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5 Best Gibson Les Paul Custom Guitars With 3 Pickups

Updated on April 1, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Gibson Custom Shop Peter Frampton Les Paul Custom
Gibson Custom Shop Peter Frampton Les Paul Custom

Gibson debuted the Les Paul guitar in 1952. Originally these guitars were decidedly not fancy, they had a simple gold top finish, and two P-90 single coil pickups. Mr. Paul himself wanted to see a fancier version of the guitar available, and he wanted the fancier guitars to be black in color. He specified he wanted something which looked like a tuxedo.

The next year saw the first of the guitars called 'black beauties' produced and sold. Ebony was used as the fretboard material for its darkness. Mother of pearl block inlays served as fingerboard positioning markers, and the split diamond inlay on the head-stock served to fancy the guitar up even further. At this point in time the Gibson PAF humbuckers were yet to exist, so the guitars had a P-90 in the bridge position, and an Alnico V pickup designed by Seth Lover in the neck position. These were the first Gibson Les Paul Custom models.

Gibson updated the hardware for the bridge on all Les Paul guitars, and Seth Lover created a legend in pickups, known as the 'Patent Applied For,' or PAF. The year was 1957 when those extremely desirable, some say magical pickups debuted. In 1957 the Les Paul Custom was offered with either two or three PAF pickups. Some of these LP Custom guitars were of the standard two pickup variety, but the most of them made had three.

Why Buy a Les Paul with 3 Pickups?

Other than Mr. Lester Paul himself, Jimmy Page has probably been the most noteworthy guitarist to promote the use of the Gibson LP. This isn't because Page is a better guitarist than the many many others who use the instrument, it's because he used the LP the most in one of the most successful rock bands there has ever been.

Jimmy Page's black beauty Les Paul Custom was famously used at the Royal Albert Hall concert January of 1970. The guitar was then stolen, and only in recent years recovered. For 40 years Page insisted the three pickup black beauty was the best Les Paul guitar he'd ever played, and an even better guitar than his much more famous ones he used non stop during the rest of Led Zeppelin's days.

In 1976 another Englishman played and recorded live what has been thought to be one of the finest live rock albums ever. He played the concert with his 1954 customized Les Paul with 3 humbucking pickups. In 1980 that guitar was on a cargo plane in Venezuela which crashed just as it tried to take off. The guitar was not destroyed in the crash, as had been believed. It was ferreted off by a pragmatic local, who then sold it to another local man. It took thirty years for the guitar to find it's way back to Peter Frampton, where he could make it come alive again.

There's no question about it, three pickups offers a different variety of tonal color than a two pickup LP. These are by no means inexpensive guitars. Quite the opposite. Perhaps the reason to want to own one is you wish to stand out from the crowd, or it could be you so love the sounds from the legendary concerts you feel you must have such a guitar. Gibson has you covered so long as you can cover the bill. If you think of the typical Les Paul as a Lexus, then you're on the right track. These Lesters on this page are more like from a Mercedes to a Rolls Royce.

These are the kinds of guitars that when you see one in a guitar store, you generally have to ask someone in order to have a look at it. They may be locked behind a glass case, or hung tightly high up on a wall where a ladder is required to get it down. I'm just that guy who will cause someone to fret a bit about it, and let me see the darn guitar. It's the only way I've ever got to lay hands on any such as these.

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul
Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul

1. Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul

I was only two years old when Peter Frampton recorded his famous live album. I grew up listening to classic rock music as often as not though, so I always felt like I grew up with the tunes as much as the persons who were in their more mature years did. I feel like I do, if you catch my meaning.

This is a fabulous guitar, and believe it or not, it's a long way towards being affordable compared to the second Gibson Peter Frampton Lester. The early Les Paul Custom guitars did not have maple tops, in fact, they had mahogany tops. Some people believe such things make no difference regarding the tone the guitar can deliever. I'm not one of those people, but the point here is this is a maple top LP, like most of them are, and if one is into the magic of black beauties, then it is something which needs knowing.

