special (Les Paul Special Doublecut) Recent Les Paul Special Faded Main articles: Gibson Les Paul Special and Gibson Les Paul Doublecut
The Les Paul Special was released in 1955, featuring a slab body, two soapbar P-90 single coil pickups, and was finished in a color similar to TV Yellow (but not called a TV model).
In 1959, the Special was given the same new double-cutaway body shape as the Junior and the TV received in 1958. Around this time, Les Paul decided to discontinue his affiliation with Gibson; the model was renamed "SG Special" in late 1959. However, when the new design was applied to the two-pickup Special, the cavity for the neck pickup overlapped the neck-to-body joint. This weakened the joint to the point that the neck could break after only moderate handling. The problem was soon resolved when Gibson designers moved the neck pickup farther down the body, producing a stronger joint and eliminating the breakage problem.Gibson The Paul See also: Gibson The Paul
A single sharp cutaway Les Paul-style walnut body, set walnut neck, 22-fret ebony fingerboard with pearl dot inlays, walnut headstock overlay with gold Gibson logo (1978-1981) or Gibson logo branded into the headstock (Firebrand, 1981-1982), three-per-side tuners, tune-o-matic bridge, stop tailpiece, two exposed humbucker pickups, four knobs (two v, two tone), three-way pickup switch, chrome hardware, available in Natural Walnut finish, 24.75 in. scale, 1.6875 in. nut width, mfg. 1978-1982. It included such high end items as the Grover tuning keys and the Tune-O-Matic bridge. Affectionately called by some, "The Coffee Table Burst" because of its natural finish.
Main article: Gibson SG 1962 Les Paul Standard (SG Standard)
In 1960, Gibson experienced a decline in electric guitar sales due to strong competition from Fender's comparable but much lighter double-cutaway design, the Stratocaster. In response, Gibson modified the Les Paul line. For 1961, the Les Paul was thinner and much lighter than earlier models, with two sharply pointed cutaways and a vibrato system. However, the redesign was done without Les Paul's knowledge, and he hated the design, so he asked Gibson to remove his name. The single cutaway designed retained the "Les Paul" name until 1963 when Les Paul's endorsement deal with Gibson ended. Without a contract, Gibson could no longer call its guitars "Les Pauls', and it renamed them "SGs" (for "Solid Guitars").1972 Deluxe with mini-humbuckers 1969 Deluxe
The Deluxe was among the "new" 1968 Les Pauls. This model featured "mini-humbuckers", also known as "New York" humbuckers, and did not initially prove popular. The mini-humbucker pickup fit into the pre-carved P-90 pickup cavity using an adaptor ring developed by Gibson in order to use a surplus supply of Epiphone mini-humbuckers. The Deluxe was introduced in late 1968 and helped to standardize production among Gibson's U.S.-built Les Pauls. The first incarnation of the Deluxe featured a one-piece body and slim three-piece neck. The multipiece body (a thin layer of maple on top of two layers of Honduran mahogany) arrived in 1969. In late 1969, a reinforcing neck volute was added. 1969 Deluxes feature the Gibson logo devoid of the dot over the "i" in Gibson. By late 1969/early 1970, the dot over the "i" had returned, plus a "Made In USA" stamp on the back of the headstock. The Deluxe could be specially-ordered with full-size humbucker pickups; such full size versions of the Deluxe were "Standard" spec. By 1975, the neck construction was changed from mahogany to maple, until the early 1980s, when the construction was returned to mahogany. The body changed back to solid mahogany from the pancake design in late 1976 or early 1977. Interest in this particular Les Paul model was so low that in 1985, Gibson canceled it. In 2005, the Deluxe was re-introduced.
In 1978, the Les Paul Pro Deluxe was introduced. This guitar featured P-90 pickups (like the original 1952-1956 LPs) instead of the "mini-humbuckers" of the Deluxe model, an ebony fingerboard, maple neck, mahogany body and chrome hardware. It came in ebony, cherry sunburst, tobacco sunburst or gold finish. It was discontinued in 1983.
The Gibson Dark Fire, a variant of the Gibson Les Paul, was an electric solid body guitar produced by Gibson Guitar Corporation. It was a second generation Robot Guitar, using an updated version of the Powertune self-tuning system produced by Tronical Gmbh. The Dark Fire also introduced Gibson's Chameleon Tone Technology, a system consisting of onboard electronics designed to simulate various guitar tones. Additionally, the guitar included an audio interface called the Robot Interface Pack or RIP.
The Dark Fire had one Burstbucker 3 humbucker in the bridge position, a P-90H at the neck, and a special Tronical-designed piezoelectric tune-o-matic sat in the place of the bridge. The Burstbucker 3 and P-90H were selected via the three-way selector switch. The piezoelectric could be activated via the MCK, blending the magnetic and piezoelectric together under a standard 1/4" guitar cable. Gibson supplied a TRS stereo cable that allowed the piezo signal and the magnetic signal to be split between two different amps.See also: Gibson Les Paul Studio Studio 2001 Studio headstock
The Studio model was introduced in 1983, and is still in production. The guitar is intended for the studio musician; therefore, the design features of the "Les Paul Studio" are centered on optimal sound output and not on flashy appearance. This model retains only the elements of the Gibson Les Paul that contribute to tone and playability, including the carved maple top and standard mechanical and electronic hardware. However, the Studio design omits several stock Gibson ornamentations that do not affect sound quality, including body/neck binding. The first Studios from 1983 to 1986 were made with alder bodies rather than mahogany/maple. The current Studios come with a chambered mahogany body with either a maple or mahogany cap. The entry level Les Paul Studio "faded" has a weight relieved mahogany body and top and a satin finish.
