At thirteen, I got my first electric. It was not a Gibson, but the Eko resonated (pun intended) Gibson’s archtop guitars and triggered a penchant for visible wood grain and the elegance of f-holes and bound edges. The front cover photo of Eric Clapton on his History album showed him with a full-size Gibson and established that you could be just as cool with that. At that time I hadn’t even heard of Steve Howe.
The sequence of things eludes me now. But in the course of a couple of years I learned about a guy called Les Paul who was an incredible player in spite of an elbow injury and who recorded everything at once. (It was probably told a little differently, but I was thirteen.) Thank you, Uncle Øystein! And my guitar tutor Odd Arne Jacobsen had a Gibson Les Paul, and the sound really got to me.
I have been reflecting on what it is with the sound of a Gibson that feels so appealing. One theory is: Probably the first grown-up song I could really relate to at the age of eight or so was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of Sixteen Tons. (Thanks again, Uncle Øystein.) The main instrument is clarinet. The clean sound of a Gibson Les Paul neck humbucker has this mellow, rounded hmmmm timbre that is almost clarinet-like. How about it, Doctor?
I thought a Gibson was beyond me, and got an Epi. Then the collecting gene kicked in and the Special was invited into the family. And then the SG, and finally (or so I thought) a proper Les Paul Sunburst. How wrong was I…
Hollow body, semi-solid, or solidbody. Gibson has always been instrument makers as opposed to Fender’s tool shop approach. Getting the Ibanez copy in 1973 paved way for the growing number of original Gibsons accumulated, and as with Fender I wanted to document the wide range of models through the years. Keeping the mistakes out, of course. No robot tuners, or even worse, Jimi Hendrix models… Sorry for mentioning that. It seems Gibson is back on track; I’ve got a 2019 Gold Top to prove it.
1957 hollowbody, 1976 semi-solid, newer 135 and 175. I wanted to tell the Les Paul story summary in five guitars; the Junior failed (see recent Apprentice acquisition), but there is a Special, a Gold Top, a Sunburst and a Recording. There is also an SG, and being a broadminded collector, I have included an Epiphone bass and doubleneck in the SG family. If Santa Claus reads this; would you consider a Les Paul Professional?
Gibson Les Paul Special
Two P100 humbucking soapbars, all-mahogany flat top, set and bound neck.
Gibson’s mid-version of the Les Paul, between the Junior (one pickup) and the Standard/Custom with arched maple top and PAFs (or successor). Relaunched in the nineties with P100 humbuckers instead of P90 single coils. Various theories try to explain the origin of the “TV yellow” colour – does it look good on b/w TV, or was Les himself a great TV star? No point in arguing, this isn’t a TV, but a Special, even though the colour is the same.
I do not always find what I’m looking for, and maybe that is why I never stop looking. Epiphone’s Goldtop was on my list, but not on offer at Ljosland. But Asle tempted me with an almost mint used Gibson, and financing offered. Sold.
In a way this guitar demands some effort, but it gives plenty back, as opposed to the Joe Pass I once struggled with. Originally it was set up quite high, but that was part of the solid Gibson sound. I have lowered the strings a bit, and have to work my right hand a bit harder to compensate for the easier load on my left fingertips.
The sound is heard on The Ocean, Behind the Monastery at Dawn (duelling with a Tele) and In Time to Change, the heavier parts of Parallel Ride, and frequently on Pictures of Rain.
Epiphone Doubleneck 1275 (2003)
Twin neck SG shape; six and twelve bolt-on necks. Two humbuckers each, standard Gibson two volume two tone for all output, three-way switch for pickups, three-way switch for necks (meaning you can choose both, as opposed to the Dano, enabling drone sound from one when playing the other).
I have mentioned Epiphone before. Most current Gibson models (and a few classics) come in Epi versions. This is an uncommon edition of a Kalamazoo classic.
Jimmy Page, anyone? Or Steve Howe in the seventies? The practicality of having the jangle on hand, six inches from a very playable SG. The Web led me to Centermusik in Frederikshavn, Denmark, and there it was, right in the middle of the shop, asking politely to be taken home. The Danish counting system is something like Fourscorelesshalfascoreandtwee, but VISA sorted it out for me and charged me £400 or so.
I had a theme already on the Danelectro doubleneck, it made sense to enlist the Epi for jangle and soloing through the eleven minutes needed. Including synth solo, see microKorg.
