Less Les Paul: Gibson’s Vintage Rarities

Few designs are as iconic as the Gibson Les Paul. Whether you love it for its figure, flame, or flare, there’s no denying that when Gibson launched this model in 1958 they nailed the recipe right out of the gates. Yet over the years, Gibson has ventured into other designs, some of which were smash hits, others lesser known B-sides.

This week, I rounded up three models that are at best a distant cousin to the iconic Les Paul. While Gibson is making news these days for redesigning and reissuing several models in its lineup, the ones here are only available to the guitar and gear enthusiasts lurking on the used market for a new discovery.

Gibson S-Types? The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Gearheads and historians alike will know the story of the famous lawsuit between Gibson and Paul Reed Smith, where the former alleged the designs of the latter encroached on a proprietary design of decades past. Yet for all the hype of that case, few took note of Gibson’s forays into s-type designs, which arguably draw their inspiration from the shape and style of another industry juggernaut.

While this occurred already in the 1980s, with the limited runs of guitars like the Gibson US-1, the most recent design aimed right at the core of s-type heritage. In 2009, Gibson via Epiphone released the “Jimi Hendrix Experience.” The all-in-one box came with everything you needed to get your Hendrix on: a tiny amp, a tie-dye shirt, a bandana, and, of course, a 3-single coil s-type with a not-so-subtle reverse headstock.

Gibson Corvus II

If we can agree the above example found its inspiration elsewhere, I think we’d also all agree that Gibson over the years has proved that they have no shortage of in-house inspiration, ideas, and innovation. Case in point, the Corvus.

In 1983, Gibson released a trio of guitars as part of their new “American Series.” The Corvus II is certainly an eye-catcher, but not necessarily a showstopper. Rumor has it that was quickly nicknamed “the can opener” for obvious reasons. Yet, for all its oddities, the guitar did include some intriguing appointments and design features that showed Gibson was willing to enter new terrain. Take, for example, that body that looks odd yet is ideally balanced, light, and married to a smooth Les Paul-esque neck by a bolt-on assembly. Granted, this ain’t exactly a Les Paul offset, but it’s a creative attempt at thinking outside the box.

Gibson RD Custom

When Gibson hit the market with the ES-335, Explorer, and Flying V, in the late 1950s you’ve got to wonder what their R&D and marketing meetings must have looked like. This crew couldn’t be more diverse yet, somehow, it worked.

A few decades later, however, their attempt to channel this past was less successful. Meet the RD Custom. The heritage to the Explorer is clear. It’s got that unmistakable black-on-blonde look with a set of chrome humbuckers I’d recognize anywhere. But with a body shape that melted the distinctive and bold edges of the Explorer, the RD Custom seems to be a softened version of the visual rock machine that sounded as jagged as it looked. In the end, this exploration lasted only until 1980 when the model was retired.

In days when Gibson is all over the news, I’m excited about what they’ll do next. They’re a brand that helped build the biz and has shown in the past they’re not afraid to draw on their heritage to connect with a new generation in the future.

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