Gibson Les Paul sunburst fans are in for a treat with a new book, simply called Sunburst. Well, it’s Sunburst: How The Gibson Les Paul Became A Legendary Guitar, but you get the picture.

Sunburst: How the Gibson Les Paul Standard Became a Legendary Guitar by Tony Bacon It’s authored by noted U.K. guitar expert Tony Bacon and is not only brimming with rare information on classic ’58-’60 Bursts, but also has full-color detailed shots of many legendary Bursts – Jimmy Page’s #1 and #2, Keith Richards’ Bigsby Burst, Billy F Gibbons’ “Pearly Gates”, Joe Bonamassa’s “Babe/Batman” and many more.

The rich story of Bursts is brought up to date with a look at Gibson’s current Collector’s Choice LP models and behind-the-scenes photos of how Gibson make a 2014 sunburst Les Paul. asked author Tony Bacon about the guitar world’s ongoing fascination with sunburst Gibson Les Pauls…

What, to you, is the allure of a sunburst Les Paul?

“It pains me to say it as an author, but the allure of a sunburst Les Paul is quite difficult to put into words. It’s like Frank Zappa said: ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ Why is a guitar good, why is it bad? How does it feel for a player? These are all very personal things.

“So I don’t really address that in the book. What I tried to do was address why original Les Paul Bursts were overlooked at the time. And why, later, people hit upon it. And what’s happened since, including how Gibson reacted over the years… right up to now, and doing a very fine job of recreating the “uncreatable” if you like. The magic carries on. This is my fifth book about Les Pauls, but it’s always an interesting story and I keep coming back to it.”

Why did you write the book now?

“I wrote the Million Dollar Les Paul book in 2008, but that was more of a conventional textbook. The criticism of that was: where are the pictures? And that was fair criticism. So Sunburst is, in some ways, a reaction to that. This book has the greatest pictures.

“I keep finding out new things, there’s lots in the book, but it still can’t quite explain why original Bursts were so good. To understand, you have to pick one up and play it.”

Why do you think so many guitarists are obsessed by sunburst Gibson Les Pauls?

“On the surface, they’re just wood, plastic and wire. But they’re not. Jimmy Page’s #1 is something else. Billy Gibbons’ “Pearly Gates” is something else. The Peter Green/Gary Moore Les Paul is something else... and it goes on. There are more pictures of all these sunburst guitars in this book than any other, I think.”

Gibson Les Paul bursts
The original 1959 Peter Green/Gary Moore “unburst” is in the Sunburst book.

Is there any one legendary Burst missing in the book’s up-close photos?

“Sadly, not Eric Clapton’s original “Beano” Les Paul. No-one knows what happened to that guitar, from my research. Anyone who says they do is probably lying. If it was out there, given all the people I know connected with Bursts, it would have turned up. It’s the most famous non-existent guitar ever. I’d like to be proved wrong. But there’s no record of the serial number, no color pictures… My conclusion? It’s gone forever.”

Is it that ‘60s blues rock era that keeps the allure strong?

“Not completely. One of the reasons I wrote the book now is because of the live resurgence of use. Joe Bonamassa is the obvious example. I spoke again with Joe. He now has six ’58-’60 Bursts, maybe more. And Joe does take them out, he plays them live. Keith Nelson from Buckcherry takes one out live. That’s a change. For a while, they were ‘bank vault’ guitars, which is the saddest thing you can do to a musical instrument. Guitars are for playing.

“The Clapton/Kossoff ’58 was interesting. We photographed it about 20 years ago, when it was owned by (Free’s) Paul Rodgers. I didn’t quite believe the story at the time, but then realized it was that guitar. This is the ’58 Burst that Clapton traded with Paul Kossoff. I’m really pleased we got details of that in the book. It’s a Burst with a very colourful past.”

The different looks of Bursts is always a topic of discussion for Les Paul fans, I’m sure you agree…

“Of course. Figured maple can always give different characters. Every single Burst seems to be different, whether the color has faded or not. Each looks like a different character, a different face. That’s special. That’s one of the reasons collectors will buy one Burst, but then want another! If you buy a Fender Custom Color Strat, you’ve got it. When you buy a Burst, it can be very different to another. The visuals of Gibson Les Pauls are very special.”

Gibson Les Paul bursts
Three original Bursts in the Sunburst book. Left-to-right, 1958 serial number 8 6758, 1958 s/n 8 5418, 1959 s/n 9 0826.

You cover modern Gibson Bursts in the book too: what are your thoughts on 2014 Bursts?

“If you took away all the ‘magic, witchcraft and voodoo,’ modern Gibson Les Pauls are just as good. But that magic remains. You can’t change that. Not everyone is affected by that, but it does remain. All the words written about vintage guitars add up to something. Some people absorb that, others don’t. But, in my opinion, the current Gibson Les Pauls are as good as the old ones. But there’s still that original Burst allure.”

And you detail the recent Collector’s Choice models – copies of original Bursts – in the book, too…

“I’ve covered those in the book, I wanted to. I’m pleased about that, plus the reference section. It brings it all up to date. There’s a lot in the book that’s new and different, I just hope it brings the story together. Nobody can get everything 100% right, but I hope we got close.”

All pictures copyright: Sunburst published by Backbeat Books (2014.)

Collector’s Choice Les Pauls