The Railways Guitar Festival … Top 3 Funny Comments from “Lookers”

A few rarified geetars at the Railways Guitar Fest

A few rarified geetars at the Railways Guitar Fest

One of the fun things about this little hobby is when I get asked to do a mini guitar show and sale. My pal Robin Munroe – who set up the Railways Guitar Festival in Barrie, Ontario – allowed me to have a booth. Given that it was Promenade Days, there was A LOT of traffic, but the level of inside knowledge of vintage guitars was, understandably, low… of course! – just like I am lost at a car show – and I certainly can’t fault the “lookers” for their sometimes unintentionally hilarious comments.

One of the “litmus tests” that my booth secretly presented to me, was that there was a very pretty Gibson Custom Shop Reissue Aged Sunburst Les Paul that was worth a few thousand… but right there… being constantly over-looked… there was a REAL vintage 1956 Les Paul Gold Top “Conversion” with real 50+ year old PAF humbucking pickups… worth about $25,000. Only, one person recognized the REAL gold and went straight to the Gold Top that day!

1956 Les Paul Gold Top "Conversion"

1956 Les Paul Gold Top “Conversion”

So let’s get to the top 3 comments “Letterman” style… I might add that all three of these folks looked supremely thoughtful and pensive and intelligent as they made their comments – as if these pearls of wisdom deserved a lot of weight (and maybe they do – but not for the reasons intended!).

#3 Funniest Comment: A young lady walked up and stared at my Funk Farm “Hughbie” amplifier – an amp brand that my pal Pete Medvick came up with a couple of years ago for his custom made creations – just to give them a name – anyway, as she stared at the amp, she said longingly: “Funk Farm… I haven’t seen one of those in years!”. Ha! Ha! OK…

Da Funk Farm

Da Funk Farm

2. OK.. comment #2 in the list of funniest comments. A young man looked at my ’64 Stratocaster and said: “Those are worth a lot of money because they have a Jamaican Redwood neck!” I said: “You mean Brazilian Rosewood?” He thought hard for an inordinately long and awkward moment and replied: “No, it’s Jamaican Redwood..” and then walked away… Hilarious!

1. And finally, the #1 comment at the booth… Two guys about age 30 were looking at my 1956 Gibson Les Paul Special in TV yellow finish… the guitar was clearly and boldly labelled “1956” and I made a point of re-iterating it a couple of times. Now I should give you the background that I am aged 50 something… and I’ve been told that I look young for my chronological age… SO… The comment from one of the guys? With a straight face… “Did you buy it new?” Ouch!!!!!!! It’s the only time I made a comment back to someone else’s comment that day – because I could tell he was serious – so I actually said … “jeeze, man, I wasn’t even born when this guitar was made!”. But a very funny comment!!!

The "older than me" 1956 Special!

The “older than me” 1956 Special!



Letters From The Tonal Edge – Two “Babes” Get A Makeover

My friend Pete and I just had two Gibson CC#3 Les Pauls made over by Historic Makeovers – in very different ways – here’s our email exchange, with a little Tele love thrown in (Pete traded me a “69” Masterbuilt Paisley Tele with a real ’68 neck that he had installed)…

Two Babes on a bench!

Two Babes on a bench!

Hey Hugh,  A quick review….

Plugged into the Medvick modded Keil.

Looks and finish…..perfect. Nothing much more to say than perfect. This is exactly what I wanted. And it’s got that greenish tinge in person.

Playability……like an old glove…superb !!!! Very similar neck to the Rigby burst but slightly larger…maybe more like the 56′ conversion in size but the carve is the R-B. The action is low and completely even with no buzzing anywhere. It’s so easy to play.

Definitely a big change to the original feel. Not that I didn’t like the original, I just prefer this.

