Hot Gear Friday

Tracy and the Anti-Strib gang have the market cornered on “Hot Chick Friday” – where they take a moment to post pictures of gorgeous women that I’ve nailed – so it’d be unseemly to horn in on their act.

And I love being unseemly.

It’s a ’57 Gibson Les Paul Standard, one of perhaps the three most sought-after electric guitars in the business. I recall reading that they went for $279, brand new out of the Gibson catalog, during Ike’s second term. When I first started playing guitar during the Carter administration – before the guitar collectors market went insane – they were already going for a stellar $3,000; thirty years later, some of them fetch mid-to-high five figures.

The tiger-stripe lacquer finish and the brick-heavy body create an afternoon’s worth of sustain. The action, like most Gibsons, is nice and low; your fingers just race, which is disconcerting to a Fender player like me. Even thirty years ago, the whole assembly – aged nicely even then – yielded a sweet, round, weathered tone that was the tonal equivalent of James Earl Jones’ voice; it had credibility just because of how it sounded.

I played a ’57 once – not a tiger-stripe, but a Gold-Top, its first cousin – that a friend of the bass player in my very first band had picked up ten years earlier for maybe $100, before the collectors value became established. I’d been playing guitar for maybe two years; I had a long way to go. And yet strapping that bad boy on was like sitting in an F1 Lotus after learning how to drive a combine; it’s hard not to feel like a guitar hero playing a ’57.

17 thoughts on “Hot Gear Friday

  1. Sweet….

    On Friday’s, I’ll make it a habit to come to this site right after I check out anti-strib.

    I know the general manager of the Gibson factory in Boseman MT, an old fraternity brother. Unfortunately, it’s their acoustic guitar plant.

    Gibson has a great website. Checkout the lifestyle section. Today’s article is about the ’58-’60 Les Paul standard.

  2. Sweet.
    I was actually out with a buddy at Guitar Center last weekend trying to find him a decent guitar for a low price. Five years ago or so, you could get, say, a Fender Squier and it would be quite playable. Now, all the low-priced guitars are really, really terrible. Won’t stay in tune, popping, buzzing – all kinds o’ shyte. Awful. So finally I had to grab an American-made Stratocaster just to re-calibrate and then it was all good. I don’t dig Les Pauls so much visually but I love how they sound when Slash plays ’em.

  3. Ah, the old schism – Fender sound vs. Gibson action. Why must we choose?

    PaulC – the low-end Fenders are now called Starcasters. I have one, and it’s not a horrible entry-level guitar; it’ll fall out of tune if you really bash it, but on the other hand my Strat will go out of tune if you look at the whammy bar the wrong way.

    I’m restoring my old Gibson L6-S – it plays just as well as I remembered. Two octave neck, and you can hit that toppermost E as cleanly as the middle one. It’s really quite amazing.

  4. I’m not a guitarist (altho I did do a passable fake out with a bass when a band I played with in college played “everyone switch instruments” for a April Fools day show).

    I have no clue the difference between a Fender Stratocaster, a 57 Gibson Les Paul, a 12 string Martin, or an $89 Walmart special you’d buy to get the kids started.

    That said, I DO know the difference between the Wurlitzer spinet sitting in our family room (wretchedly out of tune and with a horrible action), a Yamaha or Kawai baby grand (decent), and a 7′ Steinway Concert D (sublime). When I was in college at UMD (where pretty much most of the campus is connected via corridors so you never had to go outside and back then they didn’t lock everything down) I would sneak into auditoriums late at night and practice on the Concert D’s until 2-3-4 am.

  5. “PaulC – the low-end Fenders are now called Starcasters.”

    They still sell the Squires. I bought one a year ago for about $200. It plays OK., but I’m a novice so I don’t know crap about guitars. I’ve got a Fat Strat with HSS configuration. The Starcasters are about $100.

  6. James,

    An L6S?


    Bill C – I did some piano tuning in college, and…:

    Wurlitzer spinet sitting in our family room (wretchedly out of tune and with a horrible action)

    Spinets and Consoles are ALWAYS wretched instruments.  And “Wurlitzer” is just an OEM marque on low-end instruments like spinets and consoles.  Tuning them is a zen-like exercise in self-abnegation.  For that matter, Wurlitzer full-size uprights from the seventies and eighties were pretty terrible.

     a Yamaha or Kawai baby grand (decent),

     OTOH, Kawai pianos are always wonderful to tune; beautifully-designed soundboards and pegs.  And I don’t think Yamaha has ever built a bad musical instrument of any type.

     and a 7′ Steinway Concert D (sublime).

