Guitar Safari gold: Vintage 1954 Gibson Les Paul Model (Goldtop!)
Posted on February 06 2020
This is the 1954 Gibson Les Paul Model (the Goldtop!) from the guitar safari a few weeks ago in San Diego, CA. If you’re following on Instagram (@truevintageguitar) then you probably saw the guitar safari in the Instagram stories but also saw the second Goldtop that I bought a few days after I got back from the guitar safari! The second one is from 1955 and I bought it from the son of the original owner. It was originally an all gold wrap tail bridge LP (more on that term later) but was sent back to the factory in the late 1960s for a full refinish and update to tune-o-matic bridge and Bigbsby B-5 tailpiece. It’s still housed in its original case. That one is coming up soon after I get a little time to enjoy it. I'm always looking for clean examples of vintage Gibson Les Paul guitars. You can reach out to me here to Sell My Vintage Gibson Guitar.
History: Gibson’s Les Paul artist signature model debuted in 1952 and was kind of a rebuttal to the Fender Broadcaster model it viewed as crude and unrefined. They agreed to use the bridge designed by Les Paul himself but an engineering mixup led to the neck pitch being such that the strings wrapped under the bridge instead of on top! It’s possible that the low mounting of the bridge position P-90 pickup was part of the reason for this decision but either way, many early Les Pauls’ strings wrap under the bridge and are therefore difficult to palm mute while playing. The neck pitch was corrected and the bridge redesigned to the wrap tail style bridge in mid 1953.
This killer example from 1954 features an excellent neck angle, attractive gold top finish Gibson used on the Les Paul Model until transitioning to Sunburst in 1958, and wrap tail style bridge with excellent geometry. It weighs in at 8lb 14oz and has no prior breaks, repairs or finish work. Let’s chat neck dimensions: Gibson standardized the 1 11/16” nut width in about 1947 and didn’t decrease it to 1 9/16” on Gibson guitars until 1965 (hey, that kind of matches President Ted McCarty’s tenure at Gibson?!). The profile is a C shape that is kind of flirting with a V shape. The depth measures .91 at the first fret and a full 1” at the 12th fret measured with my full throat digital calipers (link in description if you’d like to pick one up for yourself!).
Book recommendation: Have you picked up your copy of The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy 1915-1963 (https://amzn.to/3727FUT). Check out page 94 to see a picture of the “rare swirled pickup cover”. I remember looking at the pictures of this one that the seller sent me and thinking that the pickup covers looked original but not what I expected. Now I know why! I have really enjoyed this book on Vintage Gibson Les Paul guitars and I think you will too. It’s a nice way to enjoy vintage Gibson guitars without dropping 5 figures cash.
A note on “wrap tail bridge with excellent geometry”: Gibson utilized its “metal combination bridge and tailpiece” (as the catalog described it) we know as the wrap tail bridge on the Les Paul Model from 1953 until 1955 when it introduced the Tune-O-Matic bridge with stop bar tail piece carried over from the Les Paul Custom. The wrap tail bridge remained on the Les Paul Junior, TV Model, and Special but was redesigned with deeper bridge posts and bushings to combat the potential to lean forward after being subjected to constant heavy gauge string tension. The bridge posts on this ‘54 are still very straight and don’t seem to suffer from significant post lean like many do. It’s an easy enough fix if the posts do start to lean. An experienced luthier can remove the factory bushings, install the slightly deeper bushings of the post-’56 wrap tails, and use long bridge posts. Problem solved but it’s not necessary on this guitar.
You can find over 70 pictures inside and out of this beauty here: https://truevintageguitar.com/products/1954-gibson-les-paul-model-goldtop. Be sure to stick around for the neck pickup cavity, pictures of the P-90 pickup bobbins and coils, control cavity, etc.