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


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 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.  


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., Les Paul Standard – Burst Mania,

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

“Vintage Gibson Solid Body Model Descriptions.” Vintage Guitars Info, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.