“His soul came out through that guitar!” said influential guitarist Paul Barrere about blues guitarist Peter Green and his 1959 Les Paul Standard.
One of the most iconic ’Bursts, it helped Green create some of the most passionate blues ever heard.
Les Paul Standards made from 1958 to ’60 were the final incarnation of the company’s original solidbody electric, and the first to sport a sunburst finish (instead of opaque gold) that revealed figured maple tops with distinct characteristics that make them prized in the vintage market. The fact ’Bursts were equipped with Gibson’s famed Patent Applied For (P.A.F.) pickups further adds to their allure.
In the mid ’60s, Michael Bloomfield and Eric Clapton helped call attention to single-cut Les Pauls; Bloomfield played one at the Monterey Pop Festival with The Electric Flag, while Clapton did likewise with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and in the early days of Cream. Given the ferocity of their riffs, it’s little wonder the guitars caught the ear of other musicians.
Peter Alan Greenbaum was born October 29, 1946, and grew up in post-war England. His identification with blues music was shaped in part by his experiences with anti-Semitism. He came to notice at age 20, after replacing Eric Clapton in the Bluebreakers in 1966 and was already playing a ’Burst when a photo of him appeared in an English music periodical announcing his membership.
Green played on Mayall’s A Hard Road, where his work garnered a lot of appreciation. Especially notable was the eerie sustain on the instrumental “The Supernatural.”
After his short time with the Bluesbreakers, Green founded Fleetwood Mac in 1967 with drummer Mick Fleetwood. There, the potency and emotion purveyed by player and instrument flowered. One reason his ’Burst created such distinct sounds was the reverse-mounted neck pickup, a factory error that gave the instrument in an oozing, out-of-phase tone.
For all of the recorded material on which Green played his Les Paul, perhaps the purest validation of their combined capabilities can be found on the simplest material. Blues Jam in Chicago featured Fleetwood Mac playing with Windy City blues greats, and was recorded in a marathon session on January 4, 1969. This rollicking, uncluttered bluesfest features Green’s Les Paul at its passionate best, especially on tracks like “Homework.”
Obviously, concert material would also be a soughtafter source for guitar lovers and blues fans, and some recorded in early 1970 at the Boston Tea Party is another tone fete. Green’s deft, heartfelt touch is enthralling on “Black Magic Woman” and “Jumpin’ At Shadows.” At times during “Rattlesnake Snake” it sounds like the guitar is screaming (both Boston Tea Party versions of “Rattlesnake Shake” clock in at about 25 minutes and interpolate riffs from “Underway” and the “Madge” jams).
Green’s authenticity even earned accolades from black American bluesmen who were grateful to see British players re-importing American music. Following his departure from Fleetwood Mac, Green sold this instrument to Irish guitarist Gary Moore, who used it extensively during his tenure with Thin Lizzy and his prolific solo career.
One of Moore’s most meaningful uses of the guitar was during the recording of the 1995 tribute album, Blues for Greeny.
“Peter was there, sitting offstage,” Moore recalled in Vintage Guitar’s May ’03 issue. “It was really spooky – he’s sitting there watching me play his music, on his guitar. It was a bit nerveracking.”
This guitar has been through a lot and suffered at least one trauma, evidenced by a repaired crack from near the low E-string post to the B-string post. It’s unsightly, but structurally stable. The finish has noticeably faded, and non-original items include Sperzel tuners, Dunlop strap-lock buttons, and the lower two control knobs.
The Peter Green/Gary Moore Les Paul will forever fascinate guitar lovers and blues fans with its evocative, inimitable tone.
The original version of this story appeared in the August ’06 issue of Vintage Guitar. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.