Every guitarist knows Gibson guitars: existing since 1902, this manufacturer started in 1952 to produce on of the most legendary guitar models: the Gibson Les Paul. Initially, the production of this guitar has been pretty laborious, and the sales numbers grew very slowly. This is way the production has been discontinued after a short time (at the beginning of the 1960s). Guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and many more bought the cheap second-hand models and made the Les Paul a legend.
As is well known, the Les Paul has been produced in numerous types and variants, but it was not until 1993 when they decided to revive the roots of this model by producing reissue models of the Les Pauls of 1958 to 1960.
This project seemed to be quite optimistic or maybe ill-though out because those guitars deviated in many aspects from the original. Many Les Paul fans were pretty disappointed and there were numerous discussions about this concern on the internet.
Regularly, there have been small alterations of the Custom Shop models. 2004 for example, there were some guitars with fretboards that were made of the vintage-correct, but at those days already protected rosewood. Nevertheless, there were several other aspects that have been forgotten to mind.
Therefore, some detail-loving musicians charged a well-experienced guitar-builder to optimize their Custom Shop Les Paul. The lacquering has been removed for a new nitrocellulose lacquer and the neck carve as well as the top carve have been altered. Of course, this doubled the price of the instrument and – in my honest opinion – can’t be the intention of the initial producer.
Since 2013 there is the Les Paul True Historic which is supposed to get the closest to the original. Several optical aspects (like pickup covers, pickup mounting rings, binding, knobs, toggle-switch cap and washer) and some acoustic important elements (like the truss rod or the glue for the neck) have been corrected.
Especially the way how the neck and the body are put together and the kind of glue are important concerning the sustain and the fact that it took Gibson 20 years to rectify that, seems somehow embarrassing to me.
Another weak point is the tone capacitor. Of course, for several years, there are Bumble Bees built into the Custom Shop models. But in fact, these “Bumble Bees” are only optically historical correct oiled paper capacitors which are only film capacitors coated by an according cover.
Oiled paper capacitors are also available separately and the replacement of the fake-“Bumble Bees” by real oiled paper capacitors is pretty easy. The acoustic improvement is definitively perceivable, and it is worth it.
Surely, looking into the inside of your beloved Les Paul, you will not see the visual pleasing “Bumble Bees” but I guess, most guitarists attach more importance to the sound than to the visual appearance of the guitar guts.
With every new Custom Shop model, Gibson announced that this model will get the closest to the Original. This is why I am pretty keen to see what alterations the next model will offer. Of course, there are enough old Originals, the Gibson guitar-builders can use for orientation.
In the end, the purely optical changes like hand-painted knobs or the alteration of the peghead veneer are primarily aspects for those who love the vintage-look. How todays legendary 1958 models sounded in their time can not be verified anymore because the recording technique developed rapidly and the memory performance of the then performing artists might not be enough to allow an objective comparison.
Doubtless, the ravages of time involve a certain coloring that can hardly been imitated even by the best guitar-builders. And, at the same time, there are definitively guitars today, built by capable people, that to the one or the other, sound better than one of the old Originals.
To conclude, it can be said that the old Originals or course look beautiful and you can’t go wrong by orienting towards them. It is up to each one to decide how much it is worth.