Sixty years on from the Gibson Les Paul’s debut in 1952, there are some Les Pauls that remain more fabled than others. The players have a lot to do with it – even a great Gibson Les Paul won’t sound fantastic in the hands of a novice. Even so, these 1958-60 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standards all have their own unique stories. Eric Clapton’s, Jimmy Page’s, Peter Green’s, Paul Kossoff’s and Billy Gibbons’s Les Paul history is here…
Eric Clapton’s “Beano” ‘Burst
Eric Clapton bought what’s believed to be a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard from a London guitar store in 1965. Believe it or not, Les Paul Standards were not popular at the time. Clapton used it for the groundbreaking “Beano” album by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers (1965), but the guitar was later stolen from an early rehearsal session when Clapton had formed Cream.
Clapton had been inspired to play a Les Paul after seeing the cover of the Freddie King album, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away, featuring King with his Goldtop. Gary Moore and Billy Gibbons both named the “Beano” album as a main inspiration for picking up Les Pauls. Some have claimed to maybe own EC’s first Les Paul – Bernie Marsden, ex-Whitesnake, for one – but no one really knows where it went. Serial numbers possibly weren’t recorded so well in mid-’60s England. Clapton’s first sunburst Les Paul – and the tone Clapton delivered – remains the stuff of Gibson Les Paul legend. Gibson has made an exact replica of Eric Clapton’s 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Great Gibson Les Paul documentary trailer here:
Jimmy Page’s Number 1
For the hard-rocking Led Zeppelin II, Jimmy Page was riffing on a Gibson Les Paul. Page had a 3-pickup “Black Beauty” Les Paul Custom in his mid-’60s session days and with The Yardbirds, but his later-used sunburst Number 1 is surrounded by myth.
Page bought “Number 1,” most believe, from Joe Walsh in April 1969 and debuted it at Zeppelin’s San Francisco shows at the end of that month. When Page received the guitar, the neck had been shaved and had already had several repairs, including the headstock, which also made the serial number go missing.
The original Kluson machine tuners were replaced with gold Grovers in August 1969. Soon after, the chrome pickup cover had come off the bridge pickup, revealing a double-white PAF pickup. By early 1971, a new pickup selector switch tip was installed. In the early ’70s, the bridge pickup was replaced. In the ’80s, with The Firm, Page even had the pickguard removed (later replaced). Many more modifications took place over the years.
So Page’s Number 1 is hardly a “pristine” vintage Gibson Les Paul. And due to the headstock replacement, there is still differing opinion whether it was originally a ’58 or a ’59. Even more confusingly, Page’s Number 2 Les Paul looks almost identical (but that has many custom-made switching options under the pickguard). Plus, he has another copy – handbuilt by U.K. guitar builder Roger Giffin – that he uses.
But Jimmy’s slightly dazed and confused Gibson Les Paul Number 1 remains his favorite. On his last album with Robert Plant in 1998, Page said: “An awful lot of Walking into Clarksdale was played on this guitar,” (including the Zep-esque “Burning Up.”) Page used it for nearly half of Zeppelin’s reunion concert in December 2007 and the encore performance with John Paul Jones at the Foo Fighters’ Wembley Stadium performance in June 2008.
Value? London instrument auctioneers Cooper-Owen estimate Number 1 would command $800,000-plus, if ever sold. Real value to Jimmy Page? Priceless.
Peter Green’s Les Paul
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul of Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green has one of the most fascinating stories of any sunburst. When Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green bought his Standard, interest in ’bursts was rising again – partly due to Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton, whom Green had replaced in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.
Green told Guitarist magazine in 1999, “I stumbled across one when I was looking for something more powerful than my Harmony Meteor. I went into Selmer’s in Charing Cross Road [central London] and tried one. It was only £110 and it sounded lovely and the color was really good. But the neck was like a tree trunk… It was very different from Eric’s Les Paul, which was slim with a very fast action.” £110 equals a still-considerable $2,500 today, but Green knew he had a bargain. Green’s Standard – very light in color, and what most now describe as “honeyburst” – featured on many of Mac’s late-’60s releases.
