99cm x 33.5cm


This example of the legendary Gibson Les Paul ’59 ‘Burst’ epitomises the very reason why this instrument has become such a cultural icon of the music world. To really understand its iconic status it’s essential that you experience its very soul. If this sounds a little dramatic then I make no apologies because these Les Pauls have a quality that transcends any of the more modern replicas or imitations. Let’s also not forget that this guitar is over 60 years old and in that time it has not only acquired its own history and patina but it has also become a central part of the historical narrative of solid bodied electric guitars.

As sales of the Goldtop declined in the late 1950s Gibson’s Les Paul was revamped with a more traditional cherry sunburst finish. However, 
sales were not as good as expected and production lasted for only just under three years. The guitar didn’t catch on in the UK simply because the UK government’s post-war trade restrictions drastically affected imports of American musical instruments and by the time this was lifted in 1959, it was essentially out of production. Yet this hiatus in interest was to be relatively short-lived. By the middle of the 1960s the Les Paul was gaining in appreciation and in no small part due to musicians such as Keith Richards playing a Bigsby-equipped ’59 who in turn generously loaned it to other musicians such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, thus cementing its credentials amongst some of the world’s most iconic musicians. Richards played the guitar on their famed tour of the USA in 1964 and it was seen by millions when he played it on the Ed Sullivan show. In the States, guitar supremo and composer Mike Bloomfield very much led the Les Paul revival, first playing an old Goldtop. Demand gained momentum but with literally no single-cut Les Pauls available second-hand prices quickly rose and Gibson re-introduced the Les Paul in 1967, although initially not as a sunburst but in Goldtop and black Custom models. The rest is history. 

This guitar is a classic example of this legendary instrument. The 9 1865 was bought by James circa 1972/73. Having taught himself guitar and becoming an accomplished musician, James visited Denmark Street in search of a cherishable instrument and it was here that he found his beloved ’59. He reputedly paid £450 or perhaps £495 for it and his credit card bore the burden of what – at the time – was the modern equivalent of over £6,000.

It was in the same period that he met Graham Noden, the luthier and later famous ‘guitar tech to the stars’. Graham was at college and it was James who gave him his first paying job re-fretting the ’59 in circa 1973. Having spoken to Graham at length I know that they held each other in high esteem and remained friends for life with Graham maintaining and repairing James’ guitars when needed. The ‘59 is strung with a reversed bridge and the strings are threaded over the tail piece, an idiosyncrasy that Graham explained suited James’ style of playing making it less likely that he would break a string.

Of course, provenance is everything and with this indisputable knowledge of the guitar we have a literally seamless 50 year timeline of ownership and history which can be verified by one of the most celebrated guitar luthiers in modern music history. Graham also made several guitars for James which were poignantly returned to him after James passed away.

The guitar has a book-matched veneered maple deck with nice figuring. The original sunburst finish has faded back to a glorious warm honey-coloured hue with a light iridescence to the maple. There are hints of more colour under the scratch plate. Marks and wear are commensurate with over 60 years of use but have a complete honesty and integrity for a guitar of this age. The deck has a hole next to the bridge and three holes visible at the tail of the guitar showing that it was once fitted with a  Bigsby tremolo, perhaps once influenced by Keith Richards doing the same modification. By James’ ownership it was equipped with its current set-up, although it’s conceivable that the bridge and tail are the re-installed originals. These are play-worn with traces of gilding. The guitar is fitted with the original and much revered PAF Humbucker pickups. The cream plastic-work, scratch plate and tone switch plate are all original. The knobs are correct Top Hat ‘golden age’ examples and appear to be original. The guitar body is mahogany and the sides have been re-finished at some point with the body binding in what is now a deeper yellow colour. The main back plate has some heavy scratches  and there is a hole adjacent to the neck where a guitar strap button has obviously been fitted earlier in its life. The front strap button has been moved up (or down) at some point leaving an old hole. The pots and wiring appear to be original with some later solder repairs. The guitar functions correctly.

The neck has a rosewood deck with trapezoid pearl markers and is set up by Graham to play like gossamer. It has an extremely light touch. The headstock has a fine craquelure with fine dints and edge knocks and chips commensurate with age. The pearl ‘Gibson’ has a yellowed lacquer finish with one small lacquer chip and the original Kluson tuners have been replaced with Grover Rotomatic machine heads, which is a typical update to facilitate better tuning. The scar holes for the old tuners are left as original.

This guitar is a much cherished and well utilised example of the ‘Holy Grail’ of the electric guitar world. As James would say ‘you can take my guitar when you can prise my cold dead fingers off it’ and although many guitars came and went in James’ life his much prized ’59 remained an absolute constant. It was gigged and enjoyed by James and his many friends, used in his studio, published in several magazines and often kept under his bed. As a fellow guitarist and having played this classic guitar myself, it is undoubtedly imbued with part of James’ musical soul.

Sold with non-transferable CITES A10 certificate No. 613902/08

Auction Date: 16th Mar 2022 at 10:30am

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Sale Dates:
16th Mar 2022 10:30am (Lots 1 to 87)