Gibson also offered the Studio in a "standard" model. This variant was adorned with neck and body binding, ebony fretboard and sunburst paint job. All Studios at the time had dot fretboard markers and a thinner body.
Gibson released the ES-Les Paul in 2015. It is a semi-acoustic model with f-holes and two Alnico humbuckers. The neck is mahogany, but the sides and back are laminated maple and poplar. A mahogany block runs throughout the body to increase sustain.Les Paul playing his customized Les Paul Recording guitar
Until his death in August 2009, Les Paul himself played his personal Les Paul Guitar onstage weekly in New York City. Paul preferred his 1971 Gibson "Recording" model guitar, with different electronics and a one-piece mahogany body, and which, as an inveterate tinkerer and inventor, he had modified heavily to his liking over the years. A Bigsby-style vibrato was of late the most visible change although his guitars were formerly fitted with his "Les Paulverizer" effects.Main article: Epiphone Les Paul Les Paul Special II Les Paul Ultra II
The Gibson-owned Epiphone Company makes around 20 models of the Les Paul, most are similar copies of Gibson-made models. Made in places outside the U.S., the Epiphone Les Pauls are made from more commonly available woods using less expensive foreign labor and have less hand detailing than the Gibson models, and, as a result, sell for a lower price. Epiphone Guitar Co. has been owned by Gibson Guitars since the 1950s.
Epiphone also makes several less common models of the Les Paul such as the Les Paul Goth, Les Paul Ultra/Ultra II, Les Paul Prophecy, and Les Paul Tribute Plus.Jimmy Page with a Goldtop Classic Premium, one of his many Les Pauls Main article: Jimmy Page § Signature models
Gibson has produced three Jimmy Page signature models. The first was issued in the mid-1990s. It is based on a stock sunburst Les Paul Standard. In 2005 the Gibson Custom Shop issued a limited run of Jimmy Page Signature guitars based on Jimmy Page's 1959 "No. 1". Several years later, Gibson issued its third Jimmy Page Signature guitar, this one based on Jimmy Page's #2, issued in a production run of 325 guitars.Slash with one of his signatures in 2007
Slash has collaborated with Gibson on eight signature Les Paul models.
The first of these guitars is the Slash "Snakepit" Les Paul Standard, which was introduced by the Gibson Custom Shop in 1996, based on the smoking snake graphic off the cover of Slash's Snakepit's debut album and a mother of pearl snake inlay covering the length of the ebony fretboard. Production was limited to 100.Gibson Slash "Appetite" Les Paul
In 2004, the Gibson Custom Shop introduced the Slash Signature Les Paul Standard, a guitar that Gibson has used ever since as the "standard" non-limited edition Slash Les Paul. In 2008, Gibson USA released the Slash Signature Les Paul Standard, an authentic replica of one of two Les Pauls Slash received from Gibson in 1988. It has an Antique Vintage Sunburst finish over a solid mahogany body with a maple top. Also in 2008, the Gibson Custom Shop introduced the Slash "Inspired By" Les Paul Standard. This guitar is a replica of his 1987 Les Paul Standard.
In 2010, Gibson released the Slash "Appetite" Les Paul Standard as a tribute to Guns N' Roses' debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which resembles the Kris Derrig built 1959 Les Paul replica Slash used for the recording of the album. Production was limited to 400, with 100 aged guitars signed by Slash, and another 300 finished with the Custom Shop's VOS process.Joe Perry playing his signature "Boneyard" Les Paul
Gibson has issued two signature Les Paul guitars for Joe Perry of Aerosmith. The first was developed in 1996 and was customized with an active mid-boost control, black chrome hardware, and a translucent black finish. It was replaced in 2004 by a second, more visually distinctive Les Paul, the "Boneyard" Les Paul. This guitar is characterized by Perry's custom "Boneyard" logo on the headstock and a figured maple top with a green tiger finish, and is available with either a stopbar tailpiece or a Bigsby tailpiece.Gary Moore Les Paul
Gary Moore created his own signature Les Paul in the early 2000s, characterised by a yellow flame top, no binding and signature truss rod cover. It featured two open-topped humbucker pickups, one with "zebra coils" (one white and one black bobbin). In 2009, Gibson released another Gary Moore signature guitar, the Gibson Gary Moore BFG Les Paul. The Gary Moore BFG is much like their previous Les Paul BFG series, with the added styling of Moore's various 1950s Les Paul Standards.Peter Frampton '54 Custom
A replica of the three-pickup "Black Beauty" Les Paul Custom used by Peter Frampton as his main guitar from his days in Humble Pie through his early solo career was introduced through the Gibson Custom Shop in 2012. Frampton's original guitar was a 1954 Les Paul modified extensively. His famous guitar was presumed lost in a South American plane crash in 1980, but was returned to Frampton in 2011.
