Why do people consider the old Gibsons the best?

Raymond Lin

Member
Messages
3,039
Specifically the late 50's.

Now, with technology, knowledge, skills that are bettered from generation to generation. Why do we consider Gibsons in the late 50's to be the pinnacle of Les Pauls?

Surely they can make the same quality guitar now as they did 50 years ago with absolute ease?

1 - Is the wood used better back then?

What made these wood so special and if its the way they were treated and cared, can we not do the same to wood these days?

2 - Are the electronics better back then?

Electronics always get better, unless there were materials used 50 years ago not found on earth today...I see no reason why they can't make the same pickups they were back then? What is stopping them exactly?

Why don't people consider the modern day £2,000 Les Paul Standard the same quality as the old ones?
 

Dr. Tweedbucket

Deluxe model available !!!11
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47,932
IMO vintage instruments are somewhat over rated. There were good and bad examples just like today .... probably more-so because the build from guitar to guitar wasn't as accurately checked / QC'd as they are today. I don't know what happened in the 70s .... for cryin out loud, what an embarrassing era for USA manufacturing. :messedup

Anyway, :red back in the 50s, the wood was obviously better .... they could select better trees to chomp down. In the 70s and beyond, many of the trees were farmed from less desired soil (mineral rich wood made heavy guitars). Electronics ... well, in the 50s a lot of things were still primitive. Resistor and cap tolerance was something like +/- 20% :dunno ... BUT they were made from mojo materials that worked well for great tone!

Maybe the hap-hazard manufacturing is what gave some of those early, original guitars their charm. If you got a good set of pups and a good chunk of wood, it may be a golden instrument that can't be matched today.
 

73Fender

Member
Messages
3,982
Because they were built in the Heritage factory?:D

Seriously, many factors, rarity, old wood, "perceived value".

I'm sure there were duds and jems.
 

Coldacre

Member
Messages
9,848
electronics... there's no differences. old stuff is easily replicated.

the wood, that's the difference. the argument is old wood was given longer time to grow and it dried naturally, as opposed to kiln dried today..... the wood responds differently and many say more favorably
 

C-4

Member
Messages
13,532
IMO vintage instruments are somewhat over rated. There were good and bad examples just like today .... probably more-so because the build from guitar to guitar wasn't as accurately checked / QC'd as they are today. I don't know what happened in the 70s .... for cryin out loud, what an embarrassing era for USA manufacturing. :messedup

Anyway, :red back in the 50s, the wood was obviously better .... they could select better trees to chomp down. In the 70s and beyond, many of the trees were farmed from less desired soil (mineral rich wood made heavy guitars). Electronics ... well, in the 50s a lot of things were still primitive. Resistor and cap tolerance was something like +/- 20% :dunno ... BUT they were made from mojo materials that worked well for great tone!

Maybe the hap-hazard manufacturing is what gave some of those early, original guitars their charm. If you got a good set of pups and a good chunk of wood, it may be a golden instrument that can't be matched today.

This.

Keep in mind that when these guitars first came out, the design and detailing was more intricate, such as the dish carve, etc. Later on as Gibson looked to :"streamline production", due in part to customer demand going up, they started cutting into the time it took for some of the details that were used on the original models, so as to be able to turn out more product. The small details such as extended neck tenon, one-piece necks, etc., were changed over. It was less costly to make a 3 piece lammed neck with a 14 degree peghead pitch, then it was to make a one-piece quarter sawn neck with a 17 degree peghead pitch.
I spent one week, on two different occasions, at the Kalamazoo plant as Gibson's guest. I stayed at the home of the service foreman, who's department not only did repairs, but was what is now considered the custom shop. I met a lot of the workers there and had a chance to spend time with them. I was also not restricted to specific areas, but had the run of the plant. This would not be allowed today. The original builders of that era Gibson did not have to deal with the amount of guitars needed today, so they could take more time. There were more luthier types at the company who were there for many years then just carpenters or woodworkers. People back then had a different mindset and the company took better care of them then Henry does. While it was business, it was more relaxed and family-like in nature.
The plant manager was Ken Killman, and he was a really nice person, who went out of his way to make me feel at home.

It was a wonderful place to work.
 
Last edited:

riefil

Member
Messages
774
Some people have posited, in regards to materials, some of wire, magnets, laquer etc., will not be the same today. Mainly because of safety regulations, chemical dangers etc of some of the old materials. They simply can't be replicated due to some of the components being outlawed. I don't know if this is true or not, but it's an interesting theory.

Phil
 

Dale

Member
Messages
10,310
Why do some people think old cars are best? Old books? Old xxx?

They were all hand constructed and used old growth lumber grown under different climatic conditions. They have aged, which has changed the wood properties some. The pickups are pretty variable (PAF's) but some are very special. However it is the "old" part that makes them collectable as I would see it.
 

Shelby 412

Member
Messages
115
I also think cherry picking over the decades distilled certain outstanding freak guitars. Those guitars found their way into the hands of the players and collectors who knew the great ones from the good ones. From that point on those guitars became precious, cherished, and eventually passed down as holy grails. The other good versions got used up or parted out. What remains are the sweethearts. Not every vintage guitar plays well or sounds like a dream. In fact they had way more inconsistency than modern high end guitars. Also the mass produced mid level guitars built on cnc machines today are light years ahead of the entry level guitars from the golden era. The fit and finish of say a $400 Agile LP copy is pretty amazing. Just add your favorite electronics and you have a very playable instrument.

