Les Paul's NUMBER ONE 1952 Goldtop - The 30 Year Dream Quest... The Real Story as told by Gene Paul
LES PAUL'S PERSONAL "NUMBER ONE" 1952 LES PAUL GOLDTOP
In late Spring of 1952, after much trial and tribulation, The Gibson Guitar Company presented Mr. Les Paul with this namesake Les Paul, “Artist Proof” Gold Top solid body electric guitar. It of course had metallic gold paint on the top, had cream binding all the way around, was outfitted with two P90 pickups, and a trapeze style bridge. Les was astounded... and very, very pleased. This guitar was the culmination of his dream, 30 years of unsung hard work, tireless imaginative spirit, and dogged belief in his ideas. There were a couple of slightly earlier protos that had no binding on the neck that got shipped, but Les rejected them. Les summarily handed one of the “no binding” Gold Tops to Mary, his wife… and kept this fully bound “Deluxe” one for himself. This amazing guitar is the first Gibson Les Paul Gold Top solid body electric guitar that Les Paul formally APPROVED... The Guitar that started it all!
But let’s back up a little… How did this guitar and the relationship with Gibson come to be? It has become part of legend and lore that Les Paul had been experimenting, tinkering, trying and testing the concept of a rigid solid body guitar with electric pickups from the time he was just a teenager. Early on Les knew that a rigid substructure was the key to vibrational continuity… So he grabbed a piece of steel railroad track, fashioned two high points (a nut and a bridge), and ran a taught string across it. Then he mashed a telephone receiver under the string… and Eureka… it worked! The sound rang out… an amplified signal actually came out of his mother’s old time radio, and it had real sustain and tone! Skipping ahead - Knowing that a big heavy piece of steel was simply not practical; Les had the idea of creating a “one-piece” solid wooden neck and body combination… So he went straight to work on the odd and somewhat disagreeable looking contraption that has been come to be known as “The Log”… A 4”x4” post with a guitar neck glued onto it. Les was convinced that his idea was going to revolutionize the way guitars where made, played, how they sounded, and how the guitar and the guitarist would be perceived. So somewhere around the mid-1940's Les proudly presented his new-fangled invention to the Gibson Guitar Corporation… They summarily passed on the idea, and quickly ushered “this crazy guy” out of their offices.
Then in the late 1940’s/early 50’s one Leo Fender was having some amazing success selling his “Spanish Electric Guitar” called the Esquire… Gibson took notice. “Get that crazy guy with the broom stick with the pickups on it back in here” was the battle cry of a now somewhat faltering Gibson Guitar Corp. Turns out the worm had turned, and what was once considered a lunatic’s phantasm, now might just be genius after all.
Suffice it to say that our friend Les Paul was ahead of his time. Les knew that he now had the “advantage” on Gibson and could now dictate his terms. While Mr. Paul confidently knew that his brainchild solid body electric guitar would change everything, Gibson did not necessarily share his optimism or enthusiasm. Originally they were not even sure they wanted to put the Gibson name on this collaborative effort. So they asked if Les would put his name on it. Without missing a beat Les said, “Yes… let’s call it a Les Paul!”
Lots of brainstorming, negotiations, jockeying for position, collaborative effort, prototyping, failed attempts, etc. ensued… And after quite a bit of “back and forth” over many months and many miles, Gibson felt that they had the guitar that Les Paul had envisioned. So now what color should we paint it? Well, Les brought the boys from Gibson outside into the parking lot, pointed to his shiny new high-end sedan and said, “How about this… can you paint it just like this?”… And the Gibson Les Paul Gold Top was born. This is that guitar.. Les Paul's own personal "NUMBER ONE"
Les Paul & Mary Ford at a press reception - Savoy Hotel in London
For the 1952 unveiling of the Les Paul signature model with his "NUMBER ONE"
The 1952 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top “NUMBER ONE”
This is the ONE… The Genesis, The Beginning, Ground Zero, The First finished production Les Paul Goldtop that Les Paul formally approved of and gave the "thumbs up" to Gibson. This is the ground breaking guitar that started it all… Les Paul’s own personal Original 1952 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top Electric Guitar. THE PROOF OF CONCEPT…
This is THE Guitar that Les Paul himself, Gibson, and the world would now call "The Les Paul Electric Guitar" from here on out… This very guitar is the seed from which all our favorite music and musicians grew. THIS guitar was the start and inspiration for all the other Gibson Les Paul guitars that came after... All the Famous Les Paul guitars that were played by all of our great guitar heroes, rock stars, bluesmen, and guitar icons for the last 60 years. The ONE that started it all... Les Paul's Personal 1952 Gold Top! The ONE he bonded with, the ONE he got busy modifying, testing, tinkering on, transforming and experimenting on. And of course, posed with for all of those news reels, photo ops, promo shots, press releases, advertising pieces, and probably most famously... demonstrated on the Omnibus Television Series hosted by Alistair Cooke in 1953.
