Friday, April 27, 2012

1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom

The majority of the 1960's was mostly Les Paul Model free as far as availability of new guitars in the style. Introduced in 1952, the Les Paul model began to be considered passe and old fashioned by the late '50's. In an attempt to revive sagging sales, Gibson created the most collectable electric guitar in the world by replacing the gold finish with a vibrant cherry sunburst. The sunburst models marked a slight improvement in sales, but the run of the original 'burst Les Paul lasted less than three years (mid 1958 until 1960) when it was replaced with the SG style guitars in late 1960. Until 1963, these models retained the Les Paul name but were NOT used by Les himself who strongly disliked the new, aggressive looking double cutaway models. Gibson certainly revived their solid body sales with the SG, although they still did not remove Fender from their perch as top seller during the early '60's.

Around 1965, guitar heroes Michael Bloomfield and Jeff Beck began being seen playing these old fashion Les Paul's, and coaxing some incredibly powerful tones out of them to boot. In effect, the use of the Les Paul model by these stars not only created a ravenous market for used guitars but also forced Gibson's hand to resurrect the model in 1968. for some odd reason, though, Gibson did NOT reissue the coveted late '50's 'burst Les Paul; instead, a 1956 style Gold Top (w/ single coil P90 pickups) and a dual humbucker, ebony fretboard "black beauty" Custom model.

Not only is today's featured guitar one of the last Gibson's made in the 60's, but it is also a guitar that started a whole new sound in the hands of James Williamson on Iggy & The Stooges landmark 1973 album 'Raw Power". Plenty of evidence of James' aggressive playing style is seen on this guitar (namely, the wear around the bridge pickup ring, and even wear to the plastic itself, thanks to James' wild and fast right hand). Also, a studded belt buckle that James wore in the 70's is responsible for the marks on the back. Les Paul's were in transition between 1969-1970, and this guitar has some earlier "1969" features (one piece body and neck) and a few later "1970" features (reinforcement volute on the back of the headstock and the "Made In USA" stamp). The electronic code dates on the potentiometers are 1969.

Tonally, this guitar is like no other- the incredibly microphonic pickups contribute to the lively and bright sound of the guitar, which careens into squeal at the drop of a pin (heard all over the 'Raw Power' LP).

As James' touring guitar tech, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life handing this guitar over to him as he took the stage for the first time in over 35 years with Iggy in Sao Paulo, Brazil a few years back. The guitar was retired from the road after that one gig, although it did make an appearance last December at the Warfield in San Francisco. Luthier Brian Michael made a replica of this guitar for James (complete with reverse engineered pickups wound by Jason Lollar) which is used for all Stooges European touring.

c2012 Derek See. Guitar courtesy James Williamson. 


  1. VERY, very cool Derek. Now play lead and rhythm simultaneously like Mr. Williamson...

  2. A true Rock artifact, no less priceless than any Hendrix axe.