FROM ’Burst TO LAST

We take a close look at the first of the breed, an orig­i­nal 1958 ’Burst and com­pare it to three more built be­tween 1959 and the fi­nal year of pro­duc­tion in 1960, to see just how ‘Stan­dard’ a Les Paul Stan­dard re­ally was back then…

Guitarist - - Feature - Words Dave Bur­rluck, Rod Brakes and Jamie Dick­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis and Will Ire­land

Much of the mys­tique sur­round­ing orig­i­nal ’Bursts de­rives from the fact that, partly due to their cur­rent value and partly due to their rar­ity, few gui­tarists ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence them at first hand or use them as work­ing in­stru­ments. What keeps us from com­ing to a more bal­anced view of his­toric in­stru­ments like these is that it’s rel­a­tively rare to be able to gather more than one or two to­gether at the same time for the pur­pose of di­rect com­par­i­son.

With that in mind, we set out to ex­am­ine four orig­i­nal ’Bursts from 1958-1960. The first, a beau­ti­ful ’58, be­longs to the ex­cel­lent Seven Decades show, which tells the story of rock in a live per­for­mance that uses pe­riod-cor­rect vin­tage gui­tars through­out its decade-span­ning set. The other three – two ’59s and a ’60 – come to us from Bri­tish ’Burst ex­pert Phil Har­ris and a pri­vate owner who wishes to re­main anony­mous, but who gen­er­ously gave us ac­cess to his beau­ti­ful in­stru­ments for this fea­ture. By the end of the day, we hoped, we’d have a bet­ter pic­ture of how orig­i­nal ex­am­ples of the ’Burst vary from gui­tar to gui­tar, es­pe­cially as we’ve al­ready taken a gan­der at Bernie Mars­den’s ’59 Stan­dard.

Our first port of call is to the of­fices of Seven Decades where Michael Ross, the sea­soned ses­sion gui­tarist who fronts the show, is wait­ing for us along with Philip Hy­lan­der – the man who lov­ingly tracked down each of the show’s vin­tage gui­tars and brought them into the col­lec­tion.

“Cur­rently we have about 20 gui­tars,” Phil ex­plains. “We want a col­lec­tion that en­ables us to tell this great story, from the 50s to the cur­rent day, of the electric gui­tar.” Is the 1958 ’Burst the most valu­able in your col­lec­tion? MR: “Yes, with­out a doubt. When we set out to pur­chase our own ’Burst we knew it was a big deal and we had to be care­ful. So the process took about six months. We spoke to a good friend of ours in the States, a guy called Drew Berlin, a pretty fa­mous guy in the world of vin­tage gui­tars. We’ve worked with Drew for years. He’s seen the show so he knows where we’re com­ing from and we’re good friends. He was a nat­u­ral go-to. It took a lit­tle while: he kept us posted on the ones that came up [for sale]. He knew what we wanted; that we needed a ’Burst that we could play, not one that would sit in its case as an in­vest­ment. We needed it to be the right weight, the right sound. We planned to use it for a whole di­verse range of songs in the show so we didn’t want just a one-trick won­der. So, this ’58 does those things. It’s got a very mel­low sound to it.” PH: “We would never buy some­thing that Mike didn’t play and ab­so­lutely adore, be­cause in a sense it would make a lit­tle bit of a sham of what we try to be about, which is the en­dur­ing qual­ity of these in­stru­ments be­cause they are amaz­ing things to play.” Is the ’58 com­pletely stock? MR: “Yes. That gui­tar ticked all the boxes. That said, one of the most im­por­tant things about these gui­tars is that they’ve been played. There’s noth­ing worse, I find, than a vin­tage gui­tar that just hasn’t been played for the last 50 or 60 years – it’s al­most as if you’re start­ing at the begin­ning with that gui­tar and a gui­tar that hasn’t been played for the last 50 or 60 years is no good to me be­cause I’d have to spend the next 50 years play­ing it in.” PH: “It doesn’t af­fect the value. We have in­vest­ment gui­tars, play­ers’ gui­tars and that says some­thing about the so­cio-eco­nomic world: that those who can af­ford to pay the

big bucks for the very clean gui­tar don’t nec­es­sar­ily play them.” MR: “They’re com­ing from a dif­fer­ent place than us.” PH: “I think it is de­fen­si­ble. We don’t do it but I also un­der­stand the im­por­tance of preser­va­tion in any­thing that’s old. There’s some­thing to be said for the car that’s never been driven. I hate the idea my­self but I un­der­stand why his­tory needs it in a way.” So the dilemma for you now, with your ’Burst, is that af­ter a few shows it’s go­ing to need a re­fret. What do you do? MR: “You re­fret it! Of course. But the real prob­lem is, who are you go­ing to get to re­fret it? That’s the big prob­lem in this day and age…” PH: “But Mike as you say, it’s not iden­ti­cal, but its like chang­ing tyres on a car.” Why don’t you use a his­toric col­lec­tion or a reis­sue? MR: “Well, our rhythm gui­tarist does (laughs).” PH: “Ha, but that’s pol­i­tics!” MR: “Se­ri­ously though, I’ve played some amaz­ing reis­sues, al­though I think they’re nuts money now: it’s in­sane what they’re charg­ing. But, no, why don’t we use them? Be­cause I think we’re purists at the end of the day and take any op­por­tu­nity we get to play the orig­i­nal thing, as we be­lieve it makes a dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple come along to our show and they want to hear what a late-50s ’Burst sounds like.” So what makes your ’Burst so al­lur­ing com­pared to a reis­sue – you’ve played enough of both… MR: “Specif­i­cally, with the ’58, first of all it’s sound and feel: that’s what it comes down to. I think there are cer­tain gui­tars I’m more suited to – big­ger hands – that ’58 neck for me is just right; the feel of the neck is just per­fect. Then there’s the sound. It’s a bit of an all-rounder re­ally. You get some with a mas­sive out­put, straight down-the­line rock-out gui­tars. But we use it for the Peter Green stuff: it sounds beau­ti­ful clean through a Twin or Deluxe but then it’s per­fect through a Mar­shall to cover all that stuff. It’s far from a one-trick gui­tar.” PH: “There’s some­thing es­o­teric too: you know you’re hold­ing his­tory. It is fea­si­ble, pos­si­ble, to repli­cate it. You might even in your life play a gui­tar that’s bet­ter but you know that's a 1958 Les Paul Stan­dard. I don’t think it’s shal­low to ad­mit that hold­ing hands with his­tory is a big thing.” MR: “Peo­ple say, ‘you’re play­ing that gui­tar it should make you play so much bet­ter’. Well, it can work the other way (laughs). If you’re hold­ing a piece of his­tory like that, you’ve gotta sound good. It’s still an in­stru­ment and it’s still the player be­hind it. That’s still the key. It’s not just go­ing to sound good on its own.”

And with­out fur­ther ado, the chaps bring out ‘Molly’ as their ’58 ’Burst has been dubbed, for in­spec­tion by Gear Ed­i­tor Dave Bur­rluck. In the pages that fol­low you’ll en­counter the other ’Bursts from ’59 and ’60 we looked at when we jour­neyed to a sep­a­rate lo­ca­tion, with a com­men­tary on each from ’Burst ex­pert Phil Har­ris, plus some ad­di­tional tech­ni­cal notes.

Why don’t we play re-is­sues? We’re purists and take any op­por­tu­nity we get to play the orig­i­nal. It makes a dif­fer­ence

Michael Ross and Philip Hy­lan­der of the Seven Decades gui­tar show pre­side over our as­sort­ment of ’Bursts

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