naked black beauty!

Les Paul Custom Historic ‘57 Custom Reissue Antique Natural

Once in a while we come across a guitar that is so rare, that it is hard to track down exactly what we are looking at. Case in point, this drop dead gorgeous Les Paul Custom. The first thing we noticed was that although the serial number and accompanying papers put it aa a ‘57 Reissue Black Beauty (LPB-7), it was certainly not wearing its formal black attire. The finish appeared to be an original ‘50s style limed mahogany, the same finish that made the original TV Yellow Juniors and Specials so, well, special.

Limed Mahogany was a designation that Gibson used, but was eventually referred to as TV Yellow, due to either its similarity to TV cabinets of the time, or the fact that the light yellow color showed up as white on television, but didn’t over dazzle the current video technology, as actual white would do. Unlike some later versions of TV Yellow that tend toward opacity, this more original version of the finish is very transparent, and shows off all of the consistent tight grain of the mahogany. When queried about this particular instrument, the friendly and helpful folks at Gibson Support, said it was recorded as “Vintage Natural”, and confirmed that nickel hardware was original, unlike most LP Customs’ gold hardware.

The body is just one lovely piece of mahogany, top to bottom. Les Pauls are typically associated with a maple cap, but the original ‘50s Customs (Black Beauties) were mahogany through and through. This lends a little warmer tone than maple, and has been done by Gibson on a various Les Paul releases over the years. This is the first time we have ever seen a “limed” mahogany though, and it is extremely cool.

As is often the case with Customs, the thing is kind of a beast at 9 pounds, 10.6 ounces. Some think a Les Paul should be heavy, others disagree. I guess that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.

Action above the ebony fretboard and mother of pearl blocks, is typical Les Paul effortless, and the sound from the ‘57 Classic pickups is clean and clear at low volumes, crunchy and articulate when dimed. Once again, there is disagreement, but my personal tastes run towards the open, airy, low output sound that made those PAF humbuckers the gold standard of electric guitar sound.

Regardless, we are quire enamored of this rare and unusually beautiful ‘57 Les Paul Custom reissue. Feel free to contact us with any questions, or with any further information. Thanks for reading, and have a good one.


I am happy to announce that Queen City Guitar (me) is now offering basic setups and a list of maintenance and repair chores for your beloved electric and acoustic guitars. I am working on a formal price list at this point, and will have it up shortly.

Please feel confident that I will be completely honest with you about my ability (or inability) to work on specific tasks on specific instruments. I am planning on being able to do free evaluations where we can quickly consult on whether or not I will be able to help, and just as importantly, whether the cost is worthwhile.

I am happy to take a look at any acoustic, and will honestly let you know if I am comfortable working on it. If it is just hopelessly far gone, I’ll say so. If it is so nice/expensive/custom that I am afraid to touch it, I’ll let you know that as well. At this point I am comfortable with basic setup on Fender and Gibson style electric guitars. Most electrics fall under this general category. I have gained experience with Parkers, which have a lot of unique attributes, and am happy to work on everything except their electronics. I have no experience with Floyd Rose type bridges, but hope to develop knowledge of them at some point.

I will be able to do basic fret dressing and leveling as well. From smoothing out the odd rough spot or buzz, to leveling and dressing them all. I am currently unequipped for re-fretting, but may be able to in the future.

I will also offer service on traditional wiring set ups. From swapping out pickups, to replacing switches, pots and caps.

fender forensics

Catching sight of a well worn, stained and threadbare tweed case makes my heart skip a beat. The possibilities run the gamut from “it’s empty!” to “Is that really an original blackface Tele?” This particular case opened to reveal what to all appearances was an early to mid fifties Fender Telecaster with a Bigsby. So begins the process of analysis to reveal the truth of the matter.

Let me back up here and reveal that I was not going in completely blind. The owner, not a guitar guy, had provided a serial number and a brief description, “Custom Telecaster, condition: beat up, color wood”. A quick search of the serial number showed it to be consistent with either a ’52 Reissue, which would make sense in regards to the “wood” description. The other possibility was enough to make my heart race. The serial number, along with the “beat up” descriptor, could also put it as a 1961 Custom Telecaster.

