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Why did Steve Jones play a Les Paul with the Sex Pistols?


There is no guitar more synonymous with rock and roll history than the Gibson Les Paul. With its only competition coming from Fender Stratocasters, which also were used in genres like country and jazz, the Les Paul was largely used to play one genre and one genre only: rock.

Just look at the names of the players: Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh, Pete Townshend, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, Marc Bolan, Duane Allman, Ace Frehley, Billy Gibbons, and Peter Green, just to name a few. From the bombastic stages of arena rock to the world-conquering power of classic rock, the Les Paul was emblematic of a distinct era of rock and roll. That same era also happened to be the one that punk rock was looking to destroy in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Punk guitarists didn’t wield Les Pauls: most of them were self-taught and didn’t have the kind of money to shell out for a guitar as expensive as a Gibson. So they made do with cheaper models: Johnny Ramone famously favoured Mosrite instruments, while Pat Smear favoured discontinued Hagström models. These were the instruments that could be bought cheap, thrashed on, and destroyed (if need be), but even if a punk guitarist could afford a Les Paul, the optics of owning a monument to dinosaur rock was enough to put most players off.

There was a notable exception, however: Steve Jones, guitarist for legendary punk trailblazers Sex Pistols. Unlike his peers in the London punk scene, Jones had no problem being seen with his cream-coloured Les Paul Custom. Especially in his early years of playing, Jones often claimed to have stolen the majority of his gear, but according to the man himself, the Les Paul was a legitimate acquisition.

“The one that I started playing was the one that [Sex Pistols’ manager] Malcolm McLaren actually brought back from New York that he got off Sylvain [Sylvain, guitarist for the New York Dolls], which was the white Gibson Les Paul,” Jones told “A ’74, I think it was, a white Custom.”

The guitar was originally painted Arctic White, but years of cigarette smoking and poorly-ventilated clubs caused the guitar to turn into its familiar yellow hue. The two stickers of pinup girls were also an addition by Sylvain, but Jones opted not to remove them or make any modifications to the guitar when it became his.

Pretty much any live footage of Jones during the Sex Pistols years shows him playing the Les Paul, and it was his main guitar throughout the recording of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The instrument’s fat tone gave an additional layer of bite to tracks like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’. Jones’ favouring of the Les Paul proved that not everything about punk had to come from the gutter, with Jones’ high-quality six-string providing a classic sound that helps the Sex Pistols’ music still be impactful 45 years later.

Watch Jones play ‘Anarchy in the UK’ on his Gibson Les Paul down below.