This is THE actual guitar that got Les Paul to sign off on the Gibson Les Paul Project, and give Gibson the "go ahead" to start making the new Electric Gibson Les Paul guitar that would then be offered for sale to the general public. It is this guitar that made all the rest possible... From Eric Clapton with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, to Jeff Beck, to Peter Green, to Keith Richards, Freddie King, to Mike Bloomfield, Jimmy Page, to Billy Gibbons, Duane Allman, Gary Moore, Peter Framton, Paul Kosoff, Pete Townsend, Bernie Marsden, Randy Rhoads, Alex Lifeson, Joe Perry, Bob Marley, Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Tom Scholz, Dickey Betts, Ace Frehley, Joe Bonamassa, and of course, Slash... and the list goes on and on. It's simply impossible to separate The Les Paul guitar from the Guitarist at this point. Their talent, combined with The Gibson Les Paul guitar's inimitable sound made the music that set the benchmark and tone for Rock and Blues music for the last five decades... and for generations! This is THE Guitar that changed the music world forever! The ONE... the start, the epicenter, the beginning of the beginning, the foundation, the seminal and ground breaking solid body electric guitar that made it all possible.
Les Paul's Personal 1952 Original Goldtop shown here (above) with its original factory stock trapeze bridge and his major modifications to the pickups, body, controls, and top mounted input jack. Les continually modified this guitar all the way up until the mid 1970's... Les was always tinkering and searching for ways to make The Les Paul guitar better. Les put parts on and took parts off of this guitar countless times over the years... It was forever morphing and changing.
Above is Les' NUMBER ONE Goldtop with one of Les' Kauffman Vibrola units installed as per most of the vintage photographs. The Guitar was originally delivered to Les with a trapeze style bridge (see photo below) and "stock" pickups. Les would of course, alter, customize, tinker, experiment, modify, test, fix, and try many permutations… ceaselessly. This guitar was THE test bed for many of his experiments in those early years. Parts went on and came off… jacks were moved, switches and knobs constantly swapped out, pickups wound and tested, moved and altered. Notice the “swimming pool route” up the middle of the guitar exposing Les’ early experiments with Q coils or "air coils"… in order to “buck the hum” and increase the clarity and strength of his sound. Les was utilizing Humbucking all the way back in the early 1950's... way before the PAF Humbucker was ever invented! How cool is that?
Tom Doyle - Les Paul's guitar builder, soundman, co-inventor, and right hand man of almost 50 years with Les' Original Gibson Goldtop, The Ampex Tape machine featured in the photograph, and the actual original Photo from Les' Personal Collection
Since the mid 1960’s, I was Les Paul's guitar builder & repair man, his trusted confidant, co-inventor, sounding board, fixer, and close personal friend for almost five decades… right up until the time of his passing. During that time, I was his Soundman/Engineer, Producer & Emcee at all the shows at Fat Tuesdays & both Iridium Clubs in NYC for over 26 years. Suffice it to say, our lives were inextricably intertwined with all things guitar, music, sound, electronics, performance, and experimentation. For almost 50 years Les counted on me to fix his guitars when he tore them apart in a mad dash towards some sort of experiment. I helped him design pickups, electronics, performance systems, his stage shows, and consulted with him regarding his business and designs with Gibson.
It is with great pleasure & honor that I offer this epic and important piece of Mr. Les Paul’s legacy… and of our collective musical history, really. Les was a pioneer, an innovator, a showman, a visionary, a mold breaker, a trend setter, and an inspiration to just about every musician, soundman, and producer alive today. But most importantly he was my very dear friend, mentor, and hero.
All my very best,
Luthier to the Stars
"The Living Legacy of Les Paul"
How much is Les Paul’s NUMBER ONE worth?
Kerry Keane - Fine Musical Instruments Dept. Christie's, inspects Les Paul's "NUMBER ONE"
Well, naturally we get asked that question all the time. Of course no one has a crystal ball and can tell what the potential bidders will ultimately pay at auction for this one-of-a-kind icon when it’s all said and done. But consider this: Recently the Kurt Cobain Martin guitar sold for 6.2 million dollars at auction… that was for a guitar that was played on an MTV unplugged session in 1993, and this Les Paul Goldtop guitar is the very guitar that literally started it all. Mr. Les Paul’s personal prized possession, his Gibson Les Paul NUMBER ONE. It was this guitar that Les Paul finally approved of, and then signed off on, giving Gibson the permission to put his name on it. This guitar is the actual living start of the legend, and storied history of the forever famed Les Paul guitar, played by countless rock stars for that last 6 decades. Is there a more famous brand of guitar? Is there any other guitar that can make that sound? Is there any other guitar that has had such an impact on the very sound and nature of rock and roll and blues? This guitar is THE ONE that started it all… and it isn’t some “off the shelf” guitar sold to someone at a music store. This is the guitar that Les was striving for 30 plus years to finally make a reality, was his main “NUMBER ONE”, and is the beginning of the beginning. It isn’t very often that one can actual pinpoint and actually touch the very start of a phenomenon… but here it is for the entire world to see, appreciate, and marvel at the contribution of Les Paul, his life’s work, the Gibson Les Paul guitar, and the very legacy of music as we know it… So what is that worth? Incalculably valuable, really... just priceless.