They are some of the most valuable production guitars on the planet, but it's a myth that that all the Sunburst Les Paul Standards that were made by Gibson between 1958 and 1960 have been accounted for. It's true there are some very convincing fakes too, but the idea a real one would be found stored away by someone who has no idea of what they have? Surely not. Well vintage dealers ATB Guitars were recently approached about a guitar for a valuation, and that guitar turned out to be a real early 1960 'Burst that had been sitting in storage in the UK for decades. Now ATB's owner Mike Long has told the full story of how it all happened.
"A few weeks ago from the date of recording this, a lady contacted us who had a guitar which her dad had given to her to look after while he was in the process of moving. She wanted us to do a valuation because she was a bit worried that her insurance might not cover the value of a guitar. So she went online, she did a few searches [found out] it's a Gibson Les Paul and she came up with an approximate value she thinks [it could be worth] of maybe £5,000, which is about $6,500.
"She contacted us for a more accurate valuation," Mike continues, "and she sent through some photos, which I told her to do. And the photos arrived and they were awful photos. They were very blurry and not very detailed. They were taken at a really weird angle as well and it make it look like the inlays were off-centre, the fingerboard looked like it wasn't rosewood, or ebony or anything at all. It was almost white in places. It looked in terrible condition, so when I first looked at it I thought this must be some kind of Les Paul copy made in the seventies probably."
Wisely, Mike asked the lady to bring it in to ATB Guitars to make sure. And when she brought it in things got very interesting.
"She came in with the guitar," says Mike as he opens the case with the guitar. "When I first saw this I thought, this looks interesting now. So it went from being possibly a fake, possibly some kind of copy to seeing a 1950s Cali Girl case and thinking, yes this could be interesting."
In the video Mike then shows us the guitar in exactly the same condition as he first saw it when he opened the case. "It became apparent fairly quickly that this is a real Les Paul Standard from 1958-1960," continues Mike. "This one in particular is what's referred to as a 00 Burst, which is one of the more desirable incarnations of a Les Paul Burst; 00 meaning it was made very early in 1960 but has still all the 1959 attributes to it. Such as the nice 1959 neck profile, it has the amber bonnet nobs, it has PAFs – which in this case are one double white [bobbin] and a zebra."
But there was some bad news.
"It is in terrible condition," Mike told the lady. "In fact I don't think I've seen one in such bad condition as this one is in."
The backstory of the guitar, as Mike explains it, is the woman's dad bought it in 1967 for £50 after seeing Eric Clapton play one at the Marquee in London. Yes £50. He'd purchased the Burst via a classified ad in Melody Maker magazine. The buyer even included the original '50s Cali Girl case.
"We had a good look and we went through everything," continues Mike. "We looked inside the cavities, we blacklighted it… we gave it a very thorough examination. It's in bad condition but the finish is all original. There's no touch-up, there's no overspray anywhere. There's no breaks or repairs anywhere. The heel is intact. The headstock's never been broken. It's a sound guitar." But it has been modified during its life so far.
A Bigsby tailpiece was added and the bridge posts were snapped off with metal spacers added for the bridge to sit on instead. That won't make for passable tone, let alone the kind associated with Bursts. And even the hallowed PAF pickups have been tinkered with.
"There's newer wire on the PAFs," confirms Mike. "They've probably been rewired. We haven't had a good look but we suspect that they are. We have no idea if it works. The pots are really, really filthy – it's basically been in storage since early 1970." After a few years of use the guitar has been gathering grime… and then forgotten about, and now has a fingerboard like the Gobi desert with almost completely worn frets.
So good news and bad news. A total refurbishment from expert hands will be needed to get the Burst back to its best but when the work has been done, the guitar would be worth "well into the six figures". The lady's reaction was what you'd probably expect.
"Now when I said that there was silence for a few seconds and then you could see her face drop to the floor when that was mentioned," remembers Mike. "And after a few stunned moments of complete and utter silence she eventually said, 'Wow'."
Her father, the owner, was even more shocked at the value of the serial number 00252 guitar. It's described as 'uncirculated' as it doesn't appear on Gibson's original Burst logs that list when a guitar was sold by serial number and to whom. "There's Bursts either side of 00252 but not this particular one, so it is a genuine uncirculated Burst," confirms Mike.
What a story so far - and it's still being written. While he was over playing the Royal Albert Hall in May, Burst aficionado Joe Bonamassa was confirmed as the guitar's new owner with the ATB hand-delivering it to him at the venue. And Joe has said it will see "road duty" after some long overdue TLC.
In the meantime you'll be able to see detailed shots of the guitar and read much more about it in a future issue of Guitarist magazine.