The guitars that Jimmy Page wielded during his legendary time in Led Zeppelin have come to take on a fair amount of legend themselves. There’s the Fender Telecaster that early tracks such as ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’ were recorded on. There’s the Danelectro that Page favoured for alternate tunings, specifically the psychedelic chug of ‘Kashmir’. And there is the Gibson EDS-1275, which brought the complex multitracked guitar parts of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘The Rain Song’ to life during concerts.
However, if there is a single guitar that Page will be associated with until the end of time, it had to be the Gibson Les Paul. Page was still almost exclusively using his Telecaster when he was approached by a young upstart American guitarist by the name of Joe Walsh in 1969. Walsh was 21, unknown, and had only just recently put out his debut, Yer’ Album, with The James Gang. As strange as it may seem, Walsh and Page were contemporaries cutting their teeth in the American touring circuit for a brief overlap of the late ’60s. Walsh was eager to provide Page with a solid tool of the trade, and Page gamely ponied up $500 (just short of $4,000 today) for the Les Paul.
“The James Gang opened for Led Zeppelin when they first came to America,” Walsh recalled during his appearance on the Wrong Notes podcast. “So Jimmy and I became friends… He said, ‘This Telecaster ain’t cutting it for Led Zeppelin. And I don’t know what to do.’ Now, Les Pauls virtually didn’t exist in England at the time. They didn’t hit popularity yet, and they were pretty easy to find because they hadn’t been discovered – and they didn’t cost very much.”
Whether Walsh or Page knew it at the time, that particular sunburst brand of 1959 Gibson Les Paul would soon become the Holy Grail of guitars. A number of Page’s friends in the British music scene were using the guitar, including Keith Richards, Peter Green, and close friend/fellow Yardbird Jeff Beck. The ’59 model was not a success when it was first released, with less than 2,000 guitars being produced before Gibson decided to switch gears. Due to the scarcity and prominence in rock and roll history, any legitimate ’59 sunburst is likely to go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Page took an immediate liking to the sturdiness and power of the Les Paul, and with the help of Eric Clapton, Page soon stumbled upon the perfect combination – Gibson Les Paul, Marshall amplifiers, cranked volume. Unlike the Telecaster, the Les Paul produced a fatter tone, one that fits right into the evolving sound of Led Zeppelin. Page acquired the guitar on tour, and it just so happened to coincide with the ongoing recordings sessions for Led Zeppelin II, which was largely put to tape in piecemeal fashion over Zeppelin’s rest days on the road.
Songs like ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Bring It On Home’, and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ were brought to life thanks to the sound of the Les Paul. Page used it as his top stage guitar as well, and it quickly acquired revered status as his ‘Number One’ instrument. As Zeppelin became the biggest band in the world, most pictures of Page in action showed him pounding out the monster riffs and majestic solos while playing that very same Les Paul that Walsh had given him in 1969.