Gibson SG Special
Gibson SG Special 2004 (2005)
Body and set-neck in mahogany, two uncovered humbuckers, three-way switch and standard two volume, two tone layout. Special refers to unbound dottet fretboard and the lack of pickup covers.
As the Les Paul Sunbursts seemed to fall out of fashion, Gibson tried to think of something new. The name SG for Solid Guitar was self-explaining, but the pointed cutaways did not appeal to everybody. Especially not to Les himself, who opted out. The appeal grew over time, and the SG has received iconic status in legendary players’ hands.
Please give the body one extra look. The horns are not symmetrical, the edge is only partly bevelled (or it could be hard on the thighs of sitting skinny guitarists) for comfort and design, and this definitely appeals to a master in the art of jewellery.
I ordered it from Peter Cook’s in England, and they sent it as soon as they had finished their Christmas celebrations. It adds to the joy of attending the Tromsø International Film Festival to know there is a brand new Gibson waiting for me at home.
Played in both the Band and Trio gigs, along with the Jay Turser for the mellower sounds.
Gibson Les Paul Standard
Gibson Les Paul Standard Iced Tea 50’s 2005 (2006)
Mahogany body with flamed maple top, two Burstbuckers, two volume two tone, bound rosewood fretboard on chunky 50’s neck. All that is needed.
Jimmy Page, Koss, early Clapton. My heroes. And many others who I later have discovered were Les Paul players.
”Only a Gibson is good enough” it said on the box. All due respect to other makers, this is, for me, the Standard. This is why fourteen-year-old me chose an Ibanez 2351M. The shape, the set neck, the carved top, the colour, the weight, and of course the sounds. The guitariest guitar.
In a severe shopping mood, as the computer seemed to have reverted to steamboat speed, in a few days arrived a new compressor, a new laptop, and a Gibson Les Paul. My credit card took some time to recover, but we all get over things, don’t we? The first one to get a permanent wall hanger in the living room, close to the valve powered Bravo under the side table. Location has changed, but the Standard is still the standard.
Epiphone EB-0 (2006)
Mahogany body, one Sidewinder humbucker, volume and tone. Bolt-on neck with rosewood fretboard.
Gibson’s first basses were short-scale (30,5”) with one or two pickups, later changed to standard scale 34’’. Epiphone is making both versions, EB-0 short and EB-3 long.
My bass playing has developed from using the baritone neck on the Dano, to the five-string Falcon, where I never really got to terms with the fifth string. Also, there is something about the humbucker sound, generally. I got the Cream reunion DVD from Royal Albert Hall (I listened to Cream long before I even knew there was a band called Yes) and Jack Bruce never ceases to amaze. Gibson basses all the way.
I already had an SG Special and an Epi 1275 , this could be a sort of family reunion. I had checked one out in a shop, but the decision to buy came a little later when a couple of extra jobs allowed me to. Good, solid sound, and easy to handle.
Gibson ES-135 2001 (2008)
When three of your favourite guitars are Les Paul, ES-175, and ES-335, and you would like to add vibrato, what could be the answer to this equation?
I would suggest the ES-135. The shape is 175, the thickness is LP, and the centre block is 335. Otherwise it is all standard set-neck Gibson with two humbuckers, two volume and two tone. A Bigsby will fit all three.
Again an eBay find, in a time when buyers seemed to be a little careful. Several items stayed unsold, or minimum bids were not reached. I submitted my maximum plus a little plus a little, and to my surprise I won it.
We hit it off at first play. But as hinted I had a devious plan ready: I had been getting friendly with the Strat “tremolo”, the Steinberger divebombing unit, and the licenced Bigsby on the Ibanez Artcore. Three different units, and the Bigsby version was something I would like to explore further. I wanted to combine a screwed down bridge and a Bigsby. All due respect to the Artcore, but there was something not right with the floating bridge. I got myself a Bigsby B7, and exchanged the stoptail for a screwed down chunk of metal and spring. Sacrilegious? I think not, as Les Paul has never left any guitar unmodded, including his own signature model, and Leo Fender practically invented the upgradeable guitar.
Modification thereby deemed acceptable by the two gentlemen, and the resulting Bigsby ES-135 could easily be a contender for The One if I had to make the choice. Fortunately I don’t have to.
Gibson ES-125D 1957 (2009)
Full-size laminated body, no cutaway, two P90s and standard control layout.
Produced 1941 to 1971, the various editions featured one or two pickups cutaway or non-cutaway, full-body or thinline. It seems this version vas produced in a limited number only in 1957.
