The Holy Grail of Guitars – The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
If you’ve ever watched the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know that the concept of a holy grail is nothing to take lightly. In that film, the swashbuckling Professor Jones and his erudite father travel the world in search of the lost Cup of Jesus Christ, the Holy Grail, in a race against time and against the march of the armies of darkness – who happen to be the Nazis.
Dr. Jones is willing to risk life and limb to attain the mystical treasure. In a similar vein, many guitar collectors seem to be willing to pay almost any price to get their calcified fingers on a real, authentic 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. It is known in guitar circles as the Holy Grail of Guitars. And no mass produced guitar out there is more coveted, or worth more money than this particular Gibson. So, why all the fuss? Is it really that different from a 1958 or a 1960 model? Well, to many, including one guitar collector named Joe Bonamassa, the answer is a resounding yes.
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Is Anything But Standard
What’s the most beautiful guitar you’ve ever seen or heard? If you’ve ever encountered a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, odds are you will know your answer immediately.
If you know a little bit about fancy guitars or about Joe Bonamassa, you probably already know that the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard is the most coveted guitar on the marketplace. As an article by Gibson points out, however, this guitar didn’t gain its tremendous value over night. When they were first released, the asking price for a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard was under $300. That included a guitar case. And probably some picks. An incredible value, to be sure.
Today, the guitars are just a little bit pricier. According to Guitar Player magazine, while a 1957 Gibson Les Paul, similar in specs to the ’59, will sell for something in the ballpark of $100,000, the ’59 will go for a half million dollars and have even gone significantly higher. This just goes to show how highly prized these guitars are. And while models from 1958 and 1960 are also highly prized, they have not achieved the peak luster that the 1959 model has. And these models are pretty rare. According to Tony Bacon’s book 50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul: Half a Century of the Greatest Electric Guitars, only about 650 of the guitars were produced.
Anyone who has taken an economics course knows that the scarcity of a product that is in high demand will dramatically increase its value. This holds true for the ’59 Les Paul. Everybody wants one, but far fewer people can actually have one. This drives the price way up. Like, so high that it costs more than many houses. And unlike a house, you can’t live in a Les Paul. But rarity alone cannot account for the staggering value of the ’59 Les Paul. So what else is going on here?
All the cool rock stars love them (except maybe Hendrix, but he’s his own beast)
The Gibson Les Paul in general has had an incredible reach and influence in music. It has made an impact on many different genres of popular music, including rock, pop, country, jazz, blues, heavy metal, soul, and more. And why shouldn’t they? They sound like a dream and are absolutely beautiful to behold. But as special as any Gibson Les Paul is, the ’59 Les Paul Standard is probably even a little bit more special.
One of the most iconic Gibson guitar players, and an associated iconic 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, is Jimmy Page and his #1 guitar, Number One. You can check out Led-Zeppelin.org for further information on that specimen. Anything that Jimmy Page touches is gold to us, though. Or perhaps, in light of the topic at hand, we should say its “Goldtop”.
Bernie Marsden is another guitarist who swears by his ’59 Gibson Les Paul, which you can read about here. His is known as “The Beast”, but he assures everyone that has nothing to do with any kind of devil worship. Rather, the name stuck around because he claimed that the guitar played like a beast. And judging by the company he keeps in playing the ’59, we’d say he’s quite right. Joe has actually had the opportunity to play The Beast and has spoken about it at length in this video interview:
According to guitarist Richie Sambora, it’s a bit hard to explain why the ’59 Gibson Les Paul Standard hit so big. He compares the desirability of the instrument to that of an aged fine wine of a particular vintage. Something about it just tastes right. Similarly, there’s something about the sound and feel of a ’59 Gibson Les Paul that just makes them sparkle and shine.
One of the most famous examples of a star’s use of the ’59 Les Paul, and the one that probably did the most to popularize the instrument in the mid 1960’s, was Keith Richards, who toured the United States with it in 1964. Keith was the first British star to really use the sunburst and it lead to a craze, leading to much of its use during the British Blues boom. And although Eric Clapton actually used a 1960 model on the Beano album, his work in the 1960’s is very much associated with the ’59 Les Paul.
If You Have a ’59 Gibson Les Paul to Spare, I’ll Gladly Take It Off Your Hands for Free
Unfortunately, I do not have a few hundred grand to drop on a beautiful, stunning, heavenly guitar. But if I did, well, you know how I would spend it. Of course, one could ask, is any guitar really worth that kind of money? Well, one answer is: it is if there are people willing to pay that much. And there most certainly are. Another point is that people spend that kind of money on all kinds of things: cars, comic books, tickets to see Hamilton. And none of those things let you rip the most badass sounding “Stairway to Heaven” solo you’ve ever heard.
– Brian M. Reiser,
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