There are features here which are very outside the norm besides the extra humbucker. The extra pickup necessitates a different wiring scheme for the pups, and this guitar is wired so that the middle pickup is always on. The selector switch allows for you to choose whether you want the middle pup combined with the neck pickup, or the bridge pickup. This Lester is always going to have a bit more midrange in its sound than others for the wiring.

Concerning those pickups, they are the '57 Classic in the neck position, the '57 Classic Plus in the middle position, and the 500T in the bridge position.The neck used is a custom slim taper profile. It's the neck Peter Frampton wanted, and so, one needs to know if their hands are the sort to agree to Mr. Frampton's before one purchases such an expensive instrument. Folks, this guitar is over five thousand dollars. That's a lot of money, and so you get a lot of guitar.

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul features:

  • Carved maple top
  • Weight-relieved mahogany back
  • Multi-ply white/black binding on top and back
  • 1-piece mahogany neck
  • 22-fret Richlite fingerboard
  • Pearl block inlays
  • Single-ply white binding
  • Peter Frampton custom slim neck profile
  • '57 Classic (neck), '57 Classic Plus (middle), and 500T (bridge), humbuckers
  • 3-way pickup selector (middle pickup always on)
  • Shared Volume and Tone controls for the outer pickups
  • Independent Volume and Tone for the middle pickup
  • 24-3/4" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width
  • Kidney bean tuners
  • Ebony finish
  • Gold hardware
  • Nashville tune-o-matic bridge/stopbar tailpiece
  • Includes case

 Gibson Custom: 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Black Beauty 3-Pickup - Antique Ebony
Gibson Custom: 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Black Beauty 3-Pickup - Antique Ebony

2. Gibson Custom: 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Black Beauty

I don't want anyone to be confused about this, Gibson names their guitar models, but their names can be confusing. This is called the twentieth anniversary of the 1957 Gibson Les Paul black beauty, but this guitar was produced in 2013. There were only one hundred of these guitars produced.

With its antique ebony finish, gold-plated hardware, and classic Black Beauty appointments”including multi-ply body and headstock binding, pearl block fingerboard inlays and split-diamond headstock inlay”the 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Black Beauty 3-Pickup is a gorgeous musical instrument by any standards. Add to that its 20th Anniversary medallion, which covers the toggle switch access on the guitar' back; a custom fitted dust cover with a retro 1993 Gibson Custom logo; and a one-of-a-kind, hand-made framed Certificate of Authenticity, and you have a unique and memorable instrument worthy of this milestone in Gibson history.

These guitars, like the 1957 LP Custom ones, is all mahogany. Les Paul himself thought Gibson was going the wrong direction by using maple on top of a mahogany body. Mr. Paul thought his namesake should be all mahogany. True to form in every way with the originals from 1957, these have the '50s profile necks. These are fat necks. The '50s profile necks feel fine in my hands, but one needs to know they'll feel fine in theirs. The hopes are when a body buys a guitar they spend hours beyond count with it in their two hands.

The pickups on this 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty are literally only available on these guitars. These are custom buckers, but these specific ones are specific to these guitars, and you shall never see them on another model of LP. The wiring for the switch and pickups are that one can employ the neck pickup alone, the middle pickup and bridge pickup together, or the bridge pickup alone.

All the metal hardware on the guitar is plated in gold. It goes without saying, but this guitar is an investment. They sell for just a bit under eight thousand dollars, assuming one is for sale at all.

