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The 10 Greatest Players of the Gibson Les Paul Guitar

Updated on October 11, 2019
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The Gibson Les Paul was the second solid body electric guitar ever created. The Les Paul guitar was perfect for Gibson, as Gibson is a company which always competes, but does so with absolutely original products. The Les Paul couldn't have been more different than the Fender Telecaster. While the Telecaster has always been thought a country and western guitar, the Les Paul has often been called God's gift to rock and roll.

Les Paul the guitarist did not design the Gibson Les Paul guitar, but he did play a role in the design through collaboration with Gibson president Ted McCarty. Les Paul did design the very first solid body electric guitar that was not a solid lap steel guitar, but the design known as "the log" was rejected by Gibson, and with the outstanding success that Fender was having with it's Telecaster, Gibson Guitars had to get a move on, and make a name for themselves in the booming electric guitar market.

There are quite a lot of design and specifications diversity within various models of Les Paul Guitar - far too much to go into here, where I wish to deal not so much with the guitar, but rather, the musicians that made it so successful. The Les Paul guitar is special because it is so unlike a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster. The Les Paul guitar has a very different sound, and the sound the guitar produces when played by its greatest players are what this page is about.

I'm sure there will be persons who think this list of ten greats is lacking for failing to include someone they may think deserving. Well, there's no way to do a page with all the Les Paul playing greats. I will thank you in advance for reading, and make note that this is no ranking. Listing Mr. Les Paul first seemed a no brainer, and then Freddie King second seemed to fit, but that's the end of this in terms of chronological order, although Joe Bonamassa, being youngest, seemed ideal to be listed last.

Mr. Les Paul With His Gibson Les Paul Guitar

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Les Paul - The Guitarist

Lester William Polsfuss lived from 1915 up until 2009, and in his prime years was a splendid showman and jazz guitarist who also played in the fusion realm of country music influenced by jazz. Though Les Paul was not the first person to use over dubbing in a studio, he brought attention to the technique with his own extensive experimentation of it, and then continued innovations in studio recording magic with tape delay, phasing effects, and multi track recording.

"Rhubarb Red" was a Les Paul alter ego in the 1930s, and he used that for "hillbilly music," but soon Les Paul was playing jazz

Les Paul had been a huge admirer of Django Reinhardt, the French Roma Gypsy guitarist, and he sought out and got to meet Django. Django Reinhardt died suddenly and young in 1953, and it's said that Les Paul worked on Django's headstone for his grave. That bit of trivia is tough to prove, but in any case, Django's widow gave Les Paul one of his prize possessions, a Selmer Maccaferri acoustic guitar that had belonged to the late and great one.

Les Paul spent the thirties and forties in America playing Gibson acoustic electric guitars, and he found them all to be less than what he wanted from a guitar. One neat story that I'd not known was that the great Chet Atkins got the first professional quality guitar that he'd ever owned from his brother Jim Atkins, who was playing with Les Paul, and got it from him.

The highlights of Les Paul's career were during the time he was married to Lovely Mary Ford, and together they twenty eight hits with capital records. Mary Ford was a guitarist too, and besides that, she did the new thing of harmonizing with herself in the studio whilst Les played some flashy guitar..

Les Paul was semi retired from music by the 1960s, but would hit the studio now and again, he left us all behind here in 2009, but is survived on Earth by four children. He'd played a concert just a few weeks prior to his death. The following paragraph is from Wikipedia:

Upon learning of his death many artists and popular musicians paid tribute by publicly expressing their sorrow. After learning of Paul's death, former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash called him "vibrant and full of positive energy.", while Richie Sambora, lead guitarist of Bon Jovi, referred to him as "revolutionary in the music business". U2 guitarist The Edge said, "His legacy as a musician and inventor will live on and his influence on rock and roll will never be forgotten."

Les Paul and Marry Ford - "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise"

Bluesman Freddie King

Freddie King was a powerful singer and guitarist. He played blues in the Texas blues style, but with Chicago blues influences. The Texas blues style was a lot closer to rock and roll music than other styles, and when I hear Freddie Play, I hear just about every last British rocker's foundation.

Freddie started playing guitar at just six years of age. At fifteen years old his family moved from Dallas, Texas to the south side of Chicago, and Freddie immediately started sneaking out a night and going to blues clubs. Well, he'd be playing in those clubs soon enough.

Using a multi-racial backing band, and a more contemporary style of blues than his peers, Freddie's music appealed widely, and you better believe he could sing too. He played with a plastic thumb pick, and a metal fingerpick on his index finger.

