"This is one of the best examples of the most collectable guitar ever made": Gibson Custom unveils recreations of Jason Isbell 'Red Eye' 1959 Les Paul Standard

Gibson Red Eye Les Paul
(Image credit: Gibson)

Jason Isbell likes great gear, but when Ed King's 1959 'Red Eye' Les Paul came up for sale after he passed away and he played it, the songwriter knew it was time to step up to join the rarified Burst club. And the Gibson Gazette has now broken the news that other players can soon have the next best thing with a limited run of Gibson Custom Shop recreations. 

"This is one of the best examples of the most collectable guitar ever made," Isbell told GQ of the original in 2020. "It sounds like nothing else, plays like nothing else and sort of defines rock 'n' roll," he adds of the 'Burst. 

"The got anywhere from a quarter of a million dollars to a couple of million dollars for a 1959 Les Paul," he explained. And while Red Eye doesn't fall in the latter camp, "it's worth a whole lot".

King purchased the guitar in 1982 but at one point it was stolen and parted from him for over a decade, but the Sweet Home Alabama co-writer was able to identify it from the distinctive red area close to the pickguard and pickup switch that gives it its name actually. This actually comes from the time the guitar was sat in a shop window.

"This spot right here, this is the original red dye," explained Isbell in the GQ video. "On these sunburst Les Pauls there was a layer of red that went all the way around the outside edge of the guitar… but it faded in UV light. They fixed that issue in 1960 but the colour they wound up with isn't quite as good as this one.

"If you see a '59 Les Paul the chances are there isn't going to be any red left on it because the sun would have faded it. This one had a tag hanging off of this toggle switch right here when it was in the window of the guitar store. And everything faded out except for this red eye right here right underneath the tag."

Mark Knopfler's '58 and Mike McCready's '59 are other examples of vintage Les Pauls with a similar spot of colour but neither are as prominent as Red Eye's. 

The Gibson Custom Shop has recreated it and every other facet of the original in exhaustive detail to create clones using 3D scanning Murphy Lab aging. Like the original, these new relic'd models will have Braziliian rosewood fretboards, and Isbell himself handpicked the figured maple tops. 

 

(Image credit: Gibson)

The Custom Shop models' case candy you can see pictured above includes a blue Les Paul Protector Series hardshell case with a gray interior just like Isbell's own, a Jason Isbell strap made by Savas from Midnight Blue wild alligator leather with a chain-stitched and inlaid Red Eye emblem, two rubber beer bottle-style strap locks, a certificate of authenticity booklet, plus custom and reproduction hangtags.

Isbell never expected to be a '59 Les Paul owner, but he was so taken with Red Eye he took on a workload of corporate gigs he wouldn't usually have taken in order to fund the purchase. 

“I was like, ‘What can I do to get this amount of money?" Isbell recalls asking his manager in the Gibson interview above. Can you book me some private shows—no war criminals or anything!—but if there’s some decent people who want me to play their birthday party…’ 

"And it just so happened that Bitcoin was really taking off, so I wound up at a bunch of weird Bitcoin birthday parties and paid for that guitar," he added. "Instead of dreaming about having one of these, I got to actually have one.

"After I played the Red Eye I said, that's the best guitar I've ever played," said Isbell. "And it still is." 

You may or may not need to work some extra hours for a chance to own one of these $21,999 Gibson recreations, but you will need to be fast if you're in the market. Visit Gibson.com to find out more, and just as Slash's $15k ES-335 model sold out its run of 50, we'd expect the same to happen here.

 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.