1958 Gibson Reissue

I have been using nothing but a Les Paul all my short but not entirely uneventful life. I used Les Pauls for recording my first and second CD, and until recently, wherever I perform in Hong Kong or Japan I used a Les Paul. The Les Paul was my shadow and I never leave home without it; it is simple is a case of nothing-is-good-enough-but-a-Les-Paul. There are of course two schools, the Fender School and The Les Paul School. Few people sit on the fence and fewer could stand the arguments for the other school. A Fender is a simply piece of wood with a bolt on neck, the sound is thin, twangy and just doesn’t have the meat. In short, it is just a cheap and reliable Japanese car, reliable but has no class or refinement. Some signature series of Fender ask for over HK$15,000.00. I would rather give that amount to the Community Chest. The Gibson is a real piece of art, fully contoured body, dovetailed neck joint, body binding and tilted headstock, two (sometimes 3) humbuckers, strong out put, crunchy and meaty; in short a Rolls Royce, something classy and refined. Why be a beggar when you can be a king? Well, then and again you are listening from someone from the old Gibson Schools. In a word, I hate Fenders and would not be seen dead with one but I will die with a Les Paul anytime.

A closer view of the 1958 Reissue


Alas, in explaining the special attributes of Les Paul, you have to mention the Fender. Quite besides the workmanship, the sound of the two are completely different. A few things account for the difference in sound between the two :-
(a) Scale length. The two guitar employs different scale length and that affects the sound;
(b) Pick-ups. The single coil is cleaner and shaper and the notes travel “faster”. The humbuckers is chunky and meaty and the notes travel slower.
(c) Neck joint. The Fender neck is bolt-on, secured by 4 screws whereas the Gibson neck is dovetailed into the body of the guitar. This makes immense difference when it comes to tone and timber. A lot of vibration is lost when the neck is simple attached to the body thorough 4 screws.

Now not every Gibson sounds good; as a matter of fact, most of them don’t sound very good. The standard Les Paul production models are going for something like HK$12,000.00. With that kind of money, there are many choices open. Music Man is one of the obvious choices, Ibanez another, Yamaha yet another. You might not be able to tell whether a Gibson sounds good or very good until you have compared a production model with one of the Historic Series Les Paul. A poor man at his hut and a rich man at his castle. The Les Paul Reissues are simple the best guitars in the worlds. The sound is rich, the tone is full and creamy and craftsman top of the pile. All you need to do is to plug it into any amplifier and it is difficult to get a bad sound. The 58 and 59 Les Paul Reissues have different neck joints, much deeper and more sophisticated than your production model. In terms of appearance, it is difficult to tell the difference. Some tiger strip Classics look very good indeed but the sound is often disappointing.

In releasing the Historic Series, Gibson has paid attention to the last detail; from every single screw, every pick-up down to the dye on the guitar are virtually identical to the original guitars made in the late 50’s. The booklet that accompanies the my 58 Reissue stated that the dye used in the 58 Les Pauls were unstable and will seep through to the binding on the neck after a few weeks of the guitar being played and that should not be considered a defect. What nonesene, I thought. I was so surprised when after a couple of weeks’ playing the binding on the neck was stained red. Incredible. But it really shows how proud the Gibson people are and how meticulous they have been in faithfully reproducing instruments that belong to a by-gone era. With the Gibson Historic series, Gibson basically reproduced the 58 Les Pauls with all the virtues of the 1958 models but also with all the faults. Here are a few things you would want to bear in mind when you are thinking about spending your money :-

1. The machine heads of the Reissues are unreliable, strings just go out of tune. This is so particularly the G strings. I suppose when the Gibson people made the Les Pauls in the late 50’s they never had in mind the stringing bending that modern players found they cannot live without. Do not use strings like than 0.10. The Les Paul is not meant for taking strings lighter than 0.10.

2. The guitar constantly goes out of tune if you do a lot of bending and often the strings actually go sharp instead of flat after bending. The cause of all this is the nut. The slots on the nut are simply not well defined and often trap the strings. Enlarging the nut plus a few drops of WD 40 will solve the problem.

3. The spur shape saddle cuts the strings like a saw. You need to file and round up the v shape spur otherwise you will spend more time changing your E string than playing. This can be a real trouble when you are on stage and the strings keep breaking. When you play regularly, you just learn all the faults of your instrument.

4. The “baseball bat” neck. This is a major problem for players who do not have big hands or a big finger stretch. The neck is very thick and you left hand gets tired after about half an hour. As the neck is thick, you have to work so much hard to get your had round the neck in bending strings and in the end you lose a lot of control and dynamics fighting against the neck. I have my the neck on my 58 and 59 Reissued reshaped and trimmed down to suit my playing. This is one factor you really have to consider. After paying for the guitar, you most probably would have to spend money need someone to trim down the neck as well. After all, it is not just money, you have to find someone reliable enough to do the job in trimming down the neck and applying the dye and laquor to the operated areas. This is a big headache.

Now if you can put up with all that and, of course, if you can afford it, you will have no regrets buying a 58 or 59 Les Paul Reissue. These guitars will deliver the sound and tone of the real thing; or as close to the real thing as one can get. You will feel in your hands a piece of history, you cannot help but admire the finishing, worship the flamed maple tops and savour the beautify of these instruments. This is vintage red wine. You have to taste it to understand. These guitars are so beautiful you could almost smell their fragrance. I would certainly be buried with one when I go.

Just a few words on getting the best sound out of a Les Paul. The bridge pick-up is the warmest but it is also very bassy. What I do is I trim down the bass and turn the tremble and presence of the amplifier all the way up and use the tone button on the guitar to control the high end. If you want a sharper tone, the bridge pick-up is the obvious choice. You will feel a drop in out put when you switch to the bride pick up. The way to compensate this is to make sure you have the volume knob of the neck pick up no higher than 8 and have the volume of the bridge pick up on full. You should also adjust the bridge pick up as close to the strings as possible but just enough to avoid string pull from the pick up.


1959 Reissue

With the Les Pauls, the weakest part of the guitar is the titled neck. By make the neck tilted, the grain of the wood is broken and this makes the neck very brittle. Always put a Les Paul on a stand, never lean it against an amplifier. Once the neck is broken, you will lose the sound even if it is fixed by a Class A repairman. A Les Paul, unlike a Fender, is not a guitar you can throw around. It is a guitar that requires love and care and attention.

Lastly, these instruments are meant to played and not left lying in their hard case for occasion exhibition when a friend calls. You should use them at every opportunity, that is the only way to get their worth. If I buy an expensive overcoat, I will wear it at every single opportunity even when I go to the fish market.A 58’s Les Paul costs around HK$32,000 to HK$35,000.00. Whether a block of wood with some screws and a few metal parts are worth that kind of money is up to you. But all I can say is if you can get over the problem with the thickness of the neck, you will not regret a single moment. You will, most likely, like me, end up getting another one.