Gibson 20th Anniversary 1957 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty guitar features:

  • Body Species: Mahogany
  • Binding: W/B/W/B/W/B/W multi-ply on Top, W/B/W/B/W multi-ply on Back
  • Neck Species: Mahogany with Maple Spline
  • Neck Profile Rounded: 50s
  • Truss Rod: Historic Truss Rod Assembly (No Tubing)
  • Fingerboard Species: Ebony
  • Fingerboard Inlay: Pearl Custom Blocks
  • Nut Material: Nylon
  • Nut Width: 1.687
  • Headstock Inlay: Pearl Split Diamond
  • Truss Rod Cover: LP Custom
  • Tuners Model: Waffle Back Tuners
  • Tuning Ratio: 12:01
  • ABR-1 Bridge
  • Lightweight Aluminum Stopbar Tailpiece
  • Black Top Hat Knobs with Gold Volume & Tone Inserts
  • Black Beauty Multi-ply Pickguard
  • Custom Bucker (Alnico III) X3 Pickups
  • Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish
  • Custom Shop Hard Shell Case with Red Fur Interior

Ace Frehley Budokan Les Paul Custom
Ace Frehley Budokan Les Paul Custom

3. Ace Frehley Budokan Les Paul Custom

It was 1977 when KISS played the Nippon Budokan in Japan. They were at the height of their career and popularity. Their popularity seems to come and to go, but the band KISS is still around. Don't be surprised none when you hear they're on tour again.

Who even knows if Ace Frehley will be a part of any of it. It's an ongoing and stupid drama. Apparently Ace isn't the easiest guy to get along with. But holy mother of God, have you seen Gene Simmons on television? He's absolutely insufferable. I bet Gene has to pay bodyguards to keep from being socked. Or it could be he's just 'in character' any time he is in front of a camera, or on a stage.

I don't take anyone or anything by KISS seriously. But this is one very serious guitar. Gibson went VOS on this puppy. What does VOS mean? It means the people at Gibson busted out all manner of scientific instruments, microscopes and the like, to recreate the exact guitar Ace Frehley played that magic night in Japan. Vintage original specifications are something the people at Gibson take as seriously as another government raid on their wood stash.

The maple top on the Ace Frehley Budokan is three pieces of maple. The image I used above doesn't do it justice, but if you watch the video you can really see it. There is a straight grain piece in the center, and it is flanked by two much more figured pieces. It's absolutely gorgeous.

This Ace Frehley LP has one thing you'll have a hard time ever seeing on another Gibson, for this guitar has a kill switch. What is a kill switch? A kill switch lets you turn a pickup off and back on just as quick and easy as a light switch. You can create an echo effect at a speed of your choosing or as fast as you can do so with the thing.

This guitar sells for over eleven thousand dollars. I apologize if you weren't seated when you read that. The Epiphone version is wisely available and not even a tenth as expensive. It is one of the best LPs Epiphone makes, just as this is one of the best from the parent company.

Gibson Ace Frehley Budokan Les Paul specifications:

  • Top: 3 Piece Maple
  • Body: Mahogany
  • Binding: 7-Ply White/Black on Top
  • Neck Species: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Slim, Rounded
  • Fingerboard: Richlite
  • Nut Material: Corian
  • Nut Width: 1.695
  • Headstock Inlay: Mother of Pearl Split Diamond
  • Tuners Model: Grover with Pearloid Banjo Buttons
  • Tuning Ratio: 14:01
  • Bridge Type: Tune-O-Matic
  • Tailpiece Type: Stop Bar
  • Knobs: Gold Speed Knobs
  • Pickguard: Cream
  • Pickups: DiMarzio Super Distortion (Ceramic) X3
  • Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer, Heritage Cherry Sunburst
  • Case Type: Gibson Hard Shell

 Gibson Custom CC #22 Tommy Colletti 1959 Les Paul Custom
Gibson Custom CC #22 Tommy Colletti 1959 Les Paul Custom

4. Gibson Custom CC #22 Tommy Colletti 1959 Les Paul Custom

Tommy Colletti is the owner of The Music Zoo. It's a major guitar selling operation. It isn't surprising the owner of such a business would own something as special as a 1959 Les Paul. 1959, of course, is the 'holy grail' year for LPs. The worst example of one from that year would still fetch an astronomical figure in dollars.

Tommy's personal guitar is not typical, for it is a three pickup LP Custom black beauty. The late James Honeyman Scott used to own this guitar. James had been the guitarist for The Pretenders, but he died tragically young.