Gibson used hundreds of photographs of the late blues guitarist's instrument to produce the limited-edition Bloomfield signature. The company produced one hundred Bloomfield models with custom-aged finishes and two hundred more with the company's VOS finishing in 2009. They reproduced the tailpiece crack on the aged version, plus the mismatched volume and tone control knobs and the "Les Paul"-engraved truss rod cover on both versions, while including a toggle switch cover. The headstock was characterized by the kidney-shaped Grover tuning keys installed on the guitar before Bloomfield traded for it.Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend with his modified Les Paul Deluxe
In 2005, Gibson issued three Pete Townshend signature edition Les Paul Deluxe guitars, based on Townshend's heavily customised "#1" Wine Red 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, "#3" Gold top 1976, and "#9" Cherry Sunburst 1976. These guitars were modified by Alan Rogan and used extensively on stage and in the studio with The Who. In addition to the two mini-humbuckers the guitar carried, Rogan modified Townshend's originals with a DiMarzio humbucker in the middle. Toggle switches located behind the guitar's tailpiece turned the pickup on and off and added volume boost. The control knobs were wired for volume, one for each pickup and a master volume. The reissues differed from Townshend's originals in that the reissues had an inlay at the first fret while the originals did not.Ace Frehley
with his 3-pickup Les Paul Custom Billy Gibbons
with a Les Paul Goldtop
The Ace Frehley (KISS) signature model (released in 1997 and re-released in 2012) has three double-white DiMarzio pickups, a cherry sunburst finish (AAAA), a color image of Frehley's face in his Kiss make-up on the headstock, mother-of-pearl lightning bolt inlays, and Ace's simulated signature on the 12th fret. A Custom Shop run of only 300 guitars were built with DiMarzio PAF, Super Distortion, and Dual Sound pickups. The production run model was only built with DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. This was one of Gibson's best selling artist runs. The more recent 2012 "Budokan" model, intended to pay tribute to the guitar used during the KISS' first trip to Japan in 1977, features mother-of-pearl block inlays (no signature at the 12th fret), Grover machine heads with pearloid banjo buttons, and a grade A maple top.
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has a signature model and pick-up based on his famous "Pearly Gates" 1959 Les Paul Standard.Eric Clapton playing a Les Paul in 1987, on the right of George Harrison
Clapton played a 1960 Standard as a member of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers as well as in the early days of Cream. The guitar was said to have been stolen while Clapton was preparing for the first Cream tour in 1966, following the recording of Fresh Cream, and was long considered an iconic instrument by Clapton's fans. Gibson announced production of the Clapton 1960 Standard, also nicknamed the "Beano Burst", in 2010. Gibson says the instrument "accurately represents what Eric Clapton personally feels his 1960 Les Paul should be", with Clapton consulting on the design of the guitar. Production is limited but all feature period-correct hardware, two Gibson reproduction PAF humbucking pickups, and subtly figured "antiquity burst" maple tops.
Paul Kossoff, of Free and Back Street Crawler, favored a 1959 Les Paul Standard. In 2011–12, Gibson's Custom Shop made a reproduction of Kossoff's Standard, featuring a so-called "green-lemon" flametop, two-piece carved maple top, mahogany body and neck, Custom Bucker humbucking pickups and kidney-bean shaped Grover tuners similar to those Kossoff had installed on the instrument. 100 Kossoff models were made to resemble the guitar at the time of Kossoff's death in 1976, with another 250 in a VOS finish.Main article: List of Gibson players
Although early Les Paul imitations in the 1960s and 1970s, such as those made by Höfner, Hagström, Harmony Company, and Greco differed from Gibson's designs, with different electronics and even bolt-on necks, in the late 1970s some Japanese companies came very close to perfecting copies of the original 1958-1960 Standards.
A lawsuit was brought by the Norlin Corporation (the parent company of Gibson) in 1977, against Elger/Hoshino U.S.A. (manufacturer and distributor, respectively, of Ibanez) over use a headstock shape and logo, both considered similar to the Gibson designs. However, the suit was based on an Ibanez headstock design that had been discontinued by 1976. The case was officially closed on February 2, 1978. Those mid-1970s guitars later became known as "lawsuit era" guitars.
ESP Guitars makes several guitars based on the Les Paul design. The Edwards and Navigator lines are made in Japan in the vein of the late 1970s and 1980s guitars from Tokai, Burny, and Greco, complete with Gibson style headstocks.
Heritage Guitars, founded in 1985 by four long-time Gibson employees when Gibson relocated to Nashville, continues to build guitars at the original factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Many of their models are inspired by Gibson's late-1950s/early-1960s sunbursts and Customs.
In 2006, Gibson lost a lawsuit against PRS Guitars, Gibson claiming PRS was infringing on the Les Paul shape and design. The court's decision allowed PRS to reintroduce single cutaway versions of its instruments.
In 2008, Gibson lost the trademark for the Les Paul in Finland. According to the court, "Les Paul" has become a common noun for guitars of a certain type. The lawsuit began when Gibson sued Musamaailma, which produces Tokai guitars, for trademark violation. However, several witnesses testified that the term "Les Paul" denotes character in a guitar rather than a particular guitar model. The court also found it aggravating that Gibson had used Les Paul in the plural form and that the importer of Gibson guitars had used Les Paul as a common noun. The court decision will become effective, as Gibson is not going to appeal.
- ^ Original "The Log" was exhibited at Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville. A replica of "The Log" (loaned from Les Paul Foundation) have been exhibited on "Les Paul Experience" permanent exhibition at Waukesha County Museum.
- ^ This Les Paul prototype was refinished in cherry sunburst from original goldtop, pickups are replaced with his lo-impedance type, and also Bigsby vibrato tailpiece is installed. This guitar have been exhibited on "Les Paul Experience" permanent exhibition at Waukesha County Museum.
- ^ This Les Paul prototype (white) has an appearance similar to the later Les Paul Personal model because its pickups were replaced by the low-impedance type, however, the existence of trapezoid-type bridge/tailpiece imply that it is early Les Paul.
- ^ In the summer of 1952, Gibson Les Paul Goldtop was priced at US$209.
- ^ This guitar (1953 Goldtop exhibited at FUZZ Guitar Show 2008) was used by Carl Perkins on many of his early "Sun Records" Recordings
- ^ "10 Most Valuable Guitars", Vintage Guitar (2010) , mentioned on:Paul Schille (Dec 17, 2010), Vintage Guitar Releases List of 10 Most Valuable Guitars, TheGiggingMusician.com
- ^ a b Greenwood, Alan; Gil Hembree (April 2011). "25 Most Valuable Guitars". Vintage Guitar. pp. 38–40.
