Pros: This is a real piece of history.
Cons: One can not set the intonation, and the bridge is cumbersome.
GIBSON 1952 LES PAUL GOLDTOP GUITAR
There are many myths surrounding the invention of the electric guitar. Some credit Leo Fender, others credit Les Paul. Both are wrong. Back in the days when Orville and Wilber Wright were trying to invent the airplane, there were many other scientists and inventors who were trying to accomplish the same thing. The Wright brothers were the first known people to have achieved a successful flight, and thus are credited with being the inventors of the airplane. However, unlike the airplane, no one person can be credited with the invention of the electric guitar. The electric guitar evolved from a collaboration of many different inventors, musicians, and guitar builders, primarily in the 30s and 40s. The Rickenbacker Electro Model B made in the 1930s could possibly be the first solid-body electric guitar manufactured by a name brand company. However, it did not take off, and it probably was not the first electric solid body either.
According to legend, at the age of 12, Lester William Polfus, better know by his stage name, Les Paul, was entertaining customers at a local hamburger stand, and received complaints from the customers that they could not hear him playing. He reportedly took the pickup that was attached to a phonograph players needle and wired it to the mouthpiece of a telephone, placed them together under the acoustic guitars strings, and wired the whole thing to a radio which served as a crude amplifier. After years of experimentation, Les Paul came up with a prototype solid body electric guitar around 1939. It was a solid piece of wood with pickups and strings, and it was nicknamed The Log after the shape of the solid piece of pine that formed its core, or center part of the body. Les Paul brought his design to Gibson in 1941, and it was not well received, and Les Paul is quoted as saying that they referred to it as A broomstick with pickups on it.
Leo Fender can be credited with launching the first electric guitar in 1950 that was successfully accepted by the general public, the Broadcaster. The Gibson Company recognized that it had nothing to compete with the Broadcaster. According to Les Paul, some time in 1951, a Gibson executive is reported to have said, Find that kid with the broomstick with the pickups on it, and they came looking for Les. The result was the Gibson 1952 Goldtop Les Paul. According to Gibson executives, the company already had the design for the guitar before they approached Les Paul, and they wanted his name on it, and the only thing that was truly his design was the trapeze/bridge tailpiece. Interestingly, Les Paul, has different recollections, and has be quoted as stating that he already had the design for the Goldtop Standard and the Black Custom.
According the Les Paul, he told Gibson that the Goldtop was to have a solid mahogany body, and the Custom was to have a mahogany body with a maple top. As anyone who knows vintage instruments can tell you, the reverse is what happened. Further, Les Pauls design for the trapeze bridge/tail piece called for the strings to wrap over the bridge, and Gibson had the strings go under. Les supposedly complained to Gibson that they got things wrong, but Gibson is reported to have said that it was too late to stop production, and things were to remain as they were. But enough with the history lesson. Those interested in finding out more about the history of this guitar, or about Les Pauls involvement with it can go to the Gibson website for information galore, or to the many websites dedicated to Les Paul himself or to the guitars that bear his name. Now on to my review of the 1952 Goldtop Reissue.
I have a friend who is a collector of Gibson Les Paul guitars, and he happens to own a 1952 Goldtop Reissue. I had the extreme pleasure to have the opportunity to play this guitar through a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb, which is a beauty of an amp. The 1952 Goldtop Reissue is a beautiful reproduction of the original 1952, including its design flaws and related problems. Design flaws on a Les Paul! Blasphemy you say, it was perfection from the start! Well perhaps to some, but not to me, Gibson, or the general public. One of the very first things one notices about the look of the guitar is the color. The original Goldtops were finished with a Bronze powder that was mixed into the clear lacquer to give it a distinctive metallic color. I know that most of you reading this review are young Chemists, but for those of you who arent, Bronze is an alloy made from combining 90% Copper and 10% Tin. Do you remember what color the Statue of Liberty is? That is because of oxidation. Well when the Copper on the old Goldtops began to oxidize with age, the result was a guitar that looked Gold, but also was a little green around the gills. Gibson felt the need to do something about this, and as such, all of the Goldtop Reissues (1954, 1956, & 1957) are a slightly more uniform color that Gibson calls Antique Gold. I do not like the new Antique Gold color, as I feel it looks somehow cheep, but I am in the minority.
