Gibson Custom Shop "G0" VOS Les Paul Standard

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Last Update 12/09/2017

Good Les Pauls from today's production line at Gibson Guitars have been a disappointment.  The quality of the guitars have been wanting with fret dress issues that can cut your hands, poor setup, mediocre workmanship, and tonewoods that don't.  Frankly there are a lot of dogs coming off the Gibson production line.  I've auditioned many in stores, and even stopped at a Gibson Guitar outlet in Nashville TN where there were racks and racks of Les Paul guitars but the ones I played with were not good guitars.  I've just about given up on finding a good one that was new.  The used ones were fetching serious money that was exponentially proportional to how old the guitar is.

My brother has been a Les Paul man since he found his '69 LP Custom in a store in 1979.  That is a very good guitar, and he still has it.  Now it is considered "vintage".  After I landed my first really good guitar, he encouraged me to find a Les Paul or at least an SG with old wood.  I agreed with him, however anything with "old wood" - namely the 50s through 60s - was now out of reach, unless my luck placed me in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes a bargain appears on an internet classified but they sell very quickly - traders and players are scouring them.  They're even scouring flea markets and garage sales hoping to find a family selling a guitar which didn't have any value to them.  They're still out there - even the vintage guitars from the 1950s - but they are getting fewer and farther between.  Sometimes you can find bargains in heavily modified Gibson guitars, such as the single cutaway LP Jr that had nothing original and was missing the serial number - either a neck that was refinished or a stolen guitar.  I wasn't interested in those.

Sometimes I wish women were like my music equipment finds - I find the really good ones when I least expect it.  Such was Black Friday when I was browsing a Guitar Center store and found this used Les Paul hanging on the wall.  By then I had adopted my technique of auditioning guitars by listening to them unplugged, so I took the guitar in the acoustic guitar room where I could "listen to the wood" away from the noise of juvenile guitar players blasting the amps on the floor.  The more I played the guitar, the more I liked it.  I could hear good tone just from the wood, and I could feel both the body and the neck resonate as I played it.  Those are key attributes I look for.  It didn't have any of the quality problems of recent production guitars.

Finish is secondary in my book.  Sure the figured tops are awesome but not top priority.  This guitar was a sunburst "plaintop" without much figuring, but I liked the shading of the sunburst.

Reviewing the tag on the headstock... I found the guitar was new.  Then I looked at the serial number on the back of the headstock - what the heck is a "G0"?  At first glance I thought it was a used guitar because of the pitting on the metal on the pickup covers and the stop tailpiece.  The "faded" shading of the sunburst threw me off too.  Turned out it was a new guitar that had been "aged".  My brother wasn't far away so I called to tell him I found a good Les Paul, and to come to the store with his LP Custom to compare it to.  I hadn't yet plugged it in an amplifier.  My brother got to the store and caused quite a stir when he showed his old LP Custom at the door, they don't see many vintage guitars there.

Time to get down to business, so both guitars went through the audition process.  For every sound his guitar was pulling off, my potential one was keeping up with ease.  My brother said it is the first really good Les Paul he has played in a long time.  Quite a few customers in the store noticed too.  Many of them were peeking around the corner wanting to know where that sound was coming from, with several watching my brother play it.  At that point I decided the guitar was too good to let go, and if I didn't buy it that day then someone else was going to.

It was a bit of a stretch on my finances such that I opened a store credit account to close the deal.  It is the most money I have paid for a guitar, but at least it didn't have a fancy figured top which would had been double the price!  I don't remember why but I had to come back the next day to claim the guitar.  The store told me that several customers were going after that guitar after they heard us play it - boy was I right on that one!  They explained to me that the guitar is a "G0" which is a special edition made for the Guitar Center chain, basically an "R0" (a reissue 1960 "vintage correct") with features specified by the chain.  That explained the serial number.  The G0 guitars are made in the custom shop at Gibson, not on the production line - that explained the exceptional quality.  Being a "VOS" guitar, that explained the "aged" look and the vintage correct finish.  Guitar Center even requested the "long tenon" at the neck joint, which was prevalent in the 1950s guitars and contributes to the tone because the neck and body are coupled better.  The guitar was built in 2006; that year Gibson had requested a sunburst finish similar to a vintage Les Paul in their possession which is pictured on page 120 of the book "Beauty in the Burst", a marvelous book for any guitar enthusiast.  Because it was a custom shop guitar, it came standard with a hard shell case (cases are extra for the production guitars).  Because it was Black Friday, the guitar qualified for a discount which is good considering what I paid for it.  The store sweetened the deal by throwing in a decent guitar stand, one with a securing device for the neck so that precious guitar doesn't get damaged by falling out of the stand.  I also saw it as a theft deterrent should I gig the guitar in clubs.