Sound…. Here’s the best part….they don’t sound like Throbak’s. They don’t have that grainy-ness that I’ve heard before. These Throbak/richards pickups are complex. I definitely do not have a set like them. While the readings are 8.0 and 8.3, they sound lower output than that. They have a more low 7’s sort of vibe. And they have their own thing going on. Which is something I like when pickups have a definitive/original signature sound. Their low output allows for sweet chording. And for soloing, they are right on the edge with the Keil turned up to 12 o’clock. You can hear their microphonic nature which allows you to sustain just about any note but, they didn’t squeal. Really nice.

Here’s the rub…..after playing the LP for a while, I plugged in the Lonnie V….I had not plugged it in since getting it back. I was completely bowled over. Why did I ever sell that guitar before ?!?!?! Still has the Sheptone BK’s in it.

Then I plugged the historic Explorer…..I was maybe even MORE knocked out.

So those pickups may not last long in there. I’ll use it (along with the V) tonight and maybe think about alternatives.

Interesting to note the original pickups from the Babe have no markings at all on the bottom. But their propaganda on the Gibson site says they are custom buckers….

“Gibson Custom has accurately recorded the specs of the original PAF humbucking pickups on ‘The Babe,’ and used them to recreate a pair of Custom Buckers used on Collector’s Choice™ #3 1960 Les Paul ‘The Babe’ “.

“Made with Alnico III magnets and accurate numbers of turns of period-correct coil wire, these pickups meticulously recreate the specifications, look, and—most importantly—the tone of the original late-’59 PAF pickups, offering all the characteristic warmth, depth, edge and clarity of some of the greatest pickups ever created.”

Pete's Babe with Horseshoe Bigsby

Pete’s Babe with Horseshoe Bigsby

Here’s my response:

Hey Pete,

Thanks for the review… Here’s mine…

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I can’t put the Paisley Masterbuilt with the real ’68 neck down! The choice of 6100 frets was definitely the way to go! And Russ has created an uber playable neck! I was a little hesitant to put the Duncan Tapped ’53 in the bridge position of the Paisley, but it was definitely the right move! The 5.53k Abby wound pickup had a great Tele twang, but now I have the 6k and 9k bridge – which would sound stellar even with one sound – it’s the Shiznitz! Jeff Beck used that pickup on Guitar Shop – so there’s an endorsement!

The Abby neck pickup is clear and yet punchy, and it works well with the Tapped ’53 – plus it was in phase! Bonus! No work necessary at the pickup wires.

The RS kit with POI cap and great pots gives a nice gradual tone spectrum – a no brainer. Why do they use a crappy ceramic “on/off” sounding cap and a treble bleed cap originally in a very expensive Masterbuilt guitar? But I digress… This is supposed to be about CC#3 “The Babe”.


As you can tell, due to my Tele interest, it’s been tough for me to get to the Historic Makeovers “Babe” RDS Les Paul.

Like your Babe, Pete, the neck on mine really has a silky playability. I did not have the neck carve altered, so it’s the original fatty neck carve – with shoulders – and I love it! – supposedly an accurate repro of the original – so they did make a few fatties for the late 50s Lesters!

The finish and aging are spot on – I’m still fresh from assessing my pal’s REAL ’59 Les Paul, and comparing the two, they have similar vibes. Nice to see an original “in the flesh”. It’s been a while!

I find the Custom Buckers that Gibson put in this Babe to be superb. Of course, I’d heard them prior to sending my guitar to HM, and they seem even more percussive and clear in the newly made over Babe. Like the “Beast” there’s something about the bridge pickup that will do Tele tones, and yet nasty and aggressive ZZish sounds are all there too. Great pickups!

I absolutely love the guitar – Kim and the boys at HM keep up-leveling their game – but you know that!

Since we’ve completely modded these guitars, I figured I’d add a 5 latch repro Caligirl brown case – with the lovely faded pink lining – and I’ll sell the 6 latch custom shop brown case with the hot pink lining!

I have a second Caligirl case for you, Pete, if you want to flip me your custom shop case?

Hugh's finished Babe

Hugh’s finished Babe


Detail 1

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 2

Detail 3

Detail 3

Detail 4

Detail 4

That’s all folks… a tale of 2 Babes!




