The 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Three Pickup VOS Review

One of my most expensive and cherished guitars is my 1957 Les Paul Custom Three Pickup VOS guitar in black.  It looks great.  It feels great.  I don’t play it.


“VOS” can be confusing.  Here’s how Gibson defines the term:

The Vintage Original Spec series, or V.O.S., has a new, proprietary finishing process which yields the gently aged patina of a vintage classic. Also, a revolutionary handcrafting process enhances comfort and playability guitars. Solid mahogany back, historically accurate long neck tenon for superior strength and sustain, period correct neck profiles, hardware and electronics, and 100% nitro-cellulose lacquer are among some of the features offered in the Gibson Custom V.O.S. series.

“VOS” means it’s a brand-new guitar made to look and play like it is 50 years old.

I don’t play my beautiful 1957 VOS Les Paul guitar because even though it cost a little under $4,000.00USD on the street it wasn’t properly setup at the Gibson factory so the action is incredibly high and uncomfortable. 

“High action” means the strings are so far away from the fretboard that it takes three times the amount of finger pressure to sound a note than it does on, say, my 2008 Les Paul Standard.  That is not right.  That is actually absolutely wrong and the fault is 100% that of the Gibson Custom Shop.

Now I have to spend $100.00USD to get a local luthier to properly set up a $4,000.00USD Gibson Custom Shop guitar.  Sure, I could try to do the setup myself, but I’m just foolish enough to know how easily I could make the situation worse than just waiting and letting a pro do it right from the start.

Learn from my mistake:  Don’t buy from an authorized online chain store like Sam Ash as I did.  I was inexperienced and stupid when it came to buying great guitars online and it not only cost me a lot of money, but it will cost me more money and more time to set it right. 

Go with a local boutique guitar shop
– even if it is miles away from you — so they can check the guitar
for you and set it up for you before sending it to you.  That extra
service effort is the difference between feeling ripped off and finding
joy in the new wood you bought.

The 1957 VOS Les Paul is a fine guitar.  It has a massive neck and an ebony fretboard and gold colored hardware.  The fretboard inlays are quite beautiful.  The third pickup in the middle does take some getting used to, because your habit is to strike it while strumming, and the weight of the guitar at 9.2 pounds is really too heavy to play. 

I know the Old Timers love the heft of a “classic” Les Paul — but the newer, chambered/weight-relieved Les Pauls are almost two pounds lighter and they sound just as good and they don’t destroy your back while you’re playing. 

When I wrote my review this week of Lenny Kravitz in performance, I was delighted to learn he has the same 1957 VOS Les Paul:

I admit the guitar looks better on Lenny and sounds so much better
in his hands than mine — but you can tell by Lenny’s slight grimace
and by the backward tilt of his body that Lenny, too, has issues with the
massive weight of that 1957 VOS Les Paul and it is rocking back his body
instead of letting him use it to rock the audience.

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