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Gibson '59 Les Paul Sunburst

The most Iconic, Lusted-After Guitar in the World


It's not everyday that a piece of history walks in the door. But on a beautiful spring day here in Santa Monica, that's exactly what happened. While plenty of historical, legendary, highly collectible and valuable guitars have been thrown down on the front counter at Truetone Music (or, in a back room), there are none that have reached the level of this one....


Known as the Holy Grail of electric guitars, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard 'Burst is considered the pinnacle of Gibson’s golden age. The Les Paul Standards from 1958 to 1960 are among the most collectible vintage guitars in the market, with the 1959 model as the most highly coveted of all. The company officially shipped only 643 Les Pauls in 1959. Not all have been accounted for. Now, over 60 years later, these have become mythical creatures in the guitar world - sought after, argued about, and discussed endlessly. They are rarely seen, and even more rarely ever available on the consumer market.

 

The Les Paul was originally designed for Jazz music... but it's particular characteristics made it especially important to rock music. You could say that, to an extent, the instrument itself played a significant role in shaping the sound of rock. The 59 Les Paul in particular was a true lightning-in-a-bottle moment for the electric guitar. Everything from the woods to the electronics to the craftsmanship would on their own be enough to immortalize the instrument. The idea that every one of these things could be achieved at such an unbelievable level and combined into one instrument... is it any wonder that the 59 Les Paul is as sought after as it is?

So, how did one end up in our hands? We'd love to tell you a crazy story involving grizzled old-timers, eccentric billionaires, international con men, espionage and a high speed car chase. Or even just a relentless hunt that led us to a crazy desert compound or the basement of a rock legend. But, that's not how it came to be. This is much more simple: good fortune and good relations.

A long time regular, frequent customer and friend of Truetone Music came in one day, announcing that it was time to part with a guitar of his. As he put it down, we knew it was a vintage Les Paul, judging by the case. As he opened the case, that's when everything stopped, and we realized what it was. He confirmed that it was what we thought: a '59 Burst. The Holy Grail of electric guitars, with a stunningly beautiful top, a perfect fretboard, and the original pickups still in place. Right there in front of us.

The story of how he got it is great: purchased in the early to mid 1980's when he was a young man, he had to borrow money from his dad. While the amount wasn't large compared to what guitars can go for today, at the time it seemed unheard of. His dad thought it was ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars on a guitar built decades before, but understood the situation enough to agree to it. The guitar was bought. From whom? Well, that's an interesting side-story too: it was purchased from Vic DaPra - the man who literally wrote the book (multiple books) about the '59 Les Paul. In fact, the guitar has been featured in the books.

These have become mythical creatures in the guitar world - sought after, argued about, and discussed endlessly.

After the deal was done, the guitar sat at his parent's house in the midwest, as he was too worried about it to subject it to a trip across the country. Eventually, he did bring it to California, where it sat safely in his own house, barely touched. Apparently, he was so concerned with damaging that guitar, that in 30 years, he only played it for 10 - 20 hours total. This is someone that has bought and sold a lot of guitars with us over the years, and never once did we know he had it. Yet, here it was. And, he was looking to move it.

This is where the story gets even better, and we turn it over to another long time regular, frequent customer and friend of Truetone Music: Brian Ray. The legendary guitarist, currently part of Paul McCartney's band (plus an esteemed solo artist in his own right) is a prolific guitar collector. We'll let him tell the story in his own words:


Brian Ray


At 13 years of age, I used to drop a quarter in the slot of the Number 9 bus from my neighborhood into Santa Monica almost every Saturday to tour the music stores. I’d start off at Dee’s Coffee where I’d order lunch at the counter, usually a big side of fries and a Coke. I’d get all psyched up to visit every pawn shop and guitar store in town, starting with Ace Pawn and Loan, continuing up the road to Bay Music on 3rd St, to Cunningham Music on Lincoln, ending with my favorite shop of all, Ace Music at Santa Monica and 7th.

That place made my heart race, with vintage and new guitars mounted on three walls, floor to ceiling. Amps lined the pathways and a big bowl of guitar picks that read “Purloined From Ace Music” on them. Hank and Jack tolerated me for hours every weekend, where I’d often hang out til closing time.
 
Shoot forward several decades and you’ll find me doing the same thing at Truetone Music, right across the street from where Ace Music once stood. Truetone feels like an old school music store, yet modern and sharp, with a clean new remodel and friendly, helpful staff.

Imagine my surprise when Paul Flynn, my go-to luthier of 40 years texted me a photo of 2 guitars he was prepping to sell. I couldn’t believe my eyes when one of them was a very clean, gorgeous Sunburst 1959 Les Paul Standard, the holy grail of vintage guitars. These are rare and highly sought after, the hunting, chasing and ensuing shark feeds that they cause is truly legendary. I saw and played it, and I found it to be all original, clean and as resonant as a Stradivarius violin, with vibrant holographic “flame” figuring on top. Within a week we had a deal with Paul and Sunir, the co-owners of TrueTone. This kind of thing hardly EVER happens so easily. This was the easiest, most memorable transaction in my many years of collecting great instruments.
It’s as if Hank and Jack sent them to me!

We at Truetone Music were proud to have made this happen, and couldn't be happier that it went to a player/collector like Brian Ray. We know that it will get put to great use. It's rare that something like this comes together as well as it did. Enjoy the photos and try not to drool too much!

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