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"Million Dollar Les Paul: In Search Of The Most Valuable Guitar In The World" by Tony Bacon

Reviewed by Joyce Greenholdt.

by Joyce Greenholdt

In 1958, Gibson introduced a new model in its Les Paul signature line of electric guitars called the Les Paul Standard, popularly known as the “Sunburst” for the finish. Fewer than 2,000 were made before the model was discontinued in 1960; Gibson didn’t consider it a very successful model.

But then guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page began to play Sunbursts in the ’60s, and the model grew to be one of the most desirable items among musicians and vintage guitar collectors alike, with original examples selling for six figures. “Million Dollar Les Paul” looks at the history of Gibson’s Les Paul signature guitars in general and the Sunburst in particular, both as a musical instrument and a coveted collectible. As the title implies, one question author Tony Bacon pursues throughout the book is whether a Sunburst has ever sold for a million dollars.

Bacon interviews professional musicians, collectors, guitar-makers, dealers and even one memorable Sunburst owner who bought a used ’Burst as a teen in 1962 for $185 and discovered, decades later, that collectors would be willing to pay a hundred grand or more for his beloved instrument. The stories and anecdotes are entertaining by themselves, but potentially even more valuable for would-be collectors and investors are discussions about fakes and reproductions, not to mention the tricky question of worth itself, given the fluid nature of collecting values.

Given that the book was released in late 2008, in the midst of the worldwide economic downturn, one expert’s comments on how larger world events could impact the value of even the rarest item are something every collector should take to heart.