The Most Influential Guitar of All Time?
Long before I started playing guitar, I was aware of the Gibson brand, the legendary instrument manufacturer that so many of my guitar heroes were drawn to. As I got older, I was able to identify Les Pauls, SGs, Flying Vs, Explorers, etc., regarding them all with covetous looks through guitar shop windows. When I was old enough to lay down some money for my own instrument, I settled on a humble Epiphone acoustic (still got it, still pull it out every day for an auld strum).
Still though, I’ve always had my eyes on a Gibson Les Paul, as many have. But it wasn’t until I was around 16 or so that I stumbled upon the mythos surrounding the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. The mystique surrounding that particular model seemed more alluring than any other I’d encountered previously, and its legend still lives on to this day. I have seen grown men weep at the thought of just getting to see one, let alone touch one (wonder what would happen if they played one?).
What makes the ’59 so special?
As we noted in our previous article on the Les Paul Gold Top, the 50s saw several incarnations of the electric guitar that bore the Wisconsin native’s name. Variations on woods used, bridge setup, pickup design, etc., came and went. However, it is widely regarded that those subtle adjustments and advancements in technology created a harmonious marriage of feel, tone, and looks in the ’59 Standard.
Hand-finished necks gave way to very individual characteristics in terms of feel between models so, no two were ever quite the same. The mahogany body was coupled with a maple top, which was then treated to a red pigment burst that tended to fade at different rates from model to model. The inherent inconsistencies again enhanced the unique quality of each model. Depending upon how often they’ve been played, exposed to sunlight or even red-hot stage lights, there’s a sweeping ranges of hues borne across the ages. There are so many in fact, that aficionados tend towards their own favourites, which Gibson have tried painstakingly to recreate in subsequent models, e.g. Tea Burst, Honey Burst, Heritage Cherry Burst, Tobacco Burst, and many more.
Timing is everything
Everything fell into place at the right time too. Originally built to provide a versatile yet powerful instrument for guitarists in jazz ensembles to hold their own against louder instruments, the Les Paul became the go to for pioneering rock ‘n’ roll stars and blues players.
Through the 1960s the ’59 Les Paul found its way into the hands of Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Paul Kossof, and Keith Richards. Extending its reach into the 1970s, the ’59 further cemented its legacy in the hands of Bernie Marsden, Don Felder, Steve Lukather, Billy Gibbons, and Jimmy Page. The quintessential rock star image of guitarist with Les Paul slung over their shoulders in front of a hefty Marshall stack was set in stone.
The myths and legends surrounding different guitarist’s ’59 Les Paul models only serves to cultivate its legend from Paul Kossof’s broken warhorse with dents aplenty to Bernie Marsden’s “The Beast” – so called because it plays like a beast! Adoption by guitarists who themselves became icons helped to perpetuate the ’59 story, not least Peter Green’s. Originally owned by the former Fleetwood Mac axeman, which went on to become Gary Moore’s go to, and has ultimately found its way into the vast collection of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett! That model alone has exceeded the $1m mark!
Gibson Collectors Choice #11 aka ‘Rosie’
A couple of years ago the Gibson Custom Shop released their Collectors Choice #11 aka ‘Rosie’. Described as being as close to the real thing you could get without actually having a time machine, Rosie was based on a ’59 Les Paul Standard that had only two previous owners and had spent most of her life in a dimly lit collector’s room. Thanks to very little exposure to sunlight, she still has the original, unfaded dark cherry finish.
Gibson’s Custom Shop team used advanced scanning technology to faithfully capture everything about the guitar to the most minute detail from the curvature of the neck to the hue of the body stain. So coveted is the ’59 Les Paul Standard that even a modern-day recreation such as the Rosie commands upwards of £6000 on the used market!
Several collector’s choice models were made, including a rendition of Bernie Marsden’s “The Beast”.
Getting close to the ’59 today?
Earlier this year at NAMM 2019 we were treated to a host of awesome surprises from Gibson Brands, none other than a plethora of Les Pauls. Exciting was palpable when the 60th Anniversary 1959 Les Paul Standard was announced by the Gibson Custom Shop team. Adhering closely to the original specs once again, they gone to great lengths to recreate a masterful display of guitar excellence.
However, a more affordable option for the rest of us that stands out is the Gibson Les Paul Standard 50s in sublime Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Tobacco Burst. Production line models they may be, but they boast a feel and tone that would make their predecessors proud. Equipped with a host of modern appointments that serve to recreate the classic character of the late ’50s Les Paul. Don’t take my word for it though, check out the video below to see Tom Quayle put on through its paces. Oh Lord!
Get in touch
Nowadays there’s all manner of Les Paul’s that you can get featuring varying degrees of weight relief, pickup arrangements, and a variety of colours and finishes. Check out our extensive range of Les Pauls over at the Dawsons website. Alternatively, head to your nearest Dawsons store where our in-store specialists are more than happy to help you out.
If you liked that then you might like this
Find out where Gibson came from and where they’re going in our article “Gibson: A New Beginning for the Guitar Titan“.
Check out our overview of the recently released Gibson models in our appropriately named article “Gibson Are Back With a Bang: Epic Models Abound“. If you’ve not already seen them, I suggest you get to it!
Beef up your knowledge with our handy “Guide to Gibson Pickups“.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.