2005 Gibson Les Paul 1958 Reissue VOS

I love quirky guitars.

Not *too* quirky, mind you -- I've never been very interested in those unplayable Japanese and Italian-made 60's hunks of firewood with useless wiring schemes and horrid sunburst finishes; I'm talking about classic American guitars with a twist.

For instance, Rickenbackers have always been my favorites. Not the ones played by the Beatles, mind you -- I'm talking first cousins. My 1968 330 is classic Rickenbacker all the way, but a 330 of that era isn't closely associated with any famous Rick-playing act.

I like Teles, but LOVE Esquires.

I like Casinos, but LOVE ES-330's.

All this might explain why it was such a shock for me to fall so deeply in love with a Les Paul - a "bellybutton" guitar if ever there was one - during that fateful summer of 2009.

I remember it well; I was hunting for a vintage Gibson ES-330. The 330 is clearly a classic vintage Gibson guitar, but never caught on like it's brother, the ES-335. The ES-330 is fully hollow, has two p-90's, and a 15th-fret neck joint. Despite it's shortcomings, we are talking about a very expensive proposition for something that is so hindered by its quirks. Though they sound great, they are essentially noisy, feedback-prone nightmares with horrid upper-fret access.

I just HAD to have one.

Naturally, my search was turning up fruitless. When I found one I liked, it was too expensive, or needed a re-fret. When I found one that was within my price range, it wasn't the right year, or had too many changed parts, or had an ugly sunburst finish.

After a month or two, the money was burning a hole in my pocket and my patience was wearing thin. On a whim, I went over to Mandolin Bros one afternoon to find SOMETHING. I mucked around with an ES-175 and a nice ES-345, until I spied that familiar cherry sunburst single-cutaway body hanging on the wall. 

It was a particularly nice one - a gorgeous red cherry sunburst color with some beautiful flamed maple on top. I couldn't help it - I went over and picked it up, and before I strummed a note I felt a strange connection to it. I think it had something to do with the weight - you expect a Les Paul to be a boat anchor, but this one was light as a feather (I later found out why - it's chambered!). Of course, it sounded unbelievable and played great, having just been set up by the repair team at Mandolin Bros. I was nearly sold.

Why the apprehension? IT WASN'T QUIRKY ENOUGH.

The last thing i wanted to be at that phase in my life was Jimmy Page, or Billy Gibbons, or Joe Walsh, or any of those bloated 70's rock gods who wielded similar axes. I was trying to carve out something really unique for myself, by playing guitars that you didn't come across every day. In my stable at that time, there was a Jazzmaster, a Mosrite Ventures, several odd Rickenbackers - see where I'm going with this?

Still, it haunted me. It just played so well - it probably had the biggest neck I ever put my hand around. Truly a baseball bat! And the TONE - it was so versatile! I had no idea you could play country on a Les Paul! It could twang AND it could rawk. I knew this was going to be a game changer. Price tag said $3k, I negotiated it to $2500, and it arrived just in time for a major gig at Snug Harbor with my band, The Jazz Funeral.

The first gig with it didn't go so well. I wasn't used to such a powerful guitar - no matter what I did, it was big and distorted sounding. But boy was it a great sound. After a while, it started to dictate what I sounded like - I was playing the same notes, but it suddenly it sounded more like rock n' roll than country!

That was all almost four years ago; as a guitar flipper of the highest order, it's no small miracle that I still own the Les Paul to this day. That it has found such a permanent place in my stable is truly a testament to not only how good my own LP is, but how important the sound, the construction, and the beauty of it is in the lexicon of rock & pop music, as well as the world of guitar collecting.

Oh, and I have softened a bit since then - I wouldn't mind being Jimmy Page right about now.

(Photos © John Biscuti, April 2013.)