Billy Gibbons and the Gibson Les Paul Standard

Updated on October 8, 2018
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Billy Gibbons with one of his many Les Paul guitars.
Billy Gibbons with one of his many Les Paul guitars. | Source

Psychedelic Blues-Rock Reverend, Billy Gibbons

William Frederick Gibbons has reached a higher level of being Texan than most others. Here in Texas, we do, in fact, rank each other on levels of being Texan. Billy Gibbons has reached a level most of us will never achieve. He's a gifted blues and rock guitarist, a singer, an actor, and a record producer. Of course, he's the singer and guitarist for that most Texan of bands, ZZ Top.

Here in Texas, our pecans don't fall too far from their trees. Billy's dad was also an entertainer. The elder Mr. Gibbons was an orchestra conductor and a concert pianist. Billy would be sent to New York City (that least Texan of places) to study music. Perhaps Gibbon's dad felt the removal from Texas would help Billy to appreciate the uniqueness of The Lone Star State all the better.

From dreaded NYC, our Billy would go on to equally dreaded California, and study at Warner Brothers art school. He'd already acquired professional level instruments and amplification (his father had rewarded his scholarly efforts in "places not Texas," with a Gibson Melody Maker, and a Fender Champ amp).

At only eighteen years of age, Billy was forming his first band, but he shall forever be remembered, primarily, as the singer and guitarist for ZZ Top. The Texas blues rock trio has sold over fifty million albums so far and Billy Gibbons has a net worth in excess of sixty million dollars. That's a lot of success for a man with a guitar. While Billy plays and owns a lot of fine guitars, he is most often associated with the Gibson Les Paul. Billy owns a lot of those instruments, but there is one in particular which is famous amongst all Les Paul guitars.

(left to right): Keyboardist Tom Moore, Jimi Hendrix, Bassist Don Summers, guitarist and lead singer Billy Gibbons, and drummer Dan Mitchell. Photographer unknown.
(left to right): Keyboardist Tom Moore, Jimi Hendrix, Bassist Don Summers, guitarist and lead singer Billy Gibbons, and drummer Dan Mitchell. Photographer unknown. | Source

The Moving Sidewalks

Texas has always had a music scene where big things happen. From country, to blues, to rock and psychedelic music, Texas has had it, and has it still. Billy Gibbons is one of our great guitarists, and he's clearly a blues-rock man, but he's also been a part of the Texas psychedelic scene.

You see, before there was a ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons was already a major man on the scene, but not just in Texas, he was nationwide. He had befriended Roky Erickson, the leader of the 13th Floor Elevators, and then he'd befriend none other than Jimi Hendrix.

Inspired by both the blues and psychedelic music, Hendrix and Erickson were the exact persons to befriend and to emulate or get ideas from. Billy would form a band called The Moving Sidewalks. They'd record several singles and a full length album, and get the prestigious gig of opening shows for The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

While The Moving Sidewalks were a good band, and seemed to have a very positive future, the US government had other ideas, and two of the band's members were drafted to go and fight in the war in Vietnam. The band did not immediately end, but it did end. Every ending leads to some other beginning.

Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, and Billy Gibbons - ZZ Top.
Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, and Billy Gibbons - ZZ Top. | Source

ZZ Top

When in 1969, Billy Gibbons would form the great business and musical friendship which has been known since then as ZZ Top, there would be little fanfare. Billy would joke about how, at their very first show, there was one person in the audience, and they'd buy him a coke.

Gibbons had gone from opening for Hendrix and The Doors, to playing at high schools proms. That sounds like an impossible dive from the pinnacle to the pit, but the lives of artists who are not yet truly famous are often very hard.

The first two ZZ Top albums did not do so well, but the band's prowess seemed to grow along with their facial hair. The third album, the wonderful Tres Hombres, would finally get them into the top ten. With songs such as Jesus Just Left Chicago and La Grange, ZZ Top's Texas blues-rock sound was set in stone, and I can recommend no finer examples of such.

Tres Hombres is my favorite of all ZZ Top albums, but the fact of the matter is the sounds and styles the band used afterwards are more what made them superstars. They started doing things which were both fun and silly, and also there were the perv-rock boogie songs, on later albums; and nearly everyone loves Pearl Necklace, and Tush. I always felt like the great Cheap Sunglasses was one of the most musically intriguing things the band had ever done, that groove is just so killer.

ZZ Top Hits The Bigtime in the 1980s

As the 1970s ended and it became the new decade of the 1980s, music was changing. The heavy blues rock of bands like Led Zeppelin, and ZZ Top, those sounds were not played out completely, but people were getting eager to hear something different. For the heavy blues bands, they had to accept this and change, or see their albums and shows less successful.

The three amigos in ZZ Top decided to change. They rolled with the times, and started incorporating new things into both their music, and their showmanship. They'd wind up reaping magnificent rewards for this. In 1983 ZZ Top would produce the album Eliminator, and it would sell ten million copies.

