THE NOTION OF A REISSUE GUITAR IS SECOND nature to us today, as nearly
every company that made guitars back in the day offers reissues of
their original, hard-to-find vintage treasures. Back in the halcyon
days of the early 1970s, however, this was a brand new idea. Companies
like Gibson and Fender were originally baffled to discover that people
were actively searching out their older model guitars— and paying
collector’s premiums for them to boot. This was the first time that
terms like “vintage” and “collectible” were used to describe a guitar,
instead of just “used” or “old.” Gibson was the first to realize that
people wanted several of their models that had been discontinued,
especially the original Les Paul guitars of the 1950’s. The first
reissue model guitars were made by Gibson in 1968—the early Les Paul
goldtop with cream P-90s and the Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” with
humbucking pickups. The company even admitted in its advertising they
were reissuing these guitars due to popular demand with the
catchphrase, “Okay, you win!”
The next phase of historically accurate reissues came in 1972, with this Les Paul Custom Black Beauty model, based on the 1954 original. The guitar shown here is one of the models made between 1972 and 1973, and it sports several of the original Black Beauty’s features, including the Alnico V “staple” magnet P-90 in the neck position, and a round polepiece P-90 in the bridge position. Other appointments that rang true to the original Les Paul Custom were the fretboard inlays and the deluxe headstock overlay, no volute on the back of the headstock, and the “long-tenon” neck that extends into the cavity of the guitar all the way under the rhythm pickup—a feature that Gibson neglected to replicate on their Les Paul sunburst reissues until recently.
Because these were the early days of the vintage reissue, there were a few minor details they got wrong (such as jumbo frets instead of the original low “fretless wonder” frets), but this repro is doggone close. The instrument is beautifully made and really captures the true vibe of a ’54 Custom. This and other vintage reissues that Gibson made in the early ’70s set the benchmark for companies such as Fender, Rickenbacker, Martin, and others to follow.
This particular guitar has had the Bigsby vibrato added (with a “Custom Made” plaque to cover the holes for the stop tailpiece), as well as gold-plated Grover Imperial tuners. Les Paul himself signed the pickguard.
If I had to name one sleeper guitar out there—a vintage guitar that hadn’t appreciated in value the way that everything else has—I would say these early ’70s Les Paul Custom reissues are guitars that you should go out and buy now, while you still can. The ’68 reissue Les Pauls are beginning to command big bucks, but the early ’70s models are roughly the same price as a new Les Paul Custom reissue. They represent excellent bang for the buck, and bring 99 percent of those ’50s Les Paul thrills for less than 10 percent of the cost of an original.
The Les Paul-signed pickguard, of course, is optional—you’ll have to go chase Les down and get that yourself.