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.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

19 Comments

  1. Gordon Davidescu January 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    That’s a very beautiful guitar, David. It’s a shame that the store didn’t set it up properlyūüė¶

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  2. It is beautiful, Gordon! You’re right the store — Sam Ash — I’m going to add them to the article… should’ve taken some extra time to set up the guitar for me. Sam Ash called me repeatedly after the sale to sell me more guitars… I never returned their call. Gibson should’ve had it perfectly setup from the factory, though. The guitar is unplayable. I just might need to figure out how to set up this guitar so I can really hear how it sounds.

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  3. kathakali.chatterjee January 16, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Sorry to hear it David, the guitar looks gorgeous! I was thinking why it looked so familiar until I scrolled down…I remembered seeing it in Lenny’s hand. That was a mind blowing performance.

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  4. It’s a great guitar and I know that greatness is waiting to come out with a proper setup. So, I just have to be patient a bit more while my investment excitement withers.

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    1. hi david
      they are a beautiful guitar, and you have something to be forever proud of.
      My advice is do the set up yourself, its not hard. its not hard either to adjust the truss rod, but if you are uncertain take it to a pro.
      Set ups are very personal, and sometimes only you can say what is good and what isnt. Anyway, wish you the best with it, Im picking one up tomorrow.

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      1. I appreciate the advice, Matt.

        Be sure to read this article, too:

        http://bolesblues.com/2010/09/10/how-to-salvage-a-5000-gibson-les-paul-custom-black-beauty-guitar-with-a-radical-truss-rod-adjustment/

        Let us know what happens with your new guitar! Give us a full review here!

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  5. […] you have a Les Paul — you will soon learn your “Rhythm” and “Treble” switches can go […]

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  6. […] The Perfect Blues Guitar Rig Posted on August 23, 2010 by David W. Boles We’re always searching for The Best, The Ultimate — The Perfect Blues Guitar Rig — and today, I’m going to share with you the center, and the chained core, of my most golden Blues playing experience.¬† It all starts and ends with wood: I’m currently loving on my mahogany Les Paul. […]

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  7. […] I installed the D’Addario EXL115s on my 2008 Gibson Les Paul Standard, my Gilmour Black Strat, my Clapton Custom Strat, and my ’57 Gibson Les Paul Custom VOS Black Beauty with three pickups. […]

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  8. […] the necessary tweaking of my guitar setup, I would finally face down the basic un-playability of my Gibson Les Paul Custom VOS Black Beauty with three pickups — I hoped — once and for […]

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  9. […] even used naphtha to “wipe off” the faux “VOS aging” on my ’57 Les Paul because I didn’t appreciate the fakery of the final finish.¬† The naphtha quickly ate away […]

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  10. […] I “moved up” to a historic Les Paul Gibson Custom — with a tremendously thick neck — I actually found that guitar was much easier to […]

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  11. […] and I don’t like the fact that I have a really hard time playing my three pickup Custom Les Paul — there’s a reason most Les Pauls only have two pickups — you need the extra room […]

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  12. […] my 1957 Custom VOS Les Paul, the Thomastik-Infeld strings really burst the sound out of that guitar! ¬†The guitar slurped in […]

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  13. […] and then playing in, these new flat wounds on my Ibanez AF125 and my Les Paul Goldtop and my Les Paul Black Beauty. ¬†All three guitars immediately took to the TI Swing flat wounds and the action feels lower and […]

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  14. […] L5 is that I don’t have to roll off the tone — as I have to do with my Les Pauls when I play Jazz — and if I do roll off the tone with this L5, I lose that particular Jazzy creaminess. ¬†This […]

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  15. […] I need to figure out a way to use a right-angle plug in my Clapton Custom, my L5 and my beautiful Les Pauls¬†and all my other […]

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  16. […] You pay a price for this “vintage” vibe — that isn’t actually vintage at all — my David Gilmour Black Strat, in pristine condition, was $800.00USD cheaper than the same guitar “vintage-ized” and beaten up as if David himself had played it for 30 years. ¬†I do not understand the premium on guitars that are purposefully destroyed and downgraded in functionality and playability. ¬†I wiped off the “vintage” finish on my Les Paul Vintage Original Spec. […]

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  17. […] change much, and the consistency of wood did not harden, but it’s good to know many of those dark boards are now quenched, […]

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