To see what to all visual cues was a blackface Tele was a bit of a surprise. Many details looked completely correct for it’s age and style; well worn butterscotch finish, worn in a way consistent with actual use, flat pole pieces on the bridge pickup, well worn and darkened maple fretboard, baseball bat neck profile, domed knobs that along with the other hardware had a nice amount of oxidation, five screw pickguard. The bigsby looked original and the body had not been drilled for string-through, indicating a factory job. Astute viewers may notice the Mustang bridge.

At this point, I will let you know that this was not, in fact, a Blackguard Tele, but a very well done replica. Following is the story of doing the forensics to determine exactly what was going on with this instrument.

The clues that I should have seen, but did not due to my initial excitement, were obvious in retrospect. The first was that the waterslide decal on the headstock looked to be original, but indicated Fender “custom Telecaster”, which would indicate a model that would not see the light of day until the late 50’s, and then with a double bound body, sunburst finish, and rosewood fretboard. This, along with the well worn and patina’d neck plate serial number indicating a 1961 vintage, should have thrown up red flags immediately. Also, I was under the impression that Fenders with factory Bigsby’s had “Fender” Bigsby’s. This one said Bigsby, not Fender. Hmmm. Next, although the neck looked to have legitimate wear and subsequent oil staining and darkening from use, it had a consistent thin finish everywhere, front and back. It was conceivable that someone had put a new coat of varnish over the worn neck, but it’s hard to imagine why. No player would ruin the feel and playability of a well worn maple neck.

So with these niggling little details working their way into my brain, it was time to pull it out and get a hands on closer look. First, plug in and see what’s what. The output jack was loose and shorted out easily, and aside from the wicked hum, felt and sounded really excellent. A bit brash, but that would be consistent with early fifties Teles, whose pickups were wound considerably hotter than later issues. Taking a closer look, I also noticed that the neck was not really aligned all that well and that there was a serious excess of space around it in the neck pocket. Not exactly what you would encounter form a factory Tele on it’s worst day. So I feel I had enough doubt at this point to justify opening it up. If I believed it was legitimate at this point, I would not take it apart. I would have gotten it into the hands of someone qualified for authentication.

Upon removing the neck, I was immediately confronted with an AllParts “licensed by Fender” brand on the neck with two sets of drilled holes. The neck pocket had no marks, so it was time to dig deeper. removing the pickguard revealed a plastic version as opposed to the original Bakelite. Both pickups sported cloth cover, vintage looking lead wire, although one was yellow/black, the other white/black. Each one was marked 7.3 ohms, but are of unknown provenance. No markings were evident in either pickup route, but the way the body was routed was consistent with the earliest Telecasters, with a round hole directly from the neck pickup route to the bridge route straight along the line of the neck and middle of the body (as opposed to the diagonal independent route used since).

Moving on the control cavity. The pot codes dated the electronics to at least 2006. Nice quality with the exception of the problematic output jack, which was Japanese and obviously had issues. Once again, no markings of any sort.

Deciding what to do at this point was the next issue. Most importantly, I really liked how this guitar felt, played, and sounded. The fact that you had to look awfully hard to know that it was not an early fifties Fender was not a hardship either. I payed the owner an amount based on the cost of parts and a small premium for the quality of the finishing and aging that really was stellar. The build quality, not so much. I am a fan of partscasters, but I also know that as an investment, they truly suck. I bought this based on the fact that I’m certain it will become one of my go to instruments. It fills a hole in my small collection of players, it has a Bigsby, it has a more raw sound than my ‘64 replica Tele, and it can be dialed in to be a ‘53 replica which is the year my wife was born (I have an unreasonable thing about birth year guitars).

So now comes the part where I decide how much time and effort to pour into a guitar that I will never be able to sell for what I have into it. It will do me no good if it is not reliable and has issues that cause me not to pick it up regularly. Any issues at all and it will not make the cut for playing out. So first thing I did was order a new wiring harness from Emerson Electronics. I could have ordered the parts and done it myself, but for a few dollars more, I get their excellent capacitors and the cleanest soldering and layout I’ve ever seen. I ordered a two screw output jack from StewMac to secure the output properly. I’m not sure why these have not become stock an all new relevant instruments. Next, in an effort to quiet the hum, I installed copper foil with conductive adhesive into the cavities, being careful to do a good job of it and properly ground it all. The neck is exactly the fat chunky profile that I love and the finish is really cool and authentic looking, so I felt I couldn’t/shouldn’t replace it. Drilling, dowelling, and re-drilling was the call. That job was relegated to local guitar tech Terry.

