’Bursting with History: Five Famous ’59 Les Pauls
Few guitars are as lusted after as the 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard. From the revered instruments of players like Michael Bloomfield, Paul Kossoff and Gary Rossington to the five players listed below (not to mention many more well-documented collector-owned Pauls), everyone has their favorite ’59.
Here are Gibson’s top five ’59s that rock!
1. Billy Gibbons’ “Pearly Gates”
Billy Gibbons’ famed “Pearly Gates” (serial number 9 1171) is more of a mainstay in ZZ Top than even The Reverend’s trademark beard. Featuring a beautiful, flamey top that still exhibits hints of rich red here and there, “Pearly” is also notable for the use of over-the-top stringing for the tailpiece. This method involves feeding the strings backwards through the tailpiece, then passing them back over it on the way to the bridge, creating a shallower break angle over the saddles. Zakk Wylde, another Les Paul user famous for his pinch harmonics, also swears by this particular method of stringing.
2. Jimmy Page’s “Number Two”
Jimmy Page’s “Number Two” Les Paul was a beautiful ’59 purchased by Page in 1973. It wasn’t his first ’59, of course – his main baby, a ’59 with a shaved-down neck, was famously acquired from Joe Walsh a few years earlier. Page’s “Number Two” started life as a stock instrument and was acquired as a backup for “Number One”, but it wasn’t long before he had it modified with a thinner neck profile (but not as thin as “Number One”). In the early ’80s it was modified further with a complicated switching system involving coil splitting, series/parallel and phase-reverse options for both pickups, all achieved via four push-pull pots as well as a pair of push buttons tucked away under the pickguard. In that way, Page’s “Number Two” sums up his iconoclastic spirit and vision in a more revealing and quintessentially “Jimmy Page” way than even his famed “Number One.”
3. “Collector’s Choice #1”
The famous Les Paul owned by Peter Green and Gary Moore is one of the most lusted-after ’59s in existence, not just for its stellar provenance, but also for its rich honey hue, with most of the outer burst all but gone. It looks like a guitar that’s been played and loved, not sealed away in a display case. One aspect of this legendary guitar that can be replicated with a little elbow grease or a competent tech is the unique pickup wiring. The neck pickup was removed and either it was rewound out of phase or its magnet was flipped, depending on who you ask (by accident or by design, nobody seems to know). This has no effect when the pickups are used individually, but when used together a sweet hollow sound is created by the phase cancellation. Green sold the guitar to Moore in 1972 for 100 pounds, and Moore sold it for an awful lot more in 2008.
4. Steve Lukather’s “Rosanna Burst”
Toto axeman, studio legend and one of the funniest men in rock, Steve Lukather is the proud owner of a beautiful ’59 Les Paul Standard Sunburst (serial number 9 0494, colloquially known as the “Rosanna Burst,” for its appearance throughout the video for the Toto song of the same name). When I interviewed Luke at the time of his 2008 release Ever Changing Times, he said he made a point of using his ’59 at least once on every album, partly for its tone, partly for its vibe, and partly because producers always begged him to let them see it. Luke’s Les Paul has a distinctive red wash of color on the bass side around the pickup selector switch, making it a great example of how a guitar’s natural fading can distinguish it from its initially identical brothers.
5. Don Felder’s “Hotel California” ’Burst
One of the most visually stunning ’Bursts you’ll ever see, Don Felder’s “Hotel California” ’59 fades so gracefully and gently from a rich auburn to a syrupy orange that you can’t tell where one color ends and another begins. Felder used this guitar for all his solos on the Eagles’ classic 1976 album Hotel California, including the title track. Because of that solo’s influence, Felder’s Les Paul earns the distinction of being probably the most air-guitared ’59 Les Paul in history.
Bonus ’Burst: Nigel Tufnel’s “Infinite Sustain” ’59
One of the most mysterious ’59 Les Pauls is Nigel Tufnel’s beloved ’Burst, as seen in the tour of his guitar collection in This is Spinal Tap. This is the guitar that Tufnel claimed would continue sustaining while you zipped out for a snack. Notoriously protective of his axes, the true story of Tufnel’s ’59 Les Paul is one of rock’s great mysteries, along with why some backstage olives have a pimento in them and some don’t.