The Vintage Les Paul ‘Burst … What Does A “Real” One Look Like?

Here’s a recent email from my pal Todd L’Ecuyer:

I rediscovered a site that I’ve picked through in the past.  Odds are you are all aware of this place, but it never hurts to be sure.  I was picking through the gallery of ’59 LPs and reached a rather interesting conclusion.  I have this idea in my head of what looks old to me.  For example, my Beano looks like an old LP to me.  9 0328 confirmed this point as it shares some resemblance.  I’m not saying twins (in fact, mine has a little more flame on the lower half of the top, but most of the figuring looks very similar.  Now super flame tops, thin pin stripes, and straight flame (1/4 sawn tops) never looked vintage to me.  If I was to see a RI, I’d often conclude that it didn’t look like an old one.  When I looked through the vintage gallery, I realized I was wrong.  I found many 59s that did not match my so called burst criteria.  In fact, judging by the pics,  if I didn’t know those bursts were old, I’d think them new RI.  I think you get my point.  I’m really rethinking this whole preconceived notion of the “vintage look”.  I want to put this to you guys.  Thoughts?  So the Kossoff reissue all of a sudden looks a lot nicer to me!  I’ve yet to see one of those that fit my previous vintage mindset.

Here’s that “Beano” Les Paul. Mmmm … subtle and warm…

Well I agree… we get this idea of what’s “old” and what looks “right”. A lot of the time, we’re way off base. I think we can say that there were many, many actual vintage ‘bursts that were either:  1. Not properly book-matched or irregular …or  2. Very subtly flamed… Of course, the whole plain top reissue phenomenon of recent years has been created in order to cover those bases. It can also be noted that if you look at some of those famous ‘bursts as they were back in the 60s or 70s, the sunburst finish is often dramatically different. The Peter Green / Gary Moore / Melvin Franks (who?) ‘burst is a case in point… started as a cherry ‘burst and ended up as a lemon “un-‘burst”. I realize that you aren’t talking about the ‘burst so much as the figure in vintage Les Pauls, but I think it’s worth covering the question: “what is the colour that seems “real” or vintage?”. I mean, without the colour seeming correct, it doesn’t matter how authentic the figure is! Of course, a 1960 ‘burst should have red in it – because the dyes were changed to a formula that does not fade easily for that last year of the Sunburst Les Paul. I have actually faded a couple of Les Pauls that I knew to be finished with unstable dyes (don’t worry, not vintage Les Pauls)… from cherry ‘burst to iced tea in 1-3 days poolside!

But let’s face it, we do love that worn in look. For me, I also feel like a super flamey/quilty top is completely untypical of a vintage “look”. I also prefer a subtle degree of figure. Historic Makeovers in Florida tries to recreate vintage spec and “look” Les Pauls out of modern Gibson Historic Les Pauls. Their work is stunning, they keep up-leveling the game, and some of the aging work that the big “G” is doing now looks silly by comparison. Now it’s interesting that Kim and his team at H.M. can take what looks to me like “definitely not vintage” figure, and work their magic… and presto… it does look “real”. So there’s something to consider!!! Maybe that “old” patina and lacquer checking will make an uber flame top guitar look “real”???  Check out their site (Google Historic Makeovers)… and no, I don’t work for them! I know Kim personally and believe me, he has an insane commitment to making sure each guitar is “right”.

Gibson Les Paul that has been aged and had fairy dust added by H.M.


Here’s a close up of that Historic Makeovers Les Paul. Looks “real”, doesn’t it???

Another Gibson Les Paul R9… this time beautifully aged by RS Guitarworks.

The Devil made me do it!… Chasing Tone on a Saturday Night

I love that Starwarsian phrase that my friend JL coined (either he coined it or he’s lying… again…kidding): “the sickness is strong with him”. Of course, we’re talking about the tendency for guitar players to chase tone with multiple aquisitions. I have friends like that! (yes you, JR!!!) Not me, of course. But I know people…

Last night I went to my long time (younger) pal’s CD release and he gets a killer, killer, tone. He’s not “one of us”… he’s had the same rig for a few years now (not unusual, my bandmate MB has played the same white Strat for 15 years now) – a recent red ES-335 dot neck (more on that later), and a 1966 Fender Tremolux Head through a 2 x 10 cab. I know. I sold him the Tremolux/cab. I also sold him a Dr. Z Brake Lite attenuator – but you’d swear he never uses it… the band was LOUD! But “GOOD LOUD!”. He’s a wonderful player, this I.R., and he’s honed in on a magical tone with this rig. I have to tell you that I felt superior last night, because, of the mostly older crowd, it seemed like all those over 60 had their fingers in their ears! Hey, if it’s too loud, you’re too old. Ha! I should tell you that the only time I actually saw a headstock broken before my eyes was from the stage (that I was sharing with our young IR), when he carelessly grabbed his beloved Gibson ES-335 off it’s stand… lost his grip… and the guitar fell forward and hit his pedalboard, breaking the headstock. Oh well, some rock stars claim that their guitars sound better after having had the headstock glued back on. Oh yes, he then did it again later down the road! X2. Same guitar… sounding 4X better maybe?

Anyway, last night, also playing in another town, was “not quite as young” PF. He’s also a killer player, but unlike IR, he changes gear like he changes his underwear (at least, I hope “like he changes his underwear”). I must confess that I fall into this second group. And although alot of what I do is for Blue Hugh Music, I do have my own multiple gear cravings. My store allows me to be an enabler, and I’ve been know to drive 4 or 5 hours round-trip on the spur of the moment to deliver a guitar – provided the universe is calling me to do so (don’t get your hopes up!) 🙂 I should tell you that since it seems like the appropriate place to randomly insert some guitar porn, I recently got back a very beloved and toneful instrument – the exquisite Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top. Not coincidentally, also owned by PF at one time. Behold:

2004 Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top

Gustavsson “up close and personal”.

I feel better already! 🙂

So back to Saturday night… I also made a stop at my friend RDs rancho – that was to deliver a particularly toneful brown 1962 Fender Super amp. While we were playing his exquisite Suhr “S” guitar – attractively finished in the traditional “early Campbell’s soup can” colour, RD mischieviously (as it turned out) said: “here, try this amp…” Now I always thought my Retro King sounded superior to any 18 watt Marshall clone, but last night, sweet mother of Robert Johnson, RDs 18 watt Marshall 1974x combo (if you must know, also with Mercury Magnetics transformers as a later upgrade) sounded like the music of the spheres… I MUST HAVE ONE! So here I am today, a pitiful sight, ordering my 3 Mercury transformers and scouting for a local Marshall 1974x that I can scoop up…    oh, woe is me! Only Nigel would understand this AMPLIFIER obsession!!! Time for more porn… this time “amp porn”… see you next time… and BEHOLD!…

1962 Fender brown Super amp with 2 x 10″ Jensen speakers