Freddie didn't always play a Gibson Les Paul, but in his earlier years he used one almost exclusively, and he was using one of the earliest Les Paul guitars, with the old school tailpiece and the P90 pickups, and of course it was a goldtop.

We still honor Freddie King here in the great state of Texas. In 1993, governor Anne Richards declared September 3 as Freddie King day. He's right there with the greatest musicians the Lone Star State ever produced.

Freddie King "Taking Care of Business"

Jimmy Page With His 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, A Gift From Joe Walsh

Jimmy Page - The Single Most Famous Les Paul Guitar Player

I'll make no bones about this here, Jimmy Page is maybe my favourite guitarist. Page originally played Telecasters, but in time he determined the Les Paul was where his sounds should come from. Probably nobody, not even Mr. Les Paul himself, was responsible for more Gibson Les Paul sales than Jimmy Page.

Page is still alive and kicking. He smiles more nowadays than he ever did before. The majority of the time when you see Jimmy Page he's got one of his Les Paul guitars with him, and in recent years he became re-acquainted with his old Les Paul black beauty, which for decades had been stolen.

Listen, during the 1970s, and even before then in the very late 60's, Led Zeppelin had something going for it that nobody ever had before, and nobody has ever had since the death of John Bonham ended it all. Led Zeppelin was hated by music critics, and so thoroughly loved by fans that nobody much cared. Robert Plant to this day carries an enthusiasm and charisma that can't be learned, and his improvisational vocal style, Golden God looks, and that absolutely chaotic and cathartic CRUNCH of Page, Jones, and Bonham made Led Zeppelin the single greatest Rock and Roll stage show in the history of music.

Jimmy Page brought heavy blues to white audiences in a way that Clapton and Hendrix could not - Page focused on guitar playing,and studio production; he left the singing and primping to a very adequate Robert Plant. By not trying to bring all the focus of attention on himself like Clapton or Hendrix, Jimmy Page prospered with the help of his friends, all superb showmen and musicians! From British Folk, to exciting new fusions of world musical elements, page innovated and shined like a candle in the darkness all along the way, and most of the time he did so playing his Gibson Les Paul Guitars.

For all of Page's efforts, he is now worth more than one hundred and seventy million dollars. While his folk and blues rock playing was spectacular, it shouldn't be forgotten how Page was one of the early pioneers of heavy metal music. You hear early songs like Communication Breakdown, and The Immigrant Song, and you know that's where metal started. Guitar solos had existed before Jimmy Page, but Page brought the guitar solo into another realm as well. Eddie Van Halen says he took massive inspiration from the epic guitar solo in Led Zeppelin's Heartbreaker, and Van Halen was not the only one.

Led Zeppelin, "Dazed And Confused"

Randy Rhoads With His Gibson Off White 1974 Les Paul Custom

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The Amazing Randy Rhoads

Randall William Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982) Despite his relatively short career, Rhoads is a major influence on neo-classical metal, is cited as an influence by many guitarists and is included in several "Greatest Guitarist" lists. Randy Rhoads was to me one of the guys that would just make you wish you'd never even bothered with the guitar. He was a classically trained musician who showed so much talent that he was excused from public school at a young age so he could pursue his music. You just don't hear of this sort of thing happening often.

Ozzy Osbourne, in 1979 had guitarists the world over salivating for the position as his new six string gunslinger, but he passed out drunk before Rhoads even got finished warming up for the audition. Ozzy had interrupted him to say, "you've got the job," and later described the thing as "God entering my life."

Well, we all know that Ozzy Osbourne was probably a bit nuts at the time, but he surely knew greatness in musicians when he saw it, and he went on with Rhoads and the band to create three timeless albums - the first heavy metal albums to have such masterful elements of classical guitar mixed in with the riff metal crunch and thud that Osbourne had been used to with Black Sabbath.

Randy Rhoads could literally burn up a fret board, and do so while creating music of great beauty. His death was tragic, and stupid beyond all reason. The plane crash which killed him took one of the finest guitar players this world had ever known away from us all far too soon.

Randy Rhoads with Quiet Riot

Gary Moore, One of the Greatest Guitarist to have Ever Lived

Gary Moore with his famous Les Paul once owned by Peter Green, and currently owned by Kirk Hamett.
Gary Moore with his famous Les Paul once owned by Peter Green, and currently owned by Kirk Hamett. | Source

Gary Moore

Robert William Gary Moore lived from 1952-2011. From northern Ireland, he was a singer, songwriter, and a master guitarist. Blues, rock, jazz fusion and heavy metal were the genres he primarily played in. There's no mistaking the truth, however, there probably was no music in this world Gary couldn't play.

