...From pawnshop castoff to $500,000.00 collectible.

FLICKOFLASH

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Mar 17, 2007
Messages
24,841
Reaction score
8,597
Only about 1,500 Bursts, as they are known, were made between 1958 and 1960. They were a commercial flop. But today the Burst is considered the Stradivarius of solid-body electric guitars. Its distinctive, syrupy sound, mythic back story and cherry-and-gold wood finish have made it the world's most sought-after ax.

Amid a bull market in collectible guitars propelled by baby boomer wealth and nostalgia, the price of Bursts has soared. One in mint condition with a desirable finish can fetch more than $500,000 -- 10 times as much as a decade ago.

"It's the Holy Grail of guitars," said Dan Yablonka, a Laguna Beach musician who fondly recalls the one he owned for a few weeks 30 years ago before flipping it for a nice profit. "They sound like they are being played by the finger of God."

Even spare parts are revered like gemstones. An original cream-colored ring that fits over the rhythm/treble pickup switch -- essentially a washer -- was recently offered on EBay for $1,200.

Original price of the whole guitar: about $280.

That Les Paul Bursts have gone from pawnshop castoffs to expensive antiques surprises nobody more than 92-year-old Les Paul.

"It's crazy," said Paul, who lives in New Jersey, where he has about 300 of those pickup switch washers in a box somewhere. "But I'm very gratified. We worked hard to make it the most beautiful instrument there is. It's your mistress, your psychiatrist, your bartender -- everything you could dream of in one instrument."

Paul was a successful guitarist when he began working with Gibson to design a solid-body electric that didn't create feedback at high volumes the way hollow-body instruments did. California inventor Leo Fender was already selling one.

The 1950s proved to be the golden era of electric guitars. Old World craftsmanship fused with new technologies to create instruments that have yet to be surpassed. The Burst wasn't created so much as it evolved.

Paul's first Gibson guitar made its debut in 1952, formed from a slab of 100-year-old Honduran mahogany. Each subsequent model brought new components and design tweaks. A refined bridge that could easily be adjusted with a screwdriver. "Humbucker" pickups, which utilize two tightly wound coils of copper wire to cancel out humming caused by electrical interference. Changes in the shape and angle of the neck. Even the glue and lacquer contributed to the guitar's sound and ability to sustain a note.

Finally, there is the flame. Early Les Paul Standards were painted gold. In mid-1958 the sunburst appeared, a finish that showcased the colors, grain and ripples in the guitar's maple veneer. The play of color and textures evokes fire. Each Burst has its own personality based on the size and pigment of the flame. No two are alike.

Plugged into an amplifier cranked to the max, the Burst explodes with a fat, rich sonic boom. Unfortunately for Gibson, rock musicians of the day weren't interested in the guitar's earthy power. The Burst was a bust.

"When I started out in this business . . . nobody wanted them," said George Gruhn, a Nashville instrument dealer who began collecting electric guitars in the early 1960s. "I got a bunch at $100 and sold them for $250. They've been going up ever since."

Two men are credited with reviving the Burst: Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton. One was from Chicago, the other England. But both were young white guitarists who merged rock with hard-core blues -- loudly.

As rock music turned up the volume, the Burst became the weapon of choice for a legion of guitar virtuosos, including Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Duane Allman. Musicians inspired by them -- onstage or in the garage -- lusted for a Burst.

Ed King, a former guitarist with the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, acquired his first Burst in 1970 at a Virginia bar.

"I traded a guy a guitar and some cash for it," he said. "There's a real reason why these guitars are so valuable, and it goes far beyond the famous people who have owned them. They have a sound that can't be replicated."

As the legend grew, demand for Bursts quickly outpaced supply. Prices rose and collectors squeezed out the average (read: broke) musician, who resented anyone who would rather display than play such a fine instrument. By the late 1980s, Bursts were fetching $10,000 -- a lot of money, it seemed, for a used factory-made guitar.

King kept a close eye on his Burst. Someone else was watching too. In 1987, King says, he was robbed at gunpoint in his home. His Burst was the only thing stolen.

Related
- Jimmy Page playing the Les Paul Burst guitar (YouTube)

"He knew what he was after," said King, 58. "He knew it was valuable."

Ten years later, while flipping through a book at a Dallas guitar show, King did a double-take over a photo of a Burst with a bright red spot around its toggle switch.

"It was like, 'Wow! That's my guitar!' " King said. "Each one is very distinctive from one another. . . . I always thought that I'd run into it again."

The guitar had reportedly landed in a Hollywood music store within days, and later found its way into a private collection. King eventually got his Burst back. Today he keeps it in a vault.

Billy Squier, who gained fame in the 1980s for his powerful guitar licks, is still searching for his first Burst, which was abducted from a locked New York studio more than 20 years ago.

"It was like somebody stole my child," said Squier, who has offered an unspecified reward -- no questions asked -- for the guitar's return.

"I was distraught, not because of the value of it but because it's just such an exquisite instrument. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I'll never get over the loss."