This is another of those guitars which has been reproduced as faithfully as modern scientific instrumentation allows for. The most precision digital tools were used to analyze the original at a level of detail which would boggle any mind as simple as mine. Me personally, my favorite feature of this guitar is the yellow cream binding as it contrasts with the ebony black. I think that looks fabulous.

The guitar is also aged. So while you buy a brand new one, what you are buying is a replica of a guitar produced in 1959. The new one will have all the exact wear, down to scratches, as the one Tommy owns. Add it all up, it's not going to be so affordable. It's going to be fabulous and collectable, but it won't be so affordable. This one is a few hundred over eight thousand dollars. What's a few hundred bucks when you're spending over eight grand?

Gibson Custom CC #22 Tommy Colletti 1959 Les Paul Custom specifications:

  • 9 lbs. 3 oz.
  • All-Hide Glue Construction
  • Hand Aged Ebony Finish
  • 1-Piece Genuine Mahogany Body
  • 1-Piece Genuine Mahogany Neck
  • Soft “V” Neck Profile
  • 1-Piece Ebony Fretboard
  • Pearl Block Inlays
  • 24 3/4" Scale Length
  • 12" Radius
  • 1.687" Neck Width at Nut
  • 22 Frets
  • .880" Neck Profile at Nut
  • .980" Neck Profile at 12th Fret
  • Three Gibson Custom Bucker Pickups
  • Individual Volume Controls and Tone Controls
  • Three Way Selector Switch
  • Black Top Hat Knobs
  • ABR-1 Bridge
  • Stopbar Tailpiece
  • Grover Kidney Tuners
  • Aged Gold Hardware

 Gibson Custom Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom
Gibson Custom Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom

5. Gibson Custom Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom

What is the difference between this Peter Frampton model and the first one discussed on this page? Quite a lot, and then another fifteen thousand dollars. There is also a big long story.

Peter Frampton had had a very bad night on the stage one night. The guitar he had been using was screaching and squealing with feedback which was of the undesirable kind. For his next show, someone loaned him a 3 pickup LP black beauty, and he fell in full on puppy dog love with the thing. He offered to buy it, and instead, the person who had loaned it to him simply gave it to him as a gift.

Don't we all need friends like that? I do. Frampton used the guitar almost exclusively, and went on to record his Frampton Comes Alive! album with it. It's only one of the most upbeat party rock live albums in the history of civilization, you know.

Tragically, Peter's cherished 54 Les Paul Custom was lost to a cargo plane crash in Venezuela in 1980. The guitar that had become a part of Peter and his tremendous career was gone forever. Or so it seemed until, unbelievably, a fan from Curacao spotted and recognized Peter's Les Paul on stage with a local musician. Even through the guitar's bumps, scars and burns, it was recognizable as Peter's long-lost customized three Pickup 54.

This Guitar, the Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Signed 1954 Les Paul Custom Phenix is the recreation of the guitar after it was found and returned to Frampton. The first guitar in this article is a rendition of the same guitar as it was when it was brand new off the showroom floor.

I absolutely love Gibson. I absolutely love every Gibson Les Paul I've ever had the good fortune to lay my hands upon. Folks, they're selling these for over twenty thousand dollars. and I'd very seriously rather have the five thousand dollar one. Gibson is showing off its ability to recreate things here, but they are asking for arms, legs, kidneys and livers in return.

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom specifications

  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: C traditional
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Fretboard Material: Ebony
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Block
  • Nut width: 1.725" (43.8mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: HHH
  • Active or passive: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-matic
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Gold Color Tuning machines: Grover kidney
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Frampton "Phenix" COA, 2015 Custom Medallion
  • Country of origin: United States

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    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 5 weeks ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Excellent articles Wesman, you know guitars. I have been blessed to play one of these and it virtually plays itself. Those old soldiers are much in demand and bring big bucks. On my wish list!!! Thanks for sharing,

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image
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      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks Fiddleman! I spent some time at a music store recently. I was so excited my head just about spun off. All these are right on out of my price range, but there are Les Paul models for lots less a fella could fall in love with too :)

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