The 1958–60 Standard is one of the highest priced vintage guitar models on the market, ranked at # on the 2011 Top 25 published by Vintage Guitar, and worth between $225,000 and $375,000.
Acoustic-electric guitarMesa-Boogie "Mark IV", a guitar combo amplifier
A guitar amplifier (or guitar amp) is an electronic amplifier that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a pickup on an electric guitar, bass guitar, or acoustic guitar so that it can produce sound through one or more loudspeakers, which are typically housed in a wooden cabinet. A guitar amplifier may be a standalone wood or metal cabinet that contains only the power amplifier (and preamplifier) circuits, requiring the use of a separate speaker cabinet–or it may be a "combo" amplifier, which contains both the amplifier and one or more speakers in a wooden cabinet. There is a wide range of sizes and power ratings for guitar amplifiers, from small, lightweight "practice amplifiers" with a single 8" speaker to heavy combo amps with four 10" speakers and a powerful amplifier, which are loud enough to use in a nightclub or bar performance.
Guitar amplifiers can also modify the instrument's tone by emphasizing or de-emphasizing certain frequencies, using equalizer controls, which function the same way as the bass and treble knobs on a home hi-fi stereo, and by adding electronic effects; distortion (also called "overdrive") and reverb are commonly available as built-in features. The input of modern guitar amplifiers is a 1/4" jack, which is fed a signal from an electro-magnetic pickup (from an electric guitar) or a piezoelectric pickup (usually from an acoustic guitar) using a patch cord, or a wireless transmitter. For electric guitar players, their choice of guitar amp and the settings they use on the amplifier are a key part of their signature tone or sound. Some guitar players are longtime users of a specific amp brand or model. Many electric guitar players use external effects pedals to alter the sound of their tone before the signal reaches the guitar amp, such as the wah wah pedal and the chorus pedal.
This article focuses on electric guitar amps. For information on amps for bass guitar, a lower-pitched, similar instrument, see the article on bass amps.A Fender Bassman amp head with a 15" speaker cabinet.
Typically, guitar amplifiers have two amplifying circuit stages and in addition frequently have tone-shaping electric circuits, which usually include at least bass and treble controls, which function similarly to the equivalent controls on a home hi-fi system. More expensive amplifiers typically have more controls for other frequency ranges, such as one or two "midrange" controls and a "presence" control for very high frequencies. Some guitar amplifiers have a graphic equalizer, which uses vertical fader controls which can control many frequency bands. The first amplifier stage is a preamplifier stage (there may be more than one), which amplifies the guitar signal to a level that can drive the power stage. The power amplifier or output stage produces a high current signal to drive a loudspeaker to produce sound that the guitarist and audience can hear.
There may be one or more tone stages that affect the character of the guitar signal:
Tone stages may also provide electronic effects—such as equalization, compression, distortion, chorus, or reverb. Amplifiers may use vacuum tubes (called valves in Britain), solid-state (transistor) devices, or both.
There are two configurations of guitar amplifiers: combination ("combo") amplifiers, which include an amplifier and one or more speakers in a wooden cabinet, and the standalone amplifier (often called a "head" or "amp head"), which does not include a speaker, but passes the amplified signal via a speaker cable to one or more external speaker cabinets. A wide range of speaker configurations are available in guitar cabinets, ranging from cabinets with a single speaker (e.g., 1×10" or 1×12") or multiple speakers (e.g., 2×10", 4×10" or 8x10"). Guitar amplifiers have a wide range in price and quality. Music equipment companies import small, low-powered practice amplifiers for students and beginners that sell for less than $50 USD. Other companies produce expensive custom-made amplifiers for professional musicians, which can cost thousands of dollars. Most combo amplifiers have a carrying handle, and many combo amplifiers and cabinets have metal or plastic-reinforced corners to protect the amp during transportation.
Control knobs are typically mounted on the front of the cabinet or chassis, though in some cases, the knobs are on a recessed panel at the back of the top of the amplifier. The most basic amps only have a few knobs, which typically control volume, bass and treble. More expensive amps may have a number of knobs that control pre-amp volume (or "gain"), distortion or overdrive, volume, bass, mid and treble, and reverb. Some older amps (and their re-issued versions) have a knob that controls a vibrato effect. The 1/4" input jack is typically mounted on the front of the amplifier. In the simplest, least expensive amplifiers, this 1/4" jack is the only jack on the amplifier. More expensive amplifiers may have a patch bay for multiple inputs and outputs, such as a pre-amp out (for sending to another guitar amplifier), an in jack to create an effects loop (when used with the pre-amp out jack), an external speaker output (for powering an additional speaker cabinet), and stereo RCA jacks or an 1/8" jack, for connecting a CD player or MP3 player so that a player can practice along with recorded music. Some amps have a 1/4" jack for connecting a pedal to turn the amp's onboard overdrive and reverb on and off or to switch between channels. The vast majority of guitar amps can only be powered by AC mains power (plugging into a wall outlet); however, a small number of practice amps designed for buskers also have battery power, enabling them to be used for street performances.A 1940s-era Valvo combo amp. Fender Deluxe 1953
In the 1920s, it was very hard for a musician playing a pickup-equipped guitar to find an amplifier and speaker to make their instrument louder as the only speakers that could be bought were "radio horns of limited frequency range and low acoustic output". The cone speaker, widely used in 2000s-era amp cabinets, was not offered for sale until 1925. The first amplifiers and speakers could only be powered with large batteries, which made them heavy and hard to carry around. When engineers developed the first AC mains-powered amplifiers, they were soon used to make musical instruments louder. Engineers invented the first loud, powerful amplifier and speaker systems for public address systems and movie theaters. These large PA systems and movie theatre sound systems were very large and very expensive, and so they could not be used by most touring musicians. After 1927, smaller, portable AC mains-powered PA systems that could be plugged into a regular wall socket "quickly became popular with musicians"; indeed, "...Leon McAuliffe (with Bob Wills) still used a carbon mic and a portable PA as late as 1935." During the late 1920s to mid-1930s, small portable PA systems and guitar combo amplifiers were fairly similar. These early amps had a "single volume control and one or two input jacks, field coil speakers" and thin wooden cabinets; remarkably, these early amps did not have tone controls or even an on-off switch.
