When you think of a late 50's Les Paul, if you’re like most of us, your mind goes straight to the almighty “Burst.” Before the introduction of the "Burst" in 1958, Gibson used their PAF (Patent Applied For) humbuckers on their '57 Goldtop Les Pauls. In 1957, the design of the Les Paul was began to take its final form, abandoning the wrap-around bridge, P-90 pickups, and earlier neck shapes. The differences between an '57 Goldtop and a late-’58 Burst are subtle in terms of features, but flat-out alarming when considering retail price. Are a center-seamed top and sunburst finish worth an extra $300k? Some folks think so.
This particular instrument comes with some impressive provenance as well. It was tracked down and purchased from its original owner in Kansas by none other than Joe Bonamassa. Known almost as much for his guitar collection as his prolific music career, Joe is an unquestioned authority in the world of vintage guitars whose name adds instant credibility to any instrument it’s associated with. After a few years of heavy use from Joe, we were able to coax it away from him in order to fund another large purchase for his collection. If you know anything about Joe, you’ll know he only seeks out the very best, and this Goldtop is just that. An absolutely untouched example, this guitar is original down to the frets, nut, and even the solder joints. It sports a pair of extremely rare no-sticker PAFs, the very first version of the elusive and coveted Gibson humbucker. The weight is surprisingly slight and is a welcome feature for anyone looking to play standing up for any amount of time. It isn’t every day you see an all-original low-owner 50s Les Paul with celebrity provenance come up for sale, and this one is as wonderful as it is rare.
Your first reaction upon seeing this guitar might be that it appears to be a brand new Gibson SG, but you’d be wrong on both counts. While it is as close to mint as we’ve ever seen, it was undoubtedly built back in 1962. And while it is the classic SG body style we know and love today, the model wouldn’t receive this abbreviated monacre until the following year in 1963. Les Paul’s endorsement contract with Gibson ran until the end of ’62, so whether he liked it or not, his name was going on the headstock of this radical new design. Regardless of his personal opinions, the SG would go on to far outsell the Les Paul and become (I think?) the best selling electric guitar of all time.
If you’re looking for a player-grade instrument, this one might no be for you. I hesitate to use the term “scary clean,” but I will say the shaky hands and back sweat that inevitably ensue when handling it are inevitable. “Mint condition” is another phrase I prefer to avoid, yet it always seems to find its way into the conversation when discussing this guitar. In addition to the remarkable condition, the instrument remains 100% untouched, right down to the solder joints. A pair of unmolested original PAFs are a welcome feature, as the transition to Patent Number pickups began shortly after this guitar was built. Another unique feature is the always incredible (but rarely edible) sideways Vibrola unit. While maybe not the most efficient vibrato design of all time, its utilitarian construction harkens back to a simpler era of instruments. Less PCBs and robot tuners, more cogs and simple machines. Being a Luddite may make you difficult to employ, but at least you’ll have great taste in guitars.
Whenever you come across a custom color Fender advertised as player grade, you can be almost certain you’re looking at a refin. Fortunately this is not the case with this beautiful Lake Placid Blue Strat from the early days of CBS’ tenure. ’64-’65 was one of the more interesting “transitional” periods in the history of the model, and certainly one of the most desirable. Leo-era appointments such as a small headstock remain, while early gray-bottom pickups and a block logo make it evident that this was a CBS creation. Speaking of pickups, this set happened to be pencil dated on 4-20-65. After close inspection though, we can assure you that the coils show no sign of operator inebriation.
So why is this one considered “player grade?” Probably for the best reasons possible. An excellent refret and new bone nut ensure that playability will be no concern for the foreseeable future. A modern 5-way switch gives you the quintessential Strat middle tones without the finicky balancing act required by the original. Easily the most extensive modification of this instrument is a bit body routing under the pickguard, presumably from the days when humbuckers were king. Even this sacrilege was handled gracefully, though, as the affected area was touched up with a remarkably accurate LPB respray. It’s a guitar unapologetic for its history, but still original enough to retain maximum vibe. In my opinion, it sits at the perfect intersection of originality, price, effortless vintage cool factor.
My first ever “real” guitar was a 1996 American Strat in Burgundy Mist with a rosewood board and matching headstock, so consider this to be a thoroughly biased assessment.
This is absolutely one of the rarest and most beautiful custom colors Fender ever offered. Originally an Oldsmobile color for the 1959 model year, it was adopted by Leo for the first generation of custom colors available from ’60-’65. Why is it always the most interesting colors that show up the least? Midcentury-musicians were a completely different breed. Lucky for us, this gorgeous metallic shade found its way onto a truly exemplary Strat.
On a slightly disappointing note, the body of this guitar has been refinished. However, it has been refinished by Joe Riggio of Riggio Custom Guitars, one of the most competent and respected vintage finish experts out there. (He’s also a prolific builder and local to the Seattle area, in addition to being a close friend of ECG.) Being one of the more scarce custom colors, it can be a challenging task to mix a burgundy mist that can fool a trained eye. But, as a shop that has seen many originals, we can say that Joe’s rendition is dead-on accurate. The aging is subtle from a distance, but the manner in which the lacquer has checked, shrunk, and become less glossy is completely true to a genuine 60-year-old finish. This is a perfect Strat for someone looking for an affordable 60s example with more vintage accuracy than the Fender Custom Shop can offer.
Never heard of Jim Kelley amps? Next time you find yourself embroiled in a conversation about Alexander Dumble or Ken Fischer, pay close attention. Jim’s name is sure to follow before long. (Note: Jim Kelley is not to be confused with NFL hall-of-fame quarterback and Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly. As far as we know, Mr. Kelly’s knowledge of discrete amplification circuits is shallow at best.)
If you’re familiar with Jim’s production amps, this one may look a little strange. It was built in the chassis of a blackface Bassman head, but it’s safe to say that none of the original circuit remains intact. This is actually a prototype built by Jim in 2018 when finalizing the development of his improved single-channel “Line Amp”. This has no affiliation with the Line-6 brand of amps, which is slightly less acclaimed. I’m of the general opinion that attempting to talk about guitar tone is like attempting to dance about real estate; it’s completely futile in practice. Take my word for it though, this one absolutely has to be heard to be believed. In a shop that has sold dozens of Dumbles and Trainwrecks, more than one of us have crowned this one the best amp ever.