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1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue Black Beauty Fretless Wonder

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1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue Black Beauty Fretless Wonder

Drew Jacques, a guitar hobbyist and newly minted guitar tech—by way of the Summit School of Guitar on Vancouver Island—naively offered his services for a local Chamber of Commerce radio auction. Months went by and he heard nothing about who had won the free setups or when the winner had planned to cash them in. “It was a dark and stormy Christmas Eve when a stranger showed up at my front door with this old guitar case,” recalls Jacques, a Team Lead for the Canadian Mental Health Association as well a certified Laughter Yoga Leader Trainer by day and guitarist/tech by night. “He just wanted a simple string change and a fresh setup. The first thing I thought about the guitar was who was the idiot that filed down and rounded the frets [laughs] … at this point—being a bit of a rookie—I had no idea about the Fretless Wonder or its peculiarly low frets.” But that soon changed as Jacques dove deep into the history of this particular Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue.

“I initially thought the guitar was an original-run Custom—the owner really didn’t have a year nailed to the guitar, but he thought it was from the early ’70s—because it was so dusty,” remembers Jacques. “But after cleaning it up a bit and doing a little homework on the instrument, I soon realized it was much more than an ordinary vintage Les Paul.” Through his research, Jacques used the serial number on the back of the headstock, which didn’t have the “Made in the U.S.A.” imprint—and the fact that it had no neck volute—to narrow down the guitar’s origin to the late ’60s. The “U.S.A.” stamp and volute were changes introduced in 1970 models. Other anomalies on this guitar were its one-piece mahogany body capped with a multi-bound maple top and a one-piece mahogany neck.

The 1969 Custom models switched to a three-piece mahogany body with a maple cap and a three-piece mahogany neck. The rest of the features on this seminal reissue are a direct nod to the 1957 Custom—except the reissue had gold Grovers while the original ’57 had Deluxe Kluson tuners, the headstock pitch is 14 degrees instead of 17, and it has amp-style volume and tone knobs. According to 1968 Gibson shipping ledgers from Kalamazoo, this model was one of the first ’68 Les Paul Customs made available to the public following their introduction at the June 1968 NAMM Show in Chicago. Gibson only built 433 of these particular instruments.

The original Gibson Les Paul Customs were made from 1954 to 1961 when they were replaced by a svelte, lighter, double-cutaway growler simply called the SG. When it was originally introduced in ’54, the Custom had several appointments that differed from its founding-father Les Paul model. The first LP Customs featured a Honduran mahogany body with a mahogany top, the new Tune-o- matic bridge design and a new alnico-V magnet, P-480, in the neck position (which was matched with a lower-output P-90 in the bridge). By 1957, most Customs were built with two Seth Lover-designed PAF humbuckers, but some models did feature three PAF pickups, although the guitar still only incorporated the standard Gibson 3-way pickup selector switch, not enabling all the guitar’s tonal possibilities.

The Black Beauty and Fretless Wonder were nicknames given to this instrument because of its rich, contrasting body color and low, nearly undetectable frets. Its original price tag was $325—a whopping $100 more than the Les Paul.

So what did Drew Jacques say when the guitarist came back for his axe? Did he lie? Did he offer to buy it? Or did he simply stay quiet? Actually, he did none of the above. When the owner came back for the guitar he sat him down and showed him a PowerPoint on his findings. Jacques recalls the resulting conversation went something like this:

Customer: You’re kidding me?
Jacques: No.
Customer: You’re [expletive] kidding me?!
Jacques: No!
Customer: What in the hell are we going to do?
Jacques: We’re going to play the thing, of course!

YouTube It

Jacques puts the vintage axe through its paces, sampling tones from all pickup combinations.

Watch Jacques show off the LP Custom’s visual highlights as he tells how he learned about the Fretless Wonder during his first setup job.

A special thanks to Drew Jacques of New Liskeard, Ontario, for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.


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