We're not ones to get all religious about any instruments we have here at TME, but we'd be lying if we didn't say we feel #blessed to have this guitar in the shop.
This 1953 Gibson Les Paul Standard with its original Goldtop finish is what guitar dreams are made of! Purchased from the son of the original owner whose father bought it brand new in Newport, Rhode Island in 1953, it is the textbook example of a wraptail Goldtop Les Paul in every way. It was played almost exclusively at home during its tenure with the owner, and only left the house on a number of occasions to accompany the owner's younger brother on some Nashville stints in the 1960s (word is there are a few pictures of this very Goldtop with the brother, but they've yet to surface). It's a supremely vibey, clean, and amazing sounding example of one of the most famous Les Paul models in existence.
Based on the serial number and original pot codes (23rd and 25th weeks of 1953, respectively, on the Bridge and Neck volume pots), this Les Paul dates roughly to middle 1953, firmly positioning it as a true "Version 2.0" Goldtop.
Gibson had corrected some of the playability issues commonly associated with original 1952 and early 1953 Les Paul models, which had a shallower neck set and had been outfitted with long trapeze tailpieces. Early in 1953, when Gibson first introduced the wraparound bridge, you'll still find transitional 'wraptail' examples with the shallow neck set; by the time this LP was built, the neck set had been corrected. The result is a much more enjoyable playing experience, with a guitar that can be properly adjusted to the player's preferences and also enhances intonation along with better overall action. Examples like this very guitar are what truly paved the way for this model to reach the status it so clearly has deserved.
There's a wide-sweeping generalization that Les Pauls aren't the lightest solidbodies to come out of the Golden Era, but occasionally you'll find one like this '53 that is suprisingly lean. At just a hair over 8.5 lbs on our scale, it's about as light as a true Les Paul gets. You'll find very few examples lighter than this one. Did we say it was light?!
The lightness of that great old Mahogany slab and carved Maple top translates into an incredibly lively guitar. The chunky C neck is incredibly comfortable and has the perfect taper for this time period at just under .1" between frets 1-12. The neck and body are in perfect harmony, with a strong resonance that can be felt in almost any position on the neck. Much of that aforementioned acoustic activity wouldn't be as prominent, however, if it weren't for a few changes that were enacted to bring the very best out of this guitar.
When we first acquired the guitar, we knew it would take some delicate but necessary work to get it playing and sounding the way it should. The original small frets were completely worn out from decades of consistent play time. This must have also resulted in a very worn-out nut, as the original had been replaced some time ago. The factory wraparound tailpiece was also heavily played in, with some notches grooved into the aluminum from the pressure of the strings. The short 1/2" bushings - another common ailment for early wraptail Gibsons (through about mid 1956) that lead to bridge lean - were causing some substantial bridge lean further diminishing playability. For reasons we can only assume were aesthetically motivated, the original polepiece screws were replaced at some point with a set of chrome-plated polepieces. The original input jack plate - while original to the guitar - suffered some damage seemingly long ago where it appeared that the instrument cable had been knocked, causing a depression/crack. Lastly, the original pickup toggle switch's internal tip and contact springs were heavily fatigued, making it very difficult for the switch to stay properly seated in the preferred position.
Our supremely talented and (thankfully) local New England luthier, Maine's Laurent Brondel, gave this '53 LP the ultimate spa treatment. Laurent masterfully refretted the guitar with Jescar 51100 fret wire and installed a 6/6 nylon nut in the process. He then carefully removed the original bushings and installed full length MojoAxe bushings along with a MojoAxe CWT-A lightweight nickel-plated and compensated 50s style wraparound bridge. The original studs were used. Laurent removed the original toggle switch from the body cavity and repaired the switch components without so much as a bit of desoldering work to identify that anything had been done. Lastly, he fabricated and installed custom Maple pickup spacers and installed them beneath each of the original P90 pickups in order to provide further adjustability and output balance. A new MojoAxe input jack plate has been installed, giving the original input jack the proper support it needs. We installed a set of CrazyParts fillister cheesehead polepiece screws made with the proper material to restore the proper look and makeup of the original pickups, leaving just one of the older replacement screws (bridge pickup, B string) in as a reminder of its history.
If we're just talking playability here, there might not be many examples of a '53 Goldtop that play like this one. You've got the best of both worlds - fresh frets, a cleanly cut nut, and intonatable bridge with an expert setup combined with all of the critical original components unaffected. You can take this out of its original 4-latch case and just get to playing.
Plugged in tone is remarkable, to put it bluntly. The original P90 pickups both measure almost identically for output at just a touch under 8k DCR each. Neck position is sweet and clear, with a beautiful natural compression when you dig in - almost the way the neck pickups in those great bolt-neck doublecuts sound a year later. Bridge position is also nice and clear, with great string definition and top end attack. It's got some nice sizzle with that medium-high output, but not so overpowering that it forgoes dynamic response. Middle position is a true delight - scooped mids with a rounded low and combined with top end chirp. There's really no way to get a bad sound out of this guitar.
The stock wiring harness shows undisturbed solder throughout, with all original Centralab 500k pots and Grey Tiger capacitors. All pots function just as they should, yielding some of the very best shades of tonal nuance that modern wiring and components still cannot quite capture. The original Kluson 'no line' tuners still work great and remain in great condition, with just the D and G tuners having slightly bent shafts from having gotten caught on the case lining over the years.
It's no wonder that this remained a one-owner instrument until now, and as the family described to us, it was the owner's pride and joy. Just one look or one strum, and you can understand.
70 years of age never looked better than it did in this Goldtop.
- 1-piece Mahogany body w/ 3-piece carved Maple top
- Original Goldtop finish with original natural Mahogany body finish
- Mahogany neck w/ bound Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard and original trapezoid inlays
- Full C neck profile: .90" @ 1st fret / .99" @ 12th fret
- Pro refret and 6/6 nylon nut installation by Laurent Brondel - Jescar 51100 fretwire
- Original Kluson 'no line' tuners
- Original P90 pickups: 7.95k neck / 7.97k bridge
- CrazyParts replacement pickup polepieces and custom Maple spacers installed
- MojoAxe CWT-A compensated wraparound bridge (original wraparound bridge included)
- MojoAxe 1" long threaded bushings installed (original 1/2" bushings included)
- Original wraptail stud bushings
- Original wiring harness with undisturbed solder throughout - Centralab pots and Grey Tiger capacitors
- Neck volume pot shows 25th week of 1953 / Bridge volume pot shows 23rd week of 1953)
- Mid-1953 factory cavity route - small input jack channel rout, no trapeze grounding wire channel rout
- Original pickguard, catalin switch tip, and poker chip
- Original barrel knobs - bridge pickup tone knob appears as an early vintage replacement
- Replacement MojoAxe input jack (original included)
- Weight: 8lb 9oz
- Original 4-latch Brown hardshell case in fair condition
- Original Gibson hang tag w/ matching serial number and original price listed