Produced from 1954 to 1956, the Black Beauty Custom is one of the most revered Les Pauls.
Marketed as the “fretless wonder” for its small frets, it was given an elegant black finish to match the tuxedos of gigging guitarists of the time. Today, vintage originals start around $20,000, while reissues live in the four-figure range. But Epiphone now offers an inspired limited edition for well under a grand.
We put on our cummerbunds to give it a whirl.
In fine tradition, this Les Paul has a low-gloss finish and Gibson USA P-90 pickups. The 24.75″ scale neck sports a 22-fret ebony fingerboard (12″ radius) on a mahogany neck set into a mahogany body. Gold hardware is complemented by yellowed binding and pearloid inlays on the fingerboard and the classic split-parallelogram on the headstock. It even comes in a plush hardshell case.
In the hand, this is a beefy guitar. The test instrument weighed around 8.5 pounds and had a baseball-bat-like large-C neck profile. But it was set up nicely and played great after a period of adjusting to the frets. Keep in mind the Black Beauty was designed for jazzers of the day, and its smaller frets yield a slower note attack.
The beefy feeling of the body neck is matched by a huge tone. In studio tests, the guitar delivered fat clean tones, but the shocker was how well it handled heavier distortion. Despite bearing single-coils, the 1955 Custom is surprisingly free of hum and noise; they rage nearly like a set of PAF humbuckers through a cranked half-stack. The rock attitude is impressive.
For relatively little coin, this Les Paul is loaded with vintage vibe and feel. Sure, it’s chunky, but it plays great and has powerhouse tone. Tuxedo optional.
This article originally appeared in VG May 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.