    In college, there was a 7′ Steinway dating from 1916 in the chapel.  During the Interim term my senior year (my college was on a 4-1-4 program, meaning January “Interim” we just took one class for 4+ hours a day) I set up a recording studio in the organ motor room with a farfisa organ, my guitars and bass, and – up on stage – a  nice drum kit and that gorgeous Steinway.  I cut a bunch of demos of some songs I’d written; typical college-kid crap, for the most part, but that Steinway even made me sound like Roy Bittan.

  7. Lileks,
    I haven’t come across the Starcasters yet. I must have just walked past them or something. Do they look like Stratocasters? They couldn’t be worse than those poor Chinese-made Squiers I just tried. I actually bought a cheapo Squier about 5-6 years ago just to keep up at the folks’ place and that one was made in Indonesia and it really plays well. These new Chinese Squiers are nothing you’ve ever wanted in guitars – and less. Too bad, too – because some of them have the cool large headstocks! I love those.
    Master of None,
    That Fat Strats that I’ve tried were a truckload of fun. I want them to come out with an American-made version of the Double Fat Strat, two humbuckers. Basically I want a Les Paul that looks like a Strat. Ha.

  8. You can buy Starcasters at Target.

    I spend a lot of time on that the bridge Humbucker.

  9. The Starcaster looks just like a Strat – classic head and whammy bar and all. Made in China, so it probably spews lead every time you windmill a chord.

    I’m still partial to the Telecaster head, even though it looks deformed. Can’t play one, though; if you have a small mitt, it’s like trying to play a baseball bat.

    Note: I was at the Best Buy in Richfield this morning, and they have some gorgeous guitars in the new musical-instrument section, as well as a Les Paul hooked up to their pedal-demo section. If you feel intimidated by the Guitar Center vibe, it’s a good alternative.

  10. Best Buy sells guitars now? Wow. You wanna fridge, TV, computer and a Les Paul? Here they are – come an’ get ’em! Hell, all they need now is a pizza joint and a liquor store.
    Guitar Center – yeah, I really don’t like shopping for guitar stuff any more than I like shopping for groceries or T-shirts. The Guitar Center in Edina I like a little better than the one by Rosedale but they’re all kind of a circus. Turnover at places that sell electric guitars and amps must be enormous.
    Oh yeah – I tried the low-buck Epiphone version of the Angus-style SG and that sucked, too. It’s like this conspiracy – the manufacturers are forcing people to buy the more expensive guitars. Beginners can’t even play these new cheap things. Actually, if anyone needs a good guitar, it’s a beginner.

  11. “Best Buy sells guitars now?”

    Robot Gibson Guitars!

    Talking, self-Tuning, robot guitars.

    “In addition to its automated tuning and alternate/open tuning functions, the Gibson Robot Guitar offers a unique Intonation function,…The guitar itself “talks you through” the entire process, resulting in a correctly intonated guitar in a fraction of the time it takes even a professional guitar tech to do the same job.”

  12. I’m still partial to the Telecaster head, even though it looks deformed. Can’t play one, though; if you have a small mitt, it’s like trying to play a baseball bat.

    I can play ’em, but I have to have just the right strings on ’em; too light and it’s like chasing a greased pig around at a Super Target; too heavy and it’s like that giant-squid-wrestling scene in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I like Strats, and my main guitar (a ’60 Jazzmaster that I’ve hotrodded with a Gibson “Soap Bar” in the middle position, out of phase with the bridge pickup, so it sounds more like a Strat than a Strat does) has an abnormally low action that hardly anyone can play, but I love.

  13. That’s a tough choice, Fender or Gibson. My first electric gitar was a rare Guild solid body S-70. It was capable of closely mimicing both a Fender or a Gibson. It is lighter than a gibson.

    No offense to Billy Blaze, BUT the best gitar made is The Parker Fly. Super light, with it’s carbon fiber neck. It stays tuned for months. Flip a three way switch forward and it sounds just like Stevie Rays or Eric Claptons Fender, flip the switch once, it sounds like B. B. King’s fat ole Gibson, flip the switch again and it sounds like an Ovation folk gitar. That’s possible because it has three different pick up systems. Check it out here.

    The original Parkers are the best, but good luck getting your hands on one of those because the original company which, was located on the East Coast, sold out to a Chicago based company two years ago and they moved their operation to Illinois. The quality Has suffered because the craftsmen responsable for achieving the gitars excellence didn’t make the move. The craftmanship on the original Parkers’ is stunning to say the least but playing one is pure Nirvana.

  14. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Hot Gear Friday Redux

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