Antiques are desirable. They don’t make Ming vases like they used to. But guitars? In most circumstances better production techniques, CAD/CAM and stricter standards ensure better quality, and a new and pristine car/computer/washing machine is the thing to desire.
Then again, sometime in the late sixties the leading guitarists of the day found that Gibson Les Pauls made in 1958, 59 or 1960 had a sound like nothing heard before. Used is the new new. And things escalated.
I would like a 1959 Les Paul. Both because of the connection my musical heroes, and because 1959 is a special year. The sad thing is, I would have to sell everything else and the house to be able to get one. So no, sorry. A 1973 with a different brand logo on the headstock will have to be it.
Or a new LP with a «50’s neck» is probably closer. And a Melody Maker, introduced in 1959, is sort of connected to that year.
I did not settle with those. I have experienced the fifties, or at least ten and a half months of that decade, although I remember nothing of it. My first recollection of the idea of years was when somebody told me it was nineteen sixty-three. I was almost four.
In 2009 I turned fifty, and I decided to celebrate by inviting a fellow fifties full-bodied slightly cracked voice to the party and into the family. Two years older than me, I like the thought of this one existing even when I didn’t, and the thought of these beauties surviving me doesn’t scare me, either.
Gibson Les Paul Recording
Gibson Les Paul Recording 1972 (2012)
Pancake body, low-impedance pickups and an array of switches.
Les Paul could be an even greater tinkerer than Leo Fender. The story of his contribution to the development of the Les Paul Model changes with the teller, but when the man himself got his hands on the production models, he usually got to work with screwdrivers and soldering iron. For clean sounds he preferred the low-impedance pickups, and a Bigsby and this strange Les Paulverizer contraption was added as well to his personal guitar. Gibson picked up on his mods and released the Les Paul Personal in 1969. It even had a swan-neck microphone attached for talking between songs. Next came the Professional, sans microphone but with the same switches. The third and more popular version was the Recording (1971) with an even more comprehensive switchboard.
I remember seeing the cool Ibanez version with the slanted pickups in advertising in 1973; I even got a full Ibanez collection poster from Imerslund and put it on my wall. The next time I came across a mentioning of the Recording was on the gatefold sleeve of Steve Howes album The Steve Howe Album. Still looking (and sounding) cool. I would have liked one.
There was an unexpected influx of money in the spring of 2012, opening for a new Dell computer, new Dali stereo speakers, and a new Gibson. I would like one! I immediately committed the heresy of screwing down a Bigsby in the mahogany top of a vintage guitar, but Lester himself had done the same, so no bad conscience. Worked well, but I had second thoughts some years later and removed it again.
In a Burning Building scenario this would be one of the first to consider. There is something about the weighty feel, the played-in neck, the incredible clean sounds, and how it wakes up and roars with some overdrive and reverb/delay. This is the sound and the versatility I’ve been looking for.
I am no stranger to art exhibitions, I have even contributed to a few openings, and in the summer of 2012 the art organisation Bølgeblikk (untranslatable. Literally “corrugated iron” but could be “wave view” or something equally poetic) needed some music. Pia Marie Hansen, on vocals and shaker eggs, and I performed two cover songs and my own Warmer Welcome to the warmer sounds of the Recording.
ibson ES-175 2001 (2015)
Full-thickness body made of laminated maple, Florentine cutaway, two ‘buckers and the proper controls. The one Steve Howe plays.
The Epi Emperor was a precursor, as was the ES-135. This is the state-of-the-art working tool for jazz guitarists, and for prog inventors who tend to slip between the labels.
There is no story here, other than the anticipation rising as I committed to buy, and the excitement as I opened first the cardboard wrapping and then the luxurious Gibson case to reveal this. The stories will develop in the playing.
Gibson ES-345 1976 (2015)
Thinline hollowbody with solid maple centre block, set neck and trapeze tailpiece, two humbuckers with stereo output, two volume two tone, and the six-way Varitone switch dividing opinions.
Introduced in 1959 as an upscale version of the ES-335, it has off and on been part of the important invention of Gibson’s: The semi-solid. Less prone to feedback than the full-size jazz boxes, and with more sustain, it also adds the air and resonance to the tone.
There are plenty of reasons to own a 345. Personally, the fact that this model weas presented in February 1959 at the same time as this writer, weighs heavily. Another reason is the classic Yes album Close to the Edge. Steve plays a 1972 345 throughout, demonstrating both his skills and the versatility of this model. So when this came up on eBay, and the financial situation could match it, there was no hesitation.
