Gibson Les Paul Goldtop
Les Paul Goldtop (1952-1957)
Go back a few decades, to the time when Gibson Les Paul guitars were new. No, not just when you could buy a new Les Paul guitar, but when the design was a new idea and a new way to make music. You couldn't buy a Les Paul used, for the most part. There weren't any.
That's when the Goldtop, a real Les Paul classic, started to be the desirable musical instrument it is. In 1952, the Les Paul heritage began with two P-90 single-coil pickups and a trapeze bridge and tailpiece. In this design, the strings passed under the stop bar.
Gibson Les Paul Historic 57 Goldtop
In this very early version of what people now know simply as the Les Paul, mahogany became a byword, along with the fine maple woods still used in Les Pauls. It was also the birth of the desirable Les Paul neck, a bit wider, a bit "thicker" in feel. Interestingly, Gibson company information and various blue books and guides note that the 1952 guitars did not have serial numbers. This has led some to refer to them as prototypes.
But electric guitars of the 1954 Les Paul vintage, for example, or even as late as the Les Paul 1957 may be just as much prototypes as the first 1952 model without a number. Why? Because individual players, in many genres, often seek a particular Les Paul guitar from a particular year.
For instance, Duane Allman, the master rock guitarist from The Allman Brothers Band, used a 1957 Goldtop that had PAF pickups. How can anyone argue with the sound he produced on this Gibson Goldtop, or the 1959 vintage Les Paul instrument in cherry sunburst? If you have heard Allman's slide guitar work, it was probably produced on a Les Paul.
An interesting note in guitar history – David Gilmour, whose amazing work with Pink Floyd has captured thousands of fans, used a 1956 Goldtop. It was used in 1980 and 1981 for The Wall tour.
As reported by Gibson, by retailers and by collectors, the design of the 1950s Les Paul guitar often varied from one instrument to another. There were “minor” differences such as black covers on the P90 pickups. IF you are a player or collector looking for a Les Paul, historic models do exist but may be hard to come by. Prices for the vintage Les Paul often approach or exceed the cost of a new model.
Gibson Les Paul 57 Black Beauty
A bit later, Gibson brought the Les Paul Custom to the public, in 1954. These early models were black and players soon dubbed them “Black Beauty.” The model had a mahogany top, making it a different instrument from the Gibson Goldtop. Improvements included the tune-o-matic bridge and humbucker pickups that took the instruments to the next level of quality sound.
Try some of these names for recommendation when considering a Les Paul Custom (1954 to 1960) or a Goldtop:
- Jan Akkerman
- Dave Davies (The Kinks)
- Warren Haynes (Government Mule)
- Albert Lee (this guitar is reportedly a gift from Eric Clapton)
- Keith Richard, who has used both Goldtop and Custom Les Paul guitars.
- Hubert Sumlin used a 1956 Les Paul Goldtop for many years. He uses various Les Pauls and ES-335s.
The list goes on and on.
Paul McCartney playing a 1960 left-handed cherryburst Les Paul
By the way, it’s not impossible to play a vintage Les Paul left-handed. Paul McCartney played a 1960, left-handed model (Cherryburst).
How does a player or collector find out which vintage Les Paul he or she is looking at Try looking at the Blue Book by F.P. Fjestad, for one good source. For example, this great resource shows 4 2205 as 1954 and 614562 as 1956. But it’s always best to really dig into the information and ask an expert (or two).
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