The History of Gibson’s “Burst” by Year

Nearly 70 years after the first Sunburst Les Paul, hardly any other model rivals the desirability and fame of the iconic “Burst” produced from 1958-1960. At Well Strung Guitars, we’re incredibly fortunate to have several examples from each year of Burst production. In the following text, we’ll describe the year-to-year differences during this golden age of Gibson’s history. 

Copy of the May 1958 ledger showing two “Special Finish” Les Pauls

By the mid-50s, Gibson’s Les Paul production consisted of the Junior, TV, and Special as “entry” level options, the Goldtop as the “standard”, and the Custom as the “deluxe” model. While initially popular, sales and shipping totals for the Goldtop sharply declined after 1954, with shipping totals going from 2,245 units shipped in 1953 to 862 just two years later. Despite upgrading the Goldtop with humbuckers in 1957, it was clear Gibson needed to make a big change to keep the model interesting to consumers, and most importantly profitable. This change occurred during the summer of 1958 when the gold finish was deemed a big reason for this sales slump. Before the Summer NAMM Show, Gibson dropped their gold finish and instead offered a striking cherry sunburst option as the new Les Paul Standard. 

As listed in the Gibson Catalog

1958

Hardly anything besides the finish changed from the ‘58 Goldtops to the ‘58 Bursts, with all of the specs carrying. This translucent finish forced Gibson to adjust their maple top installation from mismatched pieces of wood and often off-center seams. Each Les Paul now received a book-matched maple top with a center seam for a clean aesthetic. Each top had its own identity, with some more figured or flamed than others. This created a lot of variety and personality from guitar to guitar. 

The 1958 Standard is notable for having the largest neck of the three-year production, with a few examples from our inventory measuring as big as .96” at the first fret and 1.02” at the twelfth fret. The fret wire used was the same standard Gibson sizing of .07” wide. The Kluson single-line Deluxe tuners and the ABR-1 bridge also remained the same from the 1958 Goldtop. The PAFs were all black bobbins at this time and used Alnico magnets and #42 enamel-coated wire for the windings. These early PAFs generally range in the 7.5K to 8.5K output range; great for crisp cleans and strong overdrives. Due to production starting mid-year, the 1958 Burst is the most limited with Gibson shipping ledgers putting the total for the year (including some Goldtops) at 434 guitars. The Les Paul Standard retailed for $265.00 in 1958, and the Brown Lifton Hardshell Case (instead sometimes a shapely case known as the “Cali-Girl” Case) went for $47.50. 

1959 

1959 marked the model’s first full year of production. Today, these are also the most sought-after examples due to a few minor spec changes. Bursts produced in early 1959 feature a slightly more refined neck shape, often measuring .92” at the first fret and 1” at the twelfth amongst examples found in our showroom. Later in the year, this change was paired with a slightly wider fret wire to make playing and bending easier. Another minor difference is that some of the PAFs now featured white-colored bobbins; simply because Gibson’s supplier had run out of black plastic! As a result, some PAFs are a mixed set of black and white bobbins (‘Zebra’) and some are both white bobbins (Double Whites). These changes are the only real differences over the year before, with everything else remaining more or less the same. Shipping totals for this year increased to 643 Bursts.

For 1958, 1959, and even some early 1960 examples, it was quickly noted that the aniline-based red dye used on the top rapidly faded. This dye was extremely sensitive to UV light, and could almost completely disappear if left exposed long enough. Since many of these guitars were displayed in shop windows to catch customers’ attention, as a result, many surviving examples from these years have faded tops. Remnants of the red are normally preserved under the pickguard and pickup cavities, and these areas more-or-less represent the original shade of the now-faded red.  

1960

This fading issue was addressed in the following year, amongst other small adjustments. Early 1960 examples (known as the ‘Double 0s’ for their ‘0 0XXX serial numbers) are extremely sought after because they share all of the same appointments and specs as the 1959 examples, fading and all! Early on in the year, the necks were thinned down to a very slim, almost flat profile. Some of our examples measure .8-.84” at the first fret, and the twelfth fret neck depth ranges from .88-.94”. The wider fretwire remained unchanged throughout the year, as well as the rest of the components. The biggest visual difference is the UV-resistant cherry red dye used for the sunburst in the second half of 1960. Many of these examples have nearly the same vividness as when they left the factory over 50 years ago, and have taken on the moniker of “tomato soup” burst due to the especially bright shade of red! Shipping records show that 635 Les Paul Standards were completed this year, for a total of roughly 1,500 pieces since 1958. 

At the close of 1960, despite the overhaul and striking Sunburst finish, sales did not improve and a more extreme change was needed to improve sales. The entire “Les Paul” design was abandoned across the entire line, and the bold “SG” shape was released under the Les Paul Model name. Thus ends the short, but indelible run of the Les Paul “Burst”. Most of the popularity of this legendary model came almost a decade later when the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, and many others were seen playing a Burst in the late 60s into the 1970s. Naturally, many players wanted to emulate these incredible players. Check out our other blog post on Led Zeppelin’s gear used on their Royal Albert Hall performance HERE to see one in action!