Gary was a member of classic rock band Thin Lizzy, which was probably his most well known gig, but he shared the stage with many mainstays of classic rock, and classic blues. He also spent a decade making out of this world heavy metal albums.

While Gary would sometimes produce music which was clearly meant to be commercial, he's always going to be remembered as a guy who could make just about any guitarist stop what they are doing, and listen hard to the sounds coming from the speakers when he was playing. He was a musician's musician.

True to his heritage, Gary would also record Celtic rock music. Sadly, he'd drink himself into a heart attack, and pass away. Gary didn't always play a Gibson Les Paul, but it was clearly his favorite instrument, and he owned one of the most famous Les Paul guitars to have ever existed. His 1959 LP had been owned by Peter Green, and is currently owned by Metallica's Kirk Hammett.

Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues (Live)

Dickey Betts and one of his Gibson Les Paul guitars

Dickey Betts

Forrest Richard "Dickey" Betts (born December 12, 1943) was one of the two outstanding lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band, and he was also one of the two outstanding singers for that same band. Dickey Betts sang at least half of the most recognizable and memorable songs in the canon of music by the Allman Brothers Band, and his soaring melodic lead guitar solos, to me, were every bit as enjoyable as the more famous Duane Allman's.

I don't with to diminish or minimize the great Duane Allman, but I've always felt that Dickey Betts was very underrated, and less than appreciated for his contributions to that fine icon of Southern Rock, The Allman Brothers Band. Dickey Betts is still living, but I'm speaking of The Allman Brothers in the past tense because now Greg Allman has passed away, as have other members of the band in recent years.

In an interview Dickey Betts says someone told him he plays the guitar in a way similar to how an Appalachian fiddler plays Appalachian fiddle tunes. I find that to be exactly the case, but Betts also plays jazz and blues on the same Gibson Les Paul. Because of this mix of influences, his style is his own, and there's no one to compare him with.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Blue Sky." Dickey Betts Sings Lead, and Takes The Second Guitar Solo

Jeff Beck With His 1954 Les Paul

Source

Jeff Beck - The Master Of Electric Guitar

I've already stated how my personal preferences often land squarely on the music of Jimmy Page's Led Zeppelin, but one can't even much talk about page without a discussion of his long time friend Jeff Beck coming up somewhere. Jeff Beck actually created the prototype band for Led Zeppelin, and then Page's Led Zeppelin even went on to record some of the same songs on their debut album as Beck had recorded with his band's album, Truth. So Jimmy Page took the concept of Beck's original band, and made it his own; do you think Jeff Beck cared?

No, Jeff Beck isn't one to stick to one style of music - he is a genre transcending master of the electric guitar who can't sit still, and gets bored easily with the same types of things. I'm not saying that Jimmy Page isn't creative, I'm only saying that Jeff Beck explored a wider range of musical styles than Page has, and with the 1974 recording Blow By Blow, Jeff Beck showed the world what a creative jazz improvisational genius he can be whenever he desires to be.

No bones about it here, and I'm far from the only person who would tell you all this; Blow By Blow was and is an absolutely groundbreaking masterpiece not just of electric guitar jazz fusion, but of a group of virtuoso genius musicians working together and creating something so musical it'll be recommended guitarist listening for God only knows how many years.

Jeff Beck played his Les Paul Guitar throughout Blow By Blow, and boy does it sound awesome!

Jeff Beck "She's a Woman,' playing a Gibson Les Paul

Al Di Meola, One of the World's Most Advanced Guitarists

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Al Di Meola

Al Laurence Di Meola was playing shred style guitar on a Gibson Les Paul long before the term had been created. With a profound technique, and a taste for jazz fusion and world music, his style is very unlike any other's.

He's played, rather famously, on an acoustic album with two of the only persons who can be thought of in the same sequence as him, Paco De Lucia, and John McLaughlin. Saturday Night in San Francisco is a must hear for any guitar fan, but to be quite honest about it, to hear thee persons playing like that can be rather discouraging, especially for a novice.

Al is from New Jersey, and is of Italian extraction. Some of the greatest guitarists alive are from similar circumstances and lineage, persons like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani come to mind, but Di Meola's music is something different. I consider Al Di Meola one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived, and this is because of his fantastic technique. He can switch time signatures in a song many times, syncopate, and never ever miss a note.

Al loves to play acoustic as much as he loves electric. His music is somewhat pedantic in nature, and is clearly not for everyone, but I get excited every single time I hear Flight Over Rio, which was recorded with his Gibson 'fretless wonder' Les Paul.