Squier's guitar disappeared into the Burst underground, where buyers and sellers remain anonymous, urban legends abound and forgeries dupe the uninformed.

Hundreds of Bursts, each with its own serial number, remain unaccounted for -- lost, destroyed, buried in Grandpa's attic, sequestered in private collections. A handful surface each year. The reaction is akin to tossing chum into a pool of sharks.

"The people who want these things are fanatic, relentless. They'll hound you forever," said Max Baranet, a former custom guitar maker who lives near Phoenix and is shopping a documentary he made on the history of the Burst.

Baranet is proud of his work making replica Bursts and restoring originals. But he is guarded when asked whether he owns one himself. "I don't tell anybody what I have. Who wants to be bothered with someone sticking five hundred grand under your nose? You might actually let it go -- and then you'll regret it later."

Others have no regrets.

When David Bonsey last year received an e-mail from a Minnesota man who said he had inherited a Burst from his father decades ago, the antiques expert was curious but circumspect.

"Sometimes these things are bona fide, sometimes not," said Bonsey, director of fine musical instruments for the Boston auction house Skinner Inc. The man sent pictures. Bonsey flew to Minneapolis and drove in minus-25-degree weather down a narrow road far into the country.

The guitar's owner was a retired police chief. His kids were grown. He and his wife loved to fish. They owned some land but lived in a trailer.

"We've always wanted to build a little log home," he said.

Bonsey set him straight. "You're going to be able to build a very nice log home."

Bonsey recommended they seek between $120,000 and $160,000 at auction. The guitar sold for $293,000. "Nobody had any idea it would go for so much," he said.
 

FLICKOFLASH

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Mar 17, 2007
Messages
24,841
Reaction score
8,597
The man and his wife got their log home. A plaque on it reads, "The house that Les Paul built."

Bonsey isn't the only expert surprised by the escalation in prices in recent years.

Related
- Jimmy Page playing the Les Paul Burst guitar (YouTube)

Mac Yasuda grew up in Japan a fan of American country-western music. Today, the 58-year-old Newport Beach businessman owns one of the world's largest collections of vintage guitars and banjos -- some 600 instruments valued at more than $10 million that he stores in a Tustin warehouse.

Ten years ago, a broker who said he was representing the Rolling Stones bought two of Yasuda's Bursts for $30,000 each. A month later, he wanted another. He didn't flinch when Yasuda, who had done some research, raised the price to $50,000. Soon the broker was back, plunking down $100,000 for another Burst on behalf of a Canadian banker.

Yasuda says he isn't selling the four Bursts he still has -- including a 1959 model so pristine it could have been sent from the factory via time machine. But he gets offers all the time.

"I used to loan them out to musicians, but I can't anymore. They're too expensive," Yasuda said. "A lot of the new guys who are buying are successful businessmen who made money in the Internet. They have a dream, and they have the money."

Pure investors are elbowing out the average collector, the guy who once could convince himself that spending as much for a guitar as a new car made sense.

"When the price of one guitar is more than your house, most people who collect guitars can't do it anymore," said Gruhn, the Nashville dealer.

Joe Ganzler got in the game just before he couldn't, buying Gladys for $175,000 from a Texas dealer in 2002, before the most recent run-up in prices. Today, he believes he could get more than three times what he paid.

"I was very picky. It was like I was shopping for a wife," said Ganzler, a New Jersey native who made his money in information technology before being squeezed out by outsourcing. "The minute I saw it, I knew it was my guitar."

Ganzler's passion has segued into a business authenticating and brokering Bursts, ferrying guitars and suitcases full of cash across the country.

"A lot of these feel like drug deals," he said. "I'll go anywhere in the world on 24 hours' notice to be involved in one of these deals." He recently has been in conversations with a potential buyer, "a guy in Portland who made his money in Internet porn."

"If I ever bought another one," he added, "I'd be buying to sell it. How many wives do you want? Gladys is my guitar. Of course, if I needed a kidney, that would be different."

He closed the bedroom window so he wouldn't disturb the neighbors, plugged Gladys into a Marshall amp and launched into Bad Company's 1970s anthem "Good Lovin' Gone Bad." The room was engulfed in sound.

Cuz I'm a man

I got my pride

Don't need no woman to hurt me inside

Ganzler would never claim to have the chops of a baby boom guitar hero. But with his shoulder-length gray hair and the growling Burst cradled against his middle-aged waistline, he looked the part.
 

Harpozep

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Nov 11, 2007
Messages
10,189
Reaction score
762
Great read!:thumb:
I love the "Finger of God " comment:rofl::thumb:
Long live the Burst, and the man, Les Paul too:applause:
 

Axeman16

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2007
Messages
2,702
Reaction score
318
who on this forum actually owns a burst?
 

Harpozep

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Nov 11, 2007
Messages
10,189
Reaction score
762
A friend in High school did back in the '70's. He had the Marshall stack too.:applause::applause::thumb:
Then he sold his Burst to continue his studies at Berklee College of Music. Hard choice , I'm sure. The guitar was likely a better investment, but who knows. I have not seen or heard from him since '79.
 

