“Ed didn’t just get good vintage guitars – he got the best versions of pretty much everything”: Gibson's Custom Shop exactingly recreates Jason Isbell and Ed King's legendary “Red Eye” Les Paul with ultra-limited edition replica

Jason Isbell plays his “Red Eye” Gibson Les Paul onstage
(Image credit: Gibson)

Gibson has unveiled its latest high-end Les Paul, an exacting Custom Shop recreation of Ed King’s famed “Red Eye” 1959 Les Paul Standard. 

The guitar is named after the bright red area of finish near its toggleswitch. It's an eye-catching example of Gibson’s famous ‘Burst era of Les Pauls and has been in the possession of six-time Grammy winner Jason Isbell since shortly after the Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist passed in 2018. 

Given that the “Red Eye” model is a part of the company's very-top-of-the-line Collector’s Edition line of guitars, Gibson utilized 3D scanning and “ultra-precise Murphy Lab aging techniques,” to translate every fragment of wear, tear, and personality of the original into the copy. This is a limited run, with only 59 models being produced. 

Legend has it that the guitar had been displayed in a store window, causing the finish to fade. However, the price-tag hung off the toggleswitch, obscuring a portion of the guitar’s body from sunlight.

Consequently, that left much of the pigment behind it unblemished, resulting in the guitar’s dramatic ‘red eye’ visage. The bold red of the original finish also remains beneath the pickguard.  

That’s a quirk that Gibson was eager to reproduce with these faithful replicas. It even went one step further by having Isbell, who was involved with “every step of the process,” hand-select the figured maple tops for the builds. 

The guitar even comes with its own history-honoring Gibson cost, with the company sparing no expense in ensuring that every nuance of the guitars stayed as true to the original as possible. That goes some distance in explaining its weighty $22,000 price tag. 

Ed King purchased the guitar in 1982, and it remained a cherished part of his collection until his passing. 

Several months later, as told by Guitar Player, Christie Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville invited Isbell to play King’s guitars for the shop’s YouTube channel. 

That included strumming the ’73 Strat that starred in Sweet Home Alabama, and a host of gold-top Les Pauls. Then he spotted the “Red Eye” – which was famously stolen from King at gunpoint in 1987 – on a stand. King's mission to retrieve the guitar took him a decade. 

“Ed had a beautiful collection of instruments,” Isbell told GP in a 2020 interview. “He didn’t just get good vintage guitars – he got the best versions of pretty much everything.”

“I never thought I would need a ’Burst,” the one-time Drive-by Truckers guitarist continued. “I mean, nobody needs a ’Burst, but I never thought that I would want one, as expensive as they are. I’ve got a ’61 [Gibson ES-] 335 that’s just incredible, and I’ve never heard a Les Paul that could beat it.”

Gibson's Custom Shop Red Eye Les Paul Standard

(Image credit: Gibson)

But there was a steely determination from the guitarist to gather the required funds, leading to him asking his manager to find some methods of getting the necessary money that didn't involve touring the world four times over. 

“I said [to my manager] ‘Can you book me some private shows? No war criminals.’ It just so happened that BitCoin was taking off that year, so I wound up at a bunch of weird BitCoin birthday parties and paid for that guitar without having to dip into anyone else's life. 

“I met some interesting people,” he adds, “and went to some parts of the Hamptons that I’ve not been to before.” 

Some choice changes have since been made to the guitar to preserve its original hardware. The tuners and tailpiece have been replaced with retrofits, and Isbell suspects the pickup covers to be New Old Stock. 

He has also refretted the guitar – King was rumored to have undertaken a partial refret himself – but otherwise, the original guitar remains largely intact. Indeed, the pickups and wiring harness are from February 1959.  

Gibson's Custom Shop “Red Eye” Les Paul

(Image credit: Gibson)

That beloved spec is what Gibson has painstakingly set to deliver here. It features a lightweight one-piece mahogany body, a mahogany neck, and a Brazillian rosewood fretboard – a key feature of the original. 

The 24.75" scale length build delivers 22 medium jumbo frets and aged cellulose nitrate trapezoid inlays, with four Gold Butyrate pots split evenly between Volume and Tone. 

It’s stocked with two un-potted Custombucker pickups, their wear mirroring the original, with an ABR-1 No-Wire bridge, lightweight aluminium stop bar, and Kluson tuners.  

The Custom Shop “Red Eye” ships in a Les Paul Protector Series hardshell case that is packed with extra treats to make that sizable price tag feel a little less frightening.

Gibson's Custom Shop “Red Eye” Les Paul

(Image credit: Gibson)

Those extras include a Jason Isbell guitar strap – made by Savas from Midnight Blue Wild Alligator leather with a chain stitched and an inlaid Red Eye emblem – two rubber “beer bottle” style strap locks, a certificate of authenticity booklet, and reproduction hangtags. 

Isbell says he instinctively knows when a guitar is going to be good or not, and that was the case during his first encounter with the “Red Eye” – even before plugging it in. 

The headstock of Gibson's Custom Shop “Red Eye” Les Paul Standard

(Image credit: Gibson)

“When I was a kid me and my dad would go shopping for fishing tackle. He’d take the rod and say ‘go stand over there, put the end of the rod on your throat’ and he would hold the handle of the rod and I would talk,” Isbell remembers. “If he could feel it in his hand, it was a pretty good fishing rod. 

“It’s that way with a good guitar. Every point that you touch on that instrument, you feel the vibration moving. I would know if the ‘Red Eye’ was a good guitar even if I was stone deaf, just because you can feel it vibrating.”

Only 59 examples of the ultra-limited edition guitar made, and each will be sold for $21,999.  

Head to Gibson for more information. 

Phil Weller

A freelance writer with a penchant for music that gets weird, Phil is a regular contributor to ProgGuitar World, and Total Guitar magazines and is especially keen on shining a light on unknown artists. Outside of the journalism realm, you can find him writing angular riffs in progressive metal band, Prognosis, in which he slings an 8-string Strandberg Boden Original, churning that low string through a variety of tunings. He's also a published author and is currently penning his debut novel which chucks fantasy, mythology and humanity into a great big melting pot.