My “Holy Grail”: 1953/1959 Les Paul Conversion

14 Aug My “Holy Grail”: 1953/1959 Les Paul Conversion

Did you know, the triad of years ranging from 1958 to 1960 are often referred to as the “Holy Grail Les Pauls” (i.e. the Holy Grail of electric guitars)?

This is probably the most expensive type of Les Paul – and therefore the most expensive electric guitar not owned by a rock star – in existence today.

Les Pauls produced during those three years are just a few thousand in number – I seem to recall in total there are only around 3000 guitars listed as being produced – and probably some of those have gone missing, been broken, or have been irreversibly modified and so on.

Sadly, not many survive in their original form today. Some of the best rock sounds of all time were recorded using these, I’m talking about the usual; early Clapton, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff (one of my two guitar heroes, the first being Angus Young) amongst others (you’ll surely be able to add several more).

Ever since I was old enough to appreciate good tone I’ve wanted one. I’ve owned many, many Les Pauls over the years, but now looking back at the ones I have owned (a couple I still own today but I’ve not revealed them yet), they played and sounded well too, but not quite like this one does.

This guitar was made for me circa 15 years ago (made in the sense of “converted”, please read on), in San Diego, CA, by a well known luthier called Scott Lentz.

Scott did two for me, this one being the second (and my favorite). The first was stolen a few years ago, together with a mint 1961 Gibson SG Standard. The Stealer’s name is Robert “Bob” Martancik, a guitar dealer of the whereabouts of New Jersey, I never heard from him again, he disappeared from the net (seemingly, from the planet).  Gone…..

Anyway, I’d really wanted to have a “Holy Grail” burst (“burst”, is the nickname these are often given, coming from the type of color finish typical of the late ’50s that Les Paul Standards had: sunburst).

You have to consider that in the last 20 years real Bursts have been skyrocketing in price: today, a good Burst (it’s hard to define good: but let’s say, from the collector’s point of view – not the player’s! – good Bursts must have a great flame, be unmodified in any way, etc.) can fetch as much as 250k USD.

Not only did it have to sound good – no wait, terrific – I wanted it to really sound like a 1959 Les Paul and to look identical to one as close as is possible. Also, it didn’t have to cost as much as a flat in Manhattan!

Scott had told me about conversions. Conversions are basically early 1950s Les Pauls (from 1952 up to 1956) that are (or have been) modified to match the exact specifications of the 1958-1959 and 1960 Les Paul Standard “bursts” (note: as the original Bursts didn’t have identical specifications – they were hand built during those years! then “exact” specifications are somewhat “vague”. Discussions and studies on the subject are still of major interest to players, collectors and builders today). These modifications may include a neck reset (neck angles of the early models was slightly different), routing holes for humbucker pickups instead of P90’s and other delicate modifications (more about conversion guitars can be found in this related article).

Scott was, and still is, exceptional at this. One has to also keep in mind that conversions were not as widely known 15 years ago as they are today. Nowadays, they are definitely in fashion among mature players, and if you log into any Les Paul Forum, you will surely see some “conversion talk”. Back then, it was much more of an obscure thing.

So Mr. Lentz made these two guitars for me, one of which has stayed with me, but it has also changed and evolved a bit. Similarly, in terms of features (I’ve added more original components to the guitar over the years) and in terms of playability and tone (I’ve had it setup by a great German Luthier who’s also applied the technique of plek’ing this guitar. A type of setup that I strongly recommend to any serious player who wants their fretboard to be simply, perfect.

This guitar features a pair of original, unopened 1959 PAF’s ( I ‘stole’ them from a hollow body guitar that I used to own) that sound killer, an original 1950’s wiring harness (the whole circuitry, cables, potentiometers) and original 1950’s capacitors, the famous “bumblebees” (please see here a set of my 1950s paper in oil capacitors, aka “BumbleBees”) that are synonymous with shaping the sound of 1950s Les Paul Standards (and even prior models).


