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Dickey Betts and the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop

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.

Dickey Betts

Dickey Betts

Dickey Betts: Great Electric Guitarist

Forrest Richard "Dickey" Betts has long been one of the greatest electric guitarists. Dickey is a master of country, jazz, blues, and rock fusion. He is one of the cornerstones of what has become known as southern rock. A budding musician at the young age of five years, he'd play the ukulele and, as soon as his hands got large enough, he'd move on to mandolin, banjo, and, finally, the guitar.

Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, Betts would spend time with his musical family, enjoying traditional bluegrass music, country music, and western swing. His rural black blues and traditional jazz influences were never to leave his music. More than any other living guitarist, he'd use those influences to create sounds on electric guitar that would represent the very soul of the traditional southern man.

Betts, of course, is more than just one of the greatest living guitarists, and founders of southern rock, he's also a great singer, songwriter, and composer. He will always be remembered for being one of the founders of the legendary Allman Brothers Band, but he's also had a fine solo career.


Dickey Betts and the 1957 Les Paul Goldtop

Dickey Betts has always been very closely associated with Gibson electric guitars. While Betts mostly plays Gibson Les Paul models, he's frequently used Gibson SGs, and ES-335 models as well. He's also noted for his non use of effects, as he much prefers to plug straight into a Marshall stack.

So far as the Lesters go, Betts has a love affair with the 1957 Les Paul. This guitar, which Betts acquired in 1971, was at one point, in later years, loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As it sat in there, some sort of chemical reaction tainted its looks. As a result, Betts sanded the finish completely off and refinished it himself in red.

All this to say that when you see a Gibson Dickey Betts gold top, and then you see a Gibson Dickey Betts red top, both are modeled after the exact same 1957 Gibson Les Paul. This doesn't mean the two models made after Betts LP are the same (other than the paint job). Although brand new, the Gibson gold top model was aged by Tom Murphy to appear to be old.

Betts also owns and plays Gibson reissues that clone his once golden Les Paul. He plays the red one, which used to be gold as well. Betts considers the guitars working tools, and has been quoted as saying the Gibson reissues are every bit as good, and possibly even better than the vintage guitars.

Facts About the Gibson Dickey Betts Les Paul Models

  • The gold top and the red top guitars are recreations of the exact same 1957 Gibson Les Paul, owned by Dickey Betts
  • As such, either guitar is essentially an R7. What does "R7" mean? R7 translates here as a 1957 Gibson Les Paul reissue.
  • Neither of these guitars are currently in production. This does not mean Gibson will not create more in the future, nor does it mean that they will.
  • The gold top Dickey Betts models are much more expensive than the red top versions, because the gold top models were "aged," or relic guitars, with work done by Tom Murphy.
Gibson True Historic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson True Historic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop

Gibson True Historic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop

I'm pricing the Betts red top Les Paul online for $6,000. Right this moment, there is a gold top Betts Lester for sale online for $18,000. That's right, you read the number correctly. Keep in mind these are used guitars.

Now, seeing as how limited edition Gibson Les Paul guitars with the names of famous persons, besides the namesake, on them are unlikely to be abused, one can generally expect the guitar to be in very good condition. Still, you may want a brand new guitar, and not one that smells like cigarettes and whiskey. So what do you do?

You can buy a Gibson True Historic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop. What's so significant about 1957, anyway? Well, it was the first year that the Les Paul featured what has since become a (pardon the overuse of the word) legendary device. Of course I'm talking about the PAF humbucker.

You can buy a nice car or truck for what you would have to pay for 1950s Gibson PAF pickups. According to Gibson, the 1957 True Historic Les Paul Goldtops are the best reproductions available. These guitars, alas, are not produced every year, and, when they do make a batch, it is typically limited to one hundred individuals. They do not sell for cheap.

