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“The first thing we considered was sustain. The purpose of the model was to sustain without having to mother a note or pick the string twice. And it needed to be even, long, and with distinctive decay…It had the right combination of mahogany and maple – and pickups,” Les Paul from an interview for Vintage Guitar Magazine
It feels like what hasn’t been written about Les Paul, the man or the guitar, isn’t worth writing anymore. Born in the crucible of the the 20th Century’s most innovative period, with the new dawn light breaking through the dust clouds of war and under threat from Leo Fender and his solid body revolution, Ted McCarthy, Les Paul and Seth Lover spearheaded the genesis of Gibson’s next phase and sealed the companies position in the pantheon of electric guitar for decades to come. From How High the Moon to Hammer of the Gods, these guitars have become the benchmark of tone and for many collectors the white whale, with a mythological status to match.
We have been told this guitar was originally ‘discovered’ by Phil Taylor (David Gilmore’s long time RH man) in Italy where he bought it and brought it back to the UK. The original owner had it stolen in the 70’s but it was swiftly recovered. The thief tried to disguise the serial number with filler which was removed however the number was a bit indistinct after the filler removal so it was brought to a fine art restorer in London who with the aid of his infra red camera, revealed and confirmed the original serial number. It was then sent to the ‘Over The Pond Guy’ who touched up the original number and applied a light clearcoat over that area only. You have to look hard to see this, even under black light.
When Phil Taylor bought the guitar it had a pair of DiMarzio pickups fitted and some barrel knobs. Luckily, the original and unmolested PAF’s were in the case. OTPG refitted them and a vintage correct set of 1960 short shaft, shallow dish knobs were located.
So, what about this one? Considering the back story that would certainly be worthy of an ITV3 plot line, this guitar has made it to the 21st Century in remarkably good condition. Inevitably for a guitar that sounds as good as this one there are signs of play wear in all the right places, subtle forearm wear with corresponding wear on the back, dinks and scratches and the general hallmarks of a cherished instrument. None of these detract from a top that has such a multifaceted depth as this, the pattern of the grain changing quite dramatically as its viewed from different angles. The previous owner was so drawn to this that he named the guitar ‘Dante’ (featured on page 208 of the ‘Burst Believers IV’ book) You however, can call it whatever you like. Accentuated by the very lightly faded sunburst finish, it all makes for a stunning visual package.
The back retains that deep cherry tint that so wonderfully highlights the grain of the mahogany. Here, as mentioned, there are wear marks and minor dinks though it evident no one wore an oversized belt buckle whilst playing. As classic guitar finish if ever there was one.
As with the body, the neck shows the signs of use, with the expected wear up and down its length, the finish fading in-between. As previously detailed, the back the headstock is the only area to have been refinished, though this is not immediately evident. The fretboard has been refretted at some stage, the frets themselves a sign of the times being as they are slightly bigger than the originals would have been. Thankfully the fretboard hasn’t been sanded and the inlays are in good shape. The binding shows no signs of breaks or repair.
The plastics are in great condition. The pickup rings and shallow dish knobs can often be casualties to time and their association with the burst elevates the price to eye-watering figures, so its fantastic to see them here in such good condition.
The hardware has a patina that only age can produce. Here again theres the expected with wear and no signs of any corrosion.
Electrically there are the indicators of the solder being disturbed as you’d expect with the pickups having been changed. Elsewhere though the solder joints look to be undisturbed. The covers on the PAF pickups don’t look to have been removed so we could say that they still have their original windings.
The guitar comes with a brown Lifton 4 latch hardshell case that it has been in for ever and we have been told Selmer did supply Bursts in these cases. If however you do prefer a 5 latch one, this can be negotiated.
So how does it sound? For those of you who reached for the smelling salts having seen the price tag, I’m afraid it bad news. It sounds transcendental. For anyone who’s paid even a passing interest in rock and blues music post 1965, this guitar ticks all the right boxes. Flat out its raunchy and responsive with an almost infinite sustain that makes it feel like its playing you. Dialled back,it clean up beautifully whilst retaining a clarity that is such a hallmark of these instruments. Marry this with a slim neck that is a marker towards the future of the brand with and frets that let you dig in with confidence, its an unbeatable package.
Other things to note. The serial number was etched in the neck pickup cavity wall by someone and there is someones phone number (we think) etched on the back of the control cavity cover. Included are some period items of case candy and a couple of repros.
There is no cheaper way of booking your place at the burst club, but this guitar epitomises all that we look for in a les paul and shows you that they may all try but they will never truly capture the magic of the real thing.