Works Cited

Duchossoir, André R. Gibson Electrics – the Classic Years. Hal Leonard, 1994. 

Fuzzfaced.net, Les Paul Standard – Burst Mania,    https://www.fuzzfaced.net/les-paul-sunburst-1958-1959-1960.html

Meiners, Larry. Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-1979. Flying Vintage Publication, 2001. 

“Vintage Gibson Solid Body Model Descriptions.” Vintage Guitars Info, www.guitarhq.com/gibson5.html. Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Guitar Highlight: Jack Penewell’s 1932 Gibson Twin-Six

We’re honored to have such an incredible piece of history – this remarkable guitar is a 1932 Gibson “Twin-Six” Double Neck, custom-made for guitarist Jack Penewell.

Born in 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin, Penewell began learning lap-steel guitar in high school, and it wasn’t much longer until he was performing in Vaudeville acts throughout the country. Penewell was an incredibly popular guitarist throughout the 1920s, appearing on numerous radio stations and recordings. These live radio performances marked his big break and expanded his audience greatly. In turn, Penewell became one of, if not the most popular guitarist in America during his time. His biggest hits include “Hello Aloha” and “Hen House Blues,” which both exhibit Penewell’s mastery and creativity on guitar. In the earlier 1920s, he placed a custom order with Oscar Schmidt Stella for a fretted ‘double six’ guitar, or as Penewell dubbed it, the “Twin Six.” Penewell explained his desire for a double-necked instrument as follows: 

“My main reason for inventing the Double-Neck guitar was to get a wider range of harmony and chords, as you were very limited on only six strings no matter how you tuned it… I used to do a lot of solo work, sometimes using four guitars on stage all tuned differently. Not only that, but if you should break a string on the stage in front of a large audience, you were up against it and it would throw the whole guitar out of tune. So here was a very good point for the double-neck. Also, combining the major and E-7th tunings together made a sensational effect”

Penewell is credited with inventing multi-necked guitars in both Hawaiian and Spanish styles and even developed a guitar with four necks as early as 1924. He continued to use this layout for the rest of his career, playing both Spanish fretted and Hawaiian Lap Steel styles! 

Looking closely at this example from 1932, we can see a few “firsts” for Gibson. This guitar is widely considered to be the first and perhaps only acoustic double-neck Gibson ever made. The words “Sample” can be seen inside of the body handwritten on the top bracing. It features a 4-3/4″ thick body with a spruce top, highly figured maple back and sides, and a gorgeous pair of curly mahogany necks with intense figuring throughout. One of the coolest parts of the guitar is the conjoined headstock, which is custom-inlaid with Penewell’s name and his signature name for this model, “Twin Six.” Adorning the headstock are twelve gold Grover Sta-Tite tuners that still work well and even retain some of their gold plating. Since this is a lap steel guitar, the “frets” on both necks are actually flat inlays. Luckily, we have one photo below of Mr. Penewell illustrating how he’d hold and play the guitar, wearing several fingerpicks on his right hand for quick and precise control. The neck closer to the player is tuned to standard ‘EADGBE’ and the further neck is tuned to ‘DGDGBG’. The original bridge seems to have been secured to the top of the body with three bolts but has since been replaced with a handmade bridge. The original still remains in the case. The guitar has been professionally and meticulously cared for, with a repair history included. This particular double-neck is truly a stunning piece of Gibson and music history. For more pictures and specs, head to the listing here!

Penewell using his Gibson Twin-Six

Works Cited

“Jack Penewell and His Twin Six Guitar.” WISCONSINOLOGY, wisconsinology.blogspot.com/2011/02/jack-penewell-and-his-twin-six-guitar.html. Accessed 12 Mar. 2024.

Jack Penewell, ‘Steel Guitar Design Changes’, Music Studio News 14/1 (1956)

Jack Penewell Collection, 1897-1973 – Catalog – UW-Madison Libraries, search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/999825268902121. Accessed 12 Mar. 2024.

“Steel Guitar Ace: Photograph.” Wisconsin Historical Society, 19 July 2011, www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83303. 

Guitar Highlights: Sandy Coker’s Leather Wrapped 1959 Telecaster

In the early 1950s, a new fad emerged that still excites and awes us to this very day; the hand tooled leather wrapped guitar! Deeply rooted in Country and Western, the leather wrapped guitar style became a way for stars to promote their brand and style. It paired extremely well with cowboy boots, hats and nudie suits and completed the look a lot of musicians were going for at the time. It also happened to protect the instrument from the wear and rigors of touring throughout the country night after night. Several mega stars of the time, such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, were seen sporting guitars with leather wraps, and droves of other musicians soon followed. These wraps were often made by the artists themselves, like Buddy Holly who made a wrap for his J-45, or other local craftsman would perform the work.