I was just nine years old at the time. We had a Pizza Hut in town, and it had a jukebox. I loved nothing more than bumming a quarter off of my dad to go put into the machine to hear songs like Sharp Dressed Man, or Legs.

What was the source of this big leap in success? Well, for one thing, the music video idiom was all the rage, and ZZ Top's videos did quite well. Musically, the band had decided to incorporate synthesizers, drum and sequencer machines. These things defined the sounds of the 1980s for lots of groups, even ones who'd been around more than a decade.

What happened next? ZZ Top kept cranking out hit albums, but none of them would ever sell so well as did Eliminator. The next album, Afterburner, would chart very high, and sell five million copies. Still a big success. After the end of the 1980s, ZZ Top would return to a traditional sound.

A much younger Billy Gibbons on stage with his famous Pearly Gates Les Paul.
A much younger Billy Gibbons on stage with his famous Pearly Gates Les Paul. | Source

Bill Gibbons Guitar Style

What's happened since then? ZZ Top remains one of the best classic rock bands a body can still go and see in concert, and they sometimes release new albums. Billy Gibbons is always quite the star, and he also does solo shows. Right now in 2018, he is doing a solo tour.

Billy has been in demand, always, as a side man or guest on the albums of other stars. He's played with the Revolting Cocks, Vivian Campbell, Queens of the Stone Age, BB King, Hank Williams III, and who can forget his appearance on Nickelback's Rockstar song and video?

While I don't know Billy personally, I can't help but think one of the highlights of his life has been playing with the late and great Les Paul himself. His guest appearances with other stars is quite long, I didn't list the half of them. So what is it, exactly, that makes Billy Gibbons such a unique and sought after guitarist?

Billy Gibbons has always been Billy Gibbons. He does not try to be trendy with his guitar playing. He does not play fast, and being technically flashy is never his thing. Billy concentrates on phrasing, timing, and vibrato. Like the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons believes and shows that a player's hands are the source of great guitar tone. Unlike SRV, however, Gibbons uses very light gauge strings.

When you think of Gibbons' guitar style, you think dynamics. The brown sound Gibbons employs, and the dynamics of his phrasing and boogie beats, those things make him one of the rare players who is instantly recognizable, even if one is hearing a song for the very first time. Sticking mostly to minor and major pentatonic scales, Billy simply thrives on attitude, and that is what showbusiness is all about.

Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons.
Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons.
A reproduction, by Gibson, of Billy Gibbons 1959 Gibson Les Paul, his Miss Pearly Gates.
A reproduction, by Gibson, of Billy Gibbons 1959 Gibson Les Paul, his Miss Pearly Gates.

The 1959 Gibson Les Paul, Miss Pearly Gates

Billy Gibbons is a collector of fine guitars and also of vintage cars. He has countless guitars, and what you'd think of as a literal guitar vault full of amazing odds and ends that only someone with a lot of money could own. Oh he plays Telecasters and Stratocasters, he plays Explorers and Flying Vs, but there's no single guitar more associated with Billy Gibbons than that one in particular, Miss Pearly Gates, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul.

The story of how Billy came to own a 1959 Gibson Les Paul isn't much different from the stories by other men of his age and generation. He simply saw Eric Clapton holding one on the rear sleeve of what is thought of as one of the greatest blues guitar albums of all time, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Gibbons was made aware of a Texas rancher who owned such a guitar, but he'd given up playing for ranching, and kept the guitar under his bed.

Billy only had the money to pay for the guitar based on a deal he'd made on a car, which he felt had to have been divine. The guitar soon became known as his Miss Pearly Gates. The Les Paul was still in mint condition, but it certainly is not now, for it has graced countless stages in nations across the world. The sound is still divine. Gibbons reports he's been offered five million dollars for his guitar, but he's not selling. He doesn't need the cash, and feels the guitar isn't replaceable.

What about you? Do you want an exact reproduction of the Billy Gibbons Miss Pearly Gates Guitar? Friend, you can have one, but you better have deep pockets. There are three versions of this guitar. The Vintage Original Specification one costs over eleven thousand dollars. The same guitar, but aged by Tom Murphy? It's just a couple hundred over fifteen thousand dollars. The aged one also signed by Billy Gibbons? Yeah, you're going to need at least twenty five thousand dollars for that guitar.

Gibson True Historic 1959 Les Paul Reissue. The finish need not look so much like this one, the finish can be had in many different shades.
Gibson True Historic 1959 Les Paul Reissue. The finish need not look so much like this one, the finish can be had in many different shades.

Gibson Custom 1959 Les Paul Standard Historic Reissue VOS

So the prices for the three different Billy Gibbons Miss Pearly Gates Les Paul guitars scare you. They should scare you. They terrify me. There's no possible way I could buy something like that in a dozen lifetimes.

