A crucial piece of guitar history will go up for auction at Christie's in New York on 13 October; what is reported to be the first production model Gibson Les Paul.
It belonged to no less than the pioneering player and designer who gave his name to what would become a legendary single cut electric guitar (opens in new tab); the result of his trailblazing input.
Les Paul's own 'Number One' Les Paul guitar is to go on sale at the Christie's Exceptional Sale in October. The instrument is the earliest approved production model and was presented to its namesake by Gibson in 1952.
The late legend's son, award-winning producer Gene Paul, stated it “was the most historically significant, valuable, pivotal, and important guitar to my father, his crowning achievement.”
“Les brought his idea to Gibson and they initially dismissed it outright, but Les was dogged,” says Tom Doyle, who was Les Paul's guitar tech from the 1960s onwards. "He held strong to his ideas and his beliefs, knowing that someday they would see the light. Les kept tinkering and inventing, and making his concept better and better. Then finally after about 10 years, and after lots of trial and error, the good folks at Gibson presented this very guitar to Les. He was smitten, and he was overjoyed… and the rest, as they say, is history."
Les Paul's innovations continued after the guitar went into production. He modified his personal guitar a number of times by Les over the years, including a hum-cancelling 'Q Coil' beneath the enlarged scratchplate. This preceded the invention of humbucking pickups by several years.
The Number One guitar's other innovative features include a modded Kauffman Vibrola at the bridge and DynaSonic internals beneath a hand-drilled P-90 neck pickup cover.
Kerry Keane, Christie’s consultant and Musical Instruments Specialist, commented: “In any creation narrative there are always multiple protagonists, but the name Les Paul ranks at the pinnacle when discussing the electric guitar. His development of multi-track recording, and audio effects like delay, echo, and reverb all profoundly influenced how music is reproduced and heard.
"Yet his lifelong search and development in perfecting the electric guitar would forever change the instrument. That transformation is responsible for the successful careers for generations of guitarists that performed on the Les Paul guitar. This guitar physically embodies his endless passion that produced the most iconic musical instrument in popular culture.”
Guitarist magazine (opens in new tab) will be running an in-depth feature on the guitar soon.