In terms of construction, the leather wrap would just cover the body, with the front section of leather highly decorated with flowers, western themes and usually the musician’s name. This was done by moistening the leather, and pressing heated tools into the surface to permanently emboss a design. A long thin leather piece wrapped around the entire perimeter of the body, while the front and back pieces were stitched along the corners. Once installed, the wrap would be securely fastened and would require undoing the stitches to remove the wrap from the guitar body. We’re lucky to have a later 1970s leather wrapped guitar made for Roy Orbison, where the two halves are held together with velcro so the wrap could easily be removed! More often than not, electric guitars were the primary candidate to be leather wrapped, as covering an acoustic guitar would dampen the sound drastically. 

We’re extremely lucky to have a few original examples from the era, and we’d like to highlight this particular example from 1959 that belonged to Western Swing guitar player Sandy Coker! Sandy came from a very musical family where his older sister Alvadean, and father Alvis Sr. were both professional musicians. By the time he turned 13, the trio had moved to Hollywood, and were signed with Abbott Records as “The Coker Family.” Sandy and his older sister performed together throughout the 1950s, and later he ventured into his own personal projects. 

Looking at his guitar, right away we can see a beautiful contrast between the dark stained leather, and the white stitches and white raised design. Up close, you can see the sheer time and precision needed to work the leather to form the design, and running your hand over the wrap to feel the texture is unbelievable. The painted white flowers and “SANDY” have taken on a beautiful cream-like patina, and some of the black areas show traces of brown highlights. It also appears to protect the colors of the leather wrap, the whole shell has been clear coated for a slight sheen.

Underneath the wrap, we can see the untouched Blond finish poking through in some areas. The craftsman who performed this work for Mr. Coker signed his name on the back of the leather as Ron McCarn. This guitar must’ve went on to be Mr. Coker’s favorite, as evidenced by the wear throughout and that the back of the neck has been played to bare wood for an incredibly comfortable feel. Some other small modifications, such as the large screw string tree and wooden switch tip, really bring Mr. Coker’s personality to life; and they’re all perfectly preserved in this piece! On the back there seems to be two holes through the leather into the body, most likely from the “Go Around” Waist belt popular at the time. As if that all wasn’t enough, the matching tooled leather strap with “SANDY” in white is also included!

For more information and images of the guitar, check out the full listing here.

Works Cited

The Coker Family. “We’re Gonna Bop: The Complete Coker Family Recordings on Abbott and Decca: 1954-1957.” 

McKee, David. “Sandy Coker – Meadowlark Melody / Toss over – London – …” 45cat.Com, www.45cat.com/record/hl8109. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024. 

Sandy Coker | Discography | Discogs, www.discogs.com/artist/2050038-Sandy-Coker. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024. 

Gear Breakdown: The Beatles Rooftop Concert

Of all the legendary performances throughout the 1960s, few matched the spontaneity and uniqueness of the Beatles’ January 1969 concert on top of Apple Corps HQ in London. With the 55th Anniversary of the concert coming up at the end of this month, we felt it only fitting to spotlight this legendary event. With cables and equipment strewn about, all of the gear and instruments used during the performance were on full display. For this blog, we will focus primarily on gear used by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.

1965 Hofner 500/1, 1966 Epiphone Casino, 1969 “Rosewood” Telecaster

This surprise concert is immortalized on the Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, including four (or five, depending on the version) tracks recorded during their rooftop performance. Providing an even more in-depth look, Disney+ released an AI-remastered documentary titled “Get Back” in 2021. Using footage shot before, during, and after the performance, this doc provides a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the concert. After several tense sessions at Twickenham Studios working out new material, the Beatles set the date, January 29th, 1969, to take to the roof and surprise Londoners with a sneak peek of their new material. After bad weather pushed the date to the 30th, it was now or never for the impromptu concert. 

For clarity, we will focus on each band member’s equipment individually, starting with Sir Paul McCartney. He uses his trusty 1963 Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass throughout the performance, sans pickguard, adorned with a blue (it appears green in the documentary due to the film restoration process) “Bassman” sticker, undoubtedly from the silver face Fender Bassman amp he’s plugged into for the duration of the performance. It seems that throughout the sessions and rooftop concert, Paul is using Rotosound black nylon tape wound strings on the bass for a slightly different output and feel. During rehearsals at Twickenham Studios, Paul used another one of his original Hofner basses that he had refinished (and was later stolen while he was with Wings). 

Moving onto John Lennon, he is seen throughout the studio sessions and live performance with his trusty 1965 Epiphone Casino. George and John acquired Casinos after seeing Paul play his small headstock 1964 Casino on the track “Ticket to Ride.” This instrument was initially finished in Sunburst. After using the guitar extensively throughout their 1966 live tour dates, John first modified this Casino while recording Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by spraying the back of the guitar with black and silver spray paint. Shortly after, the guitar was stripped down to its bare maple and mahogany wood finish and sealed with a thin clear coat. By this point, its pickguard was also removed. This is how the Casino appears during the Rooftop concert and how it remains to this day. John relied on the Casino’s hollow construction and dual P-90s to give a throaty, distorted tone, which he used to great effect, especially with his lead guitar track on “Get Back.” 

John is plugged into a silver face “drip edge” Fender Twin Reverb amp for the entire show. In the lead-up to the concert, John was seen playing presumably a 1967 or 1968 Fender Bass VI in Sunburst, mostly on tracks like “Let it Be” or “The Long and Winding Road” when Paul played the piano. 

