Give you the best of my love

The Gibson Les Paul 1960 ‘Joe Walsh’ is the latest in a series of Gibson re-issuing of guitars that were made famous by certified platinum, volume turned to ELEVEN, 110% Rock Gods. And it is a lovely instrument. Or should I say, the Gibson Les Paul 1960 ‘Joe Walsh’ was a lovely instrument – when it rolled off the production line at Kalamazoo. It gleamed. As Gibson say: It marries a solid, lightweight, one-piece, Grade-A mahogany body with a top carved from maple that has been hand selected to match the look of Joe’s original guitar. Then a quarter-sawn Grade-A mahogany neck is carved to an accurate 1960 profile that measures 0.800” at the 1st fret and 0.854” at the 12th, and topped with a one-piece, Grade-A rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays made from period-correct cellulose nitrate, and a nylon 6/6 nut at the top end… It’s loaded with a pair of Custom Bucker pickups, made with Alnico III magnets and wound to precisely match the specs of Joe’s original PAF humbuckers. The traditional four-knob Les Paul control complement includes “bumble bee” tone capacitors on the tone potentiometers, and a three-way pickup selector… John Keats would appreciate its loveliness and perhaps immortalize its beauty in a Spenserian sonnet.  And then it got passed into the hands of Hank. Believe it or not, Hank chucked it about the factory floor, banged it into the walls, clipped it on chairs, dropped it when he went to the rest room and generally gave it a good cobbling. Now, you’re expecting that after this shoddy treatment of a perfect guitar, Hank would have got fired. But you’d be wrong. In fact, Hank got a pat on the back and is hoping to be a cobbling legend one day, like Tom Murphy. You see, Hank works right at the end of the Gibson Custom process. Hank’s cobbling is called ‘Vintage Original Spec’ (VOS). His job is to knacker up the guitars so that they have that ‘lived in’ look and feel the acquired in the hands of a legend. He rummages through the old boxes to source his rusty nuts that he replaces the shiny new galvanized ones for, he knocks off chunks of wood, and makes sure the tuning pegs have the right amount of dents, leaves it leaned up against radiators overnight and basically treats guitars in a way that most musicians would deem unconscionable. But Hank’s ‘cobbling’ is very very scientific. Take the Gibson Les Paul ‘Ace Frehley Budokan’ for instance – this cherry red sun burst with DiMarzio pickups authentically replicates the one used by the KISS lead guitarist for their series of Tokyo show in 1977 right down to the all-too obvious chip in the body work that must surely have caused Frehley – were he not too far in orbit by that time – to have his head in his hands in consternation when he saw the damage to his beautiful instrument. And there are others. There’s the Les Paul ‘Joe Perry; the Toxic Twin’s LP – in Desert Burst – looks like it’s been dragged through a buzz saw. Hank really went to work on that one. And with varying degrees of damage, it’s the same story with Marc Bolan’s Les Paul, Paul Kossoff’s, Peter Frampton’s and Billy Gibbons’ and a generation of other rock legends.

The slightly ironic thing about the Gibson LPs made famous by the likes of Walsh, Perry, Bolan, and so on is that they spent the first few years of their lives neglected. The golden age of the sunburst LP was 1958 – 1960, with most of the iconic guitars made in 1959. But Gibson couldn’t sell them. The dye used didn’t hold well, resulting in the cherry red sunburst fading in some unusual – and now highly desirable – ways. Hence the ‘Iced Tea’, ‘Desert Burst’, ‘Stanley Burst’ etc finishes they now imitate in their standard models. So the Les Pauls used by Perry, Bolan, Walsh etc, spent much of the 1960s in second-hand shops. Where they probably got most of the VOS bumps and bruises that Hank takes such pains to replicate. If you wanted to buy Clapton’s Beano, you can have an aged and signed ‘Beano’ LP in your hands for – wait for it – $29,412 dollars. But what are you buying for that? Is it intrinsically worth $30K? Nope, the parts are basically the same as go into a standard reissue. OK, so what about the intangible history and it’s… erm… heritage… Erm, it was made in 2013. This is not the guitar that Clapton played ‘Hideaway’ on. This is not the guitar that Eric used on ‘Double Crossing Time’.  And certainly, this is not the same guitar that old Slow Hand got stolen from him in 1966. Which if it turned up would be worth con
siderably more.

The Gibson Les Paul 1960 ‘Joe Walsh’, like the ‘Ace Frehley Budokan’, Eric Clapton’s ‘Beano’ and so and so on, perhaps typify the current state of popular music and the bands that keep on re-inventing the wheel. The instruments aim to acquire a history that they haven’t earned. They are post-modern imitators. They want to live someone else’s life rather than carving out their own legend. I’m surprised Gibson don’t go that extra mile in VOS with the Les Paul ‘Eric Clapton Beano’ and actually nick the guitar back from you to really make it auth
entic. Leaving you with a certificate of authentication and an empty hard-shell custom case, obviously; so that people know you own a genuine reproduction stolen iconic guitar. If you know what I mean.

If you want a 1960 spec Gibson Les Paul, or a 1959 Fender Stratocaster (Fender’s own custom shop has some seriously kn
ackered looking new guitars as well), to capture the vintage sound, I can understand that. But make your own history. You want to look at the dink in the neck and say: ‘Ah, yes, that’s where I whacked against the hand dryer in the lavs when we played the Staincross Working Mens Club!’ or the scratch on the headstock where you knocked it against the door frame when coming off stage at the Pig & Whistle. Don’t let Hank mess it up for you. You can do that yourself.