Right place at the right time - again.

Finish-wise, the sunburst is considered a "honeyburst", one of many names to describe the various shadings of the sunburst finishes of the older Gibson guitars.  The guitar itself was pretty much perfect with one exception.  One of the tuners would not hold the string in tune.  They were Kluson tuners so I went to a local store to grab a guitar strap, straplocks, and replacement Grover tuners.  The store clerk asked to check out my guitar and he loved it.  When I removed the original tuners I found that were not "klusons" at all - they were stamped "made in china" on the INSIDE where it was not visible unless you removed them.  Yet they were stamped "kluson" on the outside... counterfeits in my book, and a violation of import laws.  Straplocks were definitely not counterfeits and were absolute required accessory for a guitar like this.

Other than that, I left the guitar totally stock.  The pickups sounded great, no need to change them out.  Closer comparison to my brother's LP custom showed a slight difference in tone and his having more sustain.  His custom works better for hard rock and metal, mine works better for blues and southern rock.  He and his son like to play the guitar when they visit.  I happened to find at least three more G0 guitars at other Guitar Center stores, and all of them played and sounded as good as mine.  Nice to know the quality of these guitars are consistent, something sorely lacking in production guitars!

Not far from me is a well known vintage guitar store.  I knew they always had a vintage 1958 or '59 or '60 sunburst Les Paul there at any time - they had a national distribution and could find a seller for their vintage guitars, and they were always buying guitars.  I had sold my Gibson RD Artist bass guitar there; the owner got on the phone while examining the bass guitar, a sign that he knew a customer who was looking for one.  He pretty much paid what I had bought the guitar for fifteen years prior, and the bass didn't stay listed on their website for very long.  I took my G0 there and explained to them that I was interested in comparing my guitar to one of their vintage Les Pauls.  Before handing me the guitar they asked if I knew the guitar was worth $300,000, I assured them I knew full well what I was handling.  Playing both vintage and reissue guitars, I couldn't tell much difference.  Plugged into an amp I am sure that the vintage PAF pickups would have the edge.  One of the store clerks asked to check out my reissue.  As he was playing it, he remarked "wow they're getting close".  The store had sold G0 guitars in the past but not one THAT good.

The guitar has a LOT of friends... every guitar player I showed it to loved the guitar, and I know some discriminating guitar players.  One of my friends who is a diehard Strat player became a convert when he played my LP; he eventually got a LP of his own.  Another asked to bring it to a show with his R&B band, and to my surprise he played it on a funk song and made it sound good.  I put a picture of it on Facebook and one very discriminating player asked to bring it to a show so he could check it out.  I brought it before their show started; he played it for less than two minutes, and the next thing I know he put it on his guitar stand behind his amp... OK he's going to play it during the show!!  After the band finished the first song where he was playing my guitar, he stepped up to the mic and said that I was not getting that guitar back - busted a gut on that one.  This player is a Les Paul diehard and it was one of the best ones he had played... and like the others he was amazed that it was STOCK.  Another musician there who I respected had heard about my guitar... I didn't tell him it was mine!!!

About a year after I joined the southern rock band, I brought in the LP to complement the Tele that I was using.  Our lead guitar player asked to check out my LP.  After we got done practicing a couple of songs he was really loving the guitar - I wasn't sure he was going to let me take it home.  That inspired him to seek out a good LP, and he found an excellent one with really good tone and a nicely figured top but unfortunately he lost that guitar to a flooded basement.  I did gig my LP for a couple years, and being well aware how guitars like that can "grow legs" I made it a point to place it where it was harder to grab.  I was always careful to secure it in the truck as I was unloading or packing up.  I'm even cautious carrying it between my house and the truck.  Gibson guitar cases are very distinctive, and I didn't want anybody to even SEE the case and get any ideas.

The G0 guitars enjoy a lively discussion in internet guitar forums, as every G0 owner was a very happy one.  When they had to thin out their collection of guitars, they kept their G0.  I posted a picture of my G0; several members loved the finish, and one member of notable recognition re-posted my picture in the WTB section seeking to buy a Les Paul with a similar sunburst finish.

For a keyboard player whose 2nd instrument is guitar, I sure have developed an ear for tone... now I need to focus less on guitar and more on keyboards!

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