I have yet to try out the stereo output in full (front to one side, back to the other, with different effect settings), but I like the Varitone. What exactly it is doing is beyond me; I listen with my ears and not with a voltmeter.
The sounds go from cool jazz to insistent prog, and that is even before stepping on any pedals (except compression and reverb, these are always on). Even unplugged it has its clear voice, perfect for practising. As I am into the master/acolyte connections, there are a couple of Made-in-Japan 330 copies to complete this small group of thinlines with round ears.
Gibson Les Paul Goldtop
Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 2019 (2019)
1956 specs; that is new Tune-o-Matic bridge, keeping the P90s, preceding the ’57 with ‘buckers and, the year after, the fabled Sunbursts.
Been on my wish list more or less since I played Odd Arne’s in 1973. His had the mini humbuckers; somehow I feel I wanted the P90s more after gaining some experience with Les Pauls. I do not rule out getting a Deluxe when the time is right, though.
It is a strange world when the least expensive American guitar is found in Germany. That is globalization for you. Well wrapped, reasonable shipping cost, arrived on time. Weighs a bunch just as expected, and plays beautifully. There is something about the solid compactness of these maple-capped mahogany slabs (although you don’t see any maple) that oozes quality and seriousness. At times it is hard to decide which one of the Goldtop or the Standard is the most Les-ish of them.
Earlier that year I tried a 1954, in Stockholm. Unfortunately I got no chance of plugging in as this guy had decided to test a number of drum kits in the shop. The unplugged feel, however, seemed to justify the £20.000 price tag alone.
Gibson ES-335 2001 (2021)
Two humbuckers in classic Gibson configuration, set-neck with easy access to the upper frets, laminated thinline body with centre block anchoring the strings by way of stoptail and tun-o-matic bridge. Dot markers and white binding fading to yellow.
The game-changing Gibson invention from the late fifties, based on Les Paul’s idea of having a sustain-keeping centre block – or log – with resonance-providing wings also keeping the instrument in place on the lap. Its sibling was the 330 with the same body shape and trapeze tailpiece, but no centre block and P90s replacing the ‘buckers. Younger and more appointed relatives are the 345 from February 1959 (great moment in history; got a later model from the seventies, see above) and 355 with even more decorations and golden bling. Later came the 339 which provided a smaller body.
My first centre-blocked experience was the Jay Turser. I loved it, but as I saw the possibilities of upgrading, it had to go as an ES-135 was incoming. A few years later the 345 was beckoning, and shortly after I found the opportunity and the funds to acquire the proper thing: A cherry dot 335. Expectations fulfilled. Per now I have two MIJ thinline 330 copies along with the proper semi-acoustic 335 and 345, making up a quartet of rounded-ears models with roots in the late fifties, just like yours truly. Soundwise, this has the appealing mix of the airiness of the 175 coupled with the sustain of the Les Paul. The stoptail is also anchoring the notes in a different way than the 345, which is not saying better or worse. And being aesthetically concerned, you can’t fault a cherry red dot model.
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe 1976 (2022)
Classic Les Paul layout, but with the surplus mini humbuckers from the Epiphone takeover. Worked very well, even though the idea of reissuing something that never was, was slightly off centre.
Sort of returning to the early Seventies and my first encounter with a Gibson. At last. This is a weighty piece, but some burdens are easy to carry. The feel is very Gibson, very Les Paul the way quality shows. Three-piece neck and pancake body is, in my opinion, a foundation for stability. Soundwise, the minis sound more articulated, still retaining the desired ‘bucker sound and cuts through some over-eager keyboard playing.
Thanks to the Japanese provider who even bothered to greet me in Norwegian!
A trio of SGs: Gibson SG Special, Epi EB-0, and Epi 1275
Three Sunburst Gibson jazz boxes, with variations. 1957 ES-125 with full body and P90’s, ES-175 with full body and humbuckers, ES-135 with humbuckers, centre block and Bigsby.
Three Lesters: Goldtop with 1956 specs, modernized Special with P100s, Standard Sunburst with 50’s neck.
Three with P90s. (Or close. The Special has P100s, but they look right.) Dogears on the ES-125.
Two sunbursts: Les Paul Deluxe 1976 and a modern take on the Standard from 2005.
Keep going; tour part 5: