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Jimmy Page And The Les Paul Standard
Jimmy Page was a bad boy—one of rock 'n' roll’s early rebels. He wore his Les Paul slung low at his crotch and performed with a confident, serpentine swagger—forgoing technical perfection for passion and raw emotion. With a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth and wearing his infamous dragon suit, he epitomized the 70’s rock guitar god with all its excesses, adoration, and vices.
Then there was the sound. Nothing sounds quite like a Les Paul Standard powered by a cranked 100-watt Marshall stack. Tough. Gritty. Distorted. It was the prize of Page’s arsenal and powered his vision of electric blues that would become the trademark of Led Zeppelin’s sound.
On the first Led Zeppelin record Page played a Fender Telecaster given to him by Jeff Beck, and used a Gibson J-200 for the acoustic tracks. From Led Zeppelin II onward he used a 1959 Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard sold to him by James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh in 1969. It’s one of the most famous guitars in rock ‘n’ roll history and is referred to as “Number One.” You can hear this guitar on the songs “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker,” each with some of the most memorable guitar riffs in the rock genre.
When Led Zeppelin II was finished, Page obtained a second Les Paul Standard he called “Number Two.” He had the neck shaved to resemble “Number One’s” feel and shape, and installed push-pull pots to split the guitar’s duel humbucking pickups. These two guitars established Jimmy Page’s signature tone—a distinctive mixture of bone-shaking, distorted rhythms and crisp, soaring leads. This sound would become the sonic blue print for the genre and the standard for every hard rocker to follow in his footsteps.
Page was a musical craftsman who knew how to use the right tools for the right job. In addition to the Les Paul Standard he used a relatively simple backline to achieve massive tones. For amps he alternated between a Marshall SLP 1959 100-watt head modded to output 200-watts, a Fender Dual Showman, a Fender Vibro-King, a Vox AC-30, and an assortment of Hiwatt and Orange amps. For his effects, Page relied on the Sola Sound Tonebender, Roger Mayer Fuzz Box, Vox Crybaby Wah, Maestro Echoplex, MXR Phase 90, and an MXR Blue Box.
While contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Ritchie Blackmore displayed more technical virtuosity and leaned toward a smoother Fender Stratocaster through Marshall sound, Page preferred the earthy and volatile crunch of the Les Paul Standard through his modded Marshalls. The guitars and amps were just the beginning of his sonic recipe. How these instruments were recorded in the studio is what separates Jimmy Page from his contemporaries. He was a visionary producer. His amps and effects were used together with innovative recording techniques that are still used today. Page’s early years as a top session guitarist and producer had served him well imbuing him with great technical knowledge and a plethora of creative ideas.
He used the recording studio as an instrument unto itself and dreamed up a myriad of sounds with his creative use of microphone placement. He utilized the acoustic properties of the rooms he recorded in to his advantage. He discovered that by placing the microphone farther away from his amp, he could find a sweet spot that yielded huge tonal colors. His guitar sounded bigger with less distortion, because the microphone was picking up the sound of the room and not just the amp.
In the producer’s chair for Led Zeppelin, Page was an unstoppable music force. The result would produce classic rock staples such as “Dazed And Confused,” “What Is And What Shall Never Be,” and “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman).”
The Les Paul Standard gave Led Zeppelin II a thick chunky bark that was missing from Led Zeppelin I. With the help of engineer Eddie Kramer, the guitars were mixed with more clarity and a punchier sound. Jimmy Page took his eclectic influences and morphed them into fresh new sounds creating a whole new lexicon in blues-rock music. The Les Paul Standard was instrumental to his craft, and the world has never been the same.