Les Paul's "Number One" Sells for $930,000 at Auction

Image via CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2021. Used with permission.

Les Paul's "Number One" Gibson Les Paul sold via Christie's auction house today for a total of $930,000 USD, in a lot that also included a circa-1954 Ampex Model 307 tape machine from Paul's home studio. The final price greatly exceeded the estimate, which had been set between $100,000 and $150,000.

According to Les Paul's son Gene, the early Gibson signature model was Paul's main instrument for several years starting in 1952, and one that the legendarily inventive guitarist continued to tweak and modify after receiving from Gibson.

The "Number One" gets its name not from being the first-ever Les Paul, but from being Paul's go-to guitar throughout that pivotal era. In fact, it replaced two of the previous Les Pauls the man himself had already received from Gibson. Christie's writes, "In an effort to meet [Paul's] rigorous expectations Gibson speculates that the guitar Paul would call his 'Number One' was a replacement sent later in 1952."

Watch this video about the "Number One" with Tom Doyle, Paul’s long-time guitar builder, engineer, and producer.

The Christie's Lot Essay goes on to explain what set the "Number One" apart from other Les Pauls at the time:

It was, like Mary's guitar, manufactured by Gibson with custom wiring requested by Paul but now with a bound fingerboard that would be standard on all Les Paul Models going forward. Unlike the Gibson Les Paul Models sold to the public, the present guitar was equipped with only one master volume control and one master tone control. Also deviating from Gibson's standard design is the output jack which is located on the face of the body. This last requirement by Paul was to alleviate the danger of disconnecting his output jack while on stage. Paul was later said to have claimed that this instrument was the first that felt right to him and fulfilled all his ideas of what an electric guitar should be and lead him to dub it his "Number One".

Paul's modifications over the years included several new bridges and all new electronics, with the evidence of such swapping being evident in body's deep pickup route.

$930,000 is, of course, a great deal of money for a guitar, though Les Paul's Les Paul did not reach the highest of high prices recently garnered from other high-profile guitar auctions.

Back in 2017, one of Prince's Cloud guitars sold for $700,000; in 2019, David Gilmour's Black Strat sold for just under $4 million; and in 2020, Kurt Cobain's Unplugged Martin acoustic went for the incredibly high price of $6.1 million.

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