One interesting video to watch and listen to this guitar might be represented by this clip

Now, IF you’ve made it this far with the reading (congratulations!) you MUST watch these clips of Paul Kossoff with the great Free. Yes, you MUST.

Warning: reading, watching, listening to these things is known to cause a disease. This disease will never go away for the rest of your life. It will make you hunt for tone – recklessly – buy guitars, components, amplifiers, gear, etc. Some call it the GAS syndrome (Gear Acquisition Syndrome),      I have been sick with this disease for the past (at least) 25 years, there is no cure………………. You have been warned 😀

Post to be edited/continued

Adaptation of this article by Robert Taylor

Note of the author for the more ‘particular’ reader: these articles on  SoloDallas’ gear are not intended to be egotistical, neither am I intending to show off. They are for passion, documentation/information and sharing pleasure with those who have a similar interest.  Thanks for your trust and understanding, SD

Fil "SoloDallas" Olivieri

We Are Rock 'N Roll People.

  • avatar
    Posted at 19:06h, 04 May

    Holy Tone! Holy playing!

  • avatar
    Posted at 16:13h, 18 November


    […]My “Holy Grail”: 1953/1959 Les Paul Conversion[…]…

  • avatar
    Posted at 05:58h, 16 September

    PS. out of curiousity, what kind of frets are on this guitar? Thanks!

    • avatar
      Posted at 12:27h, 06 November

      Probubly Rosewood.

  • avatar
    Posted at 05:57h, 16 September

    Gorgeous guitar Fil and most importantly also gorgeous globs of tone 😉
    I have a HM ’07 R9, very happy with it. Re the Plek i’d recommend it to anyone – whenever it’s needed!

  • avatar
    Posted at 20:26h, 01 September

    Beautiful guitar and I think I have GAS!

    • avatar
      Posted at 16:37h, 03 September

      Welcome to the club 😛

  • avatar
    Posted at 09:51h, 31 August

    If you would get to hear where the stealer and/or the guitar he stole from you is located, what would you do?

  • avatar
    Posted at 02:00h, 27 August

    Part 1/5 of an interesting video on the late great Paul Kossof. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL5DfQVSzcI

    • avatar
      Posted at 10:53h, 31 August

      Very brave and very moving for a berieved father to be able to do this.

  • avatar
    Posted at 20:57h, 25 August

    Hey Solodallas,
    I thought you might like to see this. This guy played with Bad Company and there’s a part where he (briefly) explains how to play “All Right Now.” I wanna know if you disagree or agree with him. Thanks


    • avatar
      Posted at 03:22h, 26 August

      Oh yep. I knew that one clip and yes, he did it right. Sounds cool huh?

  • avatar
    Posted at 17:27h, 25 August

    Totally agree with the genius of Paul Kossof. SO young but so talented and so much feeling, it’s insane !
    The 2nd video is very instructive : it clearly shows that he plays the classic opening riff with the pinky on the E string to slide it up sometimes.
    It also shows that he plays the chorus on the thicker strings around the 10th and 12th frets and not around the 7th and 9th frets on thinner strings.
    And I’m not talking about all the rythm variations he’s doing.
    Once again, simple ain’t easy, right Fil !!!

    About the conversions. It’s often (always ?) a early 50’s LP modded to look like a late 50’s one.
    Do you know/think if it’s possible to do the opposite ?
    I mean put a wraparound instead of a TOM, and P90’s instead of HB.
    I’m basically dreaming of a ’52 LP Style at affordable price (probably MIJ), but these ones are ultra rare ;(

  • avatar
    Posted at 14:33h, 25 August

    Am i’am allowed to take a copy of the Les Paul just underneath the Article title? I would like to have it as background picture on my computer, so i just wonder 🙂

    • avatar
      Posted at 14:42h, 25 August

      You are allowed to do what you heart desires here.
      You can copy any image there is and share it with the world. Post it in the streets. You can print it and wipe whatever off with it, if it pleases you 😀 You can do ANYTHING with my stuff. I only require to give credit to me as you use it (i.e., if you share it, print it, … ).

