Most guitar collectors, or guitar lovers, will be familiar with the ones that Jimmy Page is famous for playing throughout his illustrious career, especially in his Led Zeppelin days: One being his Gibson SG Double Neck, as used on “Stairway to Heaven”, and another being his Fender Telecaster with Fender Showman amp used on the first Led Zeppelin Album. But over time Jimmy’s own favourite guitar became his 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard that he bought from Joe Walsh of The Eagles in 1969.
The first series of Jimmy Page Limited Edition Signature guitars was produced by Gibson USA from 1995 to 1998 as a replica of his favourite instrument.
The project began with Gibson’s luthiers measuring and analysing every aspect of Jimmy’s 1959 Les Paul. They discovered heavy customising and unique characteristics including an unusual hand carved neck profile, that is thinner at the 7th fret than the first whilst becoming fatter at the 12th fret again, and modified electronics allowing each of the four control knobs, two volume and two tone, to be pulled out or pushed in – putting the pickups in and out of phase, series or parallel them and make the humbuckers single coil as well – which enabled some extraordinary tone options. Various combinations create some of Jimmy’s unique sounds.
To replicate the physical characteristics of Jimmy’s guitar Gibson’s luthiers, skilled from an age gone by, carved the neck and body profile to be exactly the same. Each guitar was hand painted individually with a true dark red that perfectly matches Jimmy’s and the authentic flame finish was kept subtle and elegant, the binding was ‘aged’ and the finish hand rubbed to perfection. Grover tuners and gold hardware were installed, just like Jimmy’s, and the proper headstock inlay added. The end result was a labour intensive masterpiece and Jimmy Page was struck by the overall quality. Each guitar was then personally played by Jimmy and received his blessing before being released for sale. Sadly only around 400 received this painstaking treatment and Jimmy’s endorsement. Thankfully the example played by Joseph Calderazzo, in several numbers performed during this 10th Anniversary tour of the Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin Celeberation, is fortunate enough to be one of these first 400. This early batch sold out very quickly with the guitars rapidly becoming one of the most collectible Les Pauls ever made. To keep up with market demand however, and introduce a more affordable version, Gibson then decided to introduce a few time saving build changes, and by the end of 1995 had dropped the time consuming hand carving and hand finishing.
The guitars built since 1996 are still excellent players, but the rare beauty, the feel of the specially carved neck and the unmistakable tone variations sadly disappeared. With the quality of the newer instruments not equal to the earlier ones, the ones that Jimmy’s heart and soul were behind, Gibson ceased production at Jimmy’s request.
In 2004, Gibson revisited the project. They borrowed Jimmy’s original again and produced 26 historically accurate reproductions, right down to the electronics and even the strings Jimmy used. The Custom Shop sent these guitars to Tom Murphy, who aged them and even added the dents and dings that were visible on Jimmy’s guitar. Jimmy’s original, as sold to him by Joe Walsh, had also had the original Kluson tuners removed early in its life, and replaced with Grover tuners. The screw holes of the Kluson and Grovers didn’t match up and Tom Murphy put them in just like Jimmy’s guitar, such was his attention to detail. These guitars had a carved maple top, solid mahogany back and one-piece neck, and the finish duplicates Jimmy’s original ‘Burst, including eliptical neck profile. They each come with a certificate of authenticity (COA) signed by Jimmy and a display case with a violin bow like the one that Jimmy used most famously on Dazed And Confused. Jimmy took each of the finished instruments home and played, signed and numbered them individually. He kept number 1 for himself, so there are 25 more of these beautiful guitars out there somewhere.
The second Custom Shop release, also in 2004, was identical to the first except that there were 150 of these guitars produced and none went home with Jimmy, though they were all aged by Tom Murphy. The third Custom Shop release was the same as the first two but were neither sent home with Jimmy nor aged by Tom Murphy. They are a Custom Authentic version and manufactured from 2004 to present. View this interview with Jimmy Page, conducted at his home in London on 17 November 2003, where he shows and talks about his favourite Les Paul.
By Laurie Sellers