I spent a good deal of time wrapped up in Tony Bacon’s Million Dollar Les Paul: In Search of the Most Valuable Guitar in the World this past weekend. It’s an engaging read that is an exhaustive look into the roots of a collecting craze involving 1958 to 1960 Gibson Les Paul guitars.
Bacon points out that originally, the guitars were not a major initiative for Gibson. During the years in question, only about 1,500 of the instruments were ever produced. But, starting in the mid sixties, famous musicians such as Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Jimmy Page started playing the sunburst finished instruments. Their status as tastemakers, along with the peculiar strengths of the small run of instruments, fueled a strong collectors market. Now, as baby boomers with cash strive to recapture their youth, it’s not unusual to see these instruments sell for $300,000 or $400,000. Bacon does take the recent economic conditions into account in his book and the market has softened somewhat.
Obviously, this book is aimed towards guitar fans. The details of PAF pickups are exhaustively researched and the casual audience may not care about the “flame” qualities of a certain batch of wood. But, Million Dollar Les Paul also features enough famous musicians and enough examination of the nature of collecting and obsession to make it interesting to non-players as well.