Seoighs

Member
Joined
Dec 1, 2007
Messages
84
Reaction score
0
A friend in High school did back in the '70's. He had the Marshall stack too.:applause::applause::thumb:
Then he sold his Burst to continue his studies at Berklee College of Music. Hard choice , I'm sure. The guitar was likely a better investment, but who knows. I have not seen or heard from him since '79.

Funny you should mention that. I have a good friend currently who studied modern Jazz at Berklee in the mid 70's, and knows of my affinity for LP's. He told me about a college friend who (he thought) had owned an original Les Paul Sunburst. I'm jealous of those guys who got to pursue professional music studies.

By the way, My friend who is the Berklee grad now works as a lineman for the phone company. :rofl:
 

axxeone

Member
Joined
Oct 22, 2007
Messages
74
Reaction score
1
I just wanted to say thanks for always posting these great articals.:applause:

YOU FUKN ROCK!

:slash:
 

LVC

Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2007
Messages
41
Reaction score
3
I owned one.

sold it when I went off to college for $2,500 -- thought I hit the lottery..... little did I know that the payoff on that ticket was just few years off.

If I had that guitar today it could put both of my kids through college and still have change left over to buy a lot of nice toys.
 

notoperational

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 9, 2007
Messages
6,527
Reaction score
1,176
Wow, that is a really interesting story. I guess when people want something SO bad, they can't help but be obnoxious and bug people.
 

flameburst

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 1, 2007
Messages
1,052
Reaction score
1,058
Great stories Flick. Thanks. Love the David Bonsey / Log home account!
 

jimi55lp

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2007
Messages
2,040
Reaction score
341
I never tell locals about my guitars either and don't even own a Burst. When ever I catch myself telling someone that I don't know personally, I'd always be shocked by their reaction and concerns about their wanting to see and touch them. I almost never bring my guitars home from the security vault complex for fear that something will happen to them ( fire, theft, robbery) I don't play guitar and don't own a large number of guitars, but I love vintage guitars and do want to show them better care than they've seen in their past. I think it's good that some of the species is preserved for the future, and I can only base it on the photos I've seen of "HOT LANTA" a year or more after Dwayne died, compared to what it looks like now in the Rock Hall. Some infamous person that is not your hero beat the hell out of one of the most famous Bursts in the world.
 

loneguitar

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 1, 2007
Messages
2,426
Reaction score
131
man could retire with one of those, hind sight, if we'd have known then
 

lp59aholicDon

V.I.P. Member
V.I.P. Member
Joined
Aug 20, 2007
Messages
5,206
Reaction score
61
I met Mac Yasuda at the first 3 Amigos Guitar show they held in Pomona CA, where I also got to meet Seymour Duncan the first time, I had Mac's book and he graciously signed it for me, and looked over my newly purchased " Vintage" but ?? Gibson ES 345 which was either a transistion guitar or a re neck Mac's book is mostly in Japanese writing but the photos are outstanding
 

CharlieS

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2007
Messages
86
Reaction score
39
I think it's good that some of the species is preserved for the future, and I can only base it on the photos I've seen of "HOT LANTA" a year or more after Dwayne died, compared to what it looks like now in the Rock Hall. Some infamous person that is not your hero beat the hell out of one of the most famous Bursts in the world.

Other than being faded, Hot 'lanta is in pretty good shape. His old cherryburst has had the tar played out of it since Duane passed.
 

jimi55lp

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2007
Messages
2,040
Reaction score
341
I only saw it once live at the Warehouse in New Orleans. I was at least 200 feet from the dark stage, but published photos show it in good light being almost emaculate condition at the time of his death with no fade, and it didn't look anything like that in the Rock Hall. My point is that guarding some of these famous instuments doesn't seem to be a bad idea for the future, and if that guitar was cared for the way it is now and not over exposed, it would look the same today as it did in the early 70's. I can understand Page's #1 fading, and all the breakage, as it was used for years of world travel with the top rock band in a fast schedule, but the wear and fade on "Hot Lanta" just seem a waste when you think the owner died before all the wear and fade. That instument was famous as hell and the main axe to one of the greatest guitarists in the world, but was still handed around the room for years after he died with what looks like little reguard. It think its great to go out on special days to stretch the legs on well maintained rare collectables, but they should be cared for when their parked and not stretching. I once went to lunch 45 miles out of town with a local collector who owned one of the 6 Shellby Cobra Daytona Coupes that helped Ford take GT racing from Ferrari in the early 60's! We drove the whole trip both legs at 150 mph with four other cars in convoy, but when it wasn't revealing its heritage, it was covered, maintained, and very well cared for since at that time it was a $ four million dollar very famous race car. I'm all for enthusiasm " BALL TO THE WALL ' but after the last dance, park it and cover it for preservation.
 

Latest Threads



Top