I now am the happy owner of a really cool, authentic looking and sounding Blackguard replica with a Bigsby. Most importantly, it sounds and feels just as I like. And some day, someone else will have the initial rush of a possible discovery, then the disappointment of finding it to be a replica, and then hopefully, the enjoyment of a really nice Telecaster built in the style and vibe of an early fifties blackguard.

’57 goldtop beater…

I often feel that there are a lot of things that go into a beautiful new guitar that I don’t necessarily want to pay for, mostly the beautiful stuff. I’m a fan of function. Now not to disparage or discount the efforts of the fine craftsmen that put hour upon hour of excruciatingly skilled labor into making a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Reissue a true work of art, I have always felt that a lot of that effort has gone into making a guitar that really doesn’t sound significantly better, just more historically correct, or prettier. Nothing wrong with that, except for all of the working musicians out there that are not at a level to be blessed with discounted or free instruments from Gibson, are left to fend for themselves in a marketplace driven by many collectors and aficionado’s who, in my opinion, have driven the price of these instruments out of he realm of reality and the average player. People are buying these things as investments for christ’s sake, and not utilizing them for their intended purpose, making noise. And a good Les Paul makes one of the very best types of noise in many people’s opinion, mine included.

So, in an effort to see if I could make a Les Paul that would, in a blindfold taste test, provide those desirable noises, and feel close to as good, but not totally break the bank, I have assemble this rough equivalent of a ’57 Goldtop.

I started with a 2013 LPJ. Made for only two years, and rarely in Goldtop guise, this iteration of the Les Paul garnered exceptional reviews, especially considering it’s moderate price tag. Some feel Gibson discontinued it exactly because it competed directly with their own Studio, and Epiphone Les Paul lines. Whatever. It differs from other Les Pauls by having a maple neck, which many true Les Paul fans consider sacrilegious. For my part, I am happier about the possibly snappier tone and almost assuredly enhanced durability. Ever heard of a Les Paul falling over IN IT’S CASE, and coming out with a snapped off headstock? The bottom line is this is the least expensive Gibson Les Paul I could find that retains the traditional mahogany with maple cap body. That, in my opinion, is what makes it a legitimate Les Paul and worthy of use as a foundation.

I basically abandoned every other part of the LPJ offering, and throwing financial caution to the wind, built it back up with only the finest parts to hopefully create a high functioning Les Paul for well, less.

I have a thing for originality as far as sound goes. I believe their is a reason that the most sought after Les Pauls, the PAF 50’s models, are famous precisely because they sounded so amazing when played by the 60’s guitar icons that discovered their qualities first. Any “improvement” after that remains suspect. So with that in mind, I went after as true of a ’57 sound as I could. I’ll admit that cosmetic considerations intruded a bit right here. While the guitar was stripped, I carefully sanded the stain from the sides of the maple cap to subtly highlight it, and gave the whole thing a few coats of amber lacquer, followed by  a coat or two of clear satin lacquer. The brassy shade of the satin gold finish and the barely finished mahogany back (which I personally think is beautiful in a raw, elemental way) were both warmed up considerably and I got a nice protective coat over the new maple “binding”. So on to things that really matter.

First off, I sourced a pair of Bare Knuckle Stormy Monday hand wound PAF clones. The reputation these guys have garnered is impressive, and besides that, I found a pair on craigslist locally for a decent price. Consensus on early PAF’s is that they are certainly not all created equal, but fall into a range. Some were Alnico II, some III, some V. Everyone seems to have their favorite nuance based on historic instruments owned and played by famous musicians, but the fact remains, there is no definitive PAF singularity. With that in mind, the Stormy Mondays seemed to be a great choice and the universe aligned to bring them into my hands at just the right time. They, like original PAF’s are not very “hot”. They utilize Alnico II magnets and one coil of each pickup is slightly overwound on purpose to get a bit of edge, like some of the legendary original PAF’s and Gibson’s own Burstbuckers. The lower output forces you to work the power stage of your amp a bit harder, and that provides an arguably different tone than just upping your gain.

