Few guitars are as cherished as the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst. With its distinctive classic shape, vivid cherry sunburst maple top with a solid mahogany body giving an unmatched tonal richness, it is considered by players and collectors alike to be the most desirable electric guitar ever created.
In 1950, the introduction of Fender’s solid-body Telecaster to the musical market created a new public craze for electric guitars. In 1952, Gibson Guitar Corporation president Ted McCarthy responded by bringing in guitarist Les Paul as a consultant, and launching his own version of a solid-body electric guitar, caling it the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Model. Ted McCarthy was an engineer who, like Leo Fender, never played the guitar himself, but throughout his eighten-year span as vice president and then president at Gibson Guitar, he made a point of talking to every guitarist he could to learn exactly what they wanted.
Acclaimed musician Les Paul had experimented with early versions of an electric guitar in the 30s, and had hand-built a solid-body version he called The Log, considered the first solid-body guitar ever built. Paul would become a great public relations asset for the new Gibson model, though his contributions were apparently mostly cosmetic. His advice led directly to the Goldtop concept: “gold looks expensive… that adds value.” (His other choice of black, he said, “looks classy”).
After the Gibson Les Paul was introduced in 1952, it went through many modifications, culminating in the famous sunburst model of 1958-60. The 1952 Goldtop featured two P-90 single-coil pickups and a one-piece, trapeze-style bridge and tailpiece. The strings were fitted under—instead of over—the stopbar. Gibson’s innovative double-coil humbucker Model P-490 was invented in 1956 by Seth Lover, an engineer at Gibson. The humbucker PAF (for “patent applied for”) revolutionized the sound of the electric guitar while eliminating the hum or feedback that plagued them whenever they were played at high volume. Another innovation by McCarthy was the Tune-O-Matic Bridge, found today on hundreds of different guitar models.
In late 1958, the cherry sunburst maple top finish was introduced, showcasing the rich, natural beauty of maple. The Les Paul Standard with the cherry sunburst finish sold for a whopping US$265 then; another US$42 would include a hard case. Sales were slow: only 643 of these stunning guitars had sold in 1959, and 635 in 1960, for a grand total of 1,278 produced between late 1958-1960.
The mid-sixties saw a renaissance in the Les Paul when Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and additionally Eric Clapton recognized the rock potential of the guitar—especially the 1958-60 Standard Sunburst model. Later, Mike Bloomfield and such artists as Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page began using the late 1950s Les Paul Standards. The iconic 1959 Les Paul Standard Sunburst has now become one of the most desirable and expensive guitars in the world: with only 1,278 produced, a 1959 Les Paul Standard in good condition can be worth an astounding amount of money. It simply has no equal in the world of electric guitars.