Ed Driscoll

LES IS MORE

I used to play guitar extensively from about age 17 until about 25. Over the past few years, after I moved out to California, I’ve been resuming my playing a bit, and also experimenting with home multitrack recording of music. (see my post here on the subject).

Over the past few weeks (I dropped it off after my day of jury duty, back on April 23rd), I had my 1982 Gibson Les Paul Custom electric guitar rebuilt by C.B. Perkins of San Jose. They basically took a 20 year old axe that had been very, very heavily played and abused by an exuberhant college-student with pretensions of Pete Townshend-hood and gave it a 50,000 mile tune-up, which included re-leveled frets, headstock repair, new circuitry…and a third pickup added, to better resemble the Les Paul Customs of the late 1950s.

(I won’t bore you with a complete post-graduate doctoral thesis-level history of the Gibson Les Paul, which I’m quite capable of doing. But there were basically two popular versions of the guitar in its “golden era” of 1957 through 1960: the Les Paul Standard, which had a sunburst-style finish, such as this model. The Customs of that period were black with gold hardware. If you really want some Les Paul guitar minutia, visit these folks.)

Here are a couple of photos of my new/old axe. I love it. It not only looks nice, it’s a real icon of Americana. One of the things I like about the three pick-up Les Paul Customs that were made from 1957 until 1960 is the sort of tension between the very rich tuxedo or piano black finish, and the three gold-plated humbuckers. It seems like an instrument perfectly at home in America’s 1950s optimistic, exuberant can-do, but still elegant and innocent period. It reminds of Cadillac coupes from that era–very elegant interior and exterior, you could drive it to any destination–an expensive restaurant, a wedding, etc., and yet there are those rocket fins and aircraft style taillights–as if it wants to go into orbit at any moment.

That duality is reflected in the music the Custom is capable of. When I listen to the electric guitar playing in the jazz orchestra on Gil Evans’ elegant Out of the Cool album from the early 1960s for some reason, I picture the three pickup “black beauty”. But if I put on my laser disc of The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, I can watch Keith Richards raunch out on that same guitar.

And I like something that contains both elegance and exuberance!