Finding Your Voice… The RIGHT Guitar

OK, we’re into serious “guitar geek” territory here. But I am talking to the right people here… “singing to the choir” – as they say. Sometimes I forget that not everyone cares about this stuff! After years and years of listening to me go on and on about this stuff, my wife still got the following question wrong in a game of Trivial Pursuit: “The Les Paul is… (a) a Gibson guitar (b) a Fender guitar.” … so not everyone cares about this stuff!

Bashing out the tunes on a Blues gig

Being a gigging musician (when I can get a gig!), I have a chance to run different rigs all the time, and so I get a chance to hear instruments in a band context as well as in the music room. Obviously, different guitars inspire different playing styles as well as taking one into uncharted musical territory. At a recent “Les Paul Fest”, full of both vintage and modern guitars, I earmarked a certain newish Collector’s Choice “Beast” Les Paul for it’s superior tone (yup, it surprised me a bit that a modern Lester can go toe to toe with vintage wood), and I now own it. I have to say that this guitar is so solid in the mid-range (and clear) that rolling back the treble pickup a tad inspires the country boy in me – no need for a Tele! It is also, surprisingly, is also a fairly aggressive and higher output (for a PAF style set of pickups) guitar. I love it! It takes me where I need to go! It inspires a new voice!

The Beast – a new treat from Gibson

It’s interesting that for many years I used to play Strats and nothing but Strats… now I’m seen with my beloved Underwood Tele, a few Lesters, and my workhorse guitars – the DGTs. I won’t spend any more time on the DGT – I’ve done that in several previous posts, but it should suffice to say that the PRS DGT was NOT the intellectual or instinctive choice for me. But man, it sure scratches my itch!!!

I think it’s also worth saying that an integral part of finding your voice with a guitar is finding the amp that works with a particular model of guitar. For example, my Dr Z “Z Wreck” seems to be the perfect amp for a Telecaster… this is no surprise because the first Z Wrecks were built for Brad Paisley. If you are a Tele-meister, I highly recommend the Z Wreck.

Dakota Red Underwood T – as good as it gets!

Da ‘Most Inspiring’ Z Wreck Amplifier

Check out one of these Z Wrecks with your favourite Telecaster… the “Comfort” and “Speed” switch is very cool… it changes the plate voltage of the output tubes for either a stiffer, cleaner, louder tone or a slightly “browner”, richer, softer tone. No, I don’t sell these amps! And you can’t have mine! 🙂

I recently read something about how: “you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a guitar… and that’s almost the same thing!”. Find your voice or die trying! Life is good!







Do Those Old Tele and Les Paul Bridge Pickup Tones Really Converge?

Nasty, nasty… Broadcaster bridge pickup

Just as nasty… Lester bridge pickup.

The other day I was watching a clip of Joe Walsh, and then I was struck by something he said: “A great old Tele bridge pickup will sound and feel quite close to a great old Les Paul bridge pickup!”. Right on, I thought! (hey, I’m a child of the 70s culture… I still say “right on”… but, fortunately, I no longer say: “solid”). Anyway, this is something that I myself have come around to over the years – a great old bridge PAF in a resonant piece of wood (that doesn’t weigh a ton!) will have single coil articulation and clarity… but with just enough “fur”. A great old Tele in the bridge position will have the same thing – the clarity you would expect, but with a nice microphonic bite, no harsh trebles, and a bit of fatness in the mids and low end.

As far as traditional guitars go right now, I use Les Pauls and Telecasters – and I think there’s no accident there. There is THE CONVERGENCE of these models. Look at the “Rev” – Lesters and Teles (or Esquires)… not a lot of Strat action there. My tone pal (and general all-round pal) “PF” agrees – it always seems to be the measure of a good Les Paul. Particularly in Gibson-land, the Les Paul sort of became something different from the 50s to the 70s and 80s… and not in a good way. A lot of the younger guys seek out the 70s Les Pauls – maybe due to nostalgia or something, but I wouldn’t seek one out. Oh sure, there are “happy accidents” where a great piece of wood came together with an unusually fussy Gibson factory worker, but generally, I believe the thread was lost (although it may have been recently found again).

