The next level up from the Junior, offering two switchable pickups with independent volume and tone controls and a bound fingerboard, the Special is my least favourite Les Paul variant, but this is still a superb, clean guitar. It’s been in my family since ’63.
Rather more – 1387 – of these were shipped in this, their last year of official production (but see comments on a unique ’63 below). Its serial number dates it to 1960 and places it substantially earlier than my Junior. The neck pickup position, narrow cover plate insert and neck join are typical of a ’59 model, but the neck profile is slimmer and more redolent of a 1960 instrument. This adds weight to the view that Gibson’s batch production system was not entirely sequential or linear back in the day.
In my experience, many P-90 pickups from this era in bridge positions are a bit screechy, but its two hot pickups both give very useful tones, especially with moderate overdrive. In fact, the more I gig it through better amps, the more I realise what a good-sounding guitar it is. Again, it’s in mint condition, a beautiful but subtly different unfaded yellow all over.
A minor detail – juniors sported ‘Les Paul Junior’ on the headstock silkscreen, TV juniors had ‘Les Paul TV model’, and earlier Specials, had ‘Les Paul Special’ or ‘Les Paul TV Special’ according to their finish until late-’59. After this time, later Specials like this one didn’t have any silkscreen logos on the headstock face. This anomaly continued on to the SG-shaped instruments which followed in ’61 until they lost their ‘Les Paul’ designation in ‘63.
I’ve also played a later (’63) all-original slab-bodied Special with a Polaris white finish whose clear top coat had yellowed beautifully and it had a crown pearloid inlay on the headstock face, like a 335! Used to be in the Tsumura collection, apparently. Rare bird, tasty, expensive, that one…