So what do you do? You buy an R9. What is an R9? The R is for reissue, and the 9 for 1959. An R9 is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul reissue. So many people believe the 1959 Les Pauls were the finest ever produced that there simply must be something to it all. It was like every single little thing came together for Gibson that year, and the production of Les Paul just had an extra bit of magic.

Any actual 1959 Gibson Les Paul is going to be something which costs as much as a nice house. No need to worry about that, as every single year Gibson makes a batch of 1959 Les Paul reissues. What they do is look at actual Les Pauls from that year, and analyze them down to the microscopic level, and reproduce them.

We're still talking about very expensive guitars here, but they are more affordable than the Gibbons Pearly Gates models. They cost over six thousand dollars, and the finishes available on them stretch across a nice range of colors. They don't all look like lemon bursts, but you can surely get that one too.

These are the kinds of guitars which you will typically have to ask someone for access too when you are shopping at a guitar store. They may be kept behind some glass. You may be asked to take off your belt and your jacket. No one wants to be responsible for putting a scratch on such a fine thing, so just keep that in mind, but do not be afraid to ask, just be serious.

Gibson Custom Historic 1959 Les Paul Standard Features

  • Accurate reproduction of a 1959 Les Paul Standard
  • Every detail meticulously re-created to give you the look, sound, and feel of a vintage 1959 model
  • Lightweight mahogany body with beautiful figured maple top
  • '59 Medium C-shaped neck topped with a solid rosewood fretboard
  • Authentic details include vintage-style Kluson Green Key tuners, replica laminated acrylic pickguard, and original cellulose trapezoid inlays
  • Custombucker pickups for dead-on vintage PAF tone
  • 500K CTS pots, handwired harness, Bumblebee capacitors, and Switchcraft switch
  • Hide-glued mahogany neck with extended neck tenon for exceptional sustain and response
  • Gorgeous thin VOS nitrocellulose lacquer finish

Gibson Les Paul Standard T
Gibson Les Paul Standard T

Gibson Les Paul Standard Traditional

The real solution here is the same as it ever was, the Gibson Les Paul Standard Traditional. This is the guitar that has been the single greatest blessing that rock and roll music ever enjoyed. Countless metal, blues, and rock players own and play the Standard T, that there's no way to ever count them all.

It's the benchmark, the standard by which all others are measured, and from Gibson, the most revered and desired maker of electric guitars anywhere on the planet Earth, third stone from the sun. You can't lose.

When I play these guitars I know the tones of Gibbons, Clapton, Moore, Page, and so many more are right there in the palm of my hands, if only my hands and chops can find the skill to bust them out. There's always so much more here that has yet to be discovered. The possibilities are just endless.

You've got the thick bark and growl of the original humbucking pickups, and all you have to do to get country twang is pop a push-pull pot, and there it is waiting for you. The Standard T is available in a wide array of colors and burst finishes, and dang, you can see how the maple flame tops today are straight up more attractive than on the ones from legendary 1959.

I know these guitars are still very expensive, but when a body invests like they do for a Les Paul Standard T, they're going to really spend some time with the thing, and it is a lifetime partner, and one where, if you're my age already, you can leave it to someone who'll maybe love it for their lifetime. Hey, after that, all you need are cheap sunglasses. Thanks for reading.

Gibson Les Paul Standard T Solidbody Electric Guitar Features

  • Gibson Les Paul Standard T
  • Genuine LP sound and looks with modern features
  • Classic mahogany body and AAA flamed maple top deliver singing sustain
  • Available in a wide array of colors and burst finishes
  • Modern weight relief lightens the load without sacrificing tone
  • '60s neck and compound radius fretboard for playing without fatigue
  • Burstbucker Pro pickups kick out smoky humbucker tones
  • Push-pull controls allow coil tapping for single-coil spank
  • PLEK'd for precision playability

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw

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      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        3 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Hey thanks, Ethel!

        Oh I love that stuff from the 70s they did. The best I can hope for is to someday achieve 25% of Billy Gibbon's certified Texan status. Heh.

      • ethel smith profile image

        Ethel Smith 

        3 weeks ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

        You know your guitars Wesman. We still listen to ZZ Top. Great music.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        6 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Wow! Something signed by Jimmy Page is a dream come true for a guitar lover. Ah Les Paul the man, he was something to where, when he was young, they didn't know what to call his music, as it was sometimes beyond the boundaries of the music of the time.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        6 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I remember listening to much of the music you discussed as I have 3 boys who loved ZZ Top, etc. One of my sons owns a couple of guitars, and he won a quitar that I think was signed by the quitarist for Led Zepplin.

        I enjoyed reading all this information, and when I worked as a nurse in the cardiac rehabilitation program we used some Les Paul music occasionally.

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