While Jason Isbell has a treasure trove of calendar-worthy guitars, we have to start with this 1959 Gibson Les Paul. The showstopper earned its nickname “Redeye” for the original red-mark finish near the pickup selector being preserved by the guitar’s price tag hanging down in a music store’s front window protecting it from the UV rays. The ’burst was owned and played for many years by Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist/bassist (and creator of the “Sweet Home Alabama” riff) Ed King. After King’s passing in August 2018, his family put a few of his classic guitars, including this iconic instrument, up for sale at Carter Vintage in Nashville.
At the request of the Carters’, Isbell was asked to come into the store to demo the guitars to help generate interest in the sale of Ed King’s collection. As Isbell retells the fateful meeting between he and Redeye, he felt “tricked” because they had left Jason alone with the ’burst, so of course he had to play. And after playing it … he had to have it.
He left Carter Vintage daydreaming about the Les Paul. He lost sleep that night fixated on how it sounded and played. So, the next day he called his accountant and she said you can’t have that guitar. Next, he called his management team, and he jokingly told them he would play any weird birthday parties as long as they weren’t for terrorists or bad people just so he could afford the guitar.
Isbell swapped out the tuners (although still functioning great) and upgraded with a period-correct set to preserve the sanctity of the instrument by saving the originals from harm. The tailpiece has been subbed out for a new Joe Glaser model that allows Isbell to top wrap the strings without worry of dinging the top. And the last notable change is that King had a partial refret up to the 12th position.
Under the metal covers rest a double-white humbucker (bridge) and zebra (neck). Isbell believes the zebra is overwound about 600 turns, but over the last 60 years, it’s lost some of its magnetism making it more balanced and creating an impeccable middle-position tone.
All of Jason’s guitars take Ernie Ball Slinkys gauged .010–.046, he hammers away with Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mm picks, and gets slippery with MagSlide Magnesium Guitar Slides.