Throughout music history, there have been few certainties and even fewer survivors. But when it comes to the Gibson Les Paul, it seems the iconic staple isn't only surviving, but thriving.
The '70s was a decade defined by the earliest wave of proverbial Guitar Gods – giant slayers posturing at the stage's edge, casting their lurid spells over unwitting audiences. And the preeminent choice of magic wand? The Gibson Les Paul.
But as the '80s surged, the Les Paul's fall was steep. Coinciding with that tumble from grace was a rise to prominence for technicolor, hot-rodded rigs. These seemingly mutant creations crafted in presto guitar labs were suddenly slung over the sweaty shoulders of droves of MTV-era icons.
Through synchronized bombast, this new generation of heroes wielded Jacksons, ESPs, haywire B.C. Rich rigs and eye-catching Ibanez JEMs. There was, of course, one notable exception: Slash, who is widely credited as saving the single-cut during the shred era.
The '90s would also prove challenging for the Les Paul, with alternative and indie six-stringers taking to Fender Jaguars, beat-up Stratocasters, twangy Telecasters and 12-string Epiphones instead of the load-bearing stalwart. Now, that's not to say the Les Paul died entirely; of course, it's always had its supporters. But somewhere along the way, it became chic to eschew Les Pauls in favor of various new kids on the block.
In the modern day, there are still plenty of Frankenstein rigs strewn across stages worldwide. But finally, it seems the Gibson Les Paul is experiencing its long-awaited rebirth. With the resurgence of classic rock among young listeners and the resultant forming of "new wave of classic rock" bands, Les Pauls are once again being brandished by the masses.
Though it's sometimes been forsaken, the Gibson Les Paul has never been forgotten. Its symbolic nature, reliability and unmistakable appearance have left it a musical pillar. Some may lean on other guitars or deny the Les Paul's versatility, but in the modern age, many young guns are making the model cool again. What follows are 15 players, all of whom are giving the Gibson Les Paul a new lease on life.
15. Laura Cox
French-born blues-rocker Laura Cox has been wowing audiences as an active musician since around 2008, but it wasn't until her 2017 debut, Hard Blues Shot, and its 2019 follow-up, Burning Bright, that audiences tasted the fruits of Cox's labor. Now, with two albums under her belt, it seems Cox is gaining perpetual steam.
With roots in the classical realm, it's Cox's habit of strutting her stuff with a dual-pickup, flat-black Les Paul that has defined her image in the present day. What's more, if you're a fan of Laura Cox, we've got good news: she has a new album, Head Above Water, due in early 2023. So, stay tuned.
14. Sam 'Bam' Koltun (Faster Pussycat/Dorothy)
As the successor to the likes of Brent Muscat, Greg Steele and Ace Von Johnson, for young Sam 'Bam' Koltun, taking up the mantle of lead guitarist in Faster Pussycat was no easy task, and while the vintage licks he is asked to perform in Faster aren't always ultra-technical, Koltun has excelled in maintaining the desired aesthetic. With a scuffed, jet-black Les Paul slung over his jean jacket-cloaked frame, Koltun transports fans back to the late '80s of the Sunset Strip each night.
Lately, Koltun has been pulling double duty, also providing tasty licks as a member of sultry serenader Dorothy's touring band. If you enjoy a good old fashioned rock 'n' roll spectacle, this particular player is a throwback showman who makes the price of admission worth every penny.
13. Blake Allard (Joyous Wolf)
Often adorned in fur, pastels and floral patterns, Joyous Wolf's Blake Allard was seemingly plucked from the late '60s flower power music scene. Allard pulls no punches, making no secret of who his heroes are, and his no-holds-barred approach seems to be paying off in spades.
Along with a few others, Joyous Wolf is a massive part of a burgeoning "new wave of classic rock" scene. For rock music fans, Joyous Wolf's Place in Time is a monumental moment, which sees Allard providing old-school waves of guitar badassery via his trusty Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. If you're a fan of the Les Paul, old-school cool and rock music in general, feast your ears on Joyous Wolf.
