By Brian Wolfe
I had to have a Les Paul. I mean, all the Great Players had one; Jimmy Page, Michael Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and even Jeff Beck had one by the end of the Yardbirds. I cursed my 1951 Telecaster (yes I know, I’m an idiot) and resented every note it played (not knowing most of the songs I admired by Bloomfield in the Butterfield Blues Band and Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin’s first LP were played on a Telecaster). What mattered to me was every picture I saw had my heroes playing a Les Paul. The only problem was that Gibson had stopped making them and there were none to be found. I called Manny’s in New York and got on a ‘want list’ for a used one.
Then it happened: Gibson started manufacturing the Les Paul again in 1968. I think it cost me $395. I bought a Goldtop reissue because of the famous Black & White picture of Bloomfield with his 1950’s Goldtop. Bloomfield held it so close to his face, I bet he got spit on it. I made payments and by the time it was paid-off, I had traded it for something else. The guitar weighed a ton and a half. I was a skinny kid and did not enjoy the pain in my shoulder at the end of a three-hour high school dance gig. I put up with it for a while and then traded it off. I actually cannot remember exactly what I traded it for. I think I traded it at Goldie & Libro in New Haven CT for a used 360-12 Mapleglo Rickenbacker. (I vaguely recall trading a Rickenbacker 450-12 trying to pay off the Goldtop).
This might have been the end of my Les Paul lust had it not been for Woodstock. Everyone has a Woodstock story. I chose not to go because the thought of three days without a real toilet was more than I could bear. The Woodstock image that has stuck in my mind to this day is the full-page picture of Leslie West in Time magazines Woodstock Special: he was holding a Les Paul Junior. I had never seen one before and this guitar seemed to be a guitar of absolute beauty and simplicity. I had to find one (Imagine that!).
Almost a year after Woodstock, I met Ed Cherry. He was a very good guitar player and collector from Woodbridge (see my blog, My First Telecaster). He had a mid 1950’s single cutaway Les Paul Junior and was willing to trade for what was left of my 1951 Telecaster. We made the trade and I kept the Les Paul Junior until I found a 1952 Goldtop. I was born in 1952 – It had to be a 1952 Goldtop. Unfortunately, I was never able to get used to the way the strings went under the bridge. At some point, I sold it and replaced it with a refinished Goldtop from 1954 that had it’s two P-90’s swapped out for PAF’s. Now THAT was a guitar! I have to admit I miss that guitar greatly. It played like butter and was not too heavy. You would think I would keep it…
I traded the 1954 Goldtop for a pre-war Martin 000-21 during one of my acoustic phases (which seem to dominate my life. Anyway, back to my Les Pauls). My next Les Paul was a red double cutaway from 1959 with a neck like two baseball bats. I kept this guitar for a very long time, adding Les Paul Juniors and TV Models to my stash. At one time, I had 2 cherry double cutaways, one TV double cutaway, one sunburst single cutaway and a cherry SG LP Junior. Slowly, one by one, I sold them off as I moved farther and farther away from electric guitar. I miss some of those instruments…
I now have a 1956 TV Junior with an added patent sticker humbucker in the neck position and a refinished 1960 double Junior. While neither have great collectible value I love them both. In moments of weakness I lust after a 1952 Les Paul; built the year I was born. I’d like to find one with issues that I would not mind re-setting the neck and adding a stop tailpiece to, yeah that’s it dream I hang on to.