Lastly, we have George Harrison, who used his custom-made Rosewood Telecaster. While John’s Casino and Paul’s Hofner are synonymous with the Beatles and famous in their own right, this Rosewood Telecaster became one of the most memorable instruments from the Rooftop concert. As explored in our other blogs, Fender feverishly experimented with the Telecaster model throughout the late 60s, as seen through their many prototypes and the development of the Thinline Telecaster.

Built by Fender Head of R&D Roger Rossmisel and assisted by Phil Kubicki, the Rosewood Telecaster prototype built for George featured a two-piece back and two-piece front, with a thin veneer of maple sandwiched between the two slabs of rosewood. To alleviate some of the weight from the incredibly dense rosewood, the guitar’s body was chambered to make it easier to play for long periods. The Rosewood neck is made like a slab-board neck, where the truss rod is inserted from the top, and the fretboard is glued over that. The electronics were completely standard for a catalog Telecaster at the time, and the overall guitar looks to be sealed in a matte finish. In the footage from the concert, you can see that George, like John, has his Rosewood Tele plugged into a silver face “drip edge” Fender Twin Reverb amp.


This Rooftop Concert would be the Beatles’ last public performance of their storied careers. All the gear used, clothing worn, and even the weather experienced are immortalized in the images and sounds recorded that day. Luckily, with modern technology, a new generation has been exposed to this legendary event in stunning high definition, thanks to Peter Jackson’s Get Back. If you haven’t seen it after reading this blog, check it out on Disney+!

Cover Photo Courtesy of Apple Corps

Works Cited

Babiuk, Andy. Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments, from Stage to Studio. Backbeat, An Imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation, 2015.

Jackson, Peter, director. Get Back, Disney.

Poulter, Rory. “The Beatles and Their ‘winter of Discontent’ in Twickenham Wins Fans around World in New Landmark Documentary.” Twickenham Nub News, 18 Apr. 2022, twickenham.nub.news/news/local-news/the-beatles-and-their-winter-of-discontent-in-twickenham-wins-fans-around-world-in-new-landmark-documentary.

Woolhouse, Luke. “Celebrating 50 Years – The Beatles Rooftop Concert Gear Guide.” PMT Online, PMT Online, 29 Jan. 2019, www.pmtonline.co.uk/blog/2019/01/29/celebrating-50-years-beatles-rooftop-concert-gear-guide/.

Early Guitar Plastics

Throughout the 20th-century guitar-building golden age, manufacturers continually pushed the envelope with their instruments’ craftsmanship, playability, and use of emerging materials, namely their plastics. At present, it’s outlandish to think plastic goods were once considered rare. However, it wasn’t until World War II that plastic was brought to the forefront of manufacturing materials. Before plastic, natural materials such as bone, ivory, and tortoise shell were used for various purposes, such as pickguards, inlays, and binding. Along with wartime complications, companies had long faced shortages and high prices due to overhunting and government regulation. This disrupted the means of production and supply chain and forced companies to modify the materials used in fabrication.

One of the first viable commercial “plastics” used was celluloid. This compound was commonly used in combs, small boxes, and other small household items towards the end of the 19th Century and was later utilized in film for cameras. Celluloid is synthesized by first “nitrating” cellulose, combining it with sulfuric and nitric acid that is then rinsed, drained, and dried. This leaves the chemist with nitrocellulose. Next, the nitrocellulose is then kneaded with fillers, dyes, and other chemicals, such as Camphor, to create a gel. This gel can then be pressed into a finished sheet and cut into squares of celluloid. This is obviously a very brief simplification of the full chemical process, so for anyone interested in the exact science, we recommend the journal linked at the bottom of this blog post in our works consulted.

Celluloid became the go-to material for components like binding and guitar picks. This material also became the standard for pickguards, especially in an imitation tortoise pattern commonly seen on guitars of the era. “Green” pickguards seen from Fender in 1959-1964 also use this celluloid material.

Aside from their flammability, one drawback to these early plastics is that they are prone to shrinking, warping, and “off-gassing.” Off-gassing can occur randomly when the plastic and trapped chemicals inside the object break down. You will often see fogging or an oily appearance on the surface, and the fumes commonly corrode metal components surrounding the plastic. 

The next giant leap in manufacturing came with injection molding, which allowed manufacturers to easily create 3D molded objects, like knobs and pickup covers. Essentially, liquid plastic is pumped into metal forms, leaving some of the mold’s marks and seams visible. Fender used this technology extensively, especially on the Stratocaster. We’ve written about this type of plastic specifically on our earliest Stratocasters in our blog post here. As discussed in our previous blog post, this well-known “Bakelite” plastic is actually polystyrene, infamous for being as fragile as porcelain. In some cases, you can see the swirling of poorly mixed plastics as they were injected into the mold. This flaw is easiest to see on pickup covers.

Early 1954 Stratocasters, both with “bakelite” Polystyrene plastics

As Fender sought a more robust material to improve this fragility, they found their answer in 1957 with the newly invented ABS plastic. Still widely used today, ABS is a mixture of various compounds and chemicals forming a reliable plastic that can easily be used for injection molding. This also explains why plastics on Fenders of this era can have a yellow tint, as this plastic tends to yellow with time. 

To bring this full circle into the modern day, new plastic materials such as Delrin, PVC, and Nylon are currently used, in addition to ABS. There’s still something magical about those early plastics, and even more so in the way they age, whether it be the subtle warping of a celluloid pickguard, the smokiness of an ABS pickup cover, or even the fragility of a polystyrene tone knob. Each example harkens back to a time when the industry was just in its infancy! 

Works Consulted

Calvosa, Antonio. “Stratocaster Knobs and Pickup Covers.” FUZZFACED, www.fuzzfaced.net/stratocaster-knobs.html. Accessed 7 July 2023. 

Kelly, Martin, et al. Fender: The Golden Age. Cassell Illustrated, 2011. 

Reilly, Julia A. “Celluloid Objects: Their Chemistry and Preservation.” JAIC Online, 1991, cool.culturalheritage.org/jaic/articles/jaic30-02-003_3.html.

Smith, Richard R., et al. Fender: The Sound Heard ’round the World. Hal Leonard, 2009. 

Wheeler, Tom. The Stratocaster Chronicles: Fender: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat. H. Leonard, 2004.

Early Stratocasters with Tremolo Cover Serial Numbers

Following the 1950 release of their wildly popular “Blackguards,” Leo Fender wanted to design a new guitar that he hoped would soon eclipse anything else on the market. As local musicians often dropped by the Fullerton factory to show off their homemade modifications to their Fender guitars, a new iconic guitar emerged out of these suggestions.

One of Leo’s favorite “guinea pigs” to field test these new modifications was legendary Western swing guitarist Bill Carson. We have Mr. Carson to thank for the highly comfortable contours on the Stratocaster after he stunned Leo with the rounded forearm contour and hack-sawed tummy contour he added to his Telecaster. Fender borrowed the initial body shape design from the Precision Bass, further refined by Freddie Tavares, and combined it with Mr. Carson’s contouring to create an exceedingly comfortable and ergonomic body shape. The necks on this new model were identical in construction to that of the Telecaster and Esquire, made wholly of maple with a walnut “skunk stripe” in the channel for the truss rod. The significant deviation from Fender’s previous neck design was with the headstock. It still featured six in-line tuners on one side of the headstock but had a much more exaggerated shape than the Telecaster’s headstock. After perfecting the new Tremolo design and working out the pickups, Leo was ready to present the new guitar. All it needed was a name, and thanks to Don Randall, this model was dubbed: The Stratocaster.

#0102 and #0103

To spread the word of the new model before Fender’s official announcement in April of 1954, roughly 200 Stratocasters were made and given to salespeople to take with them across the country. Fender hoped to dazzle dealers with the revolutionary model, prompting them to order store stock. One unique feature of these sales samples was that their serial numbers were stamped right into the plastic rectangular plate that covered the spring cavity, commonly known as the tremolo cover/plate. This serial series started at 0100 and terminated at around 0300. After this, any mainline Stratocaster received the standard neck plate serial number, this time starting over at 0001.

We’re incredibly fortunate at Well Strung Guitars to have multiple Trem cover serialized Stratocasters for sale in the showroom. It’s fascinating to see them compared to each other and later 1954 Stratocasters from the regular serial series! Since these Tremolo plate Strats were some of the first made, it was only natural that Fender would make changes and improvements as more feedback trickled back to the factory.

One of the most pronounced visual differences between the Tremolo plate Stratocasters and those made after is the absence of an amber tint to the natural wood of the Sunburst. Instead, the center of the burst is merely the coloring of the ash underneath, and only the last few of the Tremolo plate serial number Strats saw amber applied.

The next most notable difference is the shape and composition of the plastic components. More often than not, the plastic components on these early Strats are said to be Bakelite, but according to Tom Wheeler in The Stratocaster Chronicles:

“The single-layer pickguard, knobs, and pickup covers [and switch tip] were made of a brittle plastic similar to Bakelite; in fact, it is often mislabeled Bakelite”

Close-up of Bakelite appointments on a neck plate serialized Strat

In actuality, this material was a polystyrene thermoplastic; an early but very fragile medium for injection molding plastics at the time. All the plastic parts, except the pickguard and tremolo plate, were injection molded, while the pickguard and tremolo plate were stamped out of a different plastic formula. Even then, these Styrene plastics were brittle, and they definitely still are today! The specific shape of the knobs and switch tips were also unique to these early examples. The knobs were a bit more square, with no taper and a smaller space for the numbers, known as the “Short Skirt” knob. The switch tip had a “football” style shape. In age and time, the Styrene knobs and pickup covers can develop a type of translucency, where you can even see the flow of the injection molding process. 

