The Black Beauty is being sold by Tom Doyle, the late Paul's longtime friend and engineer
He hopes it ends up a good music museum, perhaps in Cleveland or Seattle
The crusade to find a home for a sacred electric guitar is reverberating like a thundering encore through the music business as innovator Les Paul’s Black Beauty from the ’50s is going up for auction.
The Gibson-made instrument, called the Holy Grail of Guitars by some, is being sold by Tom Doyle, the late Paul’s longtime friend, engineer, co-inventor and guitar tech.
“This happens to be the first prototype of what we call the Black Beauty. It was sent to Les in 1953, 1954,” Doyle told CNN, holding the instrument with shiny pearly inlays on the guitar neck glinting back overhead lights. “This is the beginning of the proper Les Paul guitar. “
Doyle explains virtuoso Paul would hold notes on the guitar, sustaining a beautiful ringing that seemed to model in part a melodic Bell Telephone tone of the early 1950s.
“And that’s what the kids loved,” Doyle said and ran off some Les Paul guitar converts. “Neil Young was one of course. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Slash, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
“So many people love that bell-like sound, the sustain, that thickness of notes. They could turn this into a jazz guitar, a country guitar, a heavy rock guitar as well.”
Doyle, sitting on a wooden stool at the massive National Association of Music Merchants Convention in Anaheim, California, began picking away on the black guitar, a fluid sound that lured buzzing attendees to stop and listen.
Salesmen in $2,000 suits stood next to male rockers in $10 black T-shirts and eyeliner and mouthed over the music “that’s so bleepin’ cool.”
“Les brought this to me many times to be reworked,” Doyle said. “And the last time he brought it to me he said, ‘My God you should have this guitar.’ “
Paul, who is credited with many recording innovations, died in 2009.
Doyle is 72, retiring and said because of its historical significance, he would like to see the guitar end up in a museum, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland or Experience Music Project in Seattle.
Guernsey’s will sell Black Beauty and other instruments on February 19 at the Arader Galleries on Madison Avenue in New York City, also accepting bids on line and by telephone.
Doyle explains the guitar became showcased in the 1950s on 170 television shows, “Listerine Presents: Les Paul and Mary Ford.”
Black and white video clips show singer Mary Ford and her husband doing classic songs such as “Alabamy” or their signature “Vaya Con Dios.”
“The guitar was great for television, very very showy,” Doyle said. “And you could see Les’ hands fly all over this neck because of the black background.”
In music business lore, a great guitar tech is like a superstar mechanic for a race car driver.
Doyle and other guitar techs are often handed the beat up, broken, out-of-tune instruments and begged to get the old classic and running again by celebrity musicians.
“When it came to difficulties where this guitar wasn’t coming back to well, he (Les Paul) would say ‘Bring it back Tom, do what you got to do to make it play,’ ” Doyle laughed.
“When I was doing this work for him it was a great honor. Here is my idol asking me to do work on his guitars.”