The first cherry sunburst Gibson Les Paul, known as a "burst", has been listed for sale at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville. The price tag for one of the most historic guitars ever? $625,000.
"It's the earliest one with this version of the finish." Walter Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars said. "This is the first one with this yellow to red cherry sunburst, the 'burst' as we know it today started with this guitar."
Carter was a historian for Gibson for years before opening up his shop with his wife, Christie Carter, and he said he knew this guitar was special from the moment he heard the serial number.
The guitar was originally shipped out of the Gibson factory on May 28, 1958, and at the time, it was simply an experimental piece. "It has a three piece top because it was probably going to be a Goldtop." Carter said.
The guitar found it's way to a family in Memphis. A man bought it for his son as a Christmas present, and that man has owned the guitar for the past 58 years.
"He played it through his high school years, so maybe for three of four years, and then it just sat around." Carter explained, adding that the guitar probably cost about $350 back in 1958, including the case.
The owner of the guitar reached out to Carter about the guitar knowing that it was a special piece, but not knowing how special.
"I called the owner and said, I think you have a pretty valuable guitar there." Carter told the family it was the first one ever shipped out, and that he was going to price it at $625,000. "His wife needed a glass of water." Carter said of the original owner.
"For somebody that doesn't know much about guitars, this is a Stradivarius." Vince Gill, Nashville music legend, said of the guitar.
Gill frequently visits Carter Vintage Guitars to play new guitars, and to learn more about guitars. "I love coming to see them (Walter and Christie Carter) or the other folks because I always learn something about old guitars." Gill explained. "I know a lot about them, but not everything."
When Gill heard about the first burst arriving at Carter Vintage Guitars, he knew he wanted to play it. "When you play an instrument like this, you feel it in your hands, you feel it in your body, and it's remarkable."
Musicians like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, and Slash all found bursts and played them, the problem is, bursts were ahead of their time and were only made from 1958 until 1960 before being discontinued.
Vince Gill said his favorite memory of playing a Les Paul was playing Duane Allman's old Goldtop.
The guitars were later revived by Gibson, but most guitarists agree that they've never achieved the same sound.
"Everybody's wondering the same thing, with the technology we've made and everything, why wouldn't you think you could build a better guitar that sounds better? But they haven't." Gill said.
One man who has played more than a dozen bursts during his life is Ed King, who was happy to be able to play the first burst and provide his insight.
"Wow, that's pretty." King said when he first saw the guitar. "The fact that it still has the beautiful red color is just incredible."
King is known for playing many types of guitars and writing iconic songs with them, such as "Sweet Home Alabama" with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"There's something about the old ones in the wood, especially the Brazilian rosewood." King explained.
While many artists played bursts, King credits Clapton for starting the Les Paul craze by turning up that signature tone.
"It's clean, but it's jut a little bit crunchy." King said of Clapton's tone, and the tone of a burst. "I call it natural crunch."
King owns multiple bursts and is happy with the ones he has, but he believes whoever gets this burst at Carter Vintage Guitars will be please. "It's very expensive and it should be, the neck is just perfect."
The price tag on this dream guitar keeps it that for many people, a dream, and while it costs a lot of money, the sound it makes and the history it holds makes it priceless.
For more information about the guitar, you can reach out to Carter Vintage Guitars or visit their website.