Gibson Custom Shop 56 Goldtop VOSThe luscious sunburst finish on Gibson’s Les Paul Standard circa 1958-’60 tends to get most of the glory — and command some of the highest prices on the vintage market in its original form — but the original Les Paul finish, the Goldtop, has a heck of a lot of fans, too.

New out of the Kalamazoo factory in 1952, the Goldtop Les Paul had more swagger and sex appeal than any electric guitar that ever roared down the pike. Vintage examples look even more glorious after as much as 55 years of aging and weathering, which often emphasizes texture-enhancing checking and crazing, and that subtle but distinctive “greening” so beloved of Les Paul aficionados. Although it’s a uniform, opaque finish on the arched maple top of the guitar, it’s by no means a simple effect to achieve. While other gold finishing techniques have been used in the intervening years, and by other makers, Gibson’s Custom Shop sprays them just the way it was done when Les Pauls first left the factory in the 1950s, and only the precise process using the exact color will yield a genuine Goldtop. 

Despite being universally referred to as “gold,” the tint added to the mixture of clear nitrocellulose lacquer and reducer in order to produce the metallic gold effect is actual a bronze powder. This bronze powder doesn’t dissolve in the lacquer, rather its tiny reflective particles are suspended in it. Get up close to a genuine Goldtop and you’ll see not only the deep, almost three-dimensional luster this produces, but also the refracted light and reflectivity of the bronze powder flecks themselves. The overall effect is a kind of iridescence, with a deep, lustrous gold hue apparent in a straight-on view of the body, and a greenish-bronze tint when you view the guitar at a slight angle or tilt it to roll the light off the carved arches in the top. Over the bronze-tinted coat is sprayed a clear coat nitrocellulose lacquer, which is prone to further “greening” with age—a “flaw” that many makers sought to eliminate in the 1970s and ’80s with the use of more stable polyurethane and polyester finishes, but which is widely accepted as part of the natural beauty of many vintage guitars, as well as many contemporary reproductions. 

Check out Gibson Custom Shop’s 1956 Goldtop VOS and 1957 Goldtop VOS and they not only look (as well as feel and sound!) just like a Les Paul off the line in Kalamazoo in 1956 and 1957 respectively, but they will also mature just like the original examples. For players who like the sizzling, slightly gritty midrange roar of the classic P-90 single-coil pickups, the 1956 Goldtop VOS gets you there in style. Alternatively, the 1957 Goldtop VOS packs the rich warmth and sweetness of the PAF-loaded sunburst Standard, thanks to its great BurstBucker humbucking pickups, but still sports the archetypal burnished gold finish. Although it might sometimes seem like the quiet cousin of the legendary Standard of 1958-’60, in the hands of the likes of Freddie King, Neil Schon, Frank Sampedro of Crazy Horse, Steve Malkmus, Carl Perkins, and countless others, the sublime Goldtop has proved it can wail with the best of ’em, and look gorgeous in the process.