’52 Les Paul Conversion with some Sweet PAFs

I guess that’s why we seek out “old wood”… and a killer pair of 50s or early 60s humbuckers… we’re not fooled! We know what a Les Paul CAN sound like! Above is my ’52 Gold Top. Converted and reset neck by Russ L. and then a very cool distressed finish by Kim at Historic Makeovers. Oh sure, it has had the mandatory “Gibson smile” (headstock break), but dang if it doesn’t sound a whole lot like my Underwood Broadcaster when I crank it up!

I should really say that this doesn’t mean that there’s no place for a good old Stratocaster… heck, I’ve had a few myself…

A Tale of Two Wraptails or a Wraptail Tale

Two ’55 Series Gibson Les Paul Wraptail Customs… relaxin’

NO… don’t “adjust your set” … as they used to say… These are two eerily similar guitars from 2011. It all started when I purchased the “’55 Series Les Paul Custom Wraptail” from Wildwood guitars in 2011 (oh, thank God it’s not a 2012 with a 2 piece lam fingerboard!!! Well I have news for you… I have a LP from 2012 … CC#3 “The Babe”… and it KILLS!… there are no rules!…but I digress…). Well, this ’55 Wraptail guitar “has the magic”! It went back and forth between my pal Pete F. and I until, when the music stopped again, it had landed back with me.

’55 wraptails close up and personal

So, to pick up the thread, next thing I know, Pete has tracked down a second Wraptail at a music store in USA… it’s used… and it’s ostensibly the same DNA as the beast that I originally bought. Well, Pete was scooting off to his day job at the Juno Awards (yes, I do sometimes rub shoulders with the rich and famous – or in this case, not so rich and only moderately famous… but rich in spirit and famous amongst his peeps) ( … did I save that???), and since I owed Mr. F a large sum of money, I purchased the guitar for him, took delivery, and began my mad scientist experiments.

Back(s) In Black

You know, you can’t really isolate a single factor and say that’s why a guitar is magical. Some are and some aren’t. It may be somewhat in the ear of the beholder – it’s a tough thing to analyze. Anywho, getting the two geetars together, Pete’s is a bit heavier (8.7lbs vs 8.3lbs) and they both sounded 90% similar and 10% different – if that makes sense. The Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups just sound killer (another prejudice trashed!) – spec-ing out around 8.2k for the bridge pickup and around 7.55k for the neck (similar in both guitars). Initially, Pete’s guitar lacked a certain “immediacy” and “presence” that mine had. Well, I had taken the covers off my pickups – that not only gets the gold plated covers (gold covers=loss of tone=evil) out of the way, it also allows one to lower the screws in order to bring the slug coil closer to the strings and more even with the screw coil. This is a fairly strong modifier of the tone – at least on the subtle level that we are listening here. By the way, there is speculation amongst the Tone Police that the worst effect on a pickup’s tone can come from the gold plating on the covers… just sayin’. With permission, I removed the covers on Pete’s guitar and set up the pickups the same as mine – better. My wound strings seemed to have more twang and spank… “I know, I’ll put the same strings on Pete’s guitar as I have on mine!” Again, the two guitars moved closer together in tone… more spank in the low end from Pete’s guitar with the perky Cobalt strings. I should say that some of the subtle character difference between the two guitars did remain – Pete’s guitar had a tiny bit more sizzle in the high end and a little more response in the low end. My guitar had a tiny bit more in the mids and upper mids. But basically, these guitars are now 98.5% similar… or was that 97.9%… or 99.2%? We’ll have to check these two out at the next Tonefest!!!

Not exactly consecutive serial #s!





