As an iconic instrument in the music industry, not only has the 1959 Les Paul become a legend, but it has also attained the highest, most acclaimed value in quality and investment. The 1959 Les Paul is widely regarded as the most desirable electric guitar ever manufactured. It has achieved such heights on the collector’s market.
Indeed, the 1959 Les Paul is a legendary guitar by anyone’s standards, but why exactly does it stand out from all the other models produced by Gibson? In this article, we’ll take a look at the unique attributes of the 1959 Les Paul and learn about its history and how these elements make it such an iconic guitar.
Why is the 1959 Les Paul special? Widely regarded as the holy grail of all guitars, the 1959 Les Paul was used by several guitar legends such as Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton. It was the most advanced solid-body electric guitar by Gibson at the time.
What is the 1959 Les Paul?
The Gibson 1959 Les Paul guitar was in production from 1958 to 1960. Its physical features include a solid mahogany body, mahogany neck, Brazilian rosewood fretboard with trapezoid inlays, PAF pickups, and cherry sunburst finish.
The sonic characteristics of the 1959 Les Paul are noted for their smoothness and warmth thanks to the even frequency response across the whole range of its controls, which makes it suitable not only for lead but also rhythm playing styles.
The 1959 Les Paul has a special place in history as one of the most important guitars ever created and one of Gibson’s most recognizable models. According to Tony Bacon, author of Million Dollar Les Paul and 50 Years of the Les Paul, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard “represents the pinnacle of imaginative design and masterful craftsmanship.” This is because the guitar has become the holy grail of guitars in the minds of professionals and collectors the world over.
What makes the 1959 Les Paul so special?
1959 Les Paul’s Hardware
The original 1959 Les Paul, otherwise known as’ Bursts, came into production for only a few short years between 1958 and 1960. In hindsight, its production represents a benchmark of guitar evolution.
At the time, it was the most advanced solid-body electric guitar the music world had ever seen. The 1959 Les Paul was literally maxed out on all special features one could think of that made the guitar a classic.
Cherry Red Burst
In 1959, the original Les Paul Standard was given a fresh makeover in a colorful cherry red sunburst. Gibson used a lush, semi-transparent cherry sunburst finish to the model to showcase the potential beauty of the carved maple tops used on Les Pauls, which typically displayed finely figured quilted, flamed, or tiger-striped maple.
The 1959 Les Paul also featured the PAF humbucker pickups invented by Gibson engineer Seth Lover. The “Patent Applied For” (PAF) pickup, first introduced in 1957, became one of the greatest tone icons of all time. Aside from eliminating the hum in Gibson guitars, the PAF pickup also enhanced the fuller, warmer, and more sustaining tone that has come to be known as Les Paul’s signature sound.
Another thing that made the 1959 Les Paul iconic is the better neck feel than its 1958 or 1960 counterparts. David Davidson, a vintage guitar collector and CEO of Songbirds Guitar Museum, explained in a MusicRadar interview:
“I think  was the year Gibson really got everything right. In ’59 they had the big neck but they also had the big frets. In ’58, you also had the big neck, and the frets are smaller. In 1960, unless you get a very early production ’60, you get a thinner neck and the big frets. You don’t get the big neck and frets unless it’s very early 1960. I think that most people like that feel, that larger neck, and it’s much easier to bend the strings with the larger frets.”
“I think the artists that wound up playing ’59s played them because of the bigger neck and frets… it was kind of the perfect storm,” he added.
The rarity of the 1959 Les Paul
Gibson only shipped 643 Les Pauls in 1959 from the Kalamazoo factory, which makes it extremely rare. Considering all the other factors, including its special features, it should come as no surprise that 1959 Les Pauls are some of the most expensive vintage guitars in today’s market.
While it is common knowledge that Les Paul guitars are pricey, a 1959 Les Paul guitars commonly have six-figure prices, according to Forbes. A well-preserved 1959 Les Paul with a prized flame maple top might easily reach $500,000 or more.
Despite being reissued several times, nothing has since quite lived up to the virtues of the original 1959 Les Paul in the minds of many players and collectors who believe Gibson guitars are worth the money. To them, specific construction processes and materials used in the past are irreplaceable. Because of this, collectors are willing to pay top dollar for an original standard production model of the 1959 Les Paul.
Legendary Players of the 1959 Les Paul
The desirability of the 1959 Les Paul is also due to the legendary guitar players such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and Slash. They used it as their main axe, further pushing the iconic image of the guitar in music culture.
In 1964, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones began playing a sunburst 1959 Les Paul Standard, making him the first “star-guitarist” to play in the British scene.
In 1966, George Harrison used a 1959 Les Paul when recording Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) with The Beatles.
In 1967, Jeff Beck played a 1959 Les Paul in his band The Tridents before joining The Yardbirds.
The 1959 Les Paul is closely associated with rock and roll because of its popularity among guitar heroes like Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. Beyond its association with these musicians, though, Gibson’s Les Paul has an unmistakable look and feel that—even sixty years later—remains unmatched by any other electric guitar.
For all these reasons and more, there will never be another Les Paul—and as an icon of electric guitar design and popular music in general, music fans have reason to celebrate it forever.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.