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Tom Scholz and the Gibson Les Paul

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.


Tom Scholz: The Multifaceted Genius

People misuse words a lot. In the English language, the word genius is misused often. It gets tossed around a lot. Then there are people who really are geniuses. The common minimum intelligence quotient for a genius is 140.

I don't have any sort of intelligence quotient score for Tom Scholz, and so perhaps I'm just another person misusing the English language. However, I'll call Tom Scholz an actual genius. I'm reasonably sure he has an intelligence quotient score of at least 140.

It's a huge mistake to link economic success with intelligence. Some of the most intelligent people don't care much about wealth. When you focus more on creating art, however, you could wind up like Tom Scholz. His worth is priceless.

Tom's exceptional mind wasn't satisfied to just make music. He also makes hardware, and he always has. He was an engineer before ever becoming a professional musician. His homemade equipment, engineered by himself, helped Boston become a massive success.

Everyone had been trying to sound like Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page was masterful in the studio. Or maybe they were still trying to sound like the Beach Boys in Pet Sounds. Tom did not care, and from his basement studio, and with equipment he built himself, he produced an album with a sound that blew everyone away. The sound of the guitar parts in the music of Boston (that's all Tom Scholz) is all done on a Gibson Les Paul.

Collector's Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul. $6,665. US dollars

Collector's Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul. $6,665. US dollars

Collector's Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul

The guitar Tom used for Boston's debut album was a 1968 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe. Tom's a mechanical engineer, and so he modifies everything to his desires, or builds something from scratch. His Les Paul was no exception. This Collector's Choice guitar from Gibson is modified from a 1968 Goldtop Deluxe.

You can notice right off there is no gold, as Tom took the finish off to where the guitar is au naturale. So that's the color of a non-flamed maple top without any finish on it. I guess you would call it blonde. The second thing you notice is the pickup configuration isn't something common to a Les Paul. They tend to either have two P-90s, or two humbuckers, but this guitar has one of each.

When you're a poor boy like me, you notice that price. That price is way beyond my range. Why does this thing cost so much, anyway? There's good reason. A lot of work is involved in something like this.

You see, even the scratches on Tom's guitar are replicated here, and replicated as exactly as is humanly possible in this day and age. You can't see it from the front, but on the backside there is a huge amount of what we call belt buckle rash. It's all replicated. This is a relic guitar.

Collector's Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul features:

  • Stripped, carved maple top, and lightweight, one piece mahogany body, aged in a completely accurate and highly technological fashion
  • Glued in mahogany neck with distinctive '68 profile, 14-degree headstock angle, and one piece rosewood fingerboard with cellulose inlays
  • Stripped natural top finish, and natural back and sides, all aged to match Tom's modified guitar
  • A DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup in the bridge position, and a vintage style P-90 in the neck, with traditional control layout
  • Period correct tune-o-matic bridge, and stopbar tailpiece, Schaller M6 tuners, all aged in nickel
  • Gold late '60s top hat knobs with silver inserts; the guitar has no pickguard
Gibson USA Les Paul Studio in Wine Red

Gibson USA Les Paul Studio in Wine Red

Gibson Les Paul Studio

Scholz owns not one but two 1968 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe guitars. You may have seen images of them up close, where they have a Mighty Mouse sticker on them. Scholz regrets he couldn't get Gibson's reproductions to come with the sticker. Copyright issues got in the way.

A student of Gibson guitar history knows that 1968 was the year Gibson brought the Les Paul back into production. 1959 had been the last year when the guitar was produced. Gibson had simply shoved all the Les Paul parts into storage, and when they started making them again in 1968, they used the parts from 1959. So a 1968 Les Paul, like the two owned by Scholz, and used on the first Boston album, have the extremely large neck from 1959.

Tom Scholz is six foot and five inches tall. You can tell by looking at him that he's tall. Men that tall have large hands. Tom Scholz still describes the 1968 Lester's neck as a baseball bat. Most people aren't even close to his height, and so I'm sure most people have smaller hands and shorter fingers. For this reason alone, the Tom Scholz model Gibson Collector's Choice Lester Polsfuss is probably not the best Les Paul for you.

The 1968 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe model came with two P-90 pickups. The major modification was the routing done to add the DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup at the bridge. The sound of Boston is the sound of a Les Paul and humbuckers more than P-90s, and if you've looked at the photos and videos above, you see Scholz now favors a much more typical Les Paul with humbuckers at the neck and the bridge.

For the reasons mentioned above, I have to say here the Gibson Les Paul Studio is the best bet for anyone wanting to own a Les Paul, especially if they're going for a Tom Scholz sound. These feature the hotter wound than normal 490 T and R set of pickups. Oh, you could still change them out to DiMarzio Super Distortion pups if you wanted to, but you would still have a long way to go, hardware wise, to get to a Scholz sound. Remember, the man is a mechanical engineer.