Upon picking up this guitar one is immediately aware that this is a heavy guitar. No, I am not calling it heavy because of the sound of the powerful P-90s. This guitar is physically noticeably heavier than a modern Les Paul Standard. The body and neck of the guitar are made from mahogany, and there is a carved maple top on the front or top of the guitar. Modern Les Pauls have weight relief holes, 9 of them in fact, the goal of which is to reduce the heavy weight of the mahogany body. None of the Custom Shop Reissue Les Pauls have weight relief holes. However, they are not as heavy as the originals, which were made with a heavier, denser mahogany than those in production today. Does a heavier guitar mean more sustain or better tone? Not really, and I shall discuss the density vs. porosity of wood controversy with regard to solid body guitars in another review at some point in the future.
The neck of the 1952 Goldtop Reissue is solid mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. The original 1952 was made with Indian rosewood, and modern Les Pauls are made with Brazilian rosewood. The Indian rosewood was stiffer and denser, and added more snap to the sound than Brazilian rosewood. The 1952 Reissue is made with rosewood from Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of the Country of Mozambique. Close, but no cigar. The inlays on the neck are trapezoid in shape and look just like the originals, both in shape and color. Upon looking at the toggle switch plate area, a person familiar with a modern Les Paul will note that plastic around the switch is not there, but the original 1952 Les Paul did not have this extra cosmetic feature, and had only a thin toggle switch washer, as does the 1952 Reissue. Perhaps the most striking feature of this guitar is that trapeze bridge/tail piece. This design was patented by Les Paul himself, but it did not work very well. The bridge and tailpiece are not really anchored well, and the strings can easily go out of tune if bumped into or if playing Townshend-like power chords and I can attest to the validity of this because I tried. It is hard enough to deal with tuning pegs slipping, never mind a poor bridge design. Another design flaw is that the strings wrap around under the bridge, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible to muffle the strings with your right hand, if you are trying for that effect.
As to the playability and sound. Well, it is a Les Paul with P-90 pickups, and nothing else sounds like it. The P-90s are single coil pickups, and preceded the introduction of the humbucking pickups in 1957. The P-90s are noisy and prone to picking up a 60 cycle hum, and as such a bit more effort to position ones body in just the right place in relation to the amp may be necessary at times to reduce noise. Playing in the vicinity of florescent lights is also a potential problem for the same reason. However, the P-90s on this guitar sound great, and supposedly are wound to the same specifications that were used in the 1950s. They produce a very classic and distinctive sound. Power chords and early 60s British rock riffs sound great played on this guitar, but it seemed to sound even better to my ears when playing traditional blues. I must confess however that I did not hear a noticeably different sound from these P-90s as compared to others on different Gibson models. The external controls are pretty much what you would find on any modern Les Paul. There are two volume controls and two tone controls, one for each pickup. However, hidden away in the bowels of this guitar, these controls are attached to Bumblebee caps. These are paper-in-oil molded capacitors that have stripes on them, and the stripes were used to indicate the values of the different capacitors, thus the nickname Bumblebee. Are these any better than the modern capacitors used today? It is all a matter of taste. I prefer the modern electronics, including the potentiometers or pots in a new model Les Paul, as I personally find that there is a more gradual sweep to modifying the volume and tone of the newer Les Pauls. However, one must remember that Gibson was making every attempt to make a faithful reproduction of the 1952 model, not a modern one.
The neck on the 1952 Reissue has 22 frets, which is pretty much standard on most Gibson guitars, but the neck is thicker and more rounded than most people might like, and is certainly thicker than the neck on the Les Pauls that debuted in 1960. Another friend of mine (not the Les Paul collector) likens the feel of the neck to a baseball bat, but that is in my mind a gross exaggeration, and is due to his being a PRS fanatic. However, that is the way this guitar was in 1952, and that is why the neck does not have that modern fast feel. On the other hand, if you are person who prefers a thicker neck, this guitar allows one the extra leverage to really bend strings.
The bottom line for me is this. Even though this is a fine musical instrument, I personally would not buy this guitar, as I think there are better Gibson models, with certainly more tonal variation, and a greater control over intonation. I especially do not like the trapeze bridge/tailpiece. On the other hand, for the collector or the purist, this is a great buy. It may be the only way for a person to own a guitar that is this close to the original sound and feel of a 1952 Goldtop. It is sure to keep its value, and may itself be a collectors item some day. With that being said, I need to get back to my practicing.