Another trait all of our Tremolo Cover Stratocasters share is a chunky neck. They are quite consistent among the few examples we have. There’s a slight variance in the first fret neck depth, ranging from .93”-.97”, and a twelfth fret neck depth across the board at 1”. The weights of each are also more or less consistent, with them all being about 8 lbs. Like some Telecasters at the time, all of these early Stratocasters came in brown “Poodle” form fit cases made by Bulwin. Fender’s famous Tweed case didn’t appear until late 1954. Initial orders were slow, as Telecaster sales remained strong.

Some research suggest that less than 300 Stratocasters were shipped by the end of the year! As described in Fender: The Sound Heard’ Round The World:

“The Telecaster was still so new. Even when we came out with the Stratocaster, that newness hadn’t really worn off.”

Year after year, sales of the Stratocaster would increase, thanks to the likes of famous artists like Buddy Holly, who were seen performing with the Stratocaster throughout the 1950s. The rest, as they say, is history!

From left to right: 0102, 0103, 0108, 0168, 0189, 0194
From left to right: 0102, 0103, 0108, 0168, 0189, 0194

Works Cited

Calvosa, Antonio. “Serial Numbers: Strats Made in USA.” FUZZFACED, www.fuzzfaced.net/stratocaster-serial-numbers.html. Accessed 18 May 2023. 

Kelly, Martin, et al. Fender: The Golden Age. Cassell Illustrated, 2011. 

Smith, Richard R., et al. Fender: The Sound Heard ’round the World. Hal Leonard, 2009. 

Wheeler, Tom. The Stratocaster Chronicles: Fender: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat. H. Leonard, 2004. 

Gear Breakdown: Led Zeppelin at the Royal Albert Hall

At the end of 1969, one of the most eventful years in modern music history, no one could prepare for the sound that would emerge to define the new decade: Led Zeppelin’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall on January 9th, 1970. The concert meant a great deal to the band, as Jimmy Page describes: 

“The Albert Hall was a massive gig for us, and we really wanted to do the best we could. It was a magic venue. It was built in Victorian times, and you’re in there thinking about all the musical history that has preceded you. On top of that, it was something of a homecoming for John Paul Jones and I, because we had both grown up around there. So we were all really paying attention to what we were doing.”

This concert still stands as one of the best performances of all time because of the controversy around its professional filming. After the show, the footage was quickly abandoned due to technical filming errors and overall poor video quality. However, as with many other Led Zeppelin performances, concert-goers created bootlegs widely viewed for decades until the band eventually released the footage in 2003. 

Regardless of the medium – bootleg or official release – anyone who watches the performance cannot deny the musical power unleashed by the band. As a result, the gear they used throughout the show will forever remain in our collective memory. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the instruments used by John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page.

John Paul Jones (left) playing his 1962 Fender Jazz Bass in Sunburst

Starting with the band’s low-end thump, we can see John Paul Jones with his trusty 1962 Fender Jazz Bass in Sunburst, purchased new in 1963. Jones wields the bass throughout the show, and it continued as his primary workhorse during the Zeppelin years until he retired it in 1975. Like many musicians of the era, Jones has admitted to modifying and reworking some of his instruments, including this bass. However, at the time of the Royal Albert Hall gig, it appears all original, albeit missing the bridge cover and mutes, leaving four small holes under the strings. It seems the Fender headstock decal is also missing by this time, which could’ve easily worn off from the rigors of touring. We have a 1961 Fender Jazz Bass in Sunburst just like it, with removed mutes too! Although ours is the rarer “Stack Knob” iteration, whereas Jones’ has a three knob layout.

Moving on to the three guitars used by the legend himself, Jimmy Page. He used his famous “Number 1” Gibson Les Paul in Sunburst for the first three tracks. Since the back of the neck was sanded down and refinished, and the serial number went with it, there is a debate as to which year Jimmy’s guitar was made. Jimmy famously purchased this Les Paul in 1969, after strong insistence from Joe Walsh, and it’s remained with Jimmy ever since as his primary instrument. At this point, the guitar already had gold Grover tuners installed, and the bridge pickup cover was removed, showing off a double white PAF. He plays this Les Paul for most of the show and uses every aspect of the guitar significantly. As a comparison, below is our 1959 Les Paul in Sunburst, also without pickup covers, sporting a double white PAF at the bridge pickup and a zebra at the neck.

Plant (Left) wailing while Page plays his Burst. Notice the double white bridge PAF!

The next guitar Jimmy uses is his trusty 1961 Danelectro U2 in Black for “White Summer/Black Mountain Side.” This economically made instrument features a poplar core with a masonite top and back, vinyl sides, and two single-coil lipstick pickups. We have a similar, one-pickup model in the shop with a nice bit of wear and patina! Jimmy always used this guitar for “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” and any other song that required slide or alternate tuning, like “Kashmir” later in the decade.

Page’s 1961 Danelectro U2 in Black

Lastly, we have Jimmy using his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom in Black with a Bigsby for both encores, “C’mon Everybody/Somethin’ Else” and “Bring It On Home.” By the time of the Royal Albert Hall show, Jimmy had removed both pickup covers from the bridge and neck position, with a double black PAF in the bridge and a zebra PAF in the neck position. Later in 1970, Jimmy added two more toggle switches on either side of the factory switch for more tonal options and capabilities. Infamously, this guitar was stolen at the end of the 1970 US tour, and it would not resurface until nearly 50 years later. Our example is a clean 1959 Custom without a Bigsby. 

