Launched in 1952 in response to Paul Bigsby’s and Leo Fender’s early successes with solidbody electric guitars and Les Paul’s persistent pressure, the Les Paul model was Gibson’s first solidbody electric spanish (ie not lap steel) guitar.
The neck and body are mahogany, the body being covered with a carved maple cap usually made from two or three pieces of maple, seldom symmetrically arranged which is why ‘conversion’ to sunburst is difficult for most. In a departure from Gibson’s usual natural wood and sunburst finishes of the time, it was finished radically in opaque Gold to imply opulence and professionalism – and perhaps to help it stand out on early black and white television.
The overly-shallow neck angle of the first (‘52-earlier ’53) examples mean that the strings had to wrap under the trapeze tailpiece, preventing string muting. This flawed design was therefore soon superseded by a steeper neck angle which enabled use of a new wraparound bridge/tailpiece unit. It’s often said that this configuration produces the most resonant Les Pauls of all, and this instrument supports that view.
By 1954, the year of this example, the configuration and in particular the neck angle, was well established. They were available with gold tops and mahogany backs and sides of various darknesses, and also in all-gold finish, which looked great but ages badly, especially on the necks as players’ sweat infiltrates checking in the clear lacquer coat and oxidises the gold finish beneath, which is made from fine brass powder suspended in more clear lacquer.
This near-mint, all-original example with matching case in excellent condition is one of 1504 shipped that year, of which who know how many remain, let alone in this condition? It has two hot P-90 pickups with the characteristic gnarly ‘bark’ of the earlier designs. They overdrive superbly, retaining their bite but warming up with volume. It plays like butter and is very resonant acoustically.