Iconic Les Paul Prototype Goes to Auction
Guitar experts say there's not much the "Black Beauty" has left in common with its Gibson descendants.
The prototype that inspired Gibson's enormously popular Les Paul guitar models is going to a Guernsey's auction tonight in New York City.
The "Black Beauty" was guitarist and inventor Les Paul's personal instrument during the height of his career in the 1950s. Historian Peter S. Kohman with Retrofret Guitars in Brooklyn says the solid-body electric guitar is nothing like the thousands of instruments branded with the Les Paul label.
"Les was a tinkerer and he had his own ideas about what he wanted," Kohman said. "He loved the exposure the Gibson guitar deal gave him, but he didn't really want anyone else to have his secrets. He basically took the guitars that Gibson made for him and he tore them completely apart. It's like he took a stock Ford and he made a racing car out of it."
Kohman says Paul's creative genius is his true musical legacy.
"He pioneered the concept of 'you're not actually recording the performance of a band in a studio; you're creating something layer by layer,'" Kohman said. "An album like the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band wouldn't have existed if Les Paul hadn't invented the multi-track recording system."
Kohman says the Black Beauty's value is that it embodies the personality of the man who laid the technical foundation for how modern records are made.
"So this is kind of the alchemist's tool," Kohman said. "When he was creating a lot of his most famous stuff, this is what he had in his hands."
Kohman says the guitar's an important historical artifact. He says he hopes its new home will be a museum or other public venue.
The New York Times has reported the guitar could fetch as much as $2 million at auction.