This guitar also features coil splits. So if you feel you need a single coil in the neck position, there's only a knob pull between you and one. Modern weight relief makes these much more easy to stand and play for hours at a time. I've felt like the neck was easy to handle on every last one of them I've ever played, and realistically, even a poor boy like myself could save or pay out for a LP Studio.

Gibson Les Paul Studio features:

  • A stage and studio workhorse
  • Ultra-Modern, weight-relieved body allows for longer sets and sessions
  • Mahogany Slim Taper neck plays like a '60s favorite
  • Rosewood fingerboard delivers classic Les Paul sustain
  • Coil-tapped 490R/498T humbucking pickups provide classic cleans and modern crunch to quacky single-coil cluck
  • Grover Rotomatic tuners are studio stable
  • Aluminum Nashville Tune-O-Matic bridge is lightweight and tonally matched to the guitar
  • Plek'd for precision playability

Tom Scholz, a Mechanical Engineer and Musician

Tom Scholz is not originally from Boston, but from Toledo, Ohio. His father was a very successful designer of luxury homes. Tom was clearly both intellectually and artistically inclined at a young age, and he was given lessons in classical piano.

A top student, and a very good athlete, Scholz would go on to earn a Bachelor's degree, and then his Masters in mechanical engineering from one of the most prestigious universities in the US, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He'd go to work for Polaroid as a design engineer, but in his off time, he would work on his music.

In his home studio, often using equipment of his very own design, Tom began to work on what would become the debut album for band Boston. He could play every instrument himself. What he needed was a recording contract and a singer. He'd get to know a guy named Brad Delp.

Brad had a crystalline voice, and he could send his distinct voice to nearly any register. Epic Records would sign the two to a recording contract, but there'd be a lot of struggling involved in it all. Tom Scholz is a headstrong man. He's also, probably, got 20 IQ points on the brightest person Epic Records ever hired.

The entire band was really just Tom Scholz, playing every instrument and Brad Delp singing. This was unacceptable to Epic Records, because there needed to be an actual band to perform the music live. Tom would have to hire some musicians.

Brad Delp, Tom Scholz (standing), Sib Hashian (seated), Barry Goudreau, and Fran Sheehan.

Brad Delp, Tom Scholz (standing), Sib Hashian (seated), Barry Goudreau, and Fran Sheehan.

Boston Was Never Really a Band

The band Boston would never really be a band. There have been 21 members. I think the number shows massive instability, or it could show that people were just hired guns. For the classic era of Boston, one may as well just say the band was Tom Scholz and Brad Delp. Literally no one knew the situation. Tom Scholz says Epic Records never became aware that Boston was really not a band.

The music of Boston would always be a highly personal endeavor. A highly personal endeavor of exactly one person, and that person would be Tom Scholz. He literally played every single instrument and recorded every last bit of it in his basement studio. Tom says this was accomplished by him just closing his eyes and pretending he was playing whatever instrument in front of a stadium-sized crowd. It definitely worked.

When the music was done, Tom would call up Brad Delp and ask him if he'd sing, and Brad was happy to do so. When Brad was singing all the crystalline and perfect vocal parts for the debut album, even he had no idea there was no band.

When there finally was a band, it would be the most dysfunctional band in the history of bands. There was only Tom and Brad, and it was mostly Tom. Everyone else was just a hired gun, and so they never felt appreciated.

They didn't write any of the music. Every piece of music for every musician had been written by Tom Scholz. You can see how everyone would be left feeling like they weren't really needed. They were hired towards one purpose alone, reproducing the music on stage.

In more recent years, Tom would say it is a very nice thing to be appreciated, but it isn't exactly right to be appreciated as something you are not. Tom never expected the amount of success which would come. He only wanted to get his album out there. Having never expected the nearly 20 million albums which would be sold for the debut, he never meant for anything to happen which would cause anyone to feel badly about their experiences with Boston.

Scholz had even be told to not expect anything like success. Disco was the music of the day in 1976, not his rock from what would seem to be the future. The great success had to have been a shock to the record company and to everyone involved with Boston.

Massive Debut Success

The first album, Boston, was released, and nobody knew what to expect. Tom and Brad had talked together about it, and the two of them felt like the thing would do either very well or would do nothing at all. Tom was really pretty certain the album would do nothing at all.

The album sold seventeen million copies in the US alone. I'll never forget the first time I heard it, it was already years old by then, me being just two years old in 1976. My sister loaned me her cassette tape of it. I don't think she ever asked for it back, and I likely still have it stuffed away somewhere. In any event, I certainly own a digital copy now, and listen to it from time to time.

