1952 to 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Guitar

Description: 1952 to 1955 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop solidbody guitar
Available: 1952 to present.
Collectibility Rating: 1952-1953: C, 1953-1955: B

If you have a vintage Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar for sale (any year from the 1950s), please contact me at cfh@provide.net

General Comments:
The 1952 and early 1953 Gibson Les Paul goldtop models are not very playable as a professional instrument because of a shallow neckset, and a badly designed trapeze tailpiece. They do have some collector appeal though, as Gibson's first Les Paul generation. The trapeze tailpiece had two problems: first, the strings wrapped *under* the bar, not allowing the player to "mute" the strings with the palm of the hand. The second problem was if the trapeze was knocked from the side, the whole guitar could go out of tune. This happened because the trapeze tail's string bar was not anchored to the top of the guitar (only string presure and a felt pad kept the bar from moving side-to-side). In addition the neck angle is also very shallow on the trapeze models, so the strings could not be looped over the top of the LP tailpiece (the string action would be too high). Also converting to a 1953 style stop-bar or a tunematic was very very difficult again because of the neck angle. The very earliest Les Paul models also had fretboards with no edge binding and the lead pickup had diagonal mounting screws. Because of the funky Les Paul tailpiece on 1952 and early 1953 models, this version of the Les Paul Standard is generally looked down on by players and collectors.

Les Paul himself has said he told Gibson about the tailpiece design flaw when he saw the first production models. He explained that the strings were supposed to wrap *over* the bar, not under it, and that the neck angle should be steeper to accomodate this difference in action at the bridge. Apparently it took Gibson a whole year to figure out that maybe Les Paul actually knew what he was talking about! Because of the 1952 tailpiece problems and complaints, by early 1953 the "wrap around stop bar" tailpiece/bridge combo was adopted by Gibson on the Les Paul Goldtop. This rectified the playability problems (the strings wrap over the *top* of the tailpiece, allowing palm mutes). These models are quite nice (though many players still complained because the stop bar can not be intonated perfectly). The early 1953 wrap-around models still had a shallow neck angle, limiting the downward adjustment of the stop bar. But this had the added benefit of keeping the strings close to the pickups, making early 1953 models with wrap tails very loud guitars. But as 1954 approached, the neck angle increased allowing more downward adjustment of the wrap around tailpiece. Regardless the 1953 stop tail Les Paul Goldtops had better playing action, and the tuning was more stable since the stop bar was now anchored to the top of the guitar allowing no movement side-to-side. The previous problem of right-hand palm muting was solved, as was the tuning problems from tailpiece movement. Although this was a big improvement on the 1952 design, it still had its limitations in respect to intonation.

The conversion from the trapeze to wrap-around tailpiece happened around serial number "3 1300" (with "3 1314" for example having a wrap-around and "3 1359" having a trapeze, so there was some overlap no doubt). Earliest seen wrap-around is serial number "3 0995", so there was definately a mix of wrap-around and trapeze tail Goldtops in the "3 1000" to "3 1400" serial number range). By 1953 a rhythm/treble plastic surround on the pickup selector switch was added. By around serial number "3 22xx", Gibson changed the control cavity route slightly too (no longer routing the ground channel going to the end pin for the original trapeze tailpiece).

The 1950s Les Paul guitars were officially called the "Les Paul" model. This quickly became known as "GoldTop" due to the gold top finish. Although most Gold Tops have exactly that, a gold colored maple top with a natural brown back, a few were made with an all-gold finish. Personally I don't like the all-gold models as much, as the gold finish does not wear well (especially on the back of the neck). The gold finish was clear lacquer with bronze powder. As a result a greenish hue can be seen on many Gold Tops where the bronze particles in the finish oxidize (mainly due to human sweat contact). The green affect shows up much greater on the all-gold models, potentially making them look pretty ugly.

See the 1955 to 1958 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.
See the 1958 to 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst.

If you need to figure out the exact year of your Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, use the Serial Number. See the Gibson Serial Number Info web page for help determining the exact year.

