Lot #1 in what Christie's calls "The Exceptional Sale," an auction later this week, is one of the most influential instruments of the past century: Les Paul's #1 Gibson Goldtop, the first approved prototype, his son Gene says, of his father's now-iconic electric guitar.
Correspondent Anthony Mason said, "It still makes a pretty good first impression – it is stunning. It's absolutely beautiful."
"And the next part to stunning of how it looked," Gene Paul said, "is how he played it!"
Mason asked, "What did this guitar mean to him?"
"Everything," said Gene. "This was his crowning achievement. This was 30 years of experiments, of his dream, and his obsession with getting Gibson to make it."
Gibson rolled out its first Les Paul in 1952. It was soon embraced by the guitar gods of rock 'n' roll: The Eagles' Joe Walsh, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, and The Stones' Keith Richards all played a Les Paul.
"It's one of those perfect rock 'n' roll machines," said Kerry Keane, of Christie's. "It has the ability to be driven at very high volume with a distortion level that is appealing and wonderful."
Les Paul, who died in 2009 at age 94, was a guitar god himself. In the Fifties, with his then-wife, Mary Ford, he had 28 hit records, including his signature tune, "How High the Moon" (1951):
His quest to create a hardbody electric guitar had started when he was growing up in Wisconsin, when a fan passed him a note after a performance, as gene Paul recalled: "And he said, 'I could hear your voice fine. I could hear your harmonica fine. … I couldn't hear your guitar.'"
"And that bothered your father?" asked Mason.
"Well, I don't think it bothered him. I think it lit him up!"
One of Paul's early iterations he called "The Log," which he showed to Jim Axelrod for "Sunday Morning" back in 2002. It consisted of "a door hinge, a string and a block of wood."
It was hardly his only invention. Paul also pioneered multi-track recording, as he demonstrated with Mary Ford on the CBS program "Omnibus with Alistair Cooke" back in 1953, when the guitar made its TV debut:
Paul is the only artist inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Inventors Hall of Fame.
Mason asked Gene Paul, "Was he as proud of being an inventor as he was of being a musician?"
"Being a musician is why he invented," he replied.
As Les Paul himself put it in 2002: "Love to play, love to entertain, love to make people laugh, make 'em happy."
Christie's has put a $100,000-150,000 estimate on the instrument. But Gene Paul wonders how you value history.
When Mason asked What he hoped would happen to the guitar, Paul replied: "I'm gonna miss it, but I miss Dad more. He said to me one time, he said, 'Do you realize how many light bulbs Edison made before he got it?' And that kind of rings in my mind. 'What's Edison's first bulb worth?' That's how much it meant to Dad."
UPDATE: The Les Paul #1 Goldtop realized a final sale price of $930,000.
For more info:
- Christie's: The Exceptional Sale, live auction on October 13 at Christie's, New York
- Gibson: The Les Paul Collections
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: George Pozderec.
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