  • avatar
    Posted at 04:44h, 15 August

    I Always tought that this guitars sounds a bit louder than the other les pauls i saw/heard you play.

    Probably because of the wood?

    • avatar
      Posted at 05:24h, 15 August

      You may have a point. Let’s say that older wood tends to have its own characterization, when played unplugged it sounds more “acoustic” than newer instruments, when plugged it tends to retain its acoustic characteristics. Pickups also help in this situation: early PAFs and Patent numbers stickers are known to have a “transparent” character to reflect the tonal aspect of the wood of the instrument.

    • avatar
      Posted at 05:27h, 15 August

      So basically Dave, my opinion is that – yes – it’s the wood. Keep in mind that this matter is extremely debated, it’s a matter of daily discussions, heated discussion too, on some forums. I think people are getting more and more aware of these things – including myself – and are getting towards realistic definitions of what this all boils down to.

      • avatar
        Posted at 17:07h, 03 September

        It’s funny about how the wood of an guitar can affect the sound, and how different some peices of wood can sound compared to each other.

        I recently tried one thing, when i discovered my own guitar were made of Mahogny body , neck and rosewood frets, i replaced the old strings with new, tuned the guitar as good as i could, and made ”big” sounding chords(striking hard at a simple chord as an G or A), and then quickly held the guitar body at my ear to hear how the wood became affected by the chords.

        I was stunned by it, it felt so .. it was an incridible feeling it gave, it.. felt ”alive” in some sense, i cannot explain, it felt fashinating how the wood vibrated, how it sustained, how the tone affected the guitar, i felt earlier long ago how the body vibrated when i played, expecily when i played ”hard”, but i could never have imagined it made the wood vibrate and sound as i could hear it do, i guess that it depends on the induvidual guitar so some guitars might sound better and some worse, all guitars have their own characteristic sound in some sense, try it out on some guitars as i did, listen to how the sound affects the body in your guitar, and listen carefully – If it’s a good guitar that is broken in, the result should be very interresting, try it out, play the guitar unplugged and make a big chord and hold the guitar body to your ear and listen to how the wood responds, vibrates and sounds like 🙂

  • avatar
    Posted at 20:13h, 14 August

    So I’m guessing with the Rob Martancik guy, you sent him those two guitars to have work done and he ran off with them?

    • avatar
      Posted at 06:07h, 15 August

      Actually, I wanted to sell those. So yes, I sent him those so that he could evaluate their value and sell them for me.

  • avatar
    Posted at 20:10h, 14 August

    How much does such an converting costs?

    And what are the specs of 59´Les Paul burst?

    Seriously this awakens ” i Want it!” feelings by watching the photoes 😛

    Great looking guitar!

  • avatar
    Posted at 19:05h, 14 August

    a truely amazing guitar Fil, u are a lucky man to possess such an instrument 🙂

    • avatar
      Posted at 19:26h, 14 August

      Thanks Ryley, indeed I am a lucky guy 🙂

  • avatar
    Posted at 18:54h, 14 August

    One day I will own a guitar like that, just beautiful.

    By the way, how much does a Plek job for a guitar cost?

    • avatar
      Posted at 18:57h, 14 August

      I really wish you do, since it is an inspiring instrument. Inspiring instruments simply make you play better. Replicas are getting closer and closer… A plek jpb should cost about 200 USD but as more and more luthiers invest in plek machines, costs will go down.

      • avatar
        Posted at 19:00h, 14 August

        Ever since I saw Jimmy Page play one of those, my life changed haha.

        So how does the Plek process work, do I send them my guitar, wait for them to do it and then mail it me back?

        • avatar
          Posted at 19:10h, 14 August

          Exactly as you supposed. Send it, they work on it, send it back.

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