A close-up look at a classic Black Beauty, with all the appointments.
The Gibson Les Paul Custom was introduced at the Chicago NAMM show in July 1954. It was marketed as a lavish, higher-grade version of the popular Les Paul model. Part of the luxury treatment was the use of the split-diamond pearl headstock inlay previously reserved only for the Super 400. The headstock and one-piece mahogany body also received sumptuous multi-ply binding. The fretboard scheme of ebony with pearl block inlays was borrowed from the L-5. The Custom was also the first Les Paul to receive the innovative Tune-O-matic bridge, which allowed for individual string intonation.
Although it originally came with a bridge P-90 and an alnico 5 “staple" neck pickup, the Custom received an upgrade of three humbucking pickups by late 1957. The description in the 1958 Gibson catalog reads:
“Here is the ultimate in a solid body Gibson Electric Spanish Guitar—players rave about its extremely low, smooth frets, and easy playing action, call it the 'Fretless Wonder.' Now with three humbucking, adjustable pickups, this new and improved 'Les Paul Custom' guitar has increased power, greater sustaining, and a clear, resonant, sparkling tone, with the widest range of tonal colorings. Finished in solid ebony color for rich contrast with the gold-plated metal fittings."
In 1957, the Custom's original array of a bridge P-90 and an alnico 5 “staple" neck pickup was upgraded to a trio of
gold-plated PAF humbuckers.
The 1958 Les Paul Custom pictured has the usual appointments for that year. These include three gold-plated “Patent Applied For" humbucking pickups (with the middle pickup factory wound out-of-phase), gold-plated Grover Rotomatic tuners (replacing Kluson Super tuners that year), a gold ABR-1 bridge and stop tailpiece, and 22 smooth flat frets on a 24 3/4" scale ebony fretboard. Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Danny Gatton are a few artists known to favor a 3-pickup Custom at one time.
The model's split-diamond pearl headstock inlay previously appeared only on the Super 400. The headstock was also adorned with high-craft multi-ply binding.
Gibson shipped 256 Les Paul Customs in 1958 at a list price of $375. The No. 537 Case was an extra $47.50. The current value for the guitar with case in excellent all-original condition is $50,000. The amp behind the guitar is a 1959 Fender Super. Two 6L6 power tubes push 35 watts of power through two Jensen P10R speakers. The 1959 list price was $224.50. The current value is $5,000.
Sources for this article include The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy 1915-1963 by Robb Lawrence, Gibson Electrics—The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-1979 by Larry Meiners, and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.
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