Sia's Vintage Guitars
Les Paul Custom
Homage to the 1950s "Black Beauty"
Very soon after Fender introduced the concept of a solid-body electric guitar in 1950, Gibson debuted its own first solid-body electric guitar in 1952. It was called the “Les Paul”, named after a famous guitarist in the 1950s that played a critical part in several inventions that directly influenced the design of the guitar model. He and his wife were also central figures in the endorsement and marketing campaigns of the guitar.
Gibson 1954-56 catalogues
Pic Credit: guitar-compare.com
The first Les Paul model was the Gold Top with P90 pickups in 1952. Next came the Custom in 1954 in black and gold, with the neck P90 swapped for an ‘Alnico’ pickup. Finally, in 1957, the Les Paul sported two humbucker pickups but almost immediately moved to three humbuckers. Then in 1961, the Les Paul design was changed to the double-cutaway “SG” design and it soon dropped the "Les Paul" name for strategic business and legal purposes. But, the mid 1960s saw super famous guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, among others, using the original 1950s single-cutaway Les Pauls and this drove the used guitar market high enough for Gibson to take notice and bring back the original design in 1968. It hasn’t left since!
Gibson 197-59 catalogues
Pic Credit: guitar-compare.com
Gibson 1968 catalogue
Pic Credit: vintageguitarandbass.com
Gibson 2006 catalogue
Pic Credit: guitar-compare.com
The serial number on this guitar dates it's production back to 2007, as confirmed by Gibson customer service.
The 1968 Gibson catalogue described the Custom as having a “graceful single cutaway design”. It’s the iconic, classic Les Paul shape!
The guitar body is made of mahogany with a carved maple top. The Gibson website claims that there are strategically routed holes in the body to promote acoustic resonance and provide weight relief. This Custom weights about 4.5 kgs or 9.9 lbs.
Nashville Tune-O-Matic (TOM) allows for easy intonation of each string, and also for adjusting action by adjusting screws on two ends. The tailpiece is a classic stop bar with large screws at two ends allowing one to adjust the break angle of the strings. Pretty easy to adjust. I know many Les Paul players “top-wrap” the strings claiming it produces a better tone, sustain, and allows for easier bending. But, I don’t have the heart to ruin the gold plating on my tailpiece!
The legendary patented "open book" headstock has been copied many times and got some guitar manufacturers in trouble for it!
The tuners are smooth and manage to keep the strings surprisingly well in tune. They are plated, Grover brand, tulip shape heads.
This mahogany neck is the closest thing I have experienced to that “baseball bat” width that vintage guitar collectors often refer to. The shape is a rounded C. Quite contrary to what the 1968 catalogue advertised as “slim”. Maybe my Custom is modeled on the 1950s neck that was thicker.
The 22-fret ebony fingerboard on top of the neck has a 12-inch radius with pearloid inlays and single-ply binding at its sides. The binding is even covering the ends of the frets. Any luthier will tell you that requires an insane amount of work or atleast very expensive tooling!
The most interesting part of this fretboard is how low the frets are. They are seriously low, and not because they have fretwear - that's just how they left the factory! The original custom was in fact advertised as the “fretless wonder” in the 1950s, exclaiming “players rave about its extremely low smooth frets and playing action...” And, I totally get what they were claiming! I don’t think Customs were Plek’d back in the day but the fret crowing and smooth edges on this one make it a near-perfect fret job! It allows the action to be set super low without any buzzing.
Finally, this particular guitar has an ebony fingerboard. Interestingly, I believe the year my guitar was manufactured might be the last year that Gibson was able to use real ebony, and from 2007-8 onwards the US government banned the use of ebony because it was considered an endangered species. Gibson then turned to Richlite fretboards - a synthetic material that looks like ebony.
The Custom comes with a little truss rod cover and a factory-made truss rod adjustment tool. Its super smooth and works perfect!
The “ebony” colour on this guitar gave it the name “black beauty” that it is referred to by Gibson aficionados and collectors. Les Paul himself explained that the idea behind a black guitar was that when a performer would wear a black tuxedo on stage and wear a black guitar all one would see is their hands flying all over the place! The gold-plated hardware adds much elegance to the design. Notice the beautiful accent added by the multi-ply white and black binding around the edges of the back and front of the body. This turns into a lovely patina ivory colour as the guitar ages. Mine isn’t stark white, it’s closer to an ivory shade.
The Custom has two humbuckers - based on revolutionary technology that was invented by Seth Lover and patented by him for Gibson in the late 1950s. These are often referred to as PAF (Patent Applied For) pickups because that is what was stamped on their undersides for several of the initial years. The PAFs have been iterated and modeled over into multiple variants, including the pickups on my guitar - a 490 R neck pickup and 498 T bridge pickup. The latter swaps the Alnico II magnet for an Alnico V magnet, making it hotter. Old catalogues promised that these pickups were “powerful” and they weren’t lying, with the neck producing 7.8k ohm and bridge generating a monstrous 13.8k ohm. The neck pick-up has this thick growl while the bridge allows you to cut through with screaming solos while still retaining the characteristic Les Paul warmth.
Control Knobs & Switch
The Custom has separate tone and volume controls for each pickup. I love the classic design of the Les Paul switch. It’s so simple, clean, and beautiful! It goes three ways - neck pickup (rhythm) or bridge pickup (treble) or a middle setting to activate both pickups. The white knob head develops an ivory patina over time just like the white binding. Love it!
The synthetic nut on this Custom is well shaped and keeps the guitar perfectly in tune even after much bending.