Les Paul Madness

Five years ago, I never would have predicted this… a Strat was the only geetar that found it’s way around my neck! Now I can hardly tolerate them! (OK, Strats are great guitars, classic guitars… but I’m going for a sense of the dramatic here!). What were you thinking, Leo!? The addictive and cool thing about these Lesters, is that there’s no “Les Paul sound”. They are all different. And that’s the magic! Right now I have a CC#3 “Babe” with a Bigsby… and then a ’55 series Wraptail all mahogany Custom with humbuckers… and a 1 pickup Jimmy Wallace Les Paul (oh, dang! Pete’s got that one now!). Anyway, for me, it’s the humbucker guitars that turn my crank, and I am just starting to feel shameless about “converting” older models to ‘buckers. At least I’m currently confined to “rescuing” guitars with “issues”… rather than assaulting “cherry” vintage instruments (but that could change!). There’s something about the old growth 50s wood that makes a great starting point for a killer guitar – although there are no rules – my ’55 wraptail is a couple of years old and it sounds as good as anything – new or old!

So the latest project (and I might add that by tomorrow, I will probably have a 2nd vintage project in the works) is a ’52 first year Les Paul that I got with a bad refin and a repaired headstock break (known as the “Gibson smile” due to the shape the break line most often takes) – a perfect candidate for a “Conversion”, methinks! Behold…

1952 Les Paul 8 months ago… in need of help!

The “Gibson Smile”!

Now you should understand that I am currently crazy enough that I’ll probably buy a few early 60s SGs – just for their glorious PAF pickups! I have 1 set left for one more LP… and after that… I’ll need more! But I digress. Anyway, the above pictured “piece of work” was beautifully converted by the luthier extraordinaire, Mr. Russ “Rusty” L. He kept the neck angle low enough when he reset the neck that the guitar just “has the magic” now – and rings like the proverbial “bell” that all guitar players speak of. Here’s a picture after frets, neck reset, new bridge and stop tailpiece, plus a route for “them” true toned vintage Gibson pickups!

The 1952 Les Paul begins it’s “transition”

I stripped the finish myself – great on the front, not so great on the back when I ran out of patience and energy! Another thing that’s cool about this 1952 Lester, is that it’s an “export” model from that year (’52s had NO serial #, by the way) – we find a “Made In The USA” stamp engraved in the wood on the back of the headstock… what we have here is a Canadian guitar, eh!!! Cool!

1952 Les Paul – It’s a Canadian guitar, eh?

So where are we “at” with this beast? Well, the most excellent Kim Lafleur at Historic Makeovers has taken our mongrel into his care for a complete restoration to a distressed “Gold Top” – probably very much like the guitar was when it was 20 years old. Kim has done work for the likes of Joe Bonamassa … as well mere mortals. Here’s a pic of one that Kim did for our pal Steve Rigby in Sunburst. Close up, it looks like the “real deal” – a 1959 Gibson Les Paul – if you don’t have $300,000, this one makes a great substitute. Even if you do have $300,000, this one STILL makes a great substitute! A great example of Gibson’s second golden age and HM’s great aging and finishing:

Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Makeover – dubbed “The Rigbyburst”

A closeup of The Rigbyburst’s superb aging and distressing.

My next project is to get an original Gold Top pre-1957. If it has the original finish and is from late 1953 up to 1956, then all I will need to do is route for humbuckers… and possibly do a re-fret… the neck angle and bridge will already be correct.  Donations gratefully accepted! 🙂

Sounds like a plan!!!



Gibson Nails It with the ‘Collector’s Choice’ Les Pauls

It’s taken a while to sink in, but I must say that the Gibson company seems to be really pulling things together to challenge the companies like Historic Makeovers – a talented bunch who can pull apart your Historic LP and put it all together, age it, and come up with a much better guitar! What I’m talking about is the “Collectors Choice” series. These guitars are not cheap! But the level of accuracy and realistic aging has really started to come together. We’re at CC#8 right now (“The Beast”), and it’s dead cool! In 2012, Gibson went briefly to the much maligned 2 piece “lam” rosewood fingerboards… what was that all about….??? But now that we’re into 2013, we’re back to 1 piece boards – more than that actually – hide glue neck joints, truss rods with out the rubber sheath that is thought to deaden tone, really great Alnico lll pickups, and a few other changes – well, the game just got taken up a notch. I should note that new R9s also have those changes.