Page and his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom, with Bigsby

Below is a link to the entire performance, which we highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it before!! On the other hand, if you have seen it, join us in awe as we watch it again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvEYDUnAK7Y&ab_channel=MPL

Works Cited

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/752453

https://www.ledzeppelin.com/show/royal-albert-hall-january-9-1970

https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/news/2022/january/no-ordinary-rock-concert-watch-led-zeppelins-1970-hall-debut/

https://www.groundguitar.com/jimmy-page-gear/jimmy-pages-1961-danelectro-dc-2-3021/

Gretsch’s Flightless Birds: A Quest for Solid-bodied Success

Throughout the Great Guitar Boom of the early 1950s, many companies like Fender and Gibson began gearing production towards solid-bodied electric guitars. The legendary rivalry between Fender and Gibson is one for the ages, however these two guitar giants we not the only ones on the cutting edge of this new field. Often overlooked, there was another major player experimenting at this time: Gretsch. 

Located not too far from the Williamsburg Bridge at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn, NY, was Gretsch’s main facility. Gretsch had been manufacturing acoustic guitars since the 1930s and archtop style guitars since late 1949, kicking off their archtop offerings with the Electromatic Spanish Model, a semi-acoustic guitar that featured a lone DeArmond pickup. 

The following year, Fender released the market’s first mass-produced, solid-body guitar, the Broadcaster. Coincidentally, this was a copyrighted Gretsch name as their “Broadkaster” drum and acoustic line. Following a telegram, Fender eventually renamed their model to the Telecaster by 1952. Almost simultaneously, Gibson released their iteration of a solid-bodied electric guitar: the Les Paul. The success of the Telecaster and the Les Paul models and their respective companies was too much for Gretsch to miss out on. So, in 1953, Gretsch released their Model 6128: the Duo-Jet.

The Duo-Jet was crafted with a mahogany body, routed to make space for the electronics, and topped with a sheet of maple to create a more “solid” feel. Sales for this model were nothing to write home about, but that all changed in 1954 with the arrival of Gretsch’s own “Les Paul”; Chet Atkins. Atkins’ signature models, the hollow-bodied 6120 and to a much lesser degree its solid-bodied companion the 6121, brought Gretsch some much-needed success and recognition. Following this boom, it wasn’t long until Gretsch unveiled their top-of-the-line models: the White Falcon and White Penguin. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus primarily on both iterations of the White Penguin. 

First released alongside the White Falcon in 1956, the Penguin (Model 6134) was finished in white with multi-laminate binding. The outermost gold layer of the binding was actually repurposed Gretsch drum wraps. This ebony fretboard features neo-classical inlays on our single-cut model and the same on our double-cut. The headstock is finished off with gold-plated Grover Imperials. In fact all of the hardware on this model is gold plated, a careful touch that ties in with the gold in the binding. Electronically, this model is rich with two gold-plated Filter’tron pickups and accompanying volume and tone controls. The volume and tone knobs were inlaid with pearl, and Gretsch even went as far to include a “ruby” as a position indicator! Unlike many of these guitars, our single cut White Penguin is wired mono with two individual volume controls, a master volume, and a tone switch instead of the traditional potentiometer style knob. 

To summarize just how special, and just how rare these beautiful instruments are, our very own David Davidson sat down with Rod Brakes of Guitarist Magazine:

“I’ve had two straight single-cuts and one double-cut in my life, but I’ve seen several that had numerous problems, including broken headstocks, and/or strange appointments that I would hesitate to authenticate.

“I’ve seen two ’58 White Penguins. But I wasn’t convinced the other one was 100 percent real. Not a lot of people know this, but if you magnify the original gold sparkle binding, each little sparkle should appear octagonal-shaped. When you look at reissues or others where the binding has been replaced, that isn’t the case because nobody makes that binding any more. You can’t get it anywhere. And because the celluloid binding on so many of these guitars shrinks and rots and breaks away, it’s very common to see Falcons and Penguins with pieces of binding missing. Most Gretsch guitars from this period are starting to develop problems, although these two are very much intact.

“So, I’m very happy to have them in the store. They really are the Holy Grail of Gretsch collectors.”

Works Cited

https://www.guitarplayer.com/gear/whats-the-most-collectible-gretsch-guitar-these-white-penguins-are-as-rare-as-penguins-teeth

https://guitar.com/guides/essential-guide/rare-bird-the-gretsch-white-penguin-story/

http://guitarhq.com/gretsch2.html#6134

Swiden’s Stunning Sparkles: Fender’s Sparkle Finishes

Some of the guitars we’re very fortunate to have in our collection are an array of extremely rare, original 50s and 60s Sparkle Fenders! These finishes feature large metallic “flecks” that give each guitar a glitzy effect. This style of painting was and is extremely popular in the automotive industry, from its invention to this very day. To understand the popularity and creation of the Sparkle guitar, one must look at the cultural landscape of California in the late 50s and early 60s. “Hot Rod” Car Culture and Surf music was all the rage at this time in Southern California, and musicians were keen to incorporate this culture into their instruments.

