Are Les Paul's guitars, records going up in value?

by Peter Lindblad

The recession has affected every segment of the economy. That goes for the vintage-guitar market, too.

Though interest in Les Paul model guitars has risen in the wake of the great innovator’s death, it’s not expected that prices for even the rarest of the Gibsons that bear his name will go up. In fact, according to Dave Rogers, of Dave’s Guitars in La Crosse, Wis., they’ve dropped the last couple of years. And, he adds, “I haven’t seen a run on them since he died.”

Among Les Paul Gibsons, the 1958-1960 Les Paul Standards are considered the most valuable, with the 1959 being the ultimate collectible in this group. “Those are the ones everybody wants,” says Rogers, who estimates that about 1,500 of the 1958-1960 models were made.

In 2005, according to “Warman’s Vintage Guitars Field Guide,” that one — featuring the famed Sunburst design — was worth around $250,000, double the 2001 value for a specimen in excellent condition. By 2008, those same ones were worth more than $400,000.

Today, however, according to a Washington Post article by Jonathan Starkey, Vintage Guitar magazine’s upcoming “2010 Price Guide” projects it’ll be worth around $300,000.

Interestingly, 1950s Les Paul (Goldtop) models reached their peak in 2007. In its “2009 Price Guide,” Vintage Guitar tracked the prices of those guitars versus 1950s Stratocasters. From 2001 to 2006, Les Pauls trailed Stratocasters in price. Then, suddenly, in 2007, the 1950s Les Paul (Goldtop) surged ahead, topping $250,000, while Stratocasters reached more than $200,000.

Two years later, those same Gibson Les Pauls were worth between $150,000 and $200,000, while Statocasters, after being valued at between $200,000 and $250,000 from 2007-2008, settled at $200,000 in 2009, according to Vintage Guitar’s study.

As for those 1958-1960 Gibson Les Paul Standards, Vintage Guitar’s 2009 Price Guide lists prices for models in excellent condition that range from a low estimate of $125,000 for a 1958 model with a plain top and no figuring to a high of $350,000 for both the 1959 model with the figured top and the 1960 highly flamed, strong-color version.

But what about Les Paul’s records, especially the ones he made with Mary Ford in the 1950s?

“I haven’t seen a major spike [in value since Paul’s death], and there’s probably not going to be a major spike,” says John Tefteller, of John Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. “He sold so much product over time, and with any anybody selling thousands of records, they’re usually not rare. The cold, hard fact is that he’s not a big collectable artist whose records are going to bring in a lot of money.”

Still, a couple of the early Les Paul/Mary Ford Decca label 45s — 1949’s “Hawaiian Paradise” and 1952’s “Galloping Guitars” — in near-mint condition can fetch $100, according to the “Goldmine Standard Catalog Of American Records 1950-1975, 6th Edition.”

“The early records on Decca are reasonably hard to find, as opposed to those on Capitol,” says Tefteller.

Having a white-label promo record of Paul’s that’s in store-stock condition might be pretty valuable, according to Tefteller. But overall, there isn’t much in the way of high-priced records out there for Les Paul.

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