In 1928, the Stromberg-Voisinet firm was the first company to sell an electric stringed instrument and amplifier package. However, musicians found that the amps had an "unsatisfactory tone and volume, [and] dependability problems", so the product did not sell well. Even though the Stromberg-Voisinet amp did not sell well, it still launched a new idea: a portable electric instrument amp with a speaker, all in an easily transported wooden cabinet. In 1929, Vega electrics launched a portable banjo amplifier. In 1932, Electro String Instruments and amplifier (this is not the same company asStromberg Electro Instruments) introduced a guitar amp with "high output" and a "string driven magnetic pickup". Electro set out the standard template for combo amps: a wooden cabinet with the electronic amplifier mounted inside, and a convenient carrying handle to facilitate transporting the cabinet. 1n 1933, Vivi-Tone amp set-ups were used for live performances and radio shows. In 1934, Rickenbacker launched a similar combo amp which added the feature of metal corner protectors, which keep the corners in good condition during transportation.
In 1933, Dobro released an electric guitar and amp package. The combo amp had "two 8″ Lansing speakers and a five-tube chassis. Dobro made a two speaker combo amp that was on the market over 12 years before Fender launched its two-speaker "Dual Professional/Super" combo amp. In 1933, Audio-Vox was founded by Paul Tutmarc, the inventor of the first electric bass (Tutmarc's instrument did not achieve market success until Leo Fender's launched the Precision Bass). In 1933, Vega sold a "pickup and amplifier set" which a musician could use with her/his existing guitar. In that same year, the Los Angeles-based Volu-Tone company also sold a pickup/amplifier set. Volu-Tone used "high voltage current" to sense the string vibration, a potentially dangerous approach that did not become popular. In 1934 Dobro released a guitar amp with a vacuum tube rectifier and two power tubes. By 1935, Dobro and National began selling combo amps for Hawaiian guitar. In 1934, Gibson developed prototype combo amps, but these never got produced and sold. By 1935, Electro/Rickenbacher sold "more amps and electric guitars than all the amps and electrified/electric guitars made from ’28 through the end of ’34, combined."
The first electric instrument amplifiers were not designed for use with electric guitars. The earliest examples were portable PA systems, which appeared in the early 1930s when the introduction of electrolytic capacitors and rectifier tubes allowed the production of economical built-in power supplies that could be plugged into wall sockets, instead of heavy multiple battery packs, since rechargeable batteries would not become lightweight until many decades later. While guitar amplifiers from the beginning were used to amplify acoustic guitar, electronic amplification of guitar was first widely popularized by the 1930s and 1940s craze for Hawaiian music, which extensively employed the amplified lap steel Hawaiian guitar.
In the 1920s, the earliest combo amplifiers did not have any tone controls. Tone controls on early guitar amplifiers were very simple and provided a great deal of treble boost, but the limited controls, the loudspeakers used, and the low power of the amplifiers (typically 15 watts or less prior to the mid-1950s) gave poor high treble and bass output. Some models also provided effects such as an electronic tremolo unit. Early Fender amps labeled tremolo as "vibrato" and labeled the vibrato arm of the Stratocaster guitar as a "tremolo bar" (see vibrato unit, electric guitar, and tremolo). Some later models included an onboard spring reverb effect, one of the first being the Ampeg Reverberocket amp.Gibson Lancer GA-35 (mid-1960s) guitar amplifier
In the 1950s, several guitarists experimented with distortion produced by deliberately overdriving their amplifiers, including Goree Carter,Joe Hill Louis,Elmore James,Ike Turner,Willie Johnson,Pat Hare,Guitar Slim,Chuck Berry,Johnny Burnette, and Link Wray. In the early 1960s, surf rock guitarist Dick Dale worked closely with Fender to produce custom made amplifiers, including the first 100-watt guitar amplifier. He pushed the limits of electric amplification technology, helping to develop new equipment that was capable of producing "thick, clearly defined tones" at "previously undreamed-of volumes."U2 guitarist The Edge's 1964 Vox AC30 combo amp.
Distortion became more popular from the mid-1960s, when The Kinks guitarist Dave Davies produced distortion effects by connecting the already distorted output of one amplifier into the input of another. Later, most guitar amps were provided with preamplifier distortion controls, and "fuzz boxes" and other effects units were engineered to safely and reliably produce these sounds. In the 2000s, overdrive and distortion has become an integral part of many styles of electric guitar playing, ranging from blues rock to heavy metal and hardcore punk.
