Whack Job: The 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom 20th Anniversary

March 17, 2017

What is a Les Paul Custom doing in this column, you may axe? There is nothing “whack” about a Les Paul, of course, but the materials from which this 20th Anniversary model is made are certainly out of the ordinary—so it at least qualifies as “odd.” Let me explain…


Back when Gibson was a subsidiary of Norlin Musical Instruments, the company was based in Michigan, where, thanks to the state’s furniture industry, a lot of rare woods were imported. This could be the reason enough Brazilian rosewood was hanging around to be used in this extremely limited run of 50 guitars commemorating the Les Paul’s 20th birthday. It’s thought that less than ten of these instruments also had maple necks like this one.

In addition, many early to late ’70s Les Pauls had “pancake process” bodies made from two thin plies of mahogany with a thin ply of maple sandwiched in between. This was a less expensive way to make guitar bodies, but—man-o-man—those suckers weighed a ton. This one weighs almost 12.5 lbs!


This guitar plays like a dream, and we all know how Les Pauls sound. But what we didn’t know is how a rosewood top and a maple neck affect what was already a great guitar design. I compared the Anniversary to my own ’70s Les Paul Custom—which utilizes the more standard construction of a one-piece mahogany body and neck with a rosewood fingerboard—using the same brand and gauge strings on both guitars, and playing them through a clean Vox AC30 and a distorted 50-watt Marshall.

While wielding the anniversary model, the AC30 showcased a creamy and rich clean tone from the neck pickup, and a full sound with a nice high end from the combined neck/bridge setting. The surprise was the bridge-pickup tone, which was chime-y, sweet, and a bit compressed. It was so funky that all I wanted to do was play James Brown riffs. The bridge setting was super special through the Marshall, as well, exhibiting a crazy-cool smoothness that sounded more like Tony Iommi’s early Black Sabbath SG tones. Here, the Anniversary’s neck and combo settings appeared to be richer and warmer than those of my own LP.


My life-long buddy Tom Landry bought this rare guitar brand-new from Guitar Showcase in San Jose, California, for $1,300 in 1975—which was at least 30 percent more than other new Les Pauls were going for at the time. Tom recently sold it to our mutual buddy, Kinya Pollard, who lent it to me for this review. A couple of years ago, one of these was on the market for a whopping $35,000, and, recently, one went for more than $10,000 at auction. By comparison, a standard-issue Les Paul Custom from the same period would go for around $2,000 or $3,000 today.


It’s a Les Paul—a guitar that this very magazine once called “God’s gift to rock and roll.” Oh, and it’s rosewood, and it has “Twentieth Anniversary” inlaid at the 12th fret. Enough said!

Thanks to Kinya Pollard for the loan of this mighty guitar, and to Tom Landry for all the technical info. Feel free to contact me at rtcarleton@gmail.com with photos of your rare wierdos.

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