Gibson Custom True Historic 1957 Les Paul Reissue Electric Guitar Gold Top Features

  • True Historic Plastics: Molecular level analysis delivers authentic vintage design
  • True Historic Pickup Covers: Designed and engineered based on the originals
  • Double-Carved Top: Authentic vintage dish profile
  • Double-Carved Neck: Hand sanded for ideal playability and accurate profile
  • "Broken" Peghead Edges, Smoother Edges: Vintage Looks and Feel
  • Thinner Peghead Veneer: A testament to obsession with detail
  • Thinner True Historic Wet-Sanded Finish: More work, more authentic
  • Hide Glue Top Construction: A real vintage spec on the most "original" Reissue yet
  • Rolled Fingerboard Binding: It's all about feel and playability
  • CustomBucker pickups, Gibson's most accurate reproduction of original PAF pickups
Gibson USA Les Paul Tribute HP 2017 Electric Guitar, Satin Gold

Gibson USA Les Paul Tribute HP 2017 Electric Guitar, Satin Gold

Gibson USA Les Paul Tribute HP Electric Guitar, Satin Gold

When you're a fan of The Allman Brothers Band, it's easy to determine, to some extent, what sort of person you are, or more so, what sort of person you are not. I've listened to the music my entire life, and read countless interviews and watched lots of video interviews too. One thing which gets brought up a lot when talk turns towards the late Berry Oakley is this: He knew the demographics, which is to say he knew who the band's fans were.

Oakley harped on about things so much the rest of the members of the band were forced to see things the way Berry did. He absolutely was determined at all points to provide a product to his fans, be it the shows, the records, or concert merchandise, that they could afford. He wanted to provide the fans with tremendous value at a reasonable price.

Gibson guitars, of course, are in financial hard times. A lot of us who talk about such things online believe this is because Gibson puts so much focus on "cork sniffer" instruments. Nobody is saying these R7s, R8s, and the ever so coveted R9s are not wonderful. Dickey Betts will tell you at length that they are wonderful, of course, for him, they aren't expensive.

I've asked myself, "What would Berry Oakley do?" Were Berry around to suggest an Allman Brothers guitar for rural southern, and working class persons to aspire to own, he'd suggest Gibson Tribute HP Les Paul. This is a Lester that a working musician could save up to purchase. It can accomplish any job.

You don't have to get a gold one, they're available in other satin color finishes. If you get one labeled as "HP," then that stands for "high performance." You shouldn't think it will perform any better than the Lester Tribute models that do not have the HP on the model. How it performs is mostly up to you. What is indicated here is that the HP models have '57 Classic humbuckers, and the ones not marked HP have the 490R and 498T set.

Either set of pickups is fabulous. The 490R and 498T set, however, are made to have a more powerful mid-range response. I've found that, were you to wish to dial in the most Betts or Duane Allman like tone you could hope for, you'd need to back off your mids on your amplifier, and possibly on your tone controls as well.

Gibson Les Paul Tribute HP Electric Guitar Features

  • Les Paul with modern updates for high-performance playing
  • Maple top, mahogany body with 9-hole weight relief
  • SlimTaper neck profile is comfortable and familiar
  • Wider fretboard for optimal string spacing
  • G Force tuning system
  • Titanium adjustable zero-fret nut makes setup simple
  • '57 Classic and '57 Classic+ humbucking pickups deliver your tone
  • Fast-access neck heel offers great access to higher frets
  • Titanium bridge saddles
  • Top-quality cable jack and noiseless toggle switch

Brief History of Dickey Betts in The Allman Brothers Band

Dickey Betts has a net worth in excess of $40 million. Oh, it's been a long and challenging career for him to have gained that kind of wealth, but to be good enough, and loved enough to have earned that much, I doubt Betts would trade it for anything. In 1967, Betts, along with Berry Oakley, were traveling about with their band, The Jokers. Already with a fine reputation as a southern monster player, Betts and Oakley had no idea what would come.

Brothers Gregg and Duane Allman were musical powerhouses in need of a band. Gregg had had a vision of a band with two lead guitarists, and also with two drummers. When Betts was added to the band, he got the second great lead guitarist, and one with a different and complementary style to that of his brother. Adding Betts to the band also gave the Allman Brothers another great songwriter, and a fine second vocalist.

The year was 1969, and within the Florida and Georgia regions, The Allman Brothers Band was making some waves. While the music screamed "southern," the musicians tended to have long and shaggy-haired appearances, which annoyed many potential fans. What was even worse, by some opinions, was that The Allman Brothers Band had a black man in the band. Here in the year 2018, it is easy to overlook how socially progressive the inclusion of the great drummer Jai 'Jaimoe' Johanson was then.

