“First Gibson Les Paul Cherry Sunburst Acquired by Carter Vintage Guitars”
by Michelle Wilson
Walter Carter is hailed as one of the world’s leading experts on vintage guitars, having served as a historian for Gibson Guitar Corporation for years and written numerous books about guitars. In 2013, he and his wife Christie opened Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville, Tennessee, and they now are in possession of the earliest version of Gibson’s cherry sunburst Les Paul guitar, serial number 8 3087. Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash, has owned the ‘burst with the next serial number, 8 3096, for some time. This newly acquired model predates Slash’s, and the finding is extraordinary. As Carter states, “It’s the kind of discovery that vintage guitar collectors dream about.” Iconic guitarists including Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, just to name a few, all notably played a cherry ‘burst at one point in their careers.
The first Les Paul Model was offered in 1952 with a gold finish, known as a goldtop, but in 1958 Gibson chose to transition to a cherry-stain finish. On May 28, 1958, Gibson sent two guitars for approval to Chicago Musical Instrument, their parent company. A precise description in Gibson’s daily shipping ledger assisted in identifying these two instruments: “LP Spec. Finish.” These were the first yellow-to-red “sunburst” finishes that would become the Gibson standard for this model. Gibson would continue to produce a few thousand more goldtops before finally switching to cherry ‘burst production.
In 1958, one of these two guitars was sent to the O.K. Houck music store in Memphis, Tennessee, where it was purchased for $350 as a Christmas gift for a 14-year-old boy by his father. That original owner, who still lives in Memphis, sent photos to Carter Vintage Guitars of the serial number and of himself, at age 14, holding the ‘58 ‘burst just a few months after he received it for his Christmas present. According to Carter, the 14-year-old boy played the guitar for about 3 to 4 years throughout his high school days, and then it sat idle. The only replaced parts are an era-correct tuner, “poker chip” switch ring, jackplate and jack.
This prototype of the first sunburst is unique in that it has a three-piece maple top rather than a two-piece one, which became the standard for the cherry sunburst. It also indicates that it was originally crafted to be a goldtop but was pulled from production to use as the experimental cherry-finish prototype.
Recently, Ed King, Vince Gill and JD Simo all played the vintage model. King describes it as “clean but just a little bit crunchy” and that it has a “natural crunch” and “measures up to the best I’ve played,” while Gill offers this jewel: “For somebody who doesn’t know much about guitars, this is a Stradivarius.” You can really hear the pristine tone of this prized instrument in the 6:00 Youtube clip featuring Simo below.
Oh, and this beauty is for sale – in case you were thinking about purchasing it, the price tag is a cool $625,000. One can dream……