Latest in a very long line of Les Pauls dedicated to rock stars alive and dead is the Gibson Marc Bolan Les Paul, a faithful re-creation of a Frankenstein’s monster of a guitar that the glam-rock superstar finished up with after indulging in several petulant bouts of instrument-abuse that had rendered the guitar – an original ’50s Les Paul – without that very necessary of components, a neck.
Speculation has it – an I’m inclined to go along with it – is that his original guitar was probably a Goldtop of some sort with humbuckers, pinning in down to a ’57 or thereabouts. This theory is born out of the fact that when Bolan stripped the finish from the top of his guitar there was no flame – just a very plain piece of Maple – which Gibson have reproduced on the reissue in a slightly less orange colour than the original. Another story goes that the wanted his re-finish to resemble Eddie Cochran’s Gretsch 6120, although I don’t think he quite achieved the depth of orange colour that that particular guitar is famous for. Legend also holds that Bolan’s ill-fated Les Paul enjoyed no less than three different necks during its lifetime of vicissitude, eventually ending up with a neck from a black 70’s Les Paul Custom, complete with volute.
I was prepared to be shocked on first seeing this guitar. The top, body and neck are finished in three totally different colours. The body and neck do not match – historically or visually – and neither does the hardware. The bridge is nickel, while the tailpiece has a worn gold finish and the strap buttons are aluminium, testament to the probability that the original guitar was put together from whatever bits were lying around at the time. However, seeing the guitar in the flesh did not bring me out in hives, in fact I quite took to it. The Bolan guitar is relatively lightweight and the neck is obviously way thinner than a Custom Shop 50’s Les Paul, although not as skinny as a ’60. People can say what they want about Gibson guitars from the 70’s, for all their faults the neck shapes weren’t as bad as the finishing and general build quality. As a result, the black Les Paul Custom neck on the Bolan Les Paul is rather comfortable and easy to get around. This is one of 350 VOS (Vintage Original Spec) models – there are also 100 aged – so the hardware has a very slight worn look in addition to the body and neck having had the glossy finish toned down a notch. Curiously, the strings have been top-wrapped over the tailpiece a la Pearly and Bonamassa, but from what I can make out in pictures of the original guitar, Bolan did not actually do this himself.
Whatever associations and preduces that may be turning you off this guitar before it’s had a chance to show its colours – pun intended – it must be plugged in, prefereably to an amp with a definite 70’s vibe like an Orange or similar (Bolan used a very obscure solid-state Vamp amplifier). If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on one, you will discover that the Bolan is one great sounding Les Paul. Gibson have installed two Custom Buckers with Alnico III magnets and they are simply astonishing. Turning down the volume knob on them even with an overdriven sound yields a perfect rock rhythm sound – chimey and transparent – with all six strings distinct and clear. At full bore, the Custom Buckers reveal more top end than regular Burstbuckers – which in a side by side comparison displayed an altogether darker character – but their incusion has rendered this guitar a truly glorious sounding instrument.
Who will buy the Gibson Marc Bolan Les Paul? It’s pretty expensive if you’re a Bolan fan but not a guitarist. If you’re a guitarist but not a lover of T-Rex you’ll also have a problem. However, this Les Paul is such a damn fine sounding and playing guitar that you may decide to take this opportunity to put your anxieties about such matters aside for once and take a bold leap.
The package includes a Custom Shop hardshell case with Marc Bolan’s signature silkscreened in gold and a vintage replica strap as well as the COA (Certificate of Authenticity). Here’s the original in action on Top Of The Pops in 1973.