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!!!



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

Who The Heck Is Jimmy Wallace?


…oh, no, that’s right… that’s Jimmie Walker!

So who is Jimmy Wallace?… Legend in the Les Paul Guitar community, fine player, vintage dealer, organizer of the Dallas International Guitar Festival, early friend to SRV, member of Bugs Henderson and the Stratoblasters (later just the Stratoblasters)… Here’s a youtube clip of Jimmy (while it’s up..) and he’s really got the schiznitz!…

Anyway, the thing that started all this was my “accidental aquisition” (dang ebay auction!) of a guitar that Gibson made for Jimmy in 2011. It was his demo guitar for the “Jimmy Wallace PAF” pickup ( although, regretfully, at this point in time, they seem not to have gotten off the ground). This guitar is a beast! A little less than 8lbs of pure tonal bliss with one single Jimmy Wallace PAF pickup mounted in the bridge position only (the Rev. would LOVE this guitar!) – and quite a “looker” too.

Gibson Jimmy Wallace Les Paul 2011

This all started for Jimmy Wallace in the early 80s when his store special ordered Les Pauls to his specs (he took Gibson his ‘Burst as inspiration) … all the resulting guitars had “Jimmy Wallace Model” on the truss rod cover and the serial numbers were done in a vintage inked-on style – and starting with an “8” (representing 1958) or later, a “9”, on some examples. Features like thin cutaway binding, bigger necks, ABR-1 bridges, beautiful figured tops (you get the picture) were standard. These guitars were made right up until the mid-1990s. Here’s a picture of the first one, a 1980. It’s recently been for sale for $15,000 on Ebay and at Route 66 ClassicGuitars:

First Jimmy Wallace LP from 1980