There's no way Gibson Guitars could have known it was creating future classics in the 1950s.
It was just catering to an increasing demand for solid-bodied electric guitars with its various Les Paul models. But, when the company decided to snag young and less well-heeled customers with the budget
Les Paul Junior model, it quietly created a timeless and now highly sought-after guitar.
At the drawing-board stage, the premise of the new Les Paul Junior model was brilliantly simple: Gibson just removed all the stuff that made a regular Les Paul expensive. There was no carved maple top on the mahogany body. There was one P-90 pickup instead of two – which also cut down the cost of the pots, wiring and knobs. There was no fancy body or neck binding, either.
What was left was a slab-bodied, single- cutaway rock machine with a fat neck and one of the greatest-sounding pickups ever created. Sure, it was noisy – classic P-90s hum like hell – but something magical happens when you run a mahogany-bodied guitar with a P-90 pup through a great valve amp. The tone cuts through a mix like no other guitar, except maybe a Telecaster.
The single-cut Junior was unveiled in 1954, while the two-pickup Special was launched a year later. The Junior body shape later switched to a twin-cutaway format in mid-1958 before being rebooted in the SG profile in 1961. However, it took the Les Paul Junior – and its more well-endowed brother, the Special – years to achieve legend status. In the meantime, guitarists such as New York Doll Johnny Thunders, who played a double-cut Junior, and many of his fellow punks picked up 50s and 60s Juniors and Specials for next to nothing.
The ones that didn't end up trashed are now worth upwards of £5,000. Probably the highest-profile user of Gibson Les Paul Juniors these days is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. After using his vintage Junior, 'Floyd', on the American Idiot album and subsequent world tour, the guitarist was rewarded with his own Gibson signature model. Launched in 2007, Billie Joe's axe was available in Vintage Sunburst, White and Ebony finishes, but more importantly, it had that unmistakable Junior roar – and that's something every guitarist should experience.
Gibson Les Paul Junior Timeline
Gibson unvieils the now classic Les Paul Junior
The Junior is relaunched as a double-cutaway guitar
The body shape shifts again to the new SG format
Billie Joe Armstrong gets his own signature LP Junior