The introduction of Gibson’s Les Paul Model in 1952 marked the beginning of the electric solid body guitar era. The launch of the company’s “deluxe” version two years later – the Les Paul Custom – cemented Gibson’s legacy as the industry leader, even though sales numbers didn’t accurately illustrate the guitar’s early impact.
Nicknamed the “Fretless Wonder” for its low frets, or “Black Beauty” for its rich, contrasting color, the Les Paul Custom was introduced at the same time as the Gibson Les Paul Junior and represented the ultimate in Gibson solid body design at the time. It sold originally for $325, which was $100 more than the regular Les Paul Model.
Several characteristics continued to set the Les Paul Custom apart from Gibson’s other models, including its beautiful gloss ebony finish, which had been one of Les Paul’s two original color choices (the other was gold) for the Les Paul Model – he felt a guitar player’s hands would be more visible to audiences against a black background. Additionally, the Les Paul Custom featured a thicker body design and seven-ply body binding on both the front and back of the guitar to create a visually striking instrument, along with a multi-bound headstock with a prominent five-piece split diamond patterned inlay of genuine mother of pearl – a design that still graces every Les Paul Custom made today.
And while maple tops would come to define the Les Paul Model and subsequent Les Paul Standard, the body of the Les Paul Custom was made entirely from a solid piece of mahogany, with no added maple top. This difference gave the Les Paul Custom a much warmer overall sound, but with incredible sustain and rich, balanced tone.
Aside from its obvious visual enhancements, the 1957 Les Paul Custom was the first Custom model to offer the new Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece which had debuted one year earlier on the Les Paul Model Goldtops – a change that greatly improved the overall functionality of the Les Paul. To this day, the Tune-o-matic bridge remains one of the most revered and copied pieces of guitar hardware ever developed, setting a standard for simplicity and functionality that has never been bettered.
The 1957 Les Paul Custom was also the first Custom model to feature Gibson’s pioneering humbucking pickup, which was developed by Gibson engineer Seth Lover. Lover began working on a tone circuit with hum-cancelling capabilities sometime in 1954, applying for a U.S. design patent – hence the name “Patent Applied For,” or “PAF” – on June 22, 1955. By early 1957, the standard double-coil version of the humbucker pickup had begun to appear on Gibson ES-175s and ES-350Ts, and eventually on the Les Paul Customs of the same year.
Presented as an “upgrade,” a three pickup version of the Les Paul Custom was also made available in 1957, complete with a distinct new circuitry that offered a host of new tonal possibilities. The guitar’s toggle switch was wired to activate the middle and bridge pickups together in the center position, instead of combining the neck and bridge pickups, which gave the guitar an out-of-phase option that wasn’t available before. Both the two-pickup and three-pickup versions of the 1957 Les Paul Custom were also available with a Bigsby “True Vibrato” unit, which was an option available on most Gibson guitars during the 1950s and 1960s.
Today’s 1957 Les Paul Custom from Gibson Custom is presented with all the historically accurate appointments and legendary tone of the original. No detail is overlooked, including a solid, non-weight relieved mahogany body with carved mahogany top. The headstock is made from Holly head veneer, as opposed to fiber, just like it was in 1957, and the vintage-style kidney tulip tuners are mounted in a straight line, also as they were on the original. The 24 ¾-inch scale length neck is made from one solid piece of mahogany, and attached to the body using a long neck tenon — one of the Les Paul’s more distinguishing characteristics of the 1950s. The neck is topped by a 22-fret ebony fingerboard outfitted with pearl block inlays matching the size of color of the originals. Of course, two of Gibson’s legendary Burstbucker pickups deliver all the subtle variations of true, classic humbucker tone by using historically “unmatched” bobbin windings and Alnico II magnets. The guitar’s Ebony finish also matches the hue of the earliest versions, giving this Gibson Custom model the accurate and distinct appearance of the original model. Other historical appointments include CTS potentiometers, bumble bee capacitors, multi-ply white and black binding on both the top and back, gold hardware, period-correct switchwasher and jackplate and Gibson’s traditional early ’50s rounded neck profile. The 1957 Les Paul Custom is available with either two or three pickups, in a V.O.S. or Gloss finish, with gold hardware and the option of adding a Bigsby tremolo system. Each guitar also comes with the standard Gibson Custom case and certificate of authenticity.