That said, there is just something mystical about a vintage guitar. We all lust them.
 

Tweedledee

Member
Messages
1,331
There's mystique and a history with old guitars. Even if you don't know the history, you know that it's there. And old guitars sometimes (often?) feel better in your hands because they've been worn in.

As far as sounding better - that's just something we tell ourselves because we want it to be true. :D
 

LanEvo

Member
Messages
697
I have a couple of "Golden Era" Gibsons: a '56 LP Junior and a '59 Melody Maker. Compared to modern versions (like my Custom Shop LP Junior), the vintage ones are lighter and much, much more resonant. When you play them unplugged, it's shocking how loud they are. That resonance, combined with unpotted, slightly microphonic pickups gives the guitars a lively tone with a certain "depth" to it.

It's very impressive when you plug them straight into an old single-end triode amp, like a Fender Champ or Gibson GA-5 Skylark. The difference between old and new is unmistakable.

However, if you plug them into a modern high-gain amp with a bunch of pedals and everything, then you really can't hear a difference. In fact, newer guitars have a smoother tone and less feedback pushing a loud, distorted amp.

So, I would say the "magic" comes from:
  1. Large pieces of old-growth wood. Both my '50s Gibsons have one-piece bodies. Most modern guitars (even Custom Shop versions) use multiple pieces of wood glued together. And, of course, it's all farmed wood these days.
  2. Slightly microphonic pickups. They help bring out the natural resonance of the old-growth wood bodies.
  3. Deep-tenon neck joints. Lots of modern Gibson-style guitars seem to use shallow neck joints, often with a pretty sloppy fit and big gobs of glue filling the dead space. You don't see that on the old stuff.
I really think it's as simple as that.
 

TNJ

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
28,773
Ever played an old/vintage Gibson in good condition?

I have played a few, and noticed that (generally speaking):

1)They are lighter weight, in general, probably due to moisture loss.
2)They are a bit more resonant than their younger counterparts.
3)Tonewise...they range from good to unbelievable in my hands...overall.

The absolute standout for me was our own Dana Olsen's '59 ES335...stock.

Through a Comet 40B 212 combo...playing this guitar in a studio room was almost a religious experience. I've never played a 335 before or since that came close.

Runnerups include his '57 LP Jr., and a '56 Les Paul Fretless wonder given to a granddaughter by her recently passed granddad...both just unreal tonally and super lightweight.


My .02,

S.
j
 

sliberty

Member
Messages
3,944
Fewer pieces of wood, not 11lbs heavy, Brazillian Rosewood fretboards, higher degree of hand craftsmanship, better quality metals used for hardware, finishing techniques that resulted in very individual looking instruments (ok the materials were not so good though), and most importantly:

Most of our favorite music was created with those old classic instruments.
 

sliberty

Member
Messages
3,944
I kept this last reason separate because it is a matter of taste - neck profiles. I hate what Gibson is doing today with thin flat back necks The big round necks and even the medium round necks ate much more pleasing to me. but your milage may vary.
 

73Fender

Member
Messages
3,982
I have a couple of "Golden Era" Gibsons: a '56 LP Junior and a '59 Melody Maker. Compared to modern versions (like my Custom Shop LP Junior),:console When you play them unplugged, it's shocking how loud they are. That resonance, combined with unpotted, slightly microphonic pickups gives the guitars a lively tone with a certain "depth" to it.

It's very impressive when you plug them straight into an old single-end triode amp, like a Fender Champ or Gibson GA-5 Skylark. The difference between old and new is unmistakable.

However, if you plug them into a modern high-gain amp with a bunch of pedals and everything, then you really can't hear a difference. In fact, newer guitars have a smoother tone and less feedback pushing a loud, distorted amp.

So, I would say the "magic" comes from:
  1. Large pieces of old-growth wood. Both my '50s Gibsons have one-piece bodies. Most modern guitars (even Custom Shop versions) use multiple pieces of wood glued together. And, of course, it's all farmed wood these days.
  2. Slightly microphonic pickups. They help bring out the natural resonance of the old-growth wood bodies.
  3. Deep-tenon neck joints. Lots of modern Gibson-style guitars seem to use shallow neck joints, often with a pretty sloppy fit and big gobs of glue filling the dead space. You don't see that on the old stuff.
I really think it's as simple as that.
FWIW, There is a you tube out there of a comparison of a few newer LPs and an old one, the old one was much more resonant. It is the two kinda funny dudes who do a lot of comparisons..forget how to find it..
 

Luke

Senior Member
Messages
11,898
People did not consider them the best until Appetite for Destruction came out. Prior to that exposure, Les Pauls were out of favor and trading at historical lows versus inflation. And just because they are vintage now doesn't mean they were awesome then or are now, just like anything, there are good examples and poor ones. The difference is, after you drop 200k on a guitar, you convince yourself you got one of the bestiest ones. So by default they all become awesome. No one ever says, "I got one of the dogs", because they want to be able to recoup their investment on resale.
 

omfg51

Member
Messages
2,916
Don't you know?? EVERYTHING was better back then!!!!

Honestly, there are plenty of great guitars that were made in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, early 2000s, and in the last few years as well.

The aura surrounding vintage instruments is not a new thing and the market for them is plenty old.

Have you ever played a 56 Esquire? Or a 64 Jag? Honestly, I'd never own an instrument like that, but when you're holding it, you've got a real piece of history in your hands, and you really understand that.
 




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