I just bought back a CC#3 “The Babe”, that I had owned briefly, and although it’s a 2012 and therefore probably has a 2 piece board (I don’t care!), it sure plays and sounds as good as virtually any LP I’ve played. The Custom Alll Buckers sound just tremendous. The aging on this is cheesy – looks like someone just dulled the finish with steel wool – you can see the swirls. But it’s a tremendous instrument… and I’ve owned lots of Les Pauls from every era!

Here’s Pete Faragher’s lovely picture of my CC#3 – AKA: “The Babe”

A couple of my pals have the “Sandy” – also from the CC series, and they are also wonderful instruments! I am currently lusting after the recent CC#7… aka: “Shanks”… and the aging on it is anything but cheesy… Gibson really has the aging down now. It looks pretty real and doesn’t have the “razor blade look” of some of Gibson’s earlier work. The Shanks also has those delightful, articulate, detailed, lively & balanced sounding “Custom Buckers” – just like the Babe and most of the others in the series (for some reason, CC#8 “The Beast” has Burstbuckers 2 and 3) – so I’d bet the “Shanks” would sound great! Gibson also implies that they are sourcing old growth woods. I don’t know exactly what they are doing, but it’s ALL good, methinks! Better materials, more accurate design, spot on aging, super high quality – what’s not to like? Historically, we all love to hate the big G – and there are many good reasons – like their aggressive and un-justified lawsuit against PRS and their Single Cut guitar – it didn’t do the guitar community any good at all – and it showed us Gibson’s greed and disrespect – when it’s all about “the LOVE” for us guitar geeks! But all that aside, it looks like Gibson has raised the bar!!! And that’s good for US ALL! Now we just have to figure out how we can afford one!!!

Choose Your Weapon!

I’ve been through many, many guitars in my day… and many have been the coveted vintage instruments that are so treasured today. First thing, I should say that we are definitely in the midst of a Golden Age of instrument building! 80% of the higher end guitars are great – plus there are some absolute gems out there! We even have an advantage over the guitars from the 50s in that, these days, rather than just making guitars (like they did in the 50s), builders actually think about the design of what they are building and the effects on tone and playability. I believe that, while they did design guitars in the 50s and 60s, it was more of a “shoot from the hip” approach. I’m one who believes that the big advantage of the “good old days” was the proponderance of old growth, toneful wood stocks. I think we can take a different example – pickups to illustrate the point of “intention” in guitar building. In the early days, it was just a matter of winding a bunch of wire on a magnet. These days, we really think about what makes a great sounding pickup, plus there are many, many different flavours available. And even in the case of old pickups – say PAFs – there are lots of “duff” sounding examples (I know, I’ve owned some!), while there are some amazing sounding ones too! (my ’61 ES-335 has a killer set. But even in the case of pickups, it’s speculated that the materials were of much higher and purer quality. My pickup making pal, Mike Turk, says that he finds it much easier to make a great sounding pickup with old wire, whereas it’s a trickier (but very do-able) proposition with most new wire. The old wire just defaults to a great tone. Let’s take a picture break…I think I’d better throw in some guitar porn … so here’s a vintage treat for ya…

A pair of Gibson ES-355s from the early 60s.

Now in meandering ’round to my point, I can safely say that lots of new guitars have found their way into my Classic Rock band. I still have a few great vintage instruments, but most of what I play is from this century! For example, somehow, the Paul Reed Smith DGT “found me”. I feel like those guitars found me rather than the reverse. I’ve never been a huge PRS fan – and they have all come and gone – at least until the DGT! I have 3 and a 4th on the way! Great pickups that sound like over-wound PAFs, great (the best, actually, IMHO) coil taps (3/4 taps – 1-1/2 coils), 2 volumes for easy blending, super-smooth playing, a traditional trem that stays perfectly in tune for me, uber-resonant all mahogany or maple topped mahogany body, plus a comfy clubby medium rounded neck profile with big frets – what’s not to like!? Here are my 3:

