A solid-Body Electric Guitar, Known as Number One
Les Paul Model Artist's Prototype
A solid-Body Electric Guitar, Known as Number One
Les Paul Model Artist's Prototype
A solid-Body Electric Guitar, Known as Number One
Les Paul Model Artist's Prototype
17 More
A solid-Body Electric Guitar, Known as Number One
Les Paul Model Artist's Prototype
20 More
Lots made of or including (regardless of the perc… Read more AMERICAN ICON: LES PAUL’S PERSONAL“NUMBER ONE” GOLDTOP


Bearing the inlaid and silk screen logo at the headstock, 'Gibson / Les Paul / MODEL', the body of mahogany with laminated maple cap, the bound top with a gold metallic finish, the neck and body of a clear finish, the bound fingerboard with faux-pearl "keystone" inlaid position markers, with a Gibson hard-shell case of the period and a console magnetic tape recorder from the Mahwah, New Jersey recording studio of Les Paul and Mary Ford, Ampex Electric Corporation, Model 307, San Carlos, circa 1954, bearing the manufacture's name plate 'AMPEX ELECTRIC CORPORATION, SAN CARLOS, CALIFORNIA, USA / MODEL 307 / MAGNETIC TAPE RECORDER / 115 V.A.C. 60 CYCLES / AMPS 3.1 / SERIAL NO. 2024', together with a chrome tubed and vinyl bar stool labeled 'MADE BY / L.&B. PRODUCTS CORP./ Hudson, NY 12534', and ink stamped NOV. 198(?) reportedly used by Les Paul during his performance run at New York's Fat Tuesday's and the framed original photograph of Les Paul and Mary Ford in Paul’s studio, Mahwah, New Jersey
17 5/16 in. (44 cm.), length of body
Les Paul (1915-2009).
Given to Tom Doyle, Les Paul's luthier and sound engineer.
Hembree, G., Gibson Guitars, Ted McCarty's Golden Era 1948-1966, Milwaukee, 2007, il. p. 82.
Wheeler, T., American Guitars, An Illustrated History, New York, 1990, il. p. 141.
Douchossoir, A.R., Gibson Electrics, Winona, 1981, il. p. 57.
Paul, L. and Cochran, M., Les Paul In His Own Words, Milwaukee, 2005, il. pp. 225 and 309.
Special notice
Lots made of or including (regardless of the percentage) endangered and other protected species of wildlife are marked with the symbol ~ in the catalogue. This material includes, among other things, ivory, tortoiseshell, crocodile skin, rhinoceros horn, whalebone certain species of coral, and Brazilian rosewood. You should check the relevant customs laws and regulations before bidding on any lot containing wildlife material if you plan to import the lot into another country. Several countries refuse to allow you to import property containing these materials, and some other countries require a licence from the relevant regulatory agencies in the countries of exportation as well as importation. In some cases, the lot can only be shipped with an independent scientific confirmation of species and/or age, and you will need to obtain these at your own cost.
Sale room notice
Please note the caption for the black and white photograph in the printed catalogue and also included with the lot should read “Les Paul and Mary Ford in Les Paul’s Mahwah, NJ studio, circa 1952.”
Please note the fingerboard for this lot is Brazilian Rosewood. Please consult the department or Christie’s Art Transport for relevant requirements under CITES.

Lot Essay

It would not be hyperbole to call Les Paul one of the most important, influential, and pioneering guitarists, recording artists and inventors in American music. His innovations in recording gave us audio effects like controlled delay, echo, and reverb. His signature recording technique he called "Sound on Sound" was the basis of multi-track recording. Whether analogue or digital, multi-track recording changed the recording industry and how we all hear music to this very day.

Les Paul has said that even at an early age he was always in search for a distinctive tone in his guitar playing. While on this pursuit for a unique sound he came to the idea that it might be achieved by amplifying the vibrations of a guitar's string while removing all the ambient overtones and color inherent in an acoustic instrument. Fortunately, Les Paul grew up in the "Machine Age" a time when electronics, radio, and amplification were becoming standard applications in the consumer world. The tools to play with were all around him. And play he did. We should not be mistaken that his mission was altruistic. To make the world better for musicians was not his aim, nor was leveraging his innovations for financial gain. It was always about his guitar, his art, his singular pursuit of a sound and tone that would be identified uniquely his and his alone.

Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915, the man that we know as Les Paul was christened Lester William Polfuss. The grandson of German immigrants, young Lester received his first guitar at age eleven. By age thirteen the ginger-haired guitarist was gigging with his band at a local barbeque stand as the "Red Hot Rag Time Band". Here he began his foray into guitar amplification by taking his father's radio-phonograph and attaching the phonograph stylus to the guitar's bridge. It was far from perfect, and feed-back was a big problem but, in his words, "... it got me noticed and I started making more money." While experimenting with a piece of steel train rail and two rail spikes to act as a bridge and nut, he suspended a guitar string along the rail. With a telephone mouthpiece wired to his mother's tube radio he heard his first purely amplified sound of a guitar string. What he learned in that experiment would be the basis for all his electric guitar developments moving forward.

Frustrated by the guitar amplification options available on the market in the mid 1930s, Paul commissioned a solid top guitar made for him by the National String Instrument Company on which he mounted his own hand-made pickup. For amplification he used a tube powered speaker box from a Bell & Howell 16 mm sound projector. Displeased with his results on the National, Paul approached the Larson Brothers guitar shop who built him three guitars all with maple tops and without sound-holes in which he continued to experiment with pickup design and placement. Finally, he turned to his budget priced Gibson L-50 archtop where he mounted his pickup and cut a hole in the back so he could easily access the wiring and move the pickup with ease. With multiple holes cut in both the top and back the L-50 would not survive for long.

In 1941 Paul recalled the success of his train track experiment where the volume, tone and sustain of the guitar string was unencumbered by the acoustic sound box on a traditional guitar. Applying this knowledge, he married an Epiphone guitar neck to a solid length of 4x4 pine. With two pickups, a solid steel bridge and nut along with a tailpiece he reveled at the tonal quality and sustain it would create. He finally had an instrument where he could control the feed-back. Paul would later write, "It was crude, but when I plugged into an amp, it worked." He had produced a solid-body electric guitar. To make it appear more like a guitar Paul then sliced the body of an Epiphone archtop length wise and married the two halves to the pine 4x4. He called it his "Log".

It has been said that Paul showed the "Log" to Gibson in 1941 and received a less than positive response from America's largest guitar manufacturer. Paul has said, "They thought it was a joke and laughed a lot, not scoring too well with the idea of a solid-body guitar. They called me the character with the broomstick with pickups on it." That same year Les Paul came into possession of an Epiphone Zephyr archtop electric guitar. Originally manufactured with an access panel in the back of the guitar Paul realized that the Zephyr would allow him the ease of changing the electronics on the guitar at whim without cutting holes in the body and sacrificing the structural integrity of the instrument. Throughout the 1940s three of these Epiphone Zephyrs would be in constant rotation with alterations to the pickups, bridge, and controls. He called them his "Klunkers" and they became his mainstay electric instruments for his most celebrated recordings and performances up to 1952.

Faced with the loss of market share after the successful launch by Leo Fender of an electric solid- body guitar in 1950, the management team at Gibson realized that the electric guitar phenomenon was here to stay. In 1950 Gibson president Ted McCarty put a team together to develop what would be Gibson's first solid-body electric guitar. His desires were clear, this new instrument needed to be both unique and excel at fulfilling the needs of the guitarist while upholding the high quality in guitar manufacturing that Gibson was celebrated for. McCarty also recognized the need for help in both the design and marketing of this new product.
The Gibson company had a long tradition in garnering endorsements from celebrity musicians that helped Gibson position their instruments in the marketplace. Nick Lucas, Roy Smeck, Charlie Christian, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery as well as Les Paul were just a few of the many Gibson Artists. Both Lucas and Smeck had their own guitar signature models which had become successful sellers for Gibson.

In 1951 Les Paul and wife Mary Ford were household names. Their recording How High the Moon had reached Number 1 on the Pop Charts with thirteen other recordings charting in the Top Ten. Thanks to radio and then television, Les Paul’s prowess as a guitarist was known globally. He was also one of the few proponents of the solid-body guitar and played one of his own design and manufacture. With this knowledge, Gibson approached Les Paul and began the process of improving their prototypes with Paul's input.

The question of who's proposal ideas took precedent during the final design phase of the Les Paul guitar is a hotly debated topic and will remain so. But by paying attention to the final product and comparing the historical works both parties had previously endeavored in it is safe to say the project was in many respects collaborative. There exists a visual dialogue between Les Paul's ideas about solid hardwood tops to combat feed-back and steel bridges to increase sustain. Equally evident is Gibson's long history with carved top string instruments with necks set into the body in a traditional luthier's manner. Gibson's choice of high-quality woods and materials with uncompromising excellence in workmanship positioned the new Les Paul Model guitar at the pinnacle of the market. Paul would receive a royalty on each unit sold and the patent rights on the combination tailpiece/ wrap over bridge employed. For his part, he and Mary Ford would only preform in public and be imaged with the Gibson Les Paul. The first public performance of Les and Mary on the new Gibson would be at New York's Paramount Theater in June 1952. The official corporate launch by Gibson was held the following month at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The model was an immediate success for Gibson with 1,716 Les Paul Model guitars shipped that year and another 2,245 shipped in 1953.

