Playing on the Holy Grail of Electric Guitars: 1960 Les Paul Standard

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Vintage guitars

Some time ago I had the opportunity to play on a real “Burst”, a 1960 Les Paul Standard. You will probably know that Les Paul Standards between 1958 and 1960 are something like the ‘Holy Grai’l for guitar players and collectors, with prices ranging over $ 200,000. (And yes, Mark Knopfler has even two of these!) As you might guess from the surrounding in the video, the guitar belongs to the same collector as Mark Knopfler’s sunburst Schecter Strat, or the blue 1961 Stratocaster I played in one of the last videos. Only about 1,700 of these were made (possibly 434 in 1958, 643 in 1959, and 635 in 1960). After that the model was discontinued because it failed commercially, as it was too conventional looking for Rock’n’Roll players who prefered Fender solid-body guitars, and not conventional enough for jazz players who prefered Gibson arch top guitars. It was some years later when players like Eric Clapton or Peter Green made the model famous and sought-after again when they played these guitars and showed them on their albums (e.g. a probably 1960 Les Paul on the Bluesbrakers album). So these Les Paul became something like the first vintage guitars. Gibson made Les Pauls again starting in 1968 but these had some different specs than the old sunburst Standards.

Early 1960 Les Pauls are almost identical to the 1959 model, however, later in 1960 the neck became flatter, and the red colour that is known to fade when exposed to sunlight was replaced with a more resistant and darker red dye.

What does it sound like?

This is probably the most important question everyone asks himself. Is such a guitar really worth all the money? The answer is surely “no” as it costs more than 50 times as much as a good replica with original features, and the sound cannot be 50 times better. Still, those old guitars have a magic that the new ones don’t have, and the sound also might have some details thatmake it different from newer ones (apart from the simple fact that each guitar is an individual piece and sounds different than any other), so the question is rtaher how much you think these little details are worth for you. And it is all a matter of taste so you might like some new ones really better.

I recorded some minutes of video, and I recorded some sound samples directly into my recorder so that I can compare the guitar to any other later.

This first video has the directly recorded sound which I reamped with a software amp.

In the second video the guitar was played over a Tone King Metropolitan amp and was recorded with the camera mic. Obviously these do not like the volume typically produced by a guitar amp and thus heavily compress dynamics or cause distortion.

And here I finally compared it to my own 1974 Les Paul Custom. I recorded my guitar into the same recorder, and reamped it with the same software amp, all settings 100% identical. The Custom has an ebony fingerboard instead one of Brazilian rosewood, and some other construction details are different so it will never sound the same. My guitar is equipped with Haeussel 1959 pickups so you can listen yourself to how these compare to the original PAF pickups.

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The Häussel 1959 pickups for the Mark Knopfler Les Paul sound

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Vintage guitars

Those beautiful 1958/59 Les Paul Standards are probably the holy grail not only for Mark Knopfler fans – Mark owns a 1958 and a 1959 and plays them on all his tours – but for all guitar players. Unfortunately the prices for these are in the region you’d normally pay for a house, so most of us will hardly ever get the chance to touch one of these. They came with those legendary original PAF humbucker pickups. Germany’s top pickup winder Harry Häussel has tried to replicate all tonal nuances of these with his 1959 model. Here is what the manufacturer himself says about his pickup:

The “Häussel-1959” model gives you that legendary old PAF sound, still sought-after by professionals the world over. Manufactured with original wire, original-sized magnets and our optimally-matched winding, this pickup will captivate you with its silky, ‘woody-warm’ sound – on chord work, the sound of each string is clearly defined, while the overall sound is breezy and slightly nasal, but never muddy. The extremely agreeable, sweet highs make each tone a desirable delicacy for sound gourmets, while solos become a symphony of soaring sonic satisfaction. The 1959 model ‘smacks’ beautifully each time you strike the strings, gliding effortlessly into harmonic overtones and feedback. This is a pickup with a powerful ‘hook’ -and perfect if you want to get that truly authentic PAF sound.

Of course I don’t own a 1958 or 59 Les Paul, just an ‘ordinary’ 1974 Les Paul Custom . With its cherry sunburst finish it looks nice, especially after I replaced the black plastic parts to cream ones, and I also like the sound.  I was really satisfied with the original pickups – and many commentators on my youtube clips on which I played this guitar agreed with me. Nevertheless, I recently installed the Häussel pickups to hear for myself what all the talk about the silky, woody tone of the Häussel 1959 is about.

I recorded a youtube video when I plugged in the guitar directly after putting in the pickups, so you will really witness my first impression of these pickups. Check out why I will leave them in my guitar and why I cannot go on with the original Gibson pickups anymore.

The Häussels are not cheap but if you like me become addictive of this warm but transparent sound, you can get them for a top price here in my online shop.

 

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The Gibson Chet Atkins CEC – Classical Electric Guitar with Nylon Strings

Posted on 19 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Vintage guitars

This week I had a nice guitar here – a Gibson Chet Atkins CEC. The CE stands for classical electric, in other words a solid-body guitar with nylon strings and a piezo pickup, while the last C stands for conventional neck width (2″/5.1 cm  at the nut, a CE model with a neck width of 1.825″ / 4.6 cm was also available).

This guitar model was developed by Chet Atkins who approached Gibson with his prototype. The model appeared in Gibson’s catalogue in 1982, right at the time when Dire Straits recorded the Love over Gold album. This album features two songs – Private Investigations and the title track – on which a classical (=nylon-strung) guitar was used. Note that on the album it was NOT the Gibson Chet Atkins, however, Mark  Knopfler started to play it on stage for the Love over gold tour, right after recording the album. You can hear it e.g. on the Alchemy live album where it was used not only on Private Investigations and Love over Gold but also in the outro of Romeo&Juliet. Knopfler (probably) also used it on many sessions with other artists in the early 80ies,  e.g. with Phil Everly or Paul Brady.

[wppa type=”slide” album=”3″][/wppa]

Specs

The body is not all solid mahogany but features sound chambers to reduce weight and to make the sound more acoustic. The top is solid spruce or cedar. The neck is mahogany with a neck joint location at the 12th fret – like a classical guitar. The scale is 25 1/2″, the fingerboard and the bridge are from ebony.

The pickup system consists of six individual piezos that are installed under the bridge. The pickup signal is preamplified in the control cavity (that consequently houses a 9V battery), a volume control and the (active) tone control is located on the rim of the guitar (later models have a bass and treble control). A really useful feature are six trim pots inside the control cavity that allow to adjust the volume for each string individually so that you can equalize volume differences easily.

The guitar here i a CEC with the wider nut, I suspect – it is not easy to see on pictures – that Mark Knopfler had the CE model with the more narrow neck. For me the wide neck is nothing I am used to, nevertheless the guitar is not really difficult to play.

Sound

The Gibson Chet Atkins produces a faithful classical guitar sound, and can be played even at high volume without the risk of feedback. Of course a ‘real’ classical guitar might produce the typical sound even better – for this reason Mark Knopfler probably replaced the Gibson with a Ramirez on the On Every Street tour in 1991/2.

One problem of many classical guitars – and also of the example shown here – is intonation. As the bridge does not have individually adjustable saddles like on an elctric guitar, and neither  a ‘compensated’ bridge design with different lenths for the different strings, the guitar never perfectly intonates all notes. If you tune the open strings, the bass note on e.g. the low e string is out of tune at the higher frets, and there is almost nothing you can do against it.

Here is a video I recorded with this guitar (if video jumps make sure slide show above is not running):

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