Next, I got a ’50’s style Les Paul wiring harness from Emerson Custom. as I just can’t quite get used to the newer, plug and play, plastic circuitboard innards of many newer Gibsons. I’m an analog guy and to me metal is just plain more durable and made to last indefinitely if cared for properly. Maybe I’m wrong, but on this, I don’t care. I just feel that if it ain’t broke, don’t fuck with it. You think you can make a new paintbrush that will work better than the ones Van Gogh used?

Next came the bridge. The ABR-1 seems to be the necessary upgrade from the Nashville Tune-O-Matic. Of course me being me, I had to opt for a Callaham ABR-1 machined from billet. I told you already I threw financial caution to the wind. I figure if this thing doesn’t sound amazing when I’m finished, it won’t be the components’ fault. It’ll be either me or the basic PLJ body and neck, and at least I will have learned a lot about Les Pauls and have a pile of valuable parts left over. I also ended up after research, feeling the need for an aluminum stop bar tail piece, just like the 50’s, which I source from Kluson.

The nut was next, and me not really having the skills to cut and shape a bone replacement, I opted for a Graph Tech Tusq XL. A bit of sanding later it was in and fitting well. I have built a few partscasters and have always had great results with these nuts. If their info is even half accurate, they are a good choice for all but the most pure of purists.

At this point I have to admit that the purely functional improvements were complete. With the possible (argued by some) exception of the seemingly fine Kluson tuners, this guitar was good to go. For some reason though I couldn’t stop and ended up throwing on some Gibson Deluxe tuners and a set of creme colored Gibson plastics and pickguard. It just seemed to be begging to be dressed up in ’57 couture.

What I ended up with is a great sounding, great feeling Les Paul, for less than the price of a decent used Les Paul Standard. Any of the parts I used would be considered upgrades to even some Custom Shop instruments. I am in the process of getting it into the hands of some excellent Les Paul players that I know for their opinions. I’m hoping for some “blindfold taste tests” and will post an update on the results as soon as possible.

So leave your $6000 ’57 Reissue (R7) at home (or at the store) and beat this up instead. It won’t sound any different to the guy throwing up in the corner or the drunks at the bar, and the battle scars will just make it look better as it ages, just like you, you bare knuckle, rock -n-roll warrior you.

This instrument is currently for sale, so feel free to make an offer. I may not say yes, but I won’t get my panties in a wrinkle either. Thanks for reading.

the road warrior… 1987 Gibson SG


Here we have a great example of a guitar that defies all of my expectations. I’m not a huge fan of SG’s generally. The whiplike neck and fragility always was a bit of a turn off to me, but I know that there are a lot of SG devotee’s out there. This example came across our door here at Queen City Guitar recently and it may have turned me into a fan.

This instrument has obviously been places. The pickups have been changed out, but they seem correct for the late 80’s. They certainly sound amazing. Rock and Roll is a better place because of guitars like this one. Plugging it in and powering up my trusty Champ clone is enough to give me Angus fantasies for days. This thing growls, howls, crunches and grinds just like I would imagine I would, if I were Angus.

The cosmetics are exactly what you would expect from an instrument that has been worked hard, but nevertheless cared for properly. The neck is not the whip-like slim 60’s profile I tend to dislike, and not only gives the guitar a more solid feel, it seems to wake up the body and get it vibrating like a body should.

As a collector, I imagine the unoriginal pickups can’t be great selling point, but as a player, this is the most desirable SG I’ve come across. Apparently ’87 was the last year for the original spec SG reissues, and so has inherently more value than any current iterations according to Vintage Guitar Magazine’s and’s Price Guides.

All in all, a rootin’ tootin’, rock and rollin’ son of a gun!

a very special Gibson SG Special…

The journey to establish what exactly this guitar was has been a real education. Upon opening the case, I was stunned by the attractiveness of this SG. I’m used to seeing the variations of basically red SG’s and Pelham Blue was a true surprise.

Research revealed a scarcity of Pelham Blue SG’s over the years. I zeroed in on the chrome covered pickups and totally missed the obvious signals of dot fretboard markers and unbound neck, and incorrectly put it as an SG Standard of some sort (I’m still learning Gibsons). Inside the case were the inspection card and filled out warranty card, which I somehow saw and then immediately forgot. I found a run of Pelham Blue SG Standard “Exclusive”s marketed and sold by Sam Ash in 2011 and jumped at the assumption that this was one, as the warranty card listed Sam Ash as the purchase point. As I said, I’m still learning Gibsons.


