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.