Last year we dedicated a special to the ‘59 Gibson Les Paul, by talking about ten songs in which you could hear the sound of what we called the ‘Holy Grail of electric guitars’. Well, this year we're celebrating the 60th anniversary of its twin sister, the '60s Gibson Les Paul, the last year they were made during their initial period and which had a thinner neck than the '59. We're going to do it by talking about several of them, played by eight famous, and very lucky, musicians.
We have previously spoken about the Les Paul that made many other rock guitarists in the world decide to get one: Eric Clapton's Les Paul 'Beano'. Four years ago Joe Bonamassa, possibly the biggest collector of Bursts from the years ‘59 and ‘60, said he found Beano in the hands of a collector and even said that it was a vintage ‘59. But nothing has been heard since then and the most likely year is still 1960, so, although we also used it for the article on the ‘59's, we have to open this special with it. It is not for nothing that Gibson and Clapton decided to make a new model a few years ago and called it 'Gibson Custom Shop Eric Clapton 1960 Les Paul', making it clear that the guitar with which Clapton dazzled all his contemporaries, plugged into a Marshall, was from the 60's. Whatever the year, the best thing to do is to put on the Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton again and get excited listening to the best British guitarist delighting us with songs like All Your Love and Have You Heard... We can also take a time to remember the son of a bitch who stole it in 1966, shortly after he started playing in Cream.
That Joe Walsh knows about guitars is well known by many rock stars, from Jimmy Page - to whom Walsh gave the Les Paul ‘59 with which Page would dominate the world - to Pete Townshend, who he brought his Gretsch 6120 of 1959 to make Who's Next possible, so it's not surprising that the member of James Gang and the Eagles, had as his main guitar a wonderful ‘60 Les Paul, of which Gibson has ended up making a special Signature edition. This guitar was with him from his early days in James Gang, in the late '60s, and is almost certainly the same guitar that Hendrix played in 1969, when while waiting for Sly & The Family Stone to start, he and Walsh switched guitars and began exchanging notes. Its sound is splendid as you can see in the video we have added at the end, where Walsh knows how to make the most of it in a 1973 performance, by playing Turn To Stone.
Between 1958 and 1960 Gibson made some 1,600 Les Pauls, which are the most sought after and desired guitars, but, of those 1,600, only four were made for left-handers: two in 1959 and two in 1960. Well, one of those from 1960 is in the hands of one of the most famous left-handers in rock history, Paul McCartney. So imagine the price that a Les Paul ‘60 might reach in an auction; especially one which has belonged to the creator of Hey Jude. Don't think I'm exaggerating if I tell you that $2 million might be a ballpark figure. But it doesn't look like that will happen for now, Sir Paul has no money problems and has always been a Les Paul fan; he also has a '57 Goldtop, so it will be more likely to be seen on stage while McCartney has a great time playing the final medley of Abbey Road, with The End's solo included, as in the video linked to this article.
Waddy Wachtel is one of the most in-demand session guitarists in rock, he has worked with people like his friend Keith Richards, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Iggy Pop and Stevie Nicks, with whom he recorded some of his best works, such as Bella Donna. Many of these works have been accompanied by his most famous guitar, a 60 Les Paul that he got from Stephen Stills for the ridiculous sum (nowadays) of $350. It was 1968 and Wachtel had just arrived in Los Angeles with his band, and in the studio Stills was rehearsing with a wonderful collection of guitars. Wachtel asked him if he could sell him one, and Stills answered "choose one" and Wachtel did not hesitate, he took the 60 Les Paul Burst and ended up signing a cheque for it. The funny thing is that, years later, Wachtel was doing a session for Graham Nash and Stills came by. When Stills saw the guitar he didn't doubt for a second and said to Wachtel, "whoever sold you that guitar, [I want you to] know that he stole it from me". Wachtel started laughing and replied without hesitation: "You sold it to me". Since September 2014 the Gibson Custom Shop has been selling the Les Paul Waddy Wachtel 1960 in its Collector's Choice series. Possibly the best $350 spent in rock history.
But it wasn't the only 1960 Les Paul that passed through the hands of Stephen Stills. The former Buffalo Springfield member had played a Les Paul Custom with a Bigsby in the latter days of his band, but, despite not being as connected to the model as his partner and friend Neil Young, Stills got another '60 Les Paul Burst for his magnificent Manassas project, together with Chris Hillman of the Byrds, as can be seen in the live performance on ABC, on 16 April 1973, while they play Song Of Love. This is a moment in which you can appreciate why Stills was the only musician who managed to bring together Clapton and Hendrix on the same album.
Another 1960 Les Paul Standard that has passed through several brilliant hands is that of Peter Frampton, the former member of Humble Pie who got it from J.J. Cale, who used it on his 1979 album 5. The guitar is called 'Paulina' and Cale sold it to his producer Audie Ashworth, who died in 2003. It was his wife who finally sold the guitar to Frampton, who likes to make the most of it when he plays Breaking All the Rules live, putting his recovered Les Paul Custom from 54, The Phenix, on hold for a moment.
As we have already said, Bonamassa is a real Bursts’ hoarder, he has four 59's and six 60's. These include: Cousin Jethro, The Black Burst, Runt, Two Sisters, Norm Harris and Ragin Cajun, although there may by now be some new ones in his collection. That makes the place where he keeps these guitars the closest thing to Mecca for an electric guitar lover. But the good thing about it is that Bonamassa is not a collector who hangs them on a wall to collect dust, but a wonderful guitarist who takes them on tour so that people can appreciate their wonderful sound, especially when played by the right hands.
Another collector with more than 300 guitars to his credit and several Bursts from 59 and 60 is Lenny Kravitz. This is understandable if we consider that Kravitz has always been a true Les Paul lover, as you can see in the video of Always On The Run, where he plays with another Bursts’ fan, Slash. A couple of years ago, while performing this same song, the singer and guitarist jokingly asked the audience if someone wanted a Les Paul from 59, while his was being fixed. It seems evident from the video that Craig Ross, his lead guitarist, is clear, he wants one too.