Guitar combo amplifiers were at first used with bass guitars and electric pianos, but these instruments produce a wider frequency range and need a full-range speaker system. Much more amplifier power is required to reproduce low-frequency sound, especially at high volume. Reproducing low frequencies also requires a suitable woofer or subwoofer speaker and enclosure. Woofer enclosures must be larger and more sturdily built than cabinets for mid-range or high-frequency (tweeter) speakers. As such, in the 1950s, when Ampeg introduced bass amplifier and speaker systems, these began to be used by bass guitarists. Similarly, Hammond organ players used a specialized keyboard combo amplifier, the Leslie speaker cabinet, which contains a woofer for the low frequencies and a horn for the high frequencies. The Leslie horns rotated and a baffle around the woofer rotated as well, producing a chorus effect.Kustom 200 bass amp – amp head and speakers, 100 watts RMS, two channels, two 15" speakers, 1971
Guitar amplifiers are manufactured in two main forms: a "combo" contains the amplifier and one or more speaker(s) in a single wooden speaker enclosure. A separate configuration is available as well, with a separate amplifier (the "head") on top of one or more cabinets, each of which contains one or more speakers. Another alternative device used for guitar are public address amplifiers. Grunge guitarist Kurt Cobain used four 800 watt PA amplifiers for his early guitar set-up.
Besides one or more instrument inputs (typically a 1/4" jack), other jacks may also be provided, such as an auxiliary input jack (sometimes with its own level control, for a drum machine), "send" and "return" jacks to create an effects loop, an extension speaker jack. Practice amps may have stereo RCA or mini jacks for connecting a CD player, portable media player or other sound source and a 1/4" headphone jack. Some guitar amps have an XLR input so that a microphone can be plugged in for singing. Guitar amps that include a mic input are in effect small, portable PA systems.
A wide range of instrument amplifiers is available at a wide range of price, quality, and performance levels. Some amplifiers are designed for beginners, such as small, low-wattage "practice amplifiers", which typically have a single 8" speaker and about 10 watts, or smaller "combo" amps with relatively low wattage (15 to 20 watts) and a single 10" speaker. Mid- to large-size "combo" amps with 30 to 50 watts and one 12" speaker or four 10" speakers are designed for use in band rehearsals and onstage performances. Some guitar amps are designed for specific instruments or particular genres, such as the Marshall amps, which are widely used in heavy metal music.The glow from four "Electro Harmonix KT88" brand power tubes lights up the inside of a Traynor YBA-200 bass guitar amplifier
Vacuum tubes (called "valves" in British English) were by far the dominant active electronic components in most instrument amplifier applications until the 1970s, when solid-state semiconductors (transistors) started taking over. Transistor amplifiers are less expensive to build and maintain, reduce the weight and heat of an amplifier, and tend to be more reliable and more shock-resistant. Tubes are fragile and they need to be replaced and maintained periodically. As well, serious problems with the tubes can render an amplifier inoperable until the issue is resolved. In the 2000s, high-end tube instrument amplifiers (along with a small number of hi-fi power amplifiers used by audiophiles and high-end studio microphone preamplifiers) survive as the few exceptions, because of their perceived sound quality. Tube enthusiasts believe that tube amps produce a "warmer" sound and a more natural "overdrive" sound. Typically, tube amps use one or more dual triodes in the preamplifier section to provide sufficient voltage gain to offset tone control losses and drive the power amplifier section. While tube technology is, in many ways, outdated, tube amps remain popular since many guitarists prefer their sound.Rear view of a tube (valve) combo guitar amplifier. Visible are two glass output tubes, six smaller preamp tubes in their metal tube retainers, and both the power transformer and the output transformer.
Since the 1980s, most inexpensive and mid-priced guitar amplifiers are based on semiconductor (solid-state) circuits. Some designs incorporate tubes in the preamp stage for their subjectively warmer overdrive sound—see "Hybrid amplifiers", below. Solid-state amplifiers are much cheaper to produce and more reliable, and they are usually much lighter than tube amplifiers. High-end solid-state amplifiers are less common, since many professional guitarists tend to favor vacuum tubes. Some jazz guitarists, however, tend to favor the "cleaner" sound of solid-state amplifiers; only a few solid-state amps have enduring attraction, such as the Roland Jazz Chorus. Solid-state amplifiers vary in output power, functionality, size, price, and sound quality in a wide range, from practice amplifiers to combos suitable for gigging to professional models intended for session musicians who do studio recording work.
A hybrid amplifier involves one of two combinations of tube and solid-state amplification. It may have a tube power amp fed by a solid-state pre-amp circuit, as in most of the original MusicMan Amps, later amplifier models from Alamo Electronics, the Fender Super Champ XD, and the Roland Bolt amplifier. Randall Amplifiers V2 and T2 use hybrid amp technology. Alternatively, a tube pre-amp can feed a solid-state output stage, as in models from Kustom, Hartke, SWR and Vox. This approach dispenses with the need for an output transformer and easily achieves modern power levels.A modeling amplifier, shown from above. Note the various amplifier and speaker emulations selectable via the rotary knob on the left.
Microprocessor technology allows the use of digital onboard effects in guitar amps to create numerous different sounds and tones that simulate the sound of a range of tube amplifiers and different sized speaker cabinets, all using the same amplifier and speaker. These are known as modeling amplifiers, and can be programmed with simulated characteristic tones of different existing amplifier models (and speaker cabinets—even microphone type or placement), or dialed in to the user's taste. Many amps of this type are also programmable by way of USB connection to a home computer or laptop.Line 6 is generally credited with bringing modeling amplification to the market. Modeling amplifiers and stompbox pedals, rackmount units and software programs which provide amplifier, speaker cabinet and mic modeling can give a guitarist with the single modeling amp or unit access to a large number of sounds and tones, such as the simulated sound of tube amplifiers, vintage combo amplifiers, huge 8x10" stacks, without having to bring all of this heavy equipment to the studio or stage.
