House Guest

Guess who came to dinner? 57 goldtop, that's who.

I generally don’t like having house guests. You kind of feel like you have be entertaining and, of course, they eat your food and keep you from doing really important stuff like mowing the lawn and sleeping.  They promote bad behavior too, like drinking and staying out too late (don’t forget, I’m not a kid any more). Well, this week I had a different sort of houseguest. Didn’t eat, didn’t drink, didn’t even talk to me (but it did speak to me)…Said houseguest kept me up a good part of the night. The houseguest was no kid either at 56 years old and had been around the block a few times.  My guest was a 57 Les Paul Goldtop. I had it for 24 hours and spent a fair amount of time with it. I had gone up to Boston to pick up that ’58 ES-335 and a friend who is also a dealer asked if I could pick up a 57 dark back goldtop Les Paul for him. So, I said “sure, as long as I can keep it for a day so I can play it.” Being the rare and expensive guitars that they are, I don’t get a chance to play them very often. The first thing that struck me was the size of the neck. I have small hands but I like a pretty big neck but this one was beyond my range. The nut width at 1.70″ was no problem but the depth at the first fret at .94″ and well over 1″ at the 12th made my hand cramp after about 15 minutes. My 58 at .88″ is plenty big for me-even that feels a little large in my hand. Les Pauls feel heavy to me even though the actual weight is often nearly the same as a 335. I don’t know if it’s the weight distribution or just the solid feel of a block of mahogany vs a 335 with its plywood, air and maple block. But I have to say, I liked the guitar. I liked the way it sounded. The harmonics jumped out, especially at the higher frets and the sustain was superb. ES-335s and their brethren sometimes get a little out of whack at the body join and, with the tendency of the fingerboard to rise slightly, the frets get too high and the sustain suffers. Granted, I don’t play much up there, but the LP was quite spectacular up in the stratosphere. I also have to say that the similarities were more striking than the differences. Playing the 57 LP side by side with the 58 ES-335, I found the two guitars to sound nearly identical in the bridge position. The neck pickups were rather different but I could dial them in to sound the same with the tone knob. The middle position, which I rarely use, had the most variation but I find that same thing when I compare two 335’s. I did like the look of the stainless steel covers on the 57 pickups though. Perhaps if I’d had access to great LP’s when I was a kid, I would be writing about them instead of 335s but, strangely, I never played a humbucker equipped Les Paul until the 1980’s-long after I’d been hooked on ES’s. I think I played one P90 gold top during the 60’s and recall not being impressed (it was a 52 or 53 with a trapeze). I do recall the first time I ever saw one, however. John Sebastian was playing it on “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” or one of those shows and I recall thinking it was odd looking with its little body. I didn’t catch the “burst” fever perhaps because it was in black and white. Anyway, it was fun to have a vintage Les Paul for a day and to get to know what makes it tick. If you have one that needs a vacation, you can send it to me here at the seashore in Connecticut. I’ll be glad to put it up in the guest room as long as it doesn’t pee on the toilet seat.

Hanging with it's younger friend, the 58 ES-335 and a very young '60 Tremolux.


8 Responses to “House Guest”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, now that’s the kind of house guest I wouldn’t mind either. Maybe I can swap you my mother-in-law for it? Ha, ha…BTW, the best sounding and playing PAF Les Paul I ever owned was a near mint ’57 Goldtop…mine had the cream colored pickup rings and dark finish on the back. It was the only one of four 1959 and 1960 LP Standards (including one tiger stripe ’59 and the rest plain top Bursts) I regret selling. I also had an uber-rare original 2 PAF ’59 LP Custom that was killer. I agree a good ES can easily keep up with a humbucking Les Paul. I also sympathize about the weight “thing”. Every time I strap on my ’56 LP conversion after playing my ES guitars it feels like a boat anchor. At 8.8 lbs it isn’t an especially heavy Les Paul either…

  2. OK Guitars says:

    I’ve never owned a 58-60 burst but I have had a few LPs. The best of them was a 68 GT with P90s. Blew away the 56 I had. The R9s I’ve had were just OK-even after I dropped real PAFs into them.
    Trade your mother-in-law for a 57 Les Paul? Can she cook?

  3. RAB says:

    Charlie, unfortunately she isn’t a great cook, ha, ha!

  4. Butch says:

    Hi Charlie, Did you get to see the black Trini at the show Sunday, was it the one that you sold, the guy seemed to only be looking for an estimate, what did you think?

  5. UnboundDotNeck says:

    Looks killer , Charlie
    Lucky you !

  6. OK Guitars says:

    I did see it. It wasn’t the one I sold-that one was a 67. This is a 66. I made the guy a very fair offer and he took it. It’s up on my Gbase site now.

  7. Butch says:

    That’s great. I didn’t handle it because I didn’t have, or expect to need that kind of money at that show, but it looked great to me..

  8. OK Guitars says:

    It’s a very nice one. Necks a little narrow for me but very playable. Nice pickups too-I’ll bet anything they are early patents-they aren’t opened so I’ll never know but T-tops are seldom over 8K and the bridge pickup on this one is 8.something-I forget.

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