The Current Market for the 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom

Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared in a recent print edition of Guitarist Magazine as part of their Classic Gear series. Subscribe here for more from the UK-based publication.

Les Pauls built by Gibson in the first years after the classic guitar model's resurrection in 1968 present a fascinating microcosm of the vintage Les Paul market in general. These transition instruments share qualities of both of the original era of Les Paul production in the '50s as well as the less coveted guitars of the 1970s, and they vary substantially in exact specs and details.

Generally speaking, the earlier the guitar was built, the closer it gets to that magical '50s Kalamazoo production. This, in turn, generates more collector interest and higher prices. While it's tempting to draw a neat line between '68- and '69-issued guitars, as with most things vintage Gibson, the reality is not so simple. Many Les Paul Customs released in the first half of 1969 share specs with those built in 1968, while later '69 releases are often more similar to those built in 1970 and beyond.

For this reason, valuation on an individual Les Paul Custom is far more dependent on its condition and specific set of specs than just the year or serial number. No matter which year it was built, pricing factors for late-'60s Les Paul Customs include the following:

Pricing Factors on the '69 Custom

Single-piece vs. "Pancake" Bodies

The earlier '60s Customs used a single piece of mahogany, which is more sought-after than later versions, which included a 4-ply pancake body alternating between mahogany and maple.

Maple Tops

Similarly, some early single-piece Les Paul Custom bodies carried a maple top, like that of an original Les Paul Standard. Some players claim these maple-topped Customs have a mellower tone and are therefore the best of the bunch.

Neck Volutes

The presence of a volute where the headstock meets the neck will lower the value of any vintage Custom. The volute seems to have crept into the Custom design as early as late-'69, though is typically considered a very '70s appointment.

'69 Les Paul without volute

'69 Les Paul with volute

Neck Construction

There's also some neck variation within this era based around either a short or a longer tenon where the neck meets the body, as well as whether the neck is made from a single piece of wood or from three combined pieces. Single-piece necks with the longer tenon are the most collectible.

Beyond these construction variations, of course, case-by-case assessment of originality, condition, and playability can impact the value of an individual guitar more than anything.

Pricing on the Best of the Best Examples

Over the past few years, '69 Customs in pristine condition have sold in the $8,000 to $10,000 range, with several exceeding that mark. Three specific guitars with all the most cherished set of specs in outstanding condition have achieved prices over $14,000.

All of these top-end guitars carry the earlier, '50s-style spec list with some variation on whether the top is mahogany or maple. In fact, many believe that these guitars were built using some leftover parts and bodies from the '50s, so they are as close to that mark as you'll find.

This echelon of the market has been relatively stable over the past several years. Although longer term, interest in this whole era of Les Paul has been heightened as more and more collectors recognize how close these guitars are to, say, a '58 Les Paul Custom at less than half the price.

How Refins, Pickup Swaps, and Other Mods Impact Price

Given the rather inconsistent nature of these guitars and how long they've lurked in the shadows of the collector's market, it's not uncommon to find '60s Les Paul Customs with all manner of repairs and modifications. As with any other vintage guitar, collectors value originality above all else — even in cases where a mod may make a guitar a better sounding or playing instrument.

Of course, not all modifications and repairs are created equally, and the exact toll these take on valuation varies substantially. A neat paint job may only reduce the value 20-30%, while a new suite of electronics (higher-gain DiMarzio pickup installs are not uncommon) might cut the resale value in half.

It's worth noting that with any vintage Gibson, it's worth keeping an eye out for neck breaks and repairs. While professional neck repairs can bring a guitar 99% back to life, it will always decrease the value by around half.

Alternative Buying Options

While Les Paul Customs — and really all Gibsons — from the 1970s following the brand's acquisition by the Norlin corporation are considered to be inferior instruments to earlier eras, there are still excellent instruments to be found in their ranks.

'68 Les Paul Custom Reissue

Indeed, this period of production seems to be more marked by inconsistency than poor quality across the board, which means that while the lows are certainly low, there are definitely some gems to be found. Typically, a mid-to-late-'70s Les Paul Custom can be found in the $2,500 to $3,500 range.

Moving beyond the '70s, the early '80s Heritage Les Pauls are considered very high-quality instruments, while there exists all manner of Les Paul Custom reissues hearkening back to the '50s (though often at prices that exceed some originals). The Gibson Custom Shop has even released a few runs of '68 Les Paul Custom Reissues with maple tops.

Apart from Gibson, there are many other builders making modern Les Paul-inspired guitars. Many players look to Heritage Guitars as an absolutely key alternative, while other brands like Rock 'n' Roll Relics have picked up the vintage LP mantle as well.

On the lower-end of things, there are, of course, plenty of readily available Epiphone Les Paul Custom models. While harder to come by, used Les Paul Custom models built by the now defunct Gibson Japanese subsidiary Orville are also a fantastic value. For those looking for some more metal flavor, the ESP LTD EC1000 updates the Les Paul Custom template with higher-gain pickups and typically faster necks.

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