Friday, 14 August 2009

The Les Paul – Object Of Desire!

With the passing of Les Paul, I thought I'd offer a few personal reminiscences concerning the instrument he created...

When I was a kid, owning a Les Paul was very, very high on my 'to do' list. I wasn't particularly interested in Strats or Teles or even acoustic guitars; I just wanted a Les Paul. I even had pictures of people playing them taped to my bedroom wall!

This was around the dawn of the 1970s and it was still very hard to find anything with either Gibson or Fender on the headstock out in the provinces where I lived. If you were after the real thing you had to travel to London, which wasn't particularly difficult for me, seeing as I spent a few years at school there. And so it was that I became one of the all-time guitar clichés: a kid with his nose pressed against the various windows of guitar shops on Denmark Street and Charing Cross Road. A friend of mine and I would make a regular lunchtime pilgrimage to those shops and dream of the day when we'd actually get to pick one up, let alone own it!

When I left school I got a job and saved hard for an electric guitar. Alas, a Gibson was beyond my means and so I opted for a Shaftesbury Les Paul copy in black instead. It took me three very hard months of saving, but eventually I went over to a music shop in Staines, Middlesex and put the money down. I can still remember arriving home with my new pride and joy – the shop had thrown in a rose-covered guitar strap and I didn't even care that it wasn't very rock'n'roll. I was in love...

The trouble was, I didn't have an amplifier. That had to be saved for separately and took me another gruelling few months. Meanwhile, my only recourse was to travel to my fellow window shopper school friend's house to use his – and he lived around 40 miles away!

I played a couple of gigs with the guitar and it sounded good enough, but not like the 'real thing'. At the time, I didn't understand why, believing it must be my lack of chops – not knowing that a plywood body and a pair of cheap humbuckers are never really going to do the same job as solid mahogany, maple and Gibson's overall finesse.

When my fortunes changed a little and I was at last able to upgrade, I still couldn't afford a Gibson Les Paul and so I settled for an SG for £150 from one of the same shops in London that had a groove in their window where my nose used to fit. It was a nice guitar, but it still wasn't a Les Paul.

In the ensuing years, I went through many guitars, bands and phases. There was a jazz archtop phase, a Strat phase, then another Strat phase and so on. Fast forward to 2001 and I was in the Guitarist magazine offices one day when a Les Paul Standard arrived for review. We bonded. I bought it. So after years and years of pining for a 'real one' I now have one sitting in my closet waiting for me to get over my current 'acoustic phase'.

One of the other cases in there contains the original black Shaftesbury Les Paul copy. It might not be a real one, but it carries a lot of sentimental weight, believe me!

RIP Les – and thank you.

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