Butch Trucks, Duane Allman, Jaimoe, and Dickey Betts on stage with The Allman Brothers Band.

Butch Trucks, Duane Allman, Jaimoe, and Dickey Betts on stage with The Allman Brothers Band.

Dickey Betts's Challenges With Duane Allman

There are a lot of great Dickey Betts interviews available online for folks to read. In those interviews, Betts will tell you how Gregg and Duane didn't exactly seem to like him at first. Betts felt they thought of him as an extremely redneck-like, or hick-ish. Duane Allman was also extremely intense. It took a minute for Betts to figure out that Duane wasn't hostile, he was only extraordinarily driven to succeed.

Well, succeed they did, and once Duane and Dickey started playing together, they learned to complement one another's playing styles in a way not dissimilar to what the great Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli had done. Although Betts and Duane Allman were both quite young, they somehow managed to avoid trying to outdo one another. Guitarists are a notoriously competitive bunch, but Allman thrived on being a blues purist, while Betts was willing to experiment with more rock, jazz, and psychedelic ideas.

To say that their interplay worked out would be a monumental understatement. Duane Allman had already been a star sessions musician, and he'd help the band get their first two studio albums recorded. The albums would receive a lot of critical acclaim, but they still didn't do so wonderfully in sales. The band's next album would be live, and The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East would become one of the finest live albums in rock music history.

Recording a live album with two drummers took some foresight and preparation. When it was all said and done, it sounded far beyond beautiful, and there was not a single overdub to be found. The song "Whipping Post" would become an FM radio staple, but the long, extended jams were what really set the record apart. The 13 minutes of Betts's own composition, I"n Memory of Elizabeth Reed," would be another long-lasting radio highlight from the show.


The Allman Brothers Have Passed, but Dickey Betts Rocks On

The greatness of The Allman Brothers Band would continue, but it would do so without the great Duane Allman, who would miss some shows to record with Eric Clapton in Derek and the Dominos. Duane would return to his namesake band, and then tragically die in late 1971. Dickey would simply have to soldier on with the band as its only guitarist. He'd take on a larger role, singing and writing some of the band's greatest hits.

Who can hear songs like "Blue Sky", "Ramblin' Man", or "Jessica", and not appreciate a master musician with such a clearly southern U.S. heritage? Those are some of my very favorite pieces of music, and I'm not nearly alone in thinking that.

Time would go on and the band would fizzle out and quit for a spell, but, eventually, the band would get together again. Even after a few lawsuits, Betts still appreciated the Allman brothers. He even named his son Duane, in honor of Duane Allman. Today, Duane Betts is a fine singer, songwriter, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist, just like his dad, and his namesake, Duane Allman.

When he wasn't recording with The Allman Brothers, Betts recorded solo albums with the legendary bluegrass fiddler, Vassar Clements. He would later record with the band Dickey Betts & Great Southern. Betts & Great Southern would introduce the world to much-loved guitarist Warren Haynes.

The deaths of Oakley and Duane Allman were long ago, but, in recent years, Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman have also passed away. The Allman Brothers Band may be a thing of the past, but Dickey Betts is still around. The legacy of the Allman Brothers Band lives on through Betts's continued contributions to southern rock music.

Friends, thanks for reading, I hope this has been useful, and let us all go eat a peach.

Questions & Answers

Question: Was Duane Allman the one who had the vision for the band?

Answer: According to my research, that is correct. Duane was the person who was the most dedicated to music, and so, had the clearest idea of what he wanted the band to be about. Dickey Betts talks about, in various and sundry interviews you can find online, how absolutely driven Duane was. He felt like he had a ton of things to achieve, and he wanted to achieve those things as soon as possible. His every thought was about success in music.

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2018:

I would very much like to hear Duane Allman playing Polka!

Paul Blaesing on June 30, 2018:

Good article. However, Duane played more than blues solos. Check out his discography, which includes jazz, R&B, Country, Polka( just seeing if you all are paying attention) not, etc. .

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 29, 2018:

This is a very interesting article with a wealth of information about Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers. I always liked there music, and southern rock as well. Well done!