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The Gibson Goldtop:  Why This Les Paul is What Dreams Are Made Of

We gather together today to lift on high a true gift from the guitar muses: The Gibson Goldtop Les Paul.

It's hard to place the degree of divine inspiration that must have graced the Gibson shop as their luthiers started crafting the LP Goldtop in the early 50s. It is glorious in its archetypical shape and sound, and breathtaking in its royal aesthetics. In the seventy years since its inception, the Goldtop has established itself as the official guitar of guitar heroes, the spitting image of God's guitar if God had a guitar.

It's not hard to understand why. The LP Goldtop represents a confluence of elements so elementary, so beautifully basic, that it could only have come from beyond the mind of man.

When Fender released the Telecaster in the early 1950s, it lifted off with intense speed—dominating airwaves and eyewaves as THE electric guitar. It was difficult to see a decent competitor arriving on the scene anytime soon, but Gibson enlisted the best of the best to put the Telecaster to the test.

The Goldtop's body stayed truer to basic Spanish guitar shapes, immediately suggesting a connection to timeless intention that was lacking in the early electric guitar world. Its curves are so elegant, so crisp, they suggest (appropriately) the golden ratio—that mathematical anomaly that can be found at the center of all immaculate natural phenomena. Sometimes all mahogany, others boasting a maple face, Goldtops offer players a nice option of a black-back: a literal dark side, if that's what you're into.

But it's the finish that captures the imagination and rings a bell in the hardest of hearts. Original Goldtops were finished with a bronze powder-based paint to achieve the rapturous, deep gold appearance that made them a smash hit. But it was more than the gold. Bronze can take on a patina, a greenish glint. In stage lights, in holy moments, Goldtops can glitter with a suggested green that's there and gone—caught in the in-between, the space from which dreams really do flow.

The finish is just the beginning, though. It's not long after you've been captivated by the Goldtop's gold that you notice its Indian Rosewood fretboard and pearled trapezoidal inlays. The unique shapes the inlays make as they shift up the frets creates a bold visual momentum, and the rosewood board makes the perfect bed for the player's hands to go to work. No section of the neck seems off-limits—the unassuming cutaway invites fingering at the highest frets, where the inlays stretch to razors of refractive acrylic.

The earliest LP Goldtops offered a selection between two sets of pick-ups: the original P-90 soapbars and humbuckers. Both offer nuances of sound and dope tones that range from spry to beefy to absolutely screaming. And aside from that, humbuckers and soapbars offer a slight aesthetic variance that appeals to the unseen impulses of a player's particular fantasy. Both have stalwart, even zealous, defenders that would probably attach an AR to the rosewood fretboard and go to war if it came down to it—we're not here to take sides.

Hardware wise, you're not hard up. Goldtops have a trio of mechanical devices—bridge, pick-ups, and tailpiece—that can be swapped and combo'd to achieve a number of different sustain levels, intonation options, and tones. Great sustain is one of the LP's defining features. In the words of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel in reference to one of his favorite Les Pauls: "You can go grab a bite and you'll still be hearing that one."

Depending on a wraparound bridge or an ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic, or a No-Wire ABR-1, a variety of play types and tonal ranges can come forward to meet the right guitarist. Strings laid to taste over a set of P-90s or humbuckers can make a Goldtop range from angelic to devilish, and the bridge and backbar play no small part.

Every element a guitar god would want comes together seamlessly in a Goldtop, offering a playing experience and visual sensation unlike any other in history. Giants like Slash, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Gary Moore, Pete Townshend, and Randy Rhodes have all graced the main stage wielding a Goldtop, and many more unknown heroes have torn dive bars to shreds with the land-levelling power of this legendary axe.

Here at Walt Grace Vintage, the Les Paul Goldtop represents a caliber of craftsmanship and beauty in design that deserves every bit of praise it gets, and every model that hangs on our wall acts as daily inspiration toward greatness. Come have a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes soaking in the tantalizing patina of a Goldtop on display—you'll be liable to make some life changes.

No joke.

May 06, 2021 — Bill Goldstein
Tags: Gibson Goldtop