This provoked a lot of discussion amongst some of my friends. I had to eventually set my thoughts down on my LJ as to why this guitar is so special...
Peter Green's Les Paul is up for sale.
I've commented on this a couple of times in IRC, to be met with a range of replies, and I guess I need to get my thoughts in order as to why this is such a special guitar, and why, while I still whimper at the price, I can almost understand it.
Peter Green, for those who didn't know, was the founder member of Fleetwood Mac, along with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Jeremy Spencer. He'd just left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, for (with hindsight, somewhat ironically) the reason that he felt Mayall was straying too far away from the blues, and formed his own band playing pure blues. Green (as seems to befit Fleetwood Mac) was something of a troubled soul, and after two or three immensely successful years, basically just quit, being unable to handle the pressures of fame.
The guitar is a 1959 Les Paul Standard. In and of itself it's a beautiful piece of wood: the maple top has a really classic flame in the grain (the 'tiger stripe' pattern), and unlike many, it's quite restrained and subtle. That's a lot of its appeal - there's a vogue for copies of '59 Les Pauls, ranging from cheap Japanese to Gibson's loving Custom Shop recreations, and they tend, to my mind, to have much more overt red-to-amber sunbursts and flametops, and ... this one just says 'class' in a quietly understated way. It's rare, just by being a '59 Standard - Gibson stopped making thm altogether for most of the 60s (which is, when you think how popular they are now, almost unthinkable). More rare, too, given the finish - not all by any means were flametops like this.
That doesn't make it worth two million dollars though.
Whether by accident or design (I think it was a botched repair), Green's Les Paul is unusual. The neck pickup was removed and rewound at some time early in its life, and in doing so, it was rebuilt/reconnected with its windings in parallel/out of phase This means, if you play the guitar with both pickups on, a very distinctive tone which was uniquely Green's, and makes recordings with him on (such as Oh Well, Black Magic Woman, etc) very recogniseable. It's not unique any more, since any number of folks have done it to a stock Les Paul to emulate his sound, but...
When Green gave up the music business, he apparently made a conscious effort to rid himself of the things associated with his fame. He loaned the guitar to Gary Moore (at that time, with a band called Skid Row, since with Thin Lizzy and solo), whom he had been really impressed by. Moore's story is here, but in summary, he eventually asked Moore if he wanted to buy it. Moore couldn't afford it, so Green suggested that he sold his Gibson SG and paid him what he got for it - in the end, Moore got £160 for the SG, but Green would only take £100 (apparently it cost him £120 originally).
Moore used it for a sizeable chunk of the next three decades: certainly with Thin Lizzy, and on a lot of his '90s blues work. Basically, it's been a working guitar, as evidenced by the buckle rash on the back, the dings and pick-markings on the front. Compared to a lot of famous guitars, I think the chief distinction is that for the duration of its life it's being used, sweated over, rather than kept in a glass case. The two guitars that spring to mind to match it as working instruments are Brian May of Queen's 'Red Special', and Eric Clapton's primary Strat 'Blackie'. By contrast, the white Strat Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock has been through several collectors' hands since then, and probably kept in a case or a vault untouched.
It's really hard to explain why this guitar resonates with me, and so many other people, above and beyond many other famous guitars. Some of it's the inherent beauty and rarity of it, some of it's that it was used to make some of the defining music of a great, sadly broken, talent in Peter Green. Some of it's the whole story of how it changed hands. And some of it is just that it has /been/ ... a guitar.
A friend said "It's a guitar." And I corrected her, and said, "No, it isn't just a guitar." And maybe with reflection I was wrong.
It has a unique voice, and the hands that have made that voice speak have contributed, in different ways, to some of the defining music of my life, many other people's lives. But the thing that perhaps sets it aside from the other 'celebrity guitars' is an indefinable something. In a way, it IS just a guitar. It's been picked up and played, because it has six strings, pickups, and it made the sound that someone needed at the time: it's been thrown in cases, the backs of cars, played in sweaty pubs, big stages, studios, rehearsal rooms, it's been loaned, bought, sold, dented, loved, probably sworn at... Nothing's happened to this guitar that hasn't happened to electric guitars the world over.
It In some sense, it is perhaps the closest we'll come to the Platonic 'form' of an electric guitar - the guitar that somehow defines 'guitarness'.
Would I buy it?
If a lottery win landed in my lap, I wouldn't think twice.
Would I play it?
How could I not?
I'm close to tears just writing this.
Last edited by fleetfootmike : 09-07-2006 at 11:47 PM.