If you have a vintage Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar for sale (any year from the 1950s), please contact me at cfh@provide.net

1952 Gibson Les Paul gold top guitar model introduction guitar specs:
multiple piece carved maple top (not "center seamed", two or three pieces), single cutaway, mahogany back and neck, single ply cream binding on the neck and top (binding is consistent in width and depth along the body's top, even in the cutaway area), two soapbar P-90 pickups with cream covers. Trapeze tailpiece/bridge combo with the string looping under the bar bridge. The string contact point ("the bar" of the trapeze) is NOT screwed or stud mounted to the top of the guitar. In fact it "floats" on its round feet (adjustable for height), with no holes in the top to keep it in place. This is one of the player problems with this tailpiece, as it can easily be hit from the side, causing the pressure mounted tailpiece bar to slide slightly on the top (putting the guitar out of tune). Not to mention the strings can only be wraped *under* the bar and not over the bar (the one degree neck angle does not allow top-wrapped strings).

Very early models had no neck binding and the two pickup mounting screws were positioned diagonially on the pickup's corners (instead of being mounted in a line with the string pole screws). Single bound top and fingerboard, cream color plastic parts, dark brown back plastic covers, tall 5/8" gold barrel-shaped knobs, trapezoid fingerboard inlays, pearl "Gibson" logo positioned 3/4" from the tip of the peghead. The logo on non-neck binding models (early 1952) often has the "G" touching the dot in the "i" (this is rarely seen on bound neck 1952 models.) "Les Paul Model" silkscreened on peghead in gold, no serial number, "Gibson" logo in pearl is noticably lower in position than 1958 and later Les Pauls, nickel plated parts, Goldtop finish, brown back and neck finish (some with gold back/sides). Single-ring keystone Kluson tuners with no "Kluson" name on the gear cover (very early models with vertical "Kluson" and "pat.pend" on the gear cover and no second post hole). Tuner bushings are round (except on very early non-neck binding models where they are hex). Also 1952 models did not have a "rhythm/treble" toggle switch plate. The standard case for this model was a brown hardshell case with a pink lining. The top of the case was flat and had four latches.

Early 1952 Les Paul models (no neck binding) also have different wood routings. For example, the control cavity is a squarish parallelogram shape, instead of the cloverleaf shape used on 1952 models with neck binding. Also the route under the bridge p-90 has the wire channel passing thru the pickup route in the center. Contrast this to 1952 models with neck binding which have the normal wire channel route through the treble side of the neck pick route.

1953 Gibson Les Paul goldtop model guitar specs:
serial number on back of peghead, stud wrap-around tailpiece/bridge with strings looping over bridge (the trapeze tailpiece/bridge was abandoned). The conversion from trapeze tailpiece to wrap-around on the 1953 Les Paul started at earliest around serial number "3 13xx" (so early 1953 models still use the older trapeze tailpiece). Neck set increased from 1 degree (trapeze tail) to 3 degrees (stop wrap tail) to compensate for the new tailpiece in early 1953, but as 1954 approach the neck set increased again slightly from 3 degrees to 4 degrees. This allowed for greatly downward adjustment of the stopbar bridge (1953 Les Pauls with wrap stop tails often are down all the way to the guitar's top to achieve good string playing action). The gold barrel-shaped knobs on 1953 stopbar Les Pauls are shorter than the knobs used on the 1952 trapeze models (1952 knobs 5/8" tall, 1953 knobs 1/2" tall). A cream plastic ryhthm/treble round plate was added around the toggle switch. In 1953 the case for the Les Paul Standard now had a curved top, echoing the carved maple top of the guitar. The rear control route was change in 1953 around serial number "3 22xx". This trapeze tailpiece ground channel route was discontinued. This route was used for the ground wire running to the claw of the trapeze tailpiece.

1954 Gibson Les Paul goldtop model guitar specs:
Neck set increased from 3 degree to 4 degrees to give additional wrap tail movement adjustment. This allowed for greatly downward adjustment of the stopbar bridge (1953 Les Pauls with wrap stop tails often are down all the way to the guitar's top to achieve good string playing action). Note there were a handful of 1954 Goldtops made with the serial number starting with "7". This is confusing as the "7" would otherwise mean 1957 (and a 1957 Goldtop would have a Tunematic bridge). This was no doubt a mistake by Gibson, and the pot source/code can be checked to verify the correct year. I would estimate less than ten of these 1954 Goldtops with a 1957 serial number exist.