Al Di Meola "Flight Over Rio"

Brian Carroll - or Buckethead, a Mad Scientist of the Gibson Les Paul

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Buckethead the Enigma

I'm old enough to remember when people didn't know who Buckethead was. It just wasn't common knowledge. His proper name is Brian Patrick Carroll.

Buckethead isn't just a guitarist, but is a multi instrumentalist, albeit one typically wearing a bucket upon his head. There's not a genre of music Mr. Buckethead can't play, and critical acclaim for his guitar playing is the order of every day.

Buckethead is primarily a solo artists, but he's performed and recorded with a lot of high profile persons, and by this I mean persons both famous for being famous, and persons who are virtuoso musicians, and sometimes both. Buckethead is also quite a representative of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but that would appear to be otherwise unrelated.

While the white mask may seem intimidating in the manner of Michael Meyers, or Jason Voorhees, you should rest assured the shredding Buckethead will be doing will be on a fretboard, and not with a large kitchen knife.

While playing extremely fast isn't especially impressive if the sound isn't musical, that's not a problem you'll have from Buckethead, as he's one of the fastest guitarists to have ever been recorded, and the man is a musical genius.

Buckethead and the "Seven Laws of Woo"

Joe Bonamassa with one his many Gibson Les Paul Guitars

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Joe Bonamassa

Other than Buckethead, everyone else on this list has either died already, or is rather old and not especially active. Buckethead and Joe Bonamassa are both quite a lot younger, and Bonamassa especially seems to be in the prime of his life as a musician.

Joe has dedicated his life to playing the guitar. We're talking about a guy here who was playing on stage with B.B. King when he was just twelve years of age. Now read that sentence again, realize the sentence is accurate, and you can hardly do anything but admire Joe Bonamassa.

Joe is as big a fan of guitars and amplifiers as he is of music. That's something I can surely relate to. You have something rare, something Joe's looking for, and he'll come to your house to get buy it from you. Joe will put the equipment straight to work too, he's released fifteen albums in the last thirteen years. He's a very busy man.

Despite having played with persons like B.B. King, Joe's biggest influences were British blues rockers. Joe has recorded or performed on stage with more big shots than I'm going to list here, but lately he's been very into collaborations with Beth Hart.

Joe Bonamassa covers "Just Got Paid"

© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw

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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 days ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I'm 45 years old. It seems to me the music I like the best was recorded either a few years before I was born, or in the decade of the 1970s.

      So I've no doubt there is a ton of music I not only would like to become familiar with, but should anyway.

    • Brian Kaplan profile image

      Brian Kaplan 

      9 months ago

      a lot of these comments are good ones but probably one of the most underrated but top-performing Les Paul guitar players was Les Dudek, he not only had 5 unbelievable albums but he was the second guitar player which actually was the first guitar player in the Allman Brothers brothers and sisters album and he was the replacement for when Duane Allman died and half of the leaves that you're hearing on that album are Les dudek playing so you better go back and take a look at Les dudek and add him to the list he still alive and he still playing Les Paul's his album was produced by bozz scaggs...Les dudek found a place sonically in playing his Les Paul where there literally was no more neck but there was still sound coming from his fingers it was far beyond the length of the neck

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      2 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey thanks! I've been thinking about re-writing this thing anyway. :)

    • profile image

      Thom Allen 

      2 years ago

      Well done, but.....take a listen to the late Luther Allison. Then you just may want to revise your list.

    • profile image

      Timothy W. Plonk 

      3 years ago

      I'm surprised you didn't feature one Billy F. Gibbons. His trusty LES PAUL," Pearly Gates", has reportedly been played on EVERY ZZ Top track to date. For tone,timing,feel,and song structure, B.G is THE best player,hands down.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      3 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Phil, Jeff recorded most of his amazing 'Blow By Blow' album with the LP. It is one of my favorite albums of any kind of music. Of course I know he switched, seemingly permanently, to the strat.

      Of course I know of the great Gary Moore! He's simply not one of my most favorite players, and it would be odd indeed to not have Les himself listed first!

      TLStahling, Keith can be seen playing Les Paul guitars in lots of images on the web, but the Tele was always his 'go to guitar' after he got his first one. What he started out with in the Stones is an interesting historical question, but I'm thinking it wasn't the Les Paul.

    • TLStahling profile image

      TL Stahling 

      4 years ago from US

      Didn't Keith Richards start off with a Les Paul. I remember reading somewhere he was the first "star" in Europe to use it. Also, Jimi Hendrix - did he ever play one?

