1990 Gibson Les Paul Custom, as made famous by James Dean Bradfield
OK, he may have broken the neck on his twice, and changed the pick-ups four times, but it's an Alpine White 1990 Les Paul Custom that has defined James Dean Bradfield's image and sound across every Manic Street Preachers album for some 30 years. Now that's a design for life ;-).
And a design for life in more ways than one. Gibson launched the first Les Paul, their first solid-body electric, in 1952 - available in any colour, as long as it was gold. It was the start of (formally) a 10-year endorsement and design relationship with the most famous guitarist of the early 50s, Les Paul. And (eternally) the birth of a guitar model that has been in the hands of so many of the guitar gods that followed in his footsteps. A proper icon.
That first one wasn't enough for Les Paul, though. He wanted something with a touch more class, something more luxurious, something that "looked like a tuxedo". So, late in 1953, Gibson launched the Les Paul Custom - also in any colour, as long as it was black. "The Black Beauty" ticked all the class and luxury boxes, with superior detailing and craftsmanship on top of the "basic" Les Paul - the gold hardware, the multi-layer binding to the headstock and body front & back, the bound ebony fretboard, the low frets, and that generous application of mother-of-pearl to the headstock and fretboard. Classy then, classic now. And all part of the template for the single-cut Les Paul Custom ever since.
James bought his in Macari's in Denmark Street in 1990/91. Like so many of us, he was starstruck by the guitarists he'd loved - Steve Jones, Lyndsey Buckingham, Mick Jones, all toting Alpine White Les Paul Customs. In his own words: “Getting this Les Paul was Shangri-La to me - ‘when I get a white Les Paul Custom I will fly!'". And so he has. For 30 years or so, it's the white Les Paul Custom that he's been seen with the most and played the most, across all Manics albums and tours. "It’s weathered, been on all 12 albums. Is it iconic? Maybe, on a mini level.” I'd say his is more than mini. But this same-year Les Paul Custom holds its own. An absolute beauty to behold, and to play. I love it, and can't think why you wouldn't too!
See & Hear It In Action
James Dean Bradfield Takes Guitarist Magazine Through His Guitar Collection: Not just the Alpine White Les Paul Custom, but two fabulous Fenders, a 1968 Thinline and a Jazzmaster . . . and the big reveal that Motorcycle Emptiness was recorded on the Thinline, not the Les Paul Custom (after a closely fought play-off between the two).
Motorcycle Emptiness: He may not have recorded the song on the Les Paul Custom, but he's played it live pretty much ever since. Here, to a home crowd in Cardiff in 1999. A glorious anthem that will stay with you . . . forever.
Master Guitarist Dave Simpson Puts A 1990 Les Paul Custom Through Its Paces: Starting with one of the guitarists that first inspired James Dean Bradfield to get his own Les Paul Custom - Steve Jones - and showcasing another iconic Alpine White god, Randy Rhoads. Genius.
Be the first to hire this Alpine White beauty! Beyond loneliness . . .
This beauty is in amazing condition for a guitar that's now past its 30th birthday. Only a few small dents, some light playwear to the pickguard, very little wear to the gold hardware, and no cracks or chips of any note. And yet, it's still managed to develop that lovely yellowing to the lacquer that makes these older Alpine Whites so glorious. Whoever owned this guitar before loved it, cared for it, and loved it some more.
The pick-up configuration is a bit of a mystery. Stock pick-ups on this era of Les Paul were either a pair of 490 R & T humbuckers or, on earlier models, Bill Lawrence "The Original" HB-R & HB-L circuitboard pick-ups, a pairing you can find on our 1989 Gibson Les Paul Standard or 1989 Gibson 62 Reissue SG. The 1989 Gibson catalogue calls these R-4 and L-8 pickups (Rhythm and Lead), probably because at the time, the relationship with Bill Lawrence was coming to an end, so Gibson wanted to give them their own name. Oddly, though, this Les Paul Custom has the Bill Lawrence circuitboard pick-up only at the bridge position. The neck has a stamped "PAT. NO. 2, 273, 842" humbucker. It looks like stock, but it doesn't have the drilled holes in the underside casing that 490Rs seem to have as standard. I haven't taken the pick-up cover off to see whether there's any other identification on the bobbins. I may one day. But for now, I'm happy to live with the mystery ;-).
And, apart from a tendency towards geekiness, there's no reason on earth to solve the mystery. This is such a fabulous player. And a comfortable one too. It weighs in at just under 10lbs - which is an indicator of both a high quality bit of mahogany, as much one less trip to the chiropractor.
And then there's that sound. This is the real deal. Lovely natural resonance from all of that wood, beautiful tone in clean mode, roaring sustain in overdrive, incredible speed from the low fretted neck. An absolute glory. And, unsurprisingly, an opportunity to quote another of the Manics' anthems: We Love You.
Sources & Links
The Les Paul Custom Story, on Vintage Guitar And Bass: If ever you want to find out more about the history of an iconic guitar, Vintage Guitar And Bass is the place. A 1990 is too young to make it into these pages, but there's everything you need to know about the pedigree of this guitar from inception to the 70s..
The Original 1989 Gibson Catalogue: Thanks to Guitar Compare for digging this one out. Featuring those mysteriously named R-4 and L-8 pickups across the range.
James Dean Bradfield's Guitars in Guitarist Magazine: The original article to go with the video. "A mini-icon", and some.