Mystery Gibson Les Paul Junior - 1950s? 1970s?

  • Posted by Krishna
  • at 3/11/2008 07:32:00 PM -
A few years ago I purchased a very beat-up and modified Les Paul Special/Junior. It was hanging in Cambridge Music, in their Boston Store and was marked as a 1970s Les Paul Special. I played it and loved how it felt - it had a HUGE neck and was very lightweight - reminded me of my 1959 Les Paul Junior doublecut - and the price was reasonable given its kind of hacked condition. The store employees were kind of split on whether it was actually a 70's reissue or a modified 50's Gibson - and I figured for $500 it was worth the gamble - either way I'd have a nice lightweight screamer of a guitar.

The assumption was that the guitar was one of the mid-70s reissue Les Paul Specials - which were finished in a dark tobacco burst usually and came with 2 P-90's and, on early examples, a classic 50's style wrap-around bridge. Also - the stamped in serial number on the back of the headstock - which was in a small font, kind of like that used on the edge of 60s Gretsch headstocks - appeared to read "A21536" - a note in the Gruhn's guide listed some 1974 serial numbers as 6 digits plus "A". Finally, the headstock decal simply read "Les Paul" with "model" below in a smaller font - which was how the 70s reissues were marked. My 1959 LP Junior says "Les Paul" and the "Junior" in a smaller font.

After looking into the specs of the 1974 - 1977 LP Special reissues - a few major inconsistencies though became apparent:
- the 1974 Special re-issue was a "Special" - meaning it had 4 knobs - not two knobs
- the 74 Special like all Les Paul and SG Specials, had white binding on the neck, whereas this guitar didn't
- the 74 Special had a pearl inlay logo.
- it didnt appear that there was a volute nor a "made in usa" stamp on the back of the headstock, though I'm not sure these features were on ALL Gibson reissues.

See the picture below of a gorgeous 77 Les Paul Special reissue in TV finish.

So it appears that the mystery guitar is some sort of Les Paul Junior - even though the headstock doesn't say it. However sources I have researched don't show a Les Paul Junior reissue being made during the 1970's - it wasn't until 1986 that the single cutaway LP Junior was reissued, and when it was, it was equipped with a tune-matic bridge and separate tailpiece. (Gruhn's Guide, p. 222). There were later reissues during the 90s as well, but my guitar appears, feels and smells much older than that!

Another feature that points towards this possibly being a 1950s Junior is the headstock logo - which is identical to the one on my 1959 LP Junior, except that the one on the "mystery" Junior is more yellowed, as if a heavy overcoat had been sprayed over it. Also notice that the headstock angle is identical for both instruments, though the mystery Junior has a thinner headstock - possibly due to sanding of the back of the headstock at some point ? And as I mentioned before - the neck on both the 59 LP Junior and the mystery junior are similarly big and chunky.

Sanding of the headstock would explain the lack of a "Made in USA" stamp and maybe the absence of a volute - but then the serial number, which looks very un-Gibson, would have been added at some point after a repair or refinish. Also, looking at the stamp carefully, its not clear if the first character is an "A" or an off-angle "4" - it may be that someone restamped in a 1954 inked-on serial number after a repair.

Two questions on the serial number remain:
- what did the 1974 A-series serial numbers look like - how were they stamped?
- was the "A" a trailing character or the leading character ?

On the guitar as a whole - two other questions:
- can someone confirm whether or not there was a 1970s LP Junior reissue produced - with a wrap-around bridge ?
- did Gibson ever simply label some Les Paul Juniors as "Les Paul Model" during the 1950's - perhaps on an early production model?

For completeness - here are a few more detail pictures of the mystery Junior - note that the guitar never had a tunematic setup - it was built with an angled wrap-around bridge. Also note the routing - and what may be some remnants of yellow on at the very base of the neck.

UPDATE 3/13/08

After some discussion with a guitar dealer/archivist friend of mine, I'm pretty convinced this is an early LP Junior - probably a 1954 model (first year - though I have heard of a few prototypes that were built in 1953). My plan is to plug the two pickup holes - route the bridge one correctly for a P90, then strip the entire instrument except for the headstock and redo it in the classic yellow and dark dark brown burst finish.


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  1. Meyer Bani Krishna,

    You have a nice guitar.

    When did you make this purchase?

  2. It will be nicer once I restore it ! I'm trying to remember when I bought it - I think it was about 5 or 6 years ago.

  3. There are definitely some funny things about the guitar, but the holes for the bridge seem correct for an uncompensated wraptail. Those haven't been used since the '50s.

    The compensated 'lightning bar' 1-piece bridge was used on every wraptail Gibson since the early '60s. It goes on at a shallower angle.

    Whatever else has been done to the guitar, if there are no other bridge holes, the body definitely seems to be '50s.

  4. Pretty sure that guitar was owned by Charlie Leger, who played for the Boston bands 'The Fighting Cocks' and 'Black Number Nine'.

    Charlies tech, Neil Thompson, probably did the headstock repair.

    'Black Number Nine' guitar/vocalist, Geoff Abraham, also may be able to confirm it's identity. He's presently doing music in Florida.

    Find all these guys on Facebook.

    Good luck.