12. Adam Slack (The Struts)
As a member of UK act The Struts, and with a classic Honey Burst Les Paul in hand, Adam Slack has been hovering around our collective consciousness for a decade. While it took a bit of time for the rest of the scene to catch up, it could be said that Slack is one of the earliest players to strap on a Les Paul in the name of its resurgence.
From his long blonde hair, aviator sunglasses, leather jackets and big 'ol heavy rig, Slack is a throwback to a time when the lead guitarist commanded the stage with machismo and aching bravado. As for his playing, it's meaty, beefy, slick and governed by a soulful fire that burns deep within.
11. Lukas Nelson (Promise of the Real)
As a direct descendant of those that came before him, Promise of the Real's vocalist and lead guitarist Lukas Nelson is a verifiable bell cow amongst the masses. Skewing more toward roots and country rock, Nelson reminds listeners of a time in the '70s when country music, jam bands and classic rock merged into one blissful enigma.
Nelson is often one for collaboration, but for the unfamiliar, you'd be best served to run through Promise of the Real's eight studio records first. Through his soulful, retro licks, Lukas Nelson is, in many ways, the glue that holds multiple crossing genres together. Plus, his single-pickup tobacco sunburst Les Paul Junior is a simplistic thing of gorgeous majesty – and, accordingly, is available as a signature model.
10. Dane Pieper (Classless Act)
Classless Act has taken the world by storm with the release of their debut record, the aptly titled Welcome to the Show, coinciding with their inclusion as openers for the Stadium Tour – which featured Def Leppard, Poison, Joan Jett and Mötley Crüe – in the summer of 2022. And while Griffin Tucker often gets the lion's share of attention, Classless Act's über-energetic rhythm guitarist Dane Pieper comfortably steals the show.
Pieper is a full-on ball of fury known to jump and jive while slicing through heavy riffs. He will often execute Eddie Van Halen-inspired kickflips and David Lee Roth-esque mid-air splits while jumping off the drum riser, all while delivering bone-crushing rhythms via his vintage sunburst Les Paul. If you love energy, then Pieper is the perfect visual cue for Classless Act's wild party tricks.
9. Sammy Boller
To be sure, Detroit native Sammy Boller owns other guitars, and he even occasionally breaks them out for a solo now and again. But at the end of the day, the blond-haired axeman is most often seen with his beautiful black Les Paul, with the occasional Goldtop sprinkled in for good measure.
Considered one of the most promising young guns in the game today after six years as the lead guitarist of Citizen Zero, Boller delivered on the early praise heaped onto his instrumental record Kingdom of the Sun (2020).
As one of the most versatile players currently about, there's no telling what Boller will do next. Be it with a new band or through continued instrumental dominance, Boller is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on if the guitar is your muse.
8. Graham Whitford (Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown)
Unfairly, Graham Whitford's claim to fame was most often the fact that his father, Brad Whitford, is the rhythm guitarist for Aerosmith. But all that changed when Whitford met fellow young gun Tyler Bryant.
After joining Bryant's namesake group, the Shakedown, it was quickly apparent that Whitford's Les Paul-wielding ways complimented Bryant's Stratocaster adoration perfectly. And while you might think that joining forces with the likes of Tyler Bryant could lead to Whitford being overshadowed, if the group's latest record, Shake the Roots, is any indication, the pair are in perfect lockstep.
It's evident that Bryant allowed Whitford's array of Les Pauls plenty of room to breathe on the record. Listening back, one cannot help but have visions of Aerosmith's famous Whitford/Perry duo, from which the young pair surely take influence.
7. Whitney Petty (Thunderpussy)
Seattle native Whitney Petty's glam rock-steeped tradition can only be described as a superstock of molten lava delivered via a Rola guitar amp. With some help from Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, Thunderpussy broke through in 2018 after releasing their self-titled debut record. With tongue-in-cheek camp for days and a gloriously obscene singer/guitarist dynamic between Molly Sides and Petty, Thunderpussy is exactly what the doctor ordered.