Our very own David Davidson spoke about Sparkle Guitars in Guitarist Magazine: “[Fender was] in Fullerton, California, and all that stuff was happening around them. So naturally, the idea of painting your guitar to look like a hot rod was a cool thing.”

The metallic fleck used in custom sparkle finishes differs from standard colors like Candy Apple Red or Lake Placid Blue, as the metallic particles in the former are much larger. With the chunkier fleck, you can see the texture underneath the clear, and almost feel it on some instruments. While these sparkles were still factory original guitars, Fender’s paint guns were not equipped to spray these rare finishes in-house until 1966. As a result, Fender built the bodies and then outsourced the finishes to the one place they knew could perfect them: auto body shops. Once the bodies were finished, Fender took them back into the factory to complete the electronics. Various shops were tasked with this important job and one artist, Dennis Swiden, is known to have painted a number of Sparkle finishes for Surf players, including Dick Dale and Eddie Bertrand. Dennis worked out of his parent’s furniture store and was close with many of the artists. Many one-off examples of Sparkle guitars were made for these popular artists, and we’re very lucky to have a few in our collection. One example we have even features crushed glass rather than glitter as the “fleck” to really add another dimension to the sparkle and texture.

Authenticating a sparkle finish as an original is no easy task, as no two are alike. We’re lucky enough as a store to possess multiple confirmed originals, allowing us to compare. However, each requires research, history, and even senses to authenticate. It can be anything from texture, smell, what we can see under the paint, and what we don’t. Because of this, and the amount of non-original pieces, authenticating Sparkles is one of the hardest tasks. Even so, here at Well Strung Guitars, we’ve done our homework so you can take one home with peace of mind! Give us a call today to add one of these jewels to your collection! 516-221-0563

Photos Courtesy of Facebook Group, “Dennis Swiden in Memory Of” and OriginalFuzz.com

Welcome to Our New Website!

Welcome to the newly redesigned Well Strung Guitars website! We implemented a slew of design changes to make browsing and enjoying our selection easier than ever before! We wanted to take this opportunity to walk you through some of those changes. 

Firstly, we’ve listed an additional 50 or so guitars we’ve never had on our website, and we plan on keeping the new listings coming, so check back every week! Be sure to let us know if you have any questions using our contact form, and at the bottom of that page add your email to our newsletter to get alerts when new guitars are uploaded. Each guitar now features a comprehensive Specifications summary, which makes finding important details such as weight, nut width, and pickup readings as easy as possible. 

What to Expect on Each Listing

Diving into the “Spec” summary a little further, you can see we have added a categorical “Condition” rating to the finish and hardware sections, and a numerical “Overall Condition” rating at the end of each listing. Some might be very familiar with the Mint, Excellent, Very Good, etc. metric that many selling platforms use, and some might be used to a simple 1-10 scale. We have adapted both styles to fit our inventory of 30+ year old vintage guitars, and provide easy references for both new and old school. Of course, condition is always subjective, but we use our years of experience dealing with hundreds of instruments to describe each piece to the best of our ability.

Let’s look at the “Finish Details” section of our listings. Some elements of age are hard to avoid, such as finish checking or yellowing of the clear, and this is taken into account when assigning a condition to an instrument. In that same vein, we also have a new “Hardware” section. One word we throw out quite a bit is “patina”. This is a thin layer of oxidation that can occur on metal components due to hand oils or even the air. We’ll note the presence of patina in this section, and if there’s any patina bordering on corrosion. Below we have provided a quick cheat sheet about the way we interpret our condition ratings for the utmost clarity.

MintEssentially new, like it just came out of the factory!
Near MintAlmost brand new, Could have very light swirling, very light weather checking, or a couple of small marks
ExcellentVery clean, Could have a few areas of light wear, light weather checking, or a few marks
GreatThe standard amount we expect a our vintage inventory to age, Could have some finish wear, some weather checking, a handful of marks, some patina, or just general play wear
GoodPlayed in look and feel, Could have fading/yellowing throughout, wear spots throughout finish (such as very visible buckle rash), weather checking throughout, marks throughout, or patina throughout
FairHeavily played in look and feel, Could have wear across the entire instrument, heavy fading/yellowing, areas of finish worn to bare wood, heavy weather checking, heavy marks, or heavy patina

Another area we’d like to expand on is the neck profile section. We got our hands on each guitar and assigned a neck profile that we felt matched. We can measure any neck in the store more thoroughly, so if you’d like more information please don’t hesitate to give us a shout! 

The remaining sections of the Specifications summary (such as nut width, weight, etc.) are pretty straightforward. The last “Includes” section lists any case candy and the type of case each guitar comes in.

We truly hope you all like our website’s new look and enjoy the changes. If there’s anything we haven’t answered for you here, please don’t hesitate to let us know!