Some very nice fellows gently corrected my assumptions by showing me the details I overlooked in my rush to identify this instrument. First, the neck so obviously shows it as an SG Special that I felt truly foolish to have ever thought otherwise. Apparently someone had added chrome pickup covers or new pickups. The rhythm pickup was found to be dead, so in to the local Gibson Certified repair guy it went. He replaced the rhythm pickup which he assumed was stock with the identical item. He made no mention of a refinish and stated that the wiring was restored what he believed were stock specifications.

Gibson customer support (bless their souls) provided that according to their records, it started life as a 2001 SG Special in Platinum. So obviously someone has refinished it, albeit very well, in Pelham Blue and added chrome covers to the pickups.

Although it is obviously not stock, it is truly a stunning and desirable SG Special in a very attractive Pelham Blue. I’ve never been a huge fan of SG’s being more of a Tele guy, but this one is changing my mind. The lightness and playability make this a Gibson that Fender folks could get behind, and would serve as an easy entry into the world of high quality Gibson electrics.

Mystery Strat: the Fender Stratocaster ST65B-80

This guitar was somewhat of a mystery when I first laid eyes on it. First impression was of a high quality reissue, but a strat with a bound neck? fullsizerender-5The waterslide decal indicates a mid sixties reissue (way too clean to be an old one), so I’m guessing Japanese, but turning it over revealed that there is no serial number on the neck heel where it should be, or any indication that it might be a Custom shop instrument.

Now I was considering that it as a nice mid-sixties reissue that someone had put a really well finished bound neck on, and that turned out to be the case. Upon opening it up, the neck turns out to be an AllParts licensed by Fender neck. The neck pocket showed ST65B-80 among a bunch of other markings.

It appears to be a Japanese domestic market reissue of a bound neck 1965 Stratocaster, which it turns out, Fender did produce for two years in the States. The OLB I believe indicates Old Lake Placid Blue which it looks like was done in Japan on some models. I’ve read that Lake Placid Blue can darken with age and this is a dark Lake Placid Blue, so there it is.

The pots and switch look to be upgraded to American parts. The wiring is not as tidy as I would expect from stock, but it’s seems solid enough.

The  body contours, while not quite as sleek and sexy as the deeply contoured shapes from the Fifties, is consistent with mid Sixties Strats and still much prettier to my eye than the shallow squared off cuts that became standard in later years.

fullsizerender-4All in all, a REALLY nice guitar that has the solid feel and tone not often associated with non-Custom Shop instruments. The collector value is of course compromised by the AllParts neck and upgraded electronics, but I would challenge anyone to find a more desirable player on the showroom of your local guitar store. This thing just exuded solidity and substantial quality that can be rare in Stratocasters at times. So mystery solved (unless someone out there can educate me further). Thanks for looking

Fender MIJ Jazzmaster

The Jazzmaster was Fenders attempt to sway musicians of the old school, used to handcrafted instruments, to perceive Fender as a player in the higher end guitar market. Jazz players in particular were the target of this campaign, and although it didn’t work out quite how Fender hoped, a new and historically important instrument was born. Considered one of the top of the line models along with the Jaguar, and intended to be the next revolution/evolution of design, the Jazzmaster was received without the fanfare Fender would have liked, with the possible exception of the surf music crowd, who really dug the tone from those big fat single coils.

Here is a very clean example, Crafted in Japan in the 1997 or ’98. Although it looks like an exact replica form the outside, the interior features modern, Japanese pots and a not too exact replica set of pickups, which really are most of the point to players interested in that original Jazzmaster tone. That being said, it plays and feels great. The tone may be more “Stratty” than one with proper pickups, but it still looks, plays, and sounds just like a Fender should. The Crafted in Japan Fenders are truly exceptional from a fit and finish point of view. Everything about this guitar screams quality. Not what you might expect from a stock guitar popping off the end of the production line in the mid sixties, when Fender was producing a shit ton of instruments every day. Although the values aren’t what you would expect from an American Jazzmaster, you’d have a hard time finding an instrument of this quality for the the going prices.