When Green walked away from music in the early ’70s with mental health problems, he sold the guitar to Gary Moore – the Irishman was a friend and close neighbor of Green’s in London. Green initially tried to give the Les Paul to Moore, but Gary insisted on paying the £110 it originally cost. There was also the understanding that if Green ever wanted it back, all he had to do was ask. But Peter never did.
The guitar was celebrated for its sweet tone. Some say Green tinkered with the neck pickup and accidentally refitted the humbucker reversed and “out of phase,” resulting in a more nasal sound. However, Jol Dantzig once had the chance to examine it and he said it wasn’t that the pickup being reversed that was the cause itself, but the actual magnets inside that neck ’bucker were out of phase with one another. Dantzig recalled, “This was the secret we’d all been searching for!”
In Gary Moore’s hands, the guitar featured on numerous tracks – notably the Blues For Greeny album of Fleetwood Mac covers dedicated to his hero. But Moore suddenly sold it in 2006. Why? Only Gary knew, but there were rumors that Gary – who had injured his hand and had to cancel a 2005 tour – was suddenly faced with huge insurance costs.
The guitar is now at Maverick Music in North Carolina. Probably in a vault.
Billy Gibbons’ Pearly Gates
Here is a Gibson Les Paul legend and (maybe?) fairytale. ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons owns hundreds of guitars, but the ONE is Pearly Gates, a 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul. With a fat, compressed sound and Willie G’s harmonics a-squealing, it is one of the most recognizable sounds in electric guitar history.
Gibbons was another player drawn to the Les Paul after hearing Eric Clapton on the “Beano” album. Legend has it that a Texan lady friend of ZZ Top named Renee Thomas left Texas for California and a part in a movie. The band loaned her a 1930s Packard automobile for the journey and if the car made it, it could be “divine inspiration.” The young Top named the old Packard “Pearly Gates.” Having secured her movie role, Renee sold the car and sent the dollars back, saying according to BFG, “There’s one condition – you shall name the guitar Pearly Gates and play divinely connected music.” Have mercy!
The money arrived just as Billy found a Texan farmer with a superb 1959 sunburst Les Paul under his bed he wanted to sell. So, Billy bought the Les Paul with the money. BFG now had his own Pearly Gates. The rest is bad-ass Texas blues history.
Paul Kossoff’s Les Pauls
Paul Kossoff’s life was short, but he was originally a lucky young man. He, too, was inspired by Eric Clapton’s work on the “Beano” album. After starting playing electric on a Les Paul Junior, “Koss” – at around the age of 16 – persuaded his parents to buy him a 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom, and he immersed himself in learning to play the electric blues. He also landed a Saturday job working in Selmer’s music shop in London’s West End – the same store where Peter Green bought his fabled Les Paul. One day, “Koss” was asked to assist a wiry American who was visiting the shop with his manager, Chas Chandler.
“He had an odd look about him and smelled strange,” Kossoff recalled. The guitarist asked for a left-handed guitar, but Selmer’s had none. So the American buyer, one Jimi Hendrix, simply flipped over a right-handed model and played. “He started playing some chord stuff like in ‘Little Wing,’” Kossoff said, “and the salesman looked at him and couldn’t believe it.
Kossoff was immediately smitten. “Just seeing him really freaked me out. I just loved him to death. He was my hero.”
For much of Free’s glory days, Koss used a later-bought ’59 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard through a Marshall head with a cabinet that he and his father, impressively, built themselves. He played with an aggressive attack, utilizing heavy picks and heavy strings for maximum tone, and developed a unique vibrato. It was sometimes slow, but mostly wide, trilling and quick.
Besides his main sunburst Les Paul, Koss also played his 3-pickup, black mid-’50s Les Paul Custom. And when Free were on tour with Blind Faith in the U.S, Eric Clapton was impressed by Kossoff and swapped yet another ’burst Standard for Koss’s early black Les Paul Custom. Koss also picked up several more Les Pauls, including two late ’50s PAF-equipped models, with the sunburst finishes sanded off to give a blonde appearance. Gibson has now recreated the Paul Kossoff 1959 Les Paul Standard in a tribute model.
More Les Pauls Standards:
How the Les Paul Standard Became “the Standard” for Page, Clapton, Allman, Beck, Townshend, Slash…
5 Great British Blues Albums
The Warped Genius of Billy Gibbons