Ever since the inception of the Historic program in 1993, Gibson has striven to recapture the magic of its glory years, namely by reissuing Les Pauls built they way they were circa 1958-’60. The quest wasn’t an easy one. They were a long way from the original formula—both literally and figuratively—and many of the original ingredients simply weren’t available. Through better and better analysis of vintage Les Pauls, Gibson Custom (as this division is now known) has gotten closer year by year: a more accurate neck joint one year, improved playing feel the next, better pickups and a period-correct trussrod after that, and so on. The introduction of the True Historic series for 2015, represented here by this 1959 Les Paul Reissue, offers the most significant coalescence yet of vintage-correct specs and materials, along with the rediscovery of ’50s-era construction methods, and therefore takes us closer still to a build-’em-like-they-used-to Les Paul with the Gibson name legally on it. That said, the new series has left some owners of previous “best yet” LPs a touch peeved, while others cautiously await what developments will make them even better next year. On one hand, I can understand the cynicism, especially from players who have spent their hard-earned cash on previous editions; on the other, there’s always room for improvement, in just about any venture, and you can’t blame Gibson for striving to make a better reissue. Knowledge grows, new discoveries are made, and sometimes it’s possible to build a better mousetrap this year than you were capable of last.
New-for-2015 details include double-carving and hand sanding of both the maple top and the neck profile for a more accurate shape and feel; attaching the top with hot hide glue (already in use for neck and then fingerboard as of 2013 and 2014 respectively); thinner finishes that are final wet-sanded by hand; all plastics reproduced from molecular-level analysis of original materials; binding “rolled” at the fingerboard edges; the headstock veneer is thinner, and its edges are slightly radiused or “broken” for a more accurate look and feel. The new-for- 2013 Custom Bucker pickups with unpotted mismatched coils remain—wired via CTS pots and reissue “bumblebee” tone caps—as does the sleeveless trussrod.
What does it all add up to? In the hand, this True Historic feels superb, and while, to be honest, I’ve been impressed with Gibson Custom’s Les Paul necks for a long while, this one does feel vintage-correct, and playability is boosted by an impeccable setup. The body’s curves and edges feel right, and the binding certainly compares better to the vintage stuff than that found on previous reissues. The vintage cherry sunburst finish looks outstanding over this lushly figured maple top, with an outer edge that’s deeper and bolder than we’re used to in reissues. But this one is considered to be in an un-faded state: Faded and hand-aged renditions are available for a few grand more. Testing the bridge posts and thumbwheels with a magnet reveals brass (vintage correct) in the former, steel (generally not thought to be late-’50s correct) for the latter. Edwin Wilson from Gibson Custom tells us both were attained after melting down original parts for analysis, so who’s to say?
The guitar is extremely lively, bright, and jangly unplugged, which translates to a lot of edge and clarity when plugged into a hand-built JTM45 clone and 2x12 cab and a Matchless Lightning 1x12 combo. It’s utterly devoid of the muddy midrange overkill or flabby low end that many contemporary Les Pauls exhibit, and instead has more twang and chime than you might have come to expect from the breed—although that’s pretty accurate to the performance of a vintage ’burst with good low-wind PAFs. It still pushes a semi-cranked amp extremely well, making a great rock ’n’ roll machine on the bridge pickup, and a sweet blues screamer on the neck, which rolls off to mellow jazz tones beautifully with the volume wound down.
The True Historic 1959 has great bite, playable dynamics, and a chewy, singing overdrive tone that quickly reminds you why good Les Pauls are such monsters for lead playing. All in all, it takes us rewardingly close to what a great old Les Paul should do, and wins and Editors’ Pick Award in the process.
CUSTOM SHOP TRUE HISTORIC 1959 LES PAUL REISSUE
PRICE $8,599 street
NUT WIDTH 1.687" Nylon 6/6
NECK Mahogany, ’59 profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Kluson Reissue with single-ring green keys
BODY Solid one-piece mahogany with carved figured maple top
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic bridge with aluminum stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Custom Bucker PAF-style humbuckers
CONTROLS Independent Volume and Tone controls for each pickup, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Gibson Brite Wires, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.3 lbs
KUDOS Great looks, build quality, tone, and feel. Gibson Custom’s most vintage-correct specs yet.
CONCERNS Expensive. A couple of minor parts (thumbwheels, most notably) still don’t jibe with the vintage-minded consensus.