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Last Call: Is Your Gear a Blessing?

Last Call: Is Your Gear a Blessing?

In 1967, Richard Head bought his dream guitar for $350 and went on a decades-long musical journey with his prized possession. Now, he’s selling it to raise money for injured veterans.

In Joe Bonamassa’s latest Rig Rundown, filmed in early 2022, Bonamassa showed us a beautiful, faded sunburst 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard with a history. This guitar was slated to be sold for charity, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that builds specially adapted custom homes and donates them to severely injured post-9/11 veterans. (HFOT has built 350 homes to date, with another 71 projects underway nationwide.)

I forgot about the guitar and the auction until 11 months later, when I emceed Joe Robinson’s Rig Rundown. Robinson had the same Les Paul. Yesterday, when I returned to the Ryman for a Rundown with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, I saw this special burst again, as Shepherd planned to play it during his set. As I was leaving the venue, I met Richard Head, the owner and donor of this amazing guitar. It occurred to me that my column was due tomorrow, so maybe I could Tom Sawyer him into writing it for me. Luckily, Richard fell for it and sent me the story of the Blessing Burst.

“My higher self knows that you don’t own your favorite possessions—they own you. Essentially, it’s been my burden to buy, repair, protect, and worry about this wire and wood that I’m so obsessed with.”

In 1967, Head, an aspiring musician in Northern Ohio, found a 1960 Les Paul “Burst” Serial #01945 at Elyria Music in Elyria, Ohio. Its cherry sunburst finish had already faded from being displayed in store windows, and it had a repaired neck break. But it was all original with PAF humbuckers and a slim, comfortable 1960s neck profile. Best of all, Richard could afford the purchase price of $350, so he pulled the trigger and never looked back.

This burst, which he nicknamed Blessing, was Richard’s main electric guitar from then on. Blessing was with him during hundreds of hours of gigs, to an audition for Edgar Winter in New York in 1969, then to Criteria Studios in Miami when his band landed a record deal in the ’70s, then more gigs as Richard and Blessing played the club circuit. In 1991, Richard took a job at Gibson where he worked as the marketing director for the electric guitar division. When Gibson created the Custom Shop Historic Collection, Richard loaned his burst Les Paul to Gibson for the purpose of measuring and comparing all of its attributes to ensure that the 1960 Les Paul Reissue, offered as part of the Historic Collection, would be as true to the original as possible. Blessing was featured in the Gibson Historic Collection catalog of 1994, emphasizing the validity of the 1960 Les Paul Reissue model.

Joe Bonamassa took the 1960 Blessing burst on a worldwide tour.

Photo by Rick Gould

In 2020, Richard turned 70 and decided he wanted his Blessing Burst to be a blessing to others by providing mortgage-free homes to extremely injured veterans. Richard contacted his old friend and coworker at Gibson, Walter Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars, who put him in touch with Bonamassa. Bonamassa was happy to help the cause and took the Blessing Burst on tour, spreading awareness about HFOT’s mission.

After a year of touring that took Blessing to the Royal Albert Hall, Red Rocks, and beyond, the guitar is now located at Nashville’s Carter Vintage, where it’s been played by Marcus King, Tommy Emmanuel, John Osborne, Joe Robinson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and more. Updates will be posted on the Carter Vintage website as well as Blessing’s Instagram page @Blessingburst.

I just finished a painful, runaway-budget remodel at my home, essentially to accommodate my gluttonous gear consumption. During the process, I found guitars that I’ve not seen in years. I moved piles of old amplifiers that I’ve been lugging around for decades; schlepping them endlessly from my different homes to gigs ad nauseam. I felt like Scrooge’s partner, Marley, who was doomed to drag the chains of his treasure for all eternity.

My higher self knows that you don’t own your favorite possessions—they own you. Essentially, it’s been my burden to buy, repair, protect, and worry about this wire and wood that I’m so obsessed with. It’s a bit of a curse to be owned by your obsessions. It occurred to me that Richard Head is onto something. He found his dream guitar. This Les Paul was with him for a musical odyssey that lasted over half a century. Now the guitar will join another player on their own musical odyssey and the profits from the sale will house people that gave a lot and now need help: Truly that is a blessing. That being said, if I had the dough re mi, I would definitely buy this Blessing Burst and drag it around for the rest of my life and, if possible, I would happily take it with me after I die and lug it through eternity.