The sunburst Les Paul from the late fifties has become an iconic musical instrument, although at the time it was largely ignored by guitar players and discontinued in 1960 due to poor sales. Out of the nigh on 1700 original Les Pauls with two-piece sunburst tops made between 1958 and 1960, the 643 that were shipped in 1959 are the most highly prized and sought after, fetching eye-watering sums from collectors and dealers when they come up for sale. The ’59 sunburst Les Paul – often referred to as the ‘holy-grail’ of guitars – is special not only due to its rarity, looks and tone, but because of its later association with legendary players like Mike Bloomfield, Peter Green and Eric Clapton, all of whom recognised that the guitar nobody had wanted was perfect for their brand of the blues.
So the legend of the ’59 sunburst Les Paul grew, but Gibson was very slow to acknowledge the demands for a reissue from musicians and dealers alike and it wasn’t until the Custom Shop got underway in the late eighties that the model began to appear again. As production increased throughout the following years, tweaks were made to ensure that the new guitars were as near as possible in spec to the old ones and to add interest, Gibson started to issue VOS (Vintage Original Spec) Les Pauls with toned down finishes and ‘aged’ Les Pauls which showed the wear that a guitar would naturally undergo through normal use. The current VOS model is the nearest most people are likely to get to playing a real ’59, however not everyone wants a new guitar to look old or even a little worn and so for lovers of the shiny and the unabused, Gibson has released a batch of Les Pauls not only with authentic looking flamed maple tops, but with gleaming hardware and a gloss finish.
The Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue has an absolutely regular Les Paul spec; Mahogany body with a two-piece Maple cap, Mahogany neck with a 22-fret Rosewood fingerboard, Holly veneer headstock and two humbucking pick-ups each with a volume and tone control. The neck on the review Iced Tea finish 1959 Reissue has the classic profile of the mid-period originals with an almost perfect playing shape, not chunky like the ’58 guitars or slim tapered like the ‘60’s models but rounded and comfortable. The Burstbucker pick-ups are designed to sound as close to the original ‘PAF’ (Patent Applied For) models as possible and are wound in three versions to replicate the random turns of wire that the originals were subjected to. The Burstbucker 1 in the neck position is slightly underwound and produces a creamy, fluty tone that with the right amp, is about as near to tone heaven as it gets. In the bridge position, the slightly hotter Burstbucker 2 has that classic nasally whine and the power to dominate everything else on the stage. Pure and unadulterated Les Paul.
There’s no question that the dealbreaker for choosing any sunburst Les Paul is the quality and amount of flame in the top. Just the like the originals, every single one of the Gibson Custom Shop Reissue models are different, and one man’s meat is another man’s poison when it comes to what constitutes a great top. The flame on the ’59 Reissue review sample is not super wavy, but is evenly matched and has the requisite ‘3D’ effect when the guitar is turned in the light. Although the model has been designated Iced Tea sunburst, it shows slightly more red than the usual colour, probably as a result of the high-gloss finish.
If it’s a totally classic Les Paul that rocks your world, and you’re not interested in any sort of artificial ageing to whatever degree in an attempt to replicate the ‘oldies’, then the Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue should be on your shortlist.