3 Paul Reed Smith DGTs Relaxin’ – 2 Standards and a Maple Top Gold Top.

I also play a great 1 pickup Les Paul that was recently built for guitar man Jimmy Wallace. I have one other Les Paul… a black wrap-tail Custom (recent build) with humbuckers and a ’55 style “V” neck… lightweight at only 8.3lbs …add a couple of Underwood Teles and a Relic Strat (all my vintage Fender stuff is gone)… plus a 1960 one pickup single cutaway Melody Maker for slide… that’s about it… But I can’t really play the Strat after the DGTs… a traditional Strat trem just dosn’t cut the mustard after a DGT trem…

Oh yes, I do still have the Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird Billy Bo that is part of the banner on my site (beautifully designed by guitar player extraordinaire and artiste Pete Faragher)… the one that Mr. Dave Connery of Connery’s Custom Paint pinstriped… BTW that guitar has been modded to death… big stainless frets, TV Jones Filtertrons, added Bigsby,… and of course, the added paint. I love that guitar! 🙂

Fragment of a Billy Bo geetar

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.

Gibson’s “Silence of The Lam (2012)”

For those who are concerned about the minutia of guitar construction, the 2 piece laminated rosewood fingerboard that has invisibly crept into the 2012 Historic Les Pauls (and many other Gibson guitars as well) seems to be a problem. It is a damn shame that Gibson can’t use a thicker 1 piece board, but the scuttlebutt is that the raids from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife have left the company no choice, with stocks of permissible rosewood depleted .

I know I really may be “flogging a dead horse” here for those of you “in the know”, but this may be a shocker if you’re hearing this “2 piece fingerboard thing” for the first time. There’s lots of talk amongst the dedicated Les Paul junkies that it’s all being done wrong anyway – the thin top piece leaves 30-something individual pieces of rosewood once you cut the fret slots – the glue used to laminate the rosewood is yellow glue (and that’s just wrong!) – etc. I think the easiest way to know if you have a 2 piece laminated rosewood board (the “Lam ” fingerboard, as they call it) is to remove the nut and check the end grain. Some say that it’s done pretty well – under very high pressure. Well, whatever! Can you HEAR it? Does it really affect the tone? I think most who know good tone would argue that it does NOT!

I’ve had two 2012 Les Pauls in my possession and they are both superb sounding and playing instruments. To me, there are other factors that are WAY more likely to have an effect on the tone than the 2 piece rosewood board. So let me mention a few factors that I think are on the “A list” for killer tone… and perhaps amongst the reasons why Gibson 2012 Les Pauls seem to sound consistently great (or so I hear, anyway).  1. I always think about the neck angle to the body. The old ones almost always had a very shallow angle – and I think this is part of their tone-recipe! (and playability too, I might add).  2. In a Les Paul, where the bulk of the wood is mahogany, the quality of the wood in the mahogany back (and neck)  seems to be a significant tone-factor. There’s actually a rumour that in the last year or so, Gibson sourced some AMAZING (and legal) mahogany from a country previously unknown for it’s instrument grade wood.  3. Let me keep going here…a third factor … the pickups. Those Burstbuckers just seem to be getting better all the time… more clarity and percussiveness in the neck pickup… an aggressive but less brittle and harsh bridge pickup. As a matter of fact, thanks to my pal PF, I now have a 2012 “Collector’s Choice #3” Les Paul – also referred to as “The Babe” (horrible name!) – and it is absolutely superb. One of the best sounding guitars I’ve had – 2 piece fingerboard and all! The pickups are referred to in the literature as “Custom Alnico 3 Buckers”. Whatever! They sound great!!! It has a Bigsby, but mercifully, it only weighs 8.85lbs. Hey! – I thought that Bigsbys were “tone-robbers”!? There are NO RULES on a feature-by-feature basis, IMHO – it’s just how everything adds up! Here’s a shot of “The Babe” relaxin’ Two piece board and all!!! Doesn’t seem to bother HER!!!…

Gibson Collector’s Choice #3 “The Babe” Les Paul…only 8.85lbs!