The search is on. Gibson on July 14 began one of the biggest-ever treasure hunts in the MI industry, searching for its missing shipping ledgers from 1959-1960, which disappeared decades ago from its archives. The prize for the person who finds it and returns it to Gibson: $59,000.
Of premier interest in these missing ledgers is the 1959 Les Paul Standard, one of the most storied guitars in the history of guitar making. Only 643 Les Paul Standards were shipped in 1959. Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Slash, Joe Bonamassa, Rick Nielsen and Jason Isbell are among those who have known to play the guitar. “It has a deep, powerful sound and you can use it to imitate just about anything: violin, sax, cello, even a sitar,” said Beck.
“As ledgers come, it is the most important one for us,” Gibson chief marketing officer Cesar Gueikian told the Music & Sound Retailer. “We don’t think it is a coincidence it is the one that is missing. [CEO] ‘JC’ [Curleigh] and I are really focused on being great custodians of the brand. I was talking to Mat Koehler, [head of Gibson’s custom shop], about six months ago. We decided to open this [search] up to the world instead of following leads. We thought this is such exciting news for the music and guitar community. … I think now is the right time to launch the search and create the right incentive for our fans out there to look for these ledgers.
Gueikian added he believes there is a about a 50-percent change the ledger is recovered and returned to Gibson. “But [either way], I think it is a very exciting thing we are doing for the entire guitar community.”
“1959 was a really important year, not just because it was such a collectible year, but it is the genesis of our entire guitar collection and all the unique shapes we still make today,” Koehler told the Retailer. “It really is the DNA of who we are as a company.”
Surprisingly, Koehler revealed that Les Paul Standard guitars did not sell well in the late 1950s, leading to its discontinuation in 1960. This rarity of the guitar has led to Les Paul models of the era, specifically 1959, to skyrocket. “Guitars evolved into a different design entirely. But then, famous players began to adopt [the Les Paul Standard],” said Koehler. “Famous guitarists, most notably Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, inspired others to play it and eventually the model was brought back. 1959 was the when all the specs came together and that is the most coveted year for collectors. The combination of quality and scarcity makes it a [valuable item].”
There are theories regarding when the ledgers were last seen. Gueikian theorized it could go all the way back to 1979 when Gibson moved from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Nashville. He added that recovering the missing ledgers would allow Gibson to better learn the product mix it manufactured at the time, such as the Les Paul Gibson Doublecut, and other solid-body guitars, information that would be contained in the ledger. “It will be the last piece of the puzzle to see what the product mix was back in the day,” said Gueikian. “We have semi-hollow and some other records from that era, but not solid-body.”
Despite ledgers missing for the 1959 Les Paul Standard, the guitar can be authenticated. Gueikian stressed however that Gibson itself is really the only one who can certify its guitars, with Koehler one of the main people who does so. “You don’t go to a corner shop to buy a certified BMW. You go to an authorized BMW dealer,” related Gueikian. “If you are in the market for a 1959 Les Paul and you find one, you should send it to us. We have had folks who have been with us many decades in the factories and I think there is nobody better than us to authenticate a real Gibson.”
As for the general process of authenticating a 1959 Les Paul, Koehler relayed, “Without those records, you really do not know for sure, but a qualified, vintage expert can tell the difference [between an authentic 1959 Les Paul Standard and a facsimile].”
Finding the missing ledgers can add another level of excitement via the auction market. Weeks ago, the guitar Kurt Cobain played on “MTV Unplugged” in 1993 sold for $6.01 million. Authentic 1959 Les Paul Standards — even those not attached to a celebrity playing it — could fetch huge prices at auction. “The ledgers will bring authenticity to the collector world and to the industry,” said Gueikian. “It will bring excitement on one hand because of that, but it will bring a lot of disappointment as well [for those who do not have an authentic 1959 Les Paul Standard]. But values of the real guitars are going to go up. If you just look at the 1959 Les Paul and assume nobody famous ever played it, it is the most expensive guitar in history.”
What if the 1959 Les Paul were played by someone famous? Gueikian stresses it is his opinion, “But I can say with a high level of confidence that if Jimmy Page were to auction his No. 1 or No. 2 [guitar], they would auction for $20 million each, because of the name associated with it.”
Of course, Koehler hopes the missing ledgers are returned to Gibson. But either way, the “treasure hunt” will be fun and provide a lot of excitement for end users. “It will steer those people who cannot afford an [expensive] guitar to buy our reissues,” he concluded. “Our custom shop makes them, so we can offer than vintage experience and emotional connection to our fans as well. So, it comes full circle.”
In addition to finding the missing ledgers, Gibson is seeking to recover pre-1970 documents, blueprints and unique Gibson historical assets. Gibson is willing to evaluate relevant items and individual rewards terms on a case-by-case basis. Gibson reserves the right to validate information and to authenticate materials as genuine articles prior to issuing rewards for pre-1970 items, which may include cash, Gibson gift cards, instruments and experiences (conditions apply).
Following is the three-step Gibson validation request process for all items:
- Send email validation request to: 59Ledger@gibson.com. Emails must include the following:
- Written description
- Photograph(s) and/or videos of the items
- Contact email and phone number.
- The validation email request will be reviewed within 15 business days by the Gibson Historical Committee(GHC), comprising Gueikian, Koehler, Mark Agnesi (director of brand experience) and Jason Davidson (director of consumer services).
- Based on the GHC’s analysis, the submitting party will be contacted with next steps and instructions.