    • profile image

      Phill Allder 

      4 years ago

      Two points. Firstly Jeff Beck is really a strat man, not a LP man. Secondly, and more seriously... have you never heard of Gary Moore? IMHO Gary should be at the very top of your list.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      ...Buckethead is about a thousand levels ahead of Steve Clark, Mr. President.

    • profile image

      Obama 

      5 years ago

      They forgot Steve Clark of Def Leppard! How could you forget another great guitar player and instead put in some bucket head guy that looks like he's a member of the KKK!!!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, noiseyfly , I'm really an acoustic only player myself, but if I ever did decide to go electric again, then the Les Paul would be my electric guitar of choice, I just prefer its sound to all others!

    • noiseyfly profile image

      Craig Bruebaker 

      6 years ago from Spokane Washington

      I have five guitars and I like my Les Paul the best. Good Hub lot's of info.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey nuffsaidstan, I'm really an acoustic player only these days, but of course I still love my classic rock, etc. I used to own a Strat, and I thought it suited me better...but then again, I've never owned or got the opportunity to spend much time with a Les Paul.

    • nuffsaidstan profile image

      nuffsaidstan 

      6 years ago

      Some great players there, love the sound of the Les Paul, although i have owned a strat and a tele i always go back to my Les Paul, you can't beat it for power, i own a Les Paul Custom.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey Bockshiner, thanks very much! Yeah! I like Government Mule myself, kickass stuff that is too good for the middling minds of today's youth, I guess. Never mind me though, I'm enjoying a cold beer, and some music here now - which is the thing I like most about any old page...mine typically have music I like to revisit! :)

      I'm really more of a D-28 or a D-18 guy, but its all the same in the end - the tunes!!!!!!!

      Thanks Glimmer Twin Fan, I bet I know just what that moniker means too!!!! :) Yeah, absolutely, I love the late Duane, but I really think Dicky Betts is way underrated in it all!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      7 years ago

      I'm so glad bockshiner shared this. Awesome hub and I have to go pull out some cds now. Nothing beats an Allman Brothers free form jam.

    • bockshiner profile image

      bockshiner 

      7 years ago from Dallas, TX

      Great hub. I'm a Les Paul guy myself. I've never heard the Allman Brothers but I'm a fan of Warren Haynes from Gov't Mule, who takes the first solo in the video you linked to. He plays a Les Paul even though he's playing a strat in this video.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks Austinstar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      I forgot to mention that this was an excellent hub! I do love Jeff Beck and the rest of the guitarists mentioned here. You did a great job on this one.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      TheHeavyReview - Thanks! I should probably edit my text to show Slash in a more favourable light. I just lumped him in with Ace, but Slash is really a lot better than that.

      I don't think Slash is very original at all, but I do enjoy the old G N' R stuff a lot!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      iamaudraleigh - Thank You!!!!!!!!!

      I've found that is the only way to be successful here - providing information! It's easy when you already love the subject!!!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      must65gt - Thanks For the Comment! My musical playing style would probably cause me to be more inclined to hear more about that banjo and mandolin you've got! I've got some dulcimers around here as well, strangely enough, but I don't know how to make any musical sounds from those - they're inherited!

    • TheHeavyReview profile image

      TheHeavyReview 

      7 years ago

      Great and very detailed hub! If I had to pick two, my favorites here would be Slash and Jimmy Page. I've always loved both of these guitarists. Jimmy Page is one of the all time greats, and I really like Slash's bluesy hard rock style (particularly on Appetite For Destruction). I like Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wilde too. Great hub!

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 

      7 years ago

      You definitely took your time and did the research for this hub...well done!

    • must65gt profile image

      must65gt 

      7 years ago

      Great hub, I have played a Les Paul, and own a Jimmy Page 1241. Owning 7 guitars a banjo, mandolin, a Kamaka ukelele, and a 5-string applewood Dulcimer, I have more than I can play at one time. I enjoy a Strat as well. but I have a classic Peavey t-60 solid body. It has both sets of pick-ups but resembles the Strat, however, it can sound like ether the Strat or the Les Paul. Tanks for the hub and the memories...

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Austinstar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!

      Will be there!!!!!!!

      I've also seen via "my stream" that you've recently published something very different from this that I'm also VERY interested in reading....don't worry, I'm going to get there...I'm just so into production that I'm never near to being "caught up" on my reading.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Interestingly enough, my husband Bob, also plays a Gibson Les Paul. I think he is every bit as good as the guitarists you mention here. Check out the video of him playing with the band, Nardo.

      https://austinstar.hubpages.com/hub/Nardo-the-Band...

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