Les Paul has said the first prototypes sent to him were all flattop bodies, two in gold finish, two in black and two in white, and he used these while recording Tiger Rag at the end of 1951. The Gibson shipping ledger books indicate that the first two Les Paul Models were sent to Les Paul on May 20, 1952. Gibson has indicated that these would have been two from the first run of approximately 100 production guitars. From the surviving images of that event, we can deduce that these first two were the instruments used by Les and Mary in that inaugural New York performance of 1952.

Easy to recognize, these first Les Paul Models were manufactured without binding on the fingerboard. Also missing from these early productions is the white plastic trim surrounding the pickup selector switch. We can also assume that the instrument imaged on the cover of the sheet music for "Johnny Is The Boy For Me" and other publicity photos of this time is from that first batch of 100 Gibson Les Pauls. This Les Paul Model without a bound fingerboard and with a standard Gibson tailpiece would become Mary Ford's instrument seen in performance and images over the next four years. Of special note and plainly visible in photographs, is that this guitar is equipped with only one master volume control, one master tone control and an output jack mounted on the face of the top. This was not the standard setup for a 1952 Les Paul. What it did have in common was a carved maple top laminated to a mahogany body, a mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, two single coil pickups and a top finished in a rich metallic gold lacquer.

However Les Paul was not fully satisfied with two guitars Gibson had sent in May of 1952. In an effort to meet his rigorous expectations Gibson speculates that the guitar Paul would call his “Number One” was a replacement sent later in 1952. It was, like Mary's guitar, manufactured by Gibson with custom wiring requested by Paul but now with a bound fingerboard that would be standard on all Les Paul Models going forward. Unlike the Gibson Les Paul Models sold to the public, the present guitar was equipped with only one master volume control and one master tone control. Also deviating from Gibson's standard design is the output jack which is located on the face of the body. This last requirement by Paul was to alleviate the danger of disconnecting his output jack while on stage. Paul was later said to have claimed that this instrument was the first that felt right to him and fulfilled all his ideas of what an electric guitar should be and lead him to dub it his "Number One".

The "Number One" is visible with Les and Mary on their September 1952 tour to England where the duo played a two-week engagement at London's Palladium. Through 1953 the guitar can be seen on multiple recordings of the NBC television program Les Paul & Mary Ford at Home, with Paul performing Chicken Reel, Kangaroo, Lady of Spain, Meet Mr. Callaghan, Nola, and Shine. The guitar made the cover of the May 1953 edition of Audio Engineering magazine with Les and Mary in their Mahwah, New Jersey home recording studio. On September 20, 1953, the couple are photographed performing at Chubby's Home of the Stars, Camden, New Jersey with Mary playing the unbound Les Paul and Les on the "Number One". The following month Paul performs again with the "Number One" on CBS Television's Omnibus hosted by Alistair Cooke. The guitar can be seen again in Les Paul and Mary Ford's live set recording of March 21, 1954, on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour where they played Tiger Rag, I Really Don't Want To Know, and the novelty number There's No Place Like Home and here again Mary is playing the 1952 Les Paul with the unbound fingerboard.

By mid-1955 less is seen of the original gold top guitars having been replaced by Gibson's Les Paul Custom. With gold plated hardware against a stunning black finish, ebony fingerboard, and pearl inlay, the Les Paul Custom was camera ready and showcased the exceptional quality produced in Gibson's workshops. By 1960 the "Number One" would have been retired but not before Les Paul had exhausted its potential as a platform for his tonal experiments. He had by then fully changed the electronics and alternated the bridge multiple times. Family members and associates of Les Paul recall the constant alterations he made to his instruments to achieve that special sound only he could hear. Les Paul is often remembered with a Gibson Les Paul, the control panel removed, screwdriver and soldering iron in hand, making a final adjustment before entering the recording studio.

Christie's would like to thank Walter Carter and Carter Vintage, Sammy Ash and Sam Ash Music and Cesar Gueikian and Gibson Brands for their contributions to this lot.

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