10 of the most iconic Gibson Les Paul Junior players

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10 of the most iconic Gibson Les Paul Junior players

Les Paul Junior
Words by Pete Hodgson

Join us, as we pay tribute to the many talented musicians who are proud Gibson Les Paul Junior players.

The life of the Les Paul Junior life began in 1954 as an affordable Les Paul alternative, and its maintained that purpose in a relative sense even as it relates to the vintage market: there are a lot of them out there and they’re often seen as a good entry point to vintage guitar collecting, with prices coming in way way way below those of a 50s Standard or Custom. That is to say, you can still find them for four figures, even if those figures tend to start with an 8 or a 9…

Gibson Les Paul

Read more gear features, artist interviews and how-to columns here.

What’s particularly fun about the Junior is that it’s not any one specific guitar: it has various related family members such as the Les Paul Junior DC double cut, the Les Paul Special (essentially a Junior with an extra pickup) and DC Special (ditto), and even SG-based variations. And while not technically a Junior, the Melody Maker model is often put in the same category, being intended for entry level players but being prized for its tone and playability – and for being even more affordable on the vintage market. You can find actual 60s Melody Makers for below five grand, well below a brand new Gibson Custom Shop instrument. 

So join us, as we pay tribute to Gibson’s entry-level guitars and the players who have rocked them, from Melody Makers to Juniors to DCs.

Joan Jett

Gibson Melody Maker

The Gibson Melody Maker isn’t literally a Les Paul Junior but it gets a special mention here because Joan Jett’s iconic Melody Maker is so often confused for a Junior. The Melody Maker was designed as an even more affordable students’ guitar compared to the Junior, and it has gone through many permutations over the years including single-cut, double-cut and even SG variations. Joan’s white-with-black-pickguard Melody Maker is currently reproduced in an Epiphone model (Melbourne readers may have seen it at the Melbourne Guitar Show recently).

Gibson Les Paul Junior

Jane Wiedlin 

Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Weidlin has used an astonishing array of cool little guitars over the years, and she is indeed a Les Paul Junior player, as well as a lover of many Junior-adjacent guitars, including a gorgeous Les Paul Special Double Cut and a cherry red Gibson SG Junior, with its lone P90 pickup and wraparound bridge very much tying it to the Les Paul Junior family. You can spot the SG Junior in the ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ video.

Gary Moore

Although Gary Moore is most famously associated with his ‘Greeny’ 1959 Les Paul, previously owned by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and subsequently and currently by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, he logged considerable hours on a 1955 Les Paul Junior acquired in 1978. He used this guitar with Thin Lizzy and in his early solo career, and you can definitely hear its ragged bite in Moore’s earlier rock-oriented stuff. 

Mark McEntee

The Divinyls guitarist has been seen with Les Pauls of various types throughout his career, but perhaps his most remembered to casual listeners is the TV Yellow DC Special featured in the video for /I Touch Myself.’ But McEntee’s main guitar for both touring and recording with Dininyls was 1978 black Les Paul Special with cream P90 pickups – and that instrument was sold not too long ago to some lucky collector!

Leslie West

You can’t talk Les Paul Junior without talking Leslie West! West had a particular way of playing, a very direct, no-bullcrap, in-your-face attack which his Les Paul Junior was perfectly suited for. That guitar actually originally belonged to Mountain bass player Felix Pappalardi, who wasn’t a fan of the guitar West was playing at the time, and directed the guitarist down to a guitar shop in Greenwich Village where Pappalardi’s Les Paul Junior was undergoing some repair work. The rest is rock history, as you’ll hear on ‘Mississippi Queen.’

Billie Joe Armstrong

Although the majority of players who made the Les Paul Junior famous did so in the 60s and 70s, its continued popularity has definitely got something to do with one Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, whose favourite Junior is a 1956 original named Floyd, which he acquired in 2000 right before recording Warning. Armstrong has played plenty of Juniors over the years, including a black 1959 example and a signature Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Junior Doublecut available in 2012-13. Today Epiphone offers a Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Junior in Classic White complete with a powerful PRO P-90 pickup. A few years ago Gibson even unveiled a hum bucker-equipped Billie Joe Les Paul Junior, as you’ll see in this video. 

Paul Westerberg

Given the contentious, fractious relationship between the members of The Replacements, one wonders if any of Paul Westerberg’s various Les Paul Juniors and DCs have at any point sailed through the air towards a bandmate’s head. The sound of the Junior was perfectly suited to the Replacements sound: brash, bright, a little dirty, but always musical. 

Bob Marley

If you think Bob Marley’s famous Les Paul Special looks a little different to the average stock model, you’re absolutely right: Marley’s Special was previously owned by guitar maker Dan Armstrong (he of the clear lucite guitars bearing his name), replacing the original dot fingerboard markers with dots, modifying the finish and binding the headstock. But between Armstrong and Marley the guitar had had another owner: Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Clearly this instrument was destined for great things, it just had to find the right hands to make it sing. The distinctive oversized pickup selector switch plate was a later addition after a nasty onstage incident damaged the wood, and later modifications were made including a new bridge and tailpiece setup, ultimately ending up in the hands of pedal maker and Jimi Hendrix tone guru Roger Mayer for a setup and electronics refresh for recording. That guitar with all its mods – including a new aluminium pickgard added for Marley by Mayer – was later replicated by Gibson, but the original resides in Jamaica (despite rumours it was buried with Marley). 

John Lennon

John Lennon used plenty of different guitars throughout his career, including his famous Rickenbackers, but one of his most distinctive was a Les Paul Junior he picked up in original condition complete with factory Tobacco Sunburst finish. But that’s not how we remember it: luthier Ron DeMarino modified the heck out of this guitar, installing new pickups including routing the neck position for a Charlie Christian single coil, and replacing the original wraparound bridge for a stop tailpiece. The guitar was also relieved of its original paint job in favour of the natural Mahogany look. The guitar was eventually re-refinished in a cherry stain, a modification that was replicated when Gibson released an official version of the guitar in 2007.

Johnny Thunders

There is no Les Paul Junior story without Johnny Thunders. Sure, the model had been around for years before he rose to prominence with the New York Dolls, but it didn’t truly find its voice in a rock context until Thunders slung one low, slumped back and played those filthy, pure, driving riffs that only he could play, and which countless others have unsuccessfully tried to mimic since. The Junior provided the exact level of no-nonsense directness for Thunders’ playing, and he also looked like a bona fide goddamn guitar hero when he held the thing. 

Read more about the Gibson Les Paul Junior here.