The use of "Full Range Flat Response" (FRFR) amplification systems by electric guitarists has received an extra impetus from modeling amplifiers. Before the widespread availability of modeling amplifiers and units, an electric guitarist would not be able to plug her/his electric guitar straight into a PA system or powered speaker, because in most rock genres, the tonal coloration that a regular guitar amp's preamplifier, equalization filters, power amp, guitar speaker and cabinet design (e.g., 8x10" cabinet) are an essential part of a guitarist's unique tone. The basic concept of FRFR is that the tone is shaped by sound processors placed in the signal chain before the amplifier/speaker stage. However, instead of a guitar amplifier, with its particular sound-shaping characteristics (e.g., many amps roll off high treble frequencies and many amplifiers add frequency coloration), a flat-frequency response amplification systems can be used, such as amplified speakers or a PA system (full-range speakers), or dedicated combo-style amplifiers with a broad frequency range. Such processors can be traditional guitar effects, a modeling amplifier (without power amplifier), or a computer running tone-shaping software. With an amp modeling pedal or unit, a guitarist could even use a flat-response keyboard amplifier combo amp to produce overdriven, vintage tones and sounds.
These amplifiers are intended for acoustic guitars, especially for the way these instruments are used in relatively quiet genres such as folk and bluegrass. They are similar in many ways to keyboard amplifiers, in that they have a relatively flat frequency response, and are usually designed so that neither power amplifier nor speakers add coloration. To produce this relatively "clean" sound, these amplifiers often have very powerful amplifiers (providing up to 800 watts RMS), to provide additional "Headroom" and prevent unwanted distortion. Since an 800 watt amplifier built with standard Class AB technology would be very heavy, some acoustic amplifier manufacturers use lightweight Class D amplifiers, which are also called "switching amplifiers."
Acoustic amplifiers are designed to produce a "clean", transparent, "acoustic" sound when used with acoustic instruments with built-in transducer pickups and/or microphones. The amplifiers often come with a simple mixer, so that the signals from a pickup and condenser microphone can be blended. Since the early 2000s, it has become increasingly common for acoustic amplifiers to provide a range of digital effects, such as reverb and compression. As well, these amplifiers often contain feedback-suppressing devices, such as notch filters or parametric equalizers.Metal guitarist Klaus Eichstadt in front of his Marshall stack. A 3×6 stack of mock Marshall guitar cabinets for Jeff Hanneman of Slayer
An amplifier stack consists of an amplifier head atop a speaker cabinet—a head on top of one cabinet is commonly called a half stack, a head atop two cabinets a full stack. The cabinet that the head sits on often has an angled top in front, while the lower cabinet of a full stack has a straight front. The first version of the Marshall stack was an amp head on an 8×12 cabinet, meaning a single speaker cabinet containing eight 12" guitar speakers. After six of these cabinets were made, the cabinet arrangement was changed to an amp head on two 4×12 cabinets, meaning four 12" speakers, to enable the cabinets to be more transportable. Some touring metal and rock bands have used a large array of guitar speaker cabinets for their impressive appearance. Some of these arrangements include only the fronts of speaker cabinets mounted on a large frame.
There are many varieties of speaker combinations used in guitar speaker cabinets, including one 12" speaker, one 15" speaker (this is more common for bass amplifiers than for electric guitar cabinets), two 10" speakers, four 10" speakers, four 12" speakers, or eight 10" speakers. Less commonly, guitar cabinets may contain different sizes of speaker in the same cabinet. Cabinets with eight 10" speakers are large and heavy, and they are often equipped with wheels and a "towel bar"-style handle for transport. Some cabinets use mixed speaker types, such as one 15" speaker and two 10" speakers.
Combo guitar amplifier cabinets and guitar speaker cabinets use several different designs, including the "open back" cabinet, the closed back cabinet (a sealed box), and, less commonly, bass reflex designs which use a closed back along with a vent or port cut into the cabinet. With guitar amps, most "open back" amp cabinets are not fully open; in fact, part of the back is enclosed with panels. Combo guitar amp cabinets and standalone speaker cabinets are often made of plywood; "[d]ecent...cabs have even been constructed from MDF and particle board—although these are typically considered low-budget options." In a cabinet, "...the size and depth of the cabinet, the type of wood used to build it, the way that wood is fixed together, the type and thickness of the baffle material (the sheet of wood to which the speaker is mounted), and the way this baffle is mounted to the cab" all affect the sound and tone of the cabinet.
When two or more speakers are used in the same cabinet, or when two cabinets are used together, the speakers can be wired in parallel or in series, or in a combination of the two (e.g., two 2x10" cabinets, with the two speakers wired in series, can be connected together in parallel). Whether speakers are wired in parallel or in series affects the impedance of the system. Two 8 ohm speakers wired in parallel will have a 4 ohm impedance. Guitarists who are connecting multiple cabinets to their amplifier need to consider the minimum impedance of their amplifier. Whether speakers are wired in parallel or in series also affects the tone and sound. When speakers are wired in parallel, this "...dampen[s] and restrain[s]" the speakers, giving a "tighter response, and a smoother breakup"; speakers that are wired in "...series (usually no more than two) run a little looser, giving a slightly more raw, open and edgy sound."A Marshall JCM 900's knobs for equalization, gain, reverb and volume.
For electric guitar amplifiers, there is often a distinction between "practice" or "recording studio" guitar amps, which tend to have output power ratings of less than one watt to 20 watts and "performance" or "stage" amps, which are generally 30 watts or higher. Traditionally, these have been fixed-power amplifiers, with some models having a half-power switch to slightly reduce the listening volume while preserving power-tube distortion.