But it's Petty's hair-raising swagger, delivered through her vintage sunburst Les Paul, that defines Tunderpussy's glam-inspired sound. With explosive bluster for days and the chops to back it up, Petty is an icon for female players looking to pick up the instrument and a prescription for those looking for new music.
6. Joanne Shaw Taylor
With a Les Paul in hand at the tender age of 16, Joanne Shaw Taylor caught her first big break. For Taylor, blues-driven stardom was inevitable. Still, her discovery by Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart came via an unlikely scenario, which saw Stewart first lay eyes and ears on the young talent at a breast cancer benefit for her mother.
Stewart knew talent when he saw it and immediately invited the teenage phenom to join his group D.U.P., which Taylor happily accepted. In the 20 years since, usually with any number of Les Pauls in hand, Shaw Taylor has self-managed her solo career to acclaim, with the best most definitely yet to come.
5. John Notto (Dirty Honey)
If there's one guitarist on the scene today who is most associated with the "new wave of classic rock", it's probably John Notto. Still without major label support (by choice), Notto has ascended the the upper echelons of guitardom solely by the merit of his well-worn playing alone. As such, the always self-assured Massachusetts native is no dummy; he knows when to hold serve and leave well enough alone.
To that end, Notto keeps it simple: slick, blues-inspired riffs, played via a Les Paul seemingly plucked from the hands of '60s-era Peter Green. Be it his style, his vibe or the Marshall stacks behind him, Notto's affinity for retrograde and apparent Jimmy Page worship has served him and Dirty Honey well.
4. Tristan Thomas (Florence Black)
Not every new kid on the block lives to recreate '70s classic rock. Don't believe us? Just ask Florence Black's Tristan Thomas, whose hyper-melodic tendencies will leave fans of '90s alt-rock feeling like they've entered a time machine. Truth be told, Black's sound contains references to every era, with his weighty riffs channeling from his fingers through his sunburst Les Paul and out his classic Marshall stacks.
When listening to Thomas, it's as if Dr. Frankenstein has harvested the collective talents of Slash, Dave Grohl and Ace Frehley and then masterfully combined them into one super-titan of rock. Sound appealing? We certainly think so.
3. Jackie Venson
With her sleek Epiphone Les Paul in hand, Jack Venson's fretwork is a vision of sage beauty. A native of Austin, Texas, and a graduate of the esteemed Berklee College of Music in 2011, the six-stringer has spent the last decade staking her claim among a male-dominated scene.
While it might have been easy to secure a foothold in rock alone, across three studio records, several live records and multitudes of EPs, Venson has slayed multiple dragons, logging miles as a road warrior in the blues, soul and pop scenes to boot. Few possess Venson's talent: her exquisite playing pairs with her smoky voice to sublime perfection.
2. Ally Venable
It's been quite a while since a talent like Ally Venable hit the rock and blues scenes. But if Venable's 2021 record Heart of Fire is any indication, the road ahead for the player Mike Zito lovingly refers to as "Texas Honey" is paved in pure, unadulterated gold. On the surface, you might assume the red-haired spitfire is flaunting yet another run-of-the-mill Les Paul.
But the 23-year-old blues-breaker prefers a magenta-colored rig, which Gibson made in very limited numbers in the '90s. Venable's style is tried and true, but her execution and mindset are unique. If you're looking for a guitarist to watch, take a deep dive into Ally Venable's catalog, and enjoy the ride.
1. Jared James Nichols
At the age of 33, Jared James Nichols is an established name on the rock and blues circuits. Always bursting with energy, Nichols is perhaps best known for his "pick-less" playing technique. But then again, Nichols' guitar lineup – featuring his single-pickup "Old Glory" Epiphone Les Paul and a red 1953 model the bluesman has affectionately named "Ole Red" – make for an alluring aesthetic, too.
It takes skill to carry the weight of a power trio, but Nichols does so effortlessly. In short, each generation has a handful of players who will be remembered forever. Nearly a decade into his career, it appears that Jared James Nichols is this era's ultimate Les Paul-loving icon.