Gibson's Les Paul model has permanently etched itself as one of - if maybe not the - most iconic solidbody electric guitars ever made.
Why We Love This
Even when you consider how many variants of the fabled model have existed since Gibson introduced it in 1952, they all seem to present a particular feel and response that is unique to its core design. From the quirky and often cumbersome first-year Goldtop "trapeze" models, early "wraptail" Goldtops, and even more utilitarian Juniors and Specials to the prized "Burst" models and sleek Customs with their PAF humbuckers, they all undoubtedly deliver that "Les Paul sound". That being said, there are always going to be some instruments that push themselves ahead of the pack. That's where a guitar like this comes into the fold.
Before we dive into some of the technical specs and features of the guitar, we'd be remiss if we didn't give some proper attention to the story of how this guitar ultimately found its way to us here at TME.
The current owner hit the 'right place right time' jackpot one day in 1995, where he found himself hanging at Boston's original Guitar Center location on Commonwealth Avenue, just a stone's throw away from Fenway Park and Boston University. The original owner of this Les Paul - a retired Boston police officer - walked through the front door of the Guitar Center with this very guitar, aiming to sell it. He purchased it new in 1957 (we can only surmise that it came from EU Wurlitzer, who was the premier Gibson dealer in the area at that time) and provided some insight to the GC manager and current owner about its history. A number of years after owning and playing it, he decided to outfit it with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece in 1963, an unfortunate but common modification made to many Gibsons and Fenders of that period. The retired police offer sold his Les Paul to Guitar Center that very day, right in front of the current owner. Within days, the current owner made arrangements to purchase it, and it's been in his possession ever since. With a mere days-long stint at Guitar Center, it's only really had two owners.
Setting the Bigsby mod aside for a bit, we can focus on just how truly special this guitar is. First off, the original Gold finish is a sight to behold! It retains much of its original deep and rich gold color with very little fading or "greening out" as is often the case with any Goldtop Les Paul that's been played over the years. Second, the sheer absence of lacquer checking on the top has to be seen to be believed. We've had late model Murphy Aged Les Pauls here with more lacquer checking!
Factory white plastics adorn this beauty, with original M-69 pickup rings, switch ring, and pickguard. Given the serial number and plastics color, this Les Paul was likely completed mid/late '57 after the transition from black plastics in the earlier part of the year. It features its original Catalin switch tip as well as a quartet of original Amber bonnet knobs. The hardware has the perfect amount of natural patina - all nickel-plated parts throughout, with an original "no wire" ABR-1 bridge and factory nickel-plated brass saddles. The stopbar tailpiece and studs are of an early 60s vintage, likely acquired post-purchase to restore original configuration with the Bigsby having been removed. The tailpiece has a longer, thicker seam on the underside that is typical of stopbar tailpieces made between 1961-1964 or thereabouts.
The humbuckers in this Les Paul represent the earliest incarnation of the world-famous Seth Lover designed pickup. These humbuckers feature brushed steel covers that also reveal clean identifiable tool marks on the mounting ears. You won't find those treasured 'Patent Applied For' stickers on the baseplates here! These early versions pre-date the application of the stickers that would arrive sometime later in 1957. Output is fairly close between rhythm and treble pickups, with the neck pickup measuring 7.45k and the bridge pickup measuring 7.32k. There's evidence that the pickup covers have been removed before, but there's nothing definitive to show any modification to the actual internals of the pickups themselves.
Looking at the guitar head-on presents as a classic Goldtop aesthetic. It's only when you turn it around does it reveal possibly the most unique feature seen on any factory Les Paul model - the rare stinger! If it wasn't already a great looking guitar, it takes things up a few notches with this incredible factory addition. The factory ink stamp is clear and legible, further cementing the stinger's originality. We certainly don't claim to be the vintage LP experts here, but we can safely say we've never seen a factory stinger on a '57 Les Paul Goldtop before. All but one of the six Kluson 'single line' tuners are original, with the correct 'Pat Appld' stamps on the underside. The High E tuner is the outlier, being of the slightly later 'Pat Number' variety.
The neck on this Les Paul is quintessential late 50s in depth and taper, with a full but comfortable C profile that is just addicting to play. It sits squarely in between a mid 50s carve and a '59 carve. It still wears its original smaller frets, and while some would argue that playability might take a bit of a hit because of that, we find that there's enough meat on these wires to still make it very inviting.
The beautiful slab Mahogany body features its original natural hue that shows elements of light Walnut with an amber glow thanks to the aging of the top coat. The neck follows suit with a similar look and level of wear - not too much, but enough to show that the guitar has been lovingly played and appreciated.
The wiring harness shows all correct Centralab potentiometers and a pair of Bumblebee capacitors, with two legible pot codes dating to the 49th week of 1956. There's some evidence of old solder added atop the original solder in a few spots, likely indicating the pickups were taken out of the guitar - maybe to remove the covers? Body and cavity routs all check out with signature chew marks and no evidence of any internal structural modifications.
If you can look beyond those two pesky snake bites from that old Bigsby, you'll see what we see - a pinnacle Goldtop Les Paul that sounds, plays, and looks about as good (or dare we say...better) than any Sunburst Les Paul that came after it.