1955 Gibson Les Paul goldtop model guitar specs:
Wrap around tailpiece and accompanying studs changed slightly. The "ears" of the tailpiece changed in thickness from 3/16" to 1/4". The accompanying studs had to change also so the new tailpiece would fit the studs. This increase in ear thickness stopped the ears from cracking at the intonation adjustment screw, which was common on the thinner 3/16" thick ear tailpieces. Pickup spacing chnaged from 3 1/8" to 3"; this moved the bridge pickup towards the neck just a bit, putting more wood in front of the wrap-around bridge studs (because some models had problems with the wood cracking in front of the treble stud). By fall 1955 the Les Paul Standard changed from the wrap-around tailpiece to a ABR-1 tunematic bridge and stop tailpiece. See here for details on this change.

1952 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop and original hardshell case.
The original strap that came with the guitar is also seen here.

The jackplate appears to not be original (should be cream colored plastic).

1952 Gibson Les Pauls do not have serial numbers like the 1953 and later models.
The line down the back of the neck is not a crack, but is a mineral streak.

The 1952 Gibson Les Paul rear cavity route showing the large square channel for the ground wire
to the trapeze tailpiece. This channel disappeared from the control cavity route in 1953.

The notorious Les Paul tailpiece with the strings wrapped *under* the bar.
Also notice the tailpiece "feet" are pressure mounted to the top, as
there are no holes or studs to hold them in place.

A 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with a wrap-around tailpiece.

The clearcoat has been worn away on the right forearm portion of the body,
showing the layer of bronze metallic dust mixed into clear lacquer, giving the goldtop finish.

The control cavity still has the ground wire route that went to the trapeze
Les Paul tailpiece, as used on the 1952 models (this route is not used on
the wrap-around tailpiece models like this one). This route existed for
part of 1953 until it was no longer made into the bodies (since it was no longer needed).

1954 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop and original hardshell case.
This is the rare All-Gold version that Gibson sometimes did.
Though rarer, the all gold finish does not wear well, with the gold
often turns green on the back of the neck and other player contact points.
This particular model has not turned green so it's still pretty attractive.
Though more rare, if an all-gold Les Paul has turned green in areas of the
finish, it is usually worth less than the more common goldtop only finish.

1954 control cavity route: the ground wire channel seen in the 1952/1953 models
going to the trapeze tailpiece is now gone.

1954 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop and original hardshell case.
This is the standard version (not all-gold), and in very nice original condition.

1953 to early 1959 style Rhythm/Treble switch ring plastic.
If anyone has an original R/T ring for sale I sure could use one!
Compared to 1970s R/T rings, the 1950s are thinner plastic (.020" thick to be exact, almost like a thin potatoe chip). The font and style of plastic is quite different too, as well as the fact that the rings in the 1970s are molded plastic and the font is different. The 1950s rings where stamped on a press, and the font/color was heat pressed, and the plastic has a surface pattern which is quite faint. If you turn the ring over you should be able to make out a faint series of "lines" in the plastic. Also the edges often show a faint residue of where the die stamped it out, and the lettering often shows through on the back side. The tall narrow font is also unmistakeable, though again because "rhythm treble" where stamped into the plastic, some are deeper stamped than others. That is why, depending on the condition of the guitar and overall usage, the gold paint in the lettering (which is the same lacquer used to spray the gold top) is often either missing, quite faint, or turned a greenish color. In 1957 the R/T ring plastic got slightly thicker going from .020" thick to .025" thick. Then in early-1959 the R/T ring's font changed. This newer variant existed through 1960. After 1960 Gibson was not using cream colored plastics on any guitars (until 1968 when the Les Paul was "reissued"), so cream colored Rhythm/Treble rings were no longer made from 1960 to 1968. The 1970s and later version was completely different (molded, not stamped).

The 1968 switch ring is usually a bit more "pink" in color than the 1950s version. The 1968 lettering was applied differently too, though it's basically the same font as the 1959/1960 R/T ring. The 1959/1960 switch ring lettering was (relatively) deeply embossed into the plastic and colored with the same gold paint as they used on Goldtops of the era. The 1968 lettering was lightly embossed with a gold "foil" - this lettering appears to "float" on top of the ring. The actual font of both the 1959/1960 ring and the 1968 ring appears to be the same, but the individual letters of the 1959/1960 variant are often a bit "thinner". So the 1968 and 1959 "series2" R/T rings are similar, yet very different. Different plastic (color and composition), same font, different (foil on the '68's, think "Goldtop paint" on the '59/'60's) lettering material, different inner and outer edges, etc. The 1959/1960 style are almost "bleach white" or pink when compared to even the earliest 1968 R/T switch rings.

Two original 1953 to early 1959 R/T rings.

Picture thanks to Mike20.

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