Foreplay/LongTime, More Than a Feeling, and Peace of Mind. These were the biggest of the hits, and nothing had ever sounded like the band out of Boston before. The music may as well have come from outer space, and so the Boston spaceship made perfect sense as the band's emblem. I swear to the heavens, the music sounds like a modern production here in 2018.

I tell you what else was from outer space, it was the sound of Tom Scholz playing his Les Paul guitar. Those screaming lead lines were unlike anything before, even without the amazing tech driven sounds from Tom's recording equipment.

Don't Look Back!

Tom Scholz wouldn't be happy with the second Boston album. He'd forever feel like it was rushed into production, and was never truly finished. He regrets this immensely, and would swear to never let anything like it happen again.

Scholz's opinion was not swayed by the fact Don't Look Back sold four million copies in its first month. It wasn't about money. Making music was about making music, for Scholz, and making it perfectly. The beginning of legal disputes with Epic Records was directly tied to the rushed release.

Probably out of being headstrong, Scholz would spend eight years before releasing another record. Critics, who usually pan everything good and decent in this world, loved Don't Look Back, and some claimed it a superior record to Boston's debut effort. Some others did point out how lyrics in various songs contradicted what was said in another song. I think Scholz focuses on the music itself, and not lyrical consistency so much.

Haunting organs, as though played in a church cathedral, and heavy, melodic guitar lines abound. The production was nearly universally thought to be pristine. What in the world could Scholz have been so dissatisfied about? He has said he felt the album was ridiculously short, and that it needed at least one more song to be complete.


Third Stage and Beyond

Eight years would be spent writing and recording Third Stage. For the fans, it would prove to be well worth the wait. The album was probably a bit more melancholy, and dealt more in the realm of love songs than the previous two. Tom Scholz and Brad Delp were the only two persons from the original Boston ensemble left.

Amanda would become a number one hit, and I very much remember its FM radio saturation. The year was 1986. Tom had won his legal dispute with Epic Records, and Third Stage would be released by MCA.

The compact disc format was brand spanking new in 1986. Third Stage would become certified gold in compact disc, and LP formats. It's the only known recording to have done that, but gold was not where this album was going to stop.

Rockman, a Tom Scholz company formed to sell Scholz designed equipment, was now in business, and the new album featured Rockman gear. Gear available for sale to the general public. It's fine gear, just look at the perfectionist who engineered it, and if you wish to sound like Scholz, you will need to purchase some Rockman equipment.

Third Stage marked the end of what I think of as classic Boston. Brad Delp would leave the group. Oh, he'd return later, and then, very sadly, he'd commit suicide. Presently, Tommy DeCarlo sings for Boston. He sounds as much like Brad Delp as anyone possibly could. The amazing story is he literally got the job by posting karaoke Boston songs on Myspace.

Tom Scholz - More than a Musician, More than an Engineer

Tom Scholz is the kind of guy who's given away more millions of dollars to charities than he'd ever tell us about. He's an extremely generous man, and has contributed to charities seeking to aid the homeless, and to end world hunger. He's been a vegetarian for more than thirty years now, and this is one of his major causes. I don't have to be any part of that, myself, to appreciate Tom's putting money where his heart is. He's also a major proponent of animal rescue, and animal shelters.

Apples not falling far from trees, Tom is a father with a son who is also a graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His son is also a mechanical engineer, and has done considerable work for Rockman.

Tom has strong feelings about politics, and on the rare occasions when he does talk to the media, he's likely to say exactly what his observations and feelings about it all are. He's a man of music, a man of genius, and God bless him. Thanks for reading.

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 27, 2019:

Hey Coral, Thanks. Except in the studio it was all Tom Scholz and the singer, Brad Delp.

Tom played every instrument. He did hire drummers, but at times he personally changed the drum tracks too.

I'm sure the touring musicians were paid well. Scholz is a person who'll give millions to the homeless. It's great when there is a band of collaborators, but there's never have been any music were Scholz to have had to deal with that, he has too much of a singular vision for things.

My older sister had loaned me her Boston debut cassette tape, which was how I got into that music. Most of it was forever being played on the radio anyway though.

Coral Anders from Germany on March 27, 2019:

Thanks, Todd. I never knew that about Boston. Like everybody else, I thought it was a band. It sounds like they were a revolving group of studio musicians.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on December 13, 2018:

Thanks very much, Pamela and Liz. I'm not the biggest Boston fan, but a few of their songs really get me going in a way very few pieces of music do.

The Foreplay/Long Time composition being my favorite.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 13, 2018:

Before reading your article I had not heard of Tom Scholz, but you have inspired me to check out some of his music.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 12, 2018:

Tom Scholz is surely a great muscian and a good man overall. This was a very interesting article. I really like the music.