The Gibson Les Paul. Four words. Sixteen letters. Major guitar history.
No, it wasn’t the first electric guitar. Nor was it the first solidbody electric. But when the model was introduced in 1952, it was the first solidbody guitar to carry the prestigious name, “Gibson,” on its headstock.
And although its greatness may not have been fully realized, in retrospect, the original Les Paul today is coming into its own as an underrated collectible, having been the platform chosen for introducing the humbucking pickup, and later used to sport flamed maple tops and sunburst finishes of Golithian importance.
But we digress.
The original Les Paul was available in any color you wanted – as long as it was gold! Thus, it was dubbed “the goldtop.” And recently, Gibson’s Custom Shop undertook the task of re-creating this sublime piece of guitar history.
Available in reborn versions of all its classic incarnations (’52 with P-90s and trapeze tail, ’54 with P-90s and wraparound, ’56 with P-90s and stop tailpiece, ’57 with humbuckers and stoptail), the Goldtop Reissue is a nice mix of features old and new; “Les Paul model” is silkscreened on the face of the headstock, and Gibson still uses nitrocellulose lacquer to finish its instruments. And all of them sport a new color Gibson calls Antique Gold.
In terms of electronics, the guitar has the standard two volumes and two tone controls and the three-way pickup selector. Nickel hardware is used throughout with vintage-style reissue tuning keys, and the guitars arrive from the CS strung with .010-.046 Gibson Vintage Series strings. There’s also a Gibson hardshell case, with blanket – except for the ’56 and ’57 “aged” versions, which feature a vintage reissue case.
Technical details include a neck and back made of mahogany, a fingerboard of Madagascar rosewood based on a 12″ radius with a 243/4″ scale length, and a nut width of 111/16″. Neck inlays copy the original trapezoid design, and binding on the neck is narrow – as it was in the ’50s.
“The original purpose of neck binding was to make the guitar cosmetically attractive, but it also has a practical purpose,” said Edwin Wilson, Custom Shop Historic Program Manager. “It creates a classic transition between the maple top and the mahogany body.
Because the ’52 Goldtop is a special guitar (the original was, after all, the first solidbody guitar to carry the Gibson name), Wilson said that artisans roll and shape the necks on these reissues, leaving them a little fatter. He likens them to the neck on a ’59 Les Paul – chunkier and more rounded.
The ’52’s great-sounding P-90 pickups, wound to old specs, give the guitar a clean, open tone that maintains its edge when pushed hard. The ’54 has the new wraparound tailpiece and also comes with P-90s. This bridge works great for those who palm-mute strings.
The evolution of the instrument becomes more apparent with the P-90-equipped ’56. This marked a first for Gibson when it incorporated the separate bridge/tailpiece ABR-1 and the stop tailpiece, which yields better sustain.
The 1957 Les Paul is one of the most significant electric guitars because it was the platform chosen to launch the humbucking pickup. In that spirit, the ’57 reissue does likewise.
If you’re a fan of “aged” guitars, the line’s ’56 and ’57 models are available with the renowned touch of Tom Murphy – hand-aged to simulate a few decades worth of gigging, travel, weather, and heartbreak. Murphy’s handywork is done by…um… hand…so each guitar has its own unique cosmetic qualities.
Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Reissue
Type of Guitar: Solidbody electric
Features: Carved maple top; solid mahogany back and neck; binding on body and neck; nickel hardware; various bridge/tailpiece/pickup configurations depending on model; two tone, two volume controls; three-way pickup selector; 22-fret bound rosewood fingerboard with pearl trapezoid inlays; 24 3/4″ scale length; Antique Gold finish.
Price: $4,279 to $7,700 (retail)
Contact: Gibson USA, local Gibson Custom/Art/Historic dealers, www.gibsoncustom.com.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s May ’01 issue.