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Gibson VOS ’57 Black Beauty Les Paul Custom

December 20, 2010
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“There are a lot of details in the VOS Series” Gibson’s Historic Program Manager Edwin Wilson says, “and they all add up to the most accurate reproductions of the original ’50s Les Paul specifications that it’s possible to build today.” And as any guitarist who’s a stickler for superlative tone and unparalleled playability will tell you, the magic is in the details. In addition to the specs that so many Gibson players demand—such as the one-piece mahogany neck with long tenon, Burstbucker PAF reproduction pickups, solid non-weight relieved mahogany backs, and accurate rounded ’50s neck profiles—other critical but lesser-seen details mount up thick and fast:

Vintage-style, vintage-profile fret wire
Historically accurate thin fingerboard binding that’s only .040-inch thick
Historically accurate carved arch on the guitars’ maple tops
Correct height of the binding in the cutaway
Accurately sized back control pocket route
Historically accurate 1/2-inch wire channel from toggle switch to control pocket
5/8-inch heel with accurate heel shape
Correct distance between pickups
Historically accurate bridge, tailpiece, and control holes
Correctly tapered headstock with tuner holes in a straight line
3/8-inch back-edge radius

While plenty of these are primarily for historical accuracy and appearance—all determined by closer examination and measurement of vintage original ’50s Les Pauls—many of the fine details of the VOS models do indeed affect their tone and performance.

“The guitars have also been given a lower neck pitch,” Wilson sites as an example, “so that the bridge is closer to the body, rather than up high like a ’70s guitar, which in turn improves the tone. We have also changed the actual location of the trussrod—we x-rayed some ’50s Les Pauls and found where the trussrod was in relation to the top and the back of the neck, and have repositioned the VOS trussrods accurately according to this.”

Further details also very obviously impact sound and performance. The VOS Les Pauls receive a nitrocellulose lacquer finish like many other Gibson Custom Shop and Gibson USA guitars, but the process on the VOS models has been revised to reflect the way Gibson finished these guitars back in the day. They receive a thinner lacquer finish, which is applied, sanded, and buffed differently—which is to say, more accurately. This not only gives the instruments a look more like a gently aged and well-cared-for vintage Les Paul, but helps the guitars “breathe,” and therefore to resonate more freely.

Add to all this the strict weight limits on and careful selection of mahogany and maple wood stocks, accurate hardware, wiring and electronics, and the result is a range of Les Pauls that feel, look, and sound as close as you can get to an original late 1950s Gibson Les Paul, without recourse to a time machine!

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