What's the one Gibson we all instantly picture when we think of the brand? I'm sure this is debatable, but for most people, it's the one and only Les Paul- the singlecut guitar, 2 pickups, 4 knobs, and timeless style. Whether you know it or not, the Les Paul is actually a signature model, designed by and for a man bearing the name of the axe. Les Paul was a truly magnificent player and has left his mark on music both in sound and design. Les Paul guitars have become SO popular, there are some guitarists who refuse to play anything ELSE. It's singlecut or die!
So there just so happens to be, as with any guitar design, a first- a prototype. This Les Paul Prototype is known as "Black Beauty" and with its sleek black colors and gold hardware dates back all the way to 1954. Obviously, Les Paul himself played this axe, and had it with him for over two decades- seeing countless stages and performance halls and venues. This was the test platform that Les Paul used to refine and modify the guitar's features. Pretty cool to think that so many of the things we take for granted on modern guitars probably stemmed from the lessons learned by Paul on this axe!
Particularly fascinating about this guitar, are all of the features that are both totally recognizable and others that do not seem "traditional" at all! For starters, the look/shape/binding of the guitar is all what we expect. The grouping of knobs and switches is right, but something is "off". The strap buttons are in the same place and so is the pickguard. The fret inlays look how we're used to them looking. But that's about where it all ends. The input jack is on the FRONT of the top, the knobs are arranged L to R, rather than in their typical quadrant, the toggle goes L to R and also has another knob next to it..... What is this knob you ask!? Well, Les Paul wanted to be able to talk with ease so ABOVE this knob you will see an XLR jack to plug in a short microphone, and this knob was the mic's volume control! This is something that was totally original!
The volume and tone knobs are chickenhead, rather than circular, and the FUNCTION of these knobs is not your typical 2 vol/2 tone. One knob was actually a switch, not a pot, and controlled phasing, another selected variable impedance (50, 200, 500, or 600 ohms) on a transformer, plus a low-impedance jack (the one on top). The high impedance jack is in the normal spot! The pickups are narrowfield soapbar style, rather than the beefy humbuckers we're so used to, and most noticeable of all is the massive gold Bigsby style tremolo arm affixed to the guitar's bridge! This thing would really be a "do it all" guitar, and seems to fit in perfectly with Les Paul's style. If you needed a guitar that cover all the sounds, this was really the tool you needed! Pretty cool to think, that this guitar likely was a living embodiment of "if you want it done right, do it yourself".
So on February 19, 2015, you can bid on this historical axe- an axe that Guernsey's (the auction company) is calling the most significant electric guitar ever made! And it's right to say so, think of how many artists and bands rely on this guitar's look, feel, and sound to create the music that has played the soundtrack to entire generations. The singlecut guitar with a pair of humbucking pickups. Beauty and elegance in design. Thank you, Les Paul.
And personally, I cannot wait to see what this thing ends up selling for- the pricetag on a guitar that is really quite priceless. Before it sells too, I think it'd be wise to let Joe Bonamassa flirt with this thing for a bit, just to hear a master paired with another master! Whattdya-say?!
Want to bid? Or maybe just see history in the making?
And hey, join me in geeking out with Tom Doyle, Les Paul's personal luthier/sound man/tech/co-inventor!
Photograph: Chris Vincent/AP and NBC