Here’s something rather special. Keen-eyed readers will recognise this guitar as one of a limited run of 300 modified Les Paul Goldtops made to ZZ Top guitarist Billy F Gibbons’ personal specification.
This particular guitar differs in one important detail from the other goldtops in the run - the striking, chrome-finish humbuckers. Wound by Thomas Nilsen of Cream T Pickups, these Tele-inspired units were originally designed for Keith Richards.
After a 20-year search for a set of pickups that combined the sweet voice of a Telecaster’s neck pickup with the tonal girth of a PAF, Keef approached Thomas, who made a prototype ’bucker that had barely been wound before Stones tech Pierre de Beauport took it away to be fitted to Keith’s ‘Gloria’ Tele.
Keef knew about Cream T’s work on Billy’s innovative ‘Banger’ pickup, and so jokingly suggested a matching name for the new design: the ‘Mash’ humbucker. Billy then returned the favour by equipping this Les Paul, his personal instrument, with a gleaming set of Mashers.
As fitted to Keith Richards’ ‘Gloria’ Tele, Cream T’s Mash humbucker is coil-tapped, but the examples on Gibbons’ Goldtop are full-blown humbuckers.
As for the sounds, think vintage PAF with a touch of funky hollowness and brightness borrowed from a Tele neck pickup. There are only three sets of these hybrid pups in existence, although Cream T intends to put them into production soon.
Deep-pocketed readers can console themselves with the ‘stock’ Billy F Gibbons Goldtop, fitted with Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbuckers, at £4,099 for the V.O.S. model, or £6,599 for the aged version.
The guitar’s unorthodox control layout means that, unusually, there’s no pickup selector - meaning the bridge/ neck pickup balance must be dialled in using the volume controls alone, while a single, master tone control governs both pickups.
The flowing pinstripe motif that adorns the Goldtop was designed by Billy Gibbons and US hotrod-styling artist, Rick Harris.
This instrument has a subtly aged V.O.S. finish, although a fully aged version with the amusing addition of belt-buckle wear in the shape of Texas is also available. It’s also very lightweight for a Les Paul, thanks to extensive chambering of the single-piece mahogany body.
The Goldtop comes strung, in authentic Billy Gibbons style, with a set of super-light .008-gauge strings, though the instrument we tested was restrung by Cream T with a heavier set, wrapped over the stopbar for a less acute break-angle over the saddles.
The Goldtop’s fulsome neck profile was based on measurements taken from an original 50s Goldtop in Billy’s own collection.