The relationship between perceived volume and power output in watts is not immediately obvious. While beginners sometimes assume that there is a linear relationship between perceived volume and wattage (e.g., they assume that a 5-watt amp will be much quieter at its maximum output than a 50-watt amp), in fact the human ear perceives a 5-watt amplifier as half as loud as a 50-watt amplifier (a tenfold increase in power), and a half-watt amplifier is a quarter as loud as a 50-watt amp. Doubling the power of an amplifier results in a "just noticeable" increase in volume, so a 100-watt amplifier is only just noticeably louder than a 50-watt amplifier. Such generalizations are also subject to the human ear's tendency to behave as a natural compressor at high volumes.
Power attenuation can be used with either low-power or high-power amplifiers, resulting in variable-power amplifiers. A high-power amplifier with power attenuation can produce power-tube distortion through a range of listening volumes, but with a decrease in high power distortion. Other technologies, such as dual rectifiers and the Sag Circuit—which should not be confused with attenuation—allow high power amplifiers to produce low power volume while preserving high power distortion.
Speaker efficiency is also a major factor affecting a tube amplifier's maximum volume. For bass instruments, higher-power amplifiers are needed to reproduce low-frequency sounds. While an electric guitarist would be able to play at a small club with a 50-watt amplifier, a bass player performing in the same venue would probably need an amplifier with 200 or more watts.Marshall is a popular amplifier manufacturer for metal and hard rock. Pictured is the MG15DFX guitar amplifier.
Distortion is a feature available on many guitar amplifiers that is not typically found on keyboard or bass guitar amplifiers. Tube guitar amplifiers can produce distortion through pre-distortion equalization, preamp tube distortion, post-distortion EQ, power-tube distortion, tube rectifier compression, output transformer distortion, guitar speaker distortion, and guitar speaker and cabinet frequency response. Because there are so many factors beyond preamp distortion that create a guitarist's "signature sound", in recording and sound reinforcement applications, the sound of the guitar amp is almost always recorded with a microphone placed in front of the guitar speaker, rather than using the guitar amp's pre-amp out signal (even though the guitar sound is typically recorded with a mic in front of the amp's speaker, for recordings, the sound engineer or music producer may ask for the DI out signal from the pickups to be recorded onto a separate track at the same time, so that the engineer or producer can re-amp the signal through various different amps at a later time). In contrast, it is fairly common to use a DI box with electric bass.
Distortion sound or "texture" from guitar amplifiers is further shaped or processed through the frequency response and distortion factors in the microphones (their response, placement, and multi-microphone comb filtering effects), microphone preamps, mixer channel equalization, and compression. Additionally, the basic sound produced by the guitar amplifier can be changed and shaped by adding distortion and/or equalization effect pedals before the amp's input jack, in the effects loop just before the tube power amp, or after the power tubes.
Power-tube distortion is required for amp sounds in some genres. In a standard master-volume guitar amp, as the amp's final or master volume is increased beyond the full power of the amplifier, power tube distortion is produced. The "power soak" approach places the attenuation between the power tubes and the guitar speaker. In the re-amped or "dummy load" approach, the tube power amp drives a mostly resistive dummy load while an additional low power amp drives the guitar speaker. In the isolation box approach, the guitar amplifier is used with a guitar speaker in a separate cabinet. A soundproofed isolation cabinet, isolation box, isolation booth, or isolation room can be used.Even in the 2010s, the vintage Fender Bandmaster remains a sought-after amp by guitarists. Note the four inputs, two for regular sound and two which are run through the onboard vibrato effect unit. The amp pictured is a 1968 model.
A variety of labels are used for level attenuation potentiometers (knobs) in a guitar amplifier and other guitar equipment. Electric guitars and basses have a volume control on the instrument that attenuates the signal from selected pickups. There may be two volume controls on an electric guitar or bass, wired in parallel to mix the signal levels from the neck and bridge pickups. Rolling back the guitar's volume control also changes the pickup's equalization or frequency response, which can provide pre-distortion equalization.
The simplest guitar amplifiers, such as some vintage amps and modern practice amps, have only a single volume control. Most have two volume controls: a first volume control called "preamplifier" or "gain" and a master volume control. The preamp or gain control is designed differently on different types of guitar amps. On an amp designed for an acoustic guitar, turning up the preamp knob will preamplify the signal, but even at its maximum setting, the preamp control is unlikely to produce much overdrive. However, with amps designed for electric guitarists playing electric blues, hard rock and heavy metal music, turning up the preamp or gain knob will usually produce overdrive or distortion. Some electric guitar amps have three controls in the volume section: preamplifier, distortion and master control. Turning up the preamp and distortion knobs in varying combinations can create a range of overdrive tones, from a gentle, warm growling overdrive suitable for a traditional blues show or a rockabilly band to the extreme distortion used in hardcore punk and death metal. On some electric guitar amps, the "gain" knob is equivalent to the distortion control on a distortion pedal, and similarly may have a side-effect of changing the proportion of bass and treble sent to the next stage.The patch bay at the rear panel of this Line 6 Flextone guitar amp provides a number of additional inputs and outputs, including stereo XLR DI unit outputs.
A simple, inexpensive amplifier may have only two tone controls, a passive bass and treble control. In some better quality amps, one or more midrange controls are provided. On the most expensive amps, there may be shelving equalizers for bass and treble, a number of mid-range controls (e.g., low mid, mid and high mid), and a graphic equalizer or parametric equalizer. The amplifier's master volume control restricts the amount of signal permitted through to the driver stage and the power amplifier. When using a power attenuator with a tube amplifier, the master volume no longer acts as the master volume control. Instead, the power attenuator's attenuation control controls the power delivered to the speaker, and the amplifier's master volume control determines the amount of power-tube distortion. Power-supply based power reduction is controlled by a knob on the tube power amp, variously labeled "wattage", "power", "scale", "power scale", or "power dampening".