Gibson Les Paul Artist Model: No Moog for Guitarists?
By Mike Slubowski

December 2002

(please click on images to enlarge)

One of the most interesting and short-lived Les Paul models in Gibson's Norlin era was the Les Paul Artist model (sometimes also referred to as the "Les Paul Active"). The prototypes of the Les Paul Artist were developed in 1978, which used a circuit of active electronics originally developed for Gibson's RD Artist model.
In the late 70's, synthesizers were the rage, and Norlin surmised that a relationship with the famous synthesizer manufacturer, Moog, would aid Gibson at gaining market share for its guitars. MOOG synthesizers were manufactured and marketed by Norlin Industries Inc. beginning in approximately 1977 by way of an agreement with Dr. Moog. Subsequently the MOOG trademarks were assigned to Norlin.
The Gibson RD line (RD Artist) was launched in 1977, but did not turn out to be successful. Gibson believed that the radical styling of the RD Artist was to blame, and moved to combine the RD technology with traditional designs like the ES models and the Les Paul models.
 The Les Paul Artist actually has two circuit boards which are installed under a large control plate on the back of the Les Paul Artist model (see photos). There is also a separate control plate for the 9 volt battery placement. Because of the size of the circuit boards, a large amount of wood had to be removed from the back of the Les Paul. Despite this removal of wood, the Les Paul Artists are heavy guitars. The two Artists featured in the photos accompanying this article are 10 lbs. 5 oz. And 10 lbs. 2 oz., respectively.
  The Les Paul Artist is a handsome guitar with some very unique features besides the Moog circuit board and active electronics. All Artists were made in Nashville. The Artist has a unique peghead logo with the letters "LP" in script style, a gold truss rod cover with the "Les Paul Artist" inscription, brass nut, TP-6 fine tuning tailpiece,gold hardware, two potted gold plated Gibson Humbucking pickups, five piece laminated maple neck with volute, a bass, treble, and one master volume pot, brass nut, new design "scarfed" cutaway back, black speed knobs, gold jack plate, Nashville bridge, block fingerboard inlays, multi-ply binding on the top of the body, neck, and peghead, and three mini-toggle switches for compression, expansion, and brightness. The tone controls are active, with a notch in the midway ("0") position. With the tone controls at this mid-point, the sound of the Artist is close to a traditional Les Paul tone. The tone controls below this mid position (selections numbered 1-5) or above mid position (also numbered 1-5) actively "cut" or "boost" the tone, respectively. The active circuitry is enabled (and battery drain occurs) when a cord is plugged into the guitar's phone jack.
 Colors for the Artist were Antique Fireburst, Antique Sunburst, or Ebony finish. The Fireburst is a three-color sunburst (similar to modern day "Tri-Burst" Les Pauls). The photos of the two Artists with this article include one in Fireburst and one in Ebony. The Ebony Artist is in mint, unplayed condition with all dealer tags and warranty card and is still wearing its protective covering on the pickguard.
The craftsmanship of the Artist model was outstanding, with excellent fit, finish, and attention to detail.
The Artist is a unique sounding guitar, with many tonal variations. With the tone controls in the "boost" position, the guitar takes on a unique tone that seems suited for jazz or chord work with shimmering arpeggios. It can be shaped to sound very "Fender-esque" or very dark and woody with the adjustment of the tone controls and switches. The compression feature greatly increases the volume of the guitar in addition to working like a normal outboard compressor. The neck is of medium thickness and is very comfortable to play. The guitar is slightly neck heavy in design due to the removal of wood for the active electronics and the Custom-style (large) peghead.
The 1980 Gibson price list indicates a list price of $1,299.00 for the Artist, with an additional $119.50 for an optional Protector case. In contrast, the list prices for a Les Paul Artisan and Les Paul Custom were $1,099.00 and $949.00 respectively.
It is ironic that the complexity and wide sonic variety of the Artist led to its demise. In fact, when the author purchased his first LP Artist from a player in Ottumwa Iowa, the seller said that it was "too much guitar for him." Tim Shaw of Gibson said the he didn't appreciate until later that "…guitar players are really conservative folks, and nobody really wanted a Les Paul that did all that." Tim was also quoted as saying that "somebody once said that with one of those Artists you were a flick of a switch away from total disaster." Thus, the Artist, which was introduced in late 1979, was dropped by 1982 from the Gibson line.
In 1984 Norlin sold the MOOG music business to two former executives, but their company, Moog Electronics, went bankrupt. The company's assets were purchased by an investor group who also offered service and genuine repair parts for Moog music products
According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul Artists in excellent condition are selling in the $1,200-$1,500. price range. In the author's opinion, the Les Paul Artist is an excellent value in the vintage guitar market.
Due to the unique tone of this guitar, the author often uses this model for a rhythm track when recording.
The Les Paul Artist is another unique and special guitar in the history of Gibson Les Paul models, and is sought by collectors and players looking for something different in the Les Paul family.
NOTE from the author: As a member of the Les Paul Forum, I am always interested in learning new things about the details and history of Gibson Guitars. Thus, I appreciate any additional information or questions that readers may have about the history of the Les Paul Artist or any other Gibson model. Please contact me at

Credit is given to the Gibson Les Paul Book, by Tony Bacon and Paul Day, for some of the excerpts in this article.

Mike Slubowski is a Gibson enthusiast, collector, player, and author, with a special passion for Les Pauls.

This article and photos are property of Mike Slubowski.
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