gibson les paul marc bolan vos hb296c
gibson les paul marc bolan vos hb296c

A few days R+R in the UK gave me an opportunity to check out the stock at Manson’s Guitars in Exeter. Fans of unusual one-off designs – as used by the likes of Muse and Dave Grohl – will know that Manson’s has a great reputation as a high quality and innovative guitar builder.

However, for this visit, my first to the store in Fore Street, I was looking for a Les Paul Custom or similar and, as the weather was rubbish and I didn’t fancy traipsing around the high street stores, I slipped away on a quiet Tuesday morning to check out what they had in stock.

Here’s a brief rundown of the guitars I tried out. Read to the end to find out which one I bought…

Les Paul Custom – Arctic White 2011, ebony board

Gibson Les Paul Custom 2011
First up was a pre-owned 2011 Gibson Les Paul Custom in Arctic White. I’ve always loved the look of these guitars, especially older ones with the ebony fretboard, and holding one in the flesh was not a disappointment. Well put together and nicely set up (though the old strings took the edge off the playing experience), this thing sounded great through a Marshall JVM210H. I’m not a great fan of these amps, but wacking up the gain and bass and mids certainly produced that unmistakable Les Paul / Marshall grind. Lovely.

However, I’m afraid that I just do not get on with the “50’s rounded” neck profile Gibson insist on using with these guitars. I need a 60’s slim taper, so as good as the guitar sounded and played, I decided to give it a miss.

Gibson Les Paul Classic Custom

Gibson Les Paul Classic Custom Goldtop
Actually, they had two on display, both goldtops, one new and one pre-owned but in “as new” condition. These are good-looking instruments and I couldn’t find any fault with the playability and setup of the guitar. Soundwise, I found the LPCC to be brasher than the Custom – in a good way – though not as satisfying when using the neck pickup. A slimmer neck than the Custom, which I found very comfortable and not dissimilar to my Les Paul Classic Goldtop. Nice guitar but I have a Goldtop and I’m supposed to be looking for a white or cream LP style guitar…

Gibson Custom 1957 Les Paul Goldtop VOS, Dark Back Slim Neck

Gibson Custom 1957 Les Paul Goldtop VOS, Dark Back Slim Neck
Ben, the sales guy helping me out (and very helpful and accommodating he was, too) then suggested the Gibson Custom 1957 Les Paul Goldtop VOS, Dark Back Slim Neck, hanging high up on the wall out of harm’s way from the likes of me. Hmmm. I’m not really looking for a Goldtop and having owned a 57 Historic, I knew the neck would be too 50’s for me. No, he said, this is a “slim neck” version. Beautiful guitar, the VOS process giving a very gentle aging to the finish and metal parts, which sounded great though much more “vintage” sounding than I’m looking for. In many ways it reminded me of the 57 Historic I used to own. However, the so-called “slim neck” was only microns thinner than the usual 50’s rounded profile found on this style of guitar. Grrr… Anyway, Ben checked the guitar over and confirmed that this is what Gibson had called it – “slim neck” – but agreed that the profile was nowhere near the 60’s profile I prefer. So back on the wall it went…

Marc Bolan Les Paul VOS

gibson les paul marc bolan vos hb296c
I must admit, this guitar caught my eye way before I decided to try it out. Yes, the so-called “Bolan Chablis” finish (basically a stripped back, lacquered plain top look), isn’t exactly what I’m currently looking for, but the guitar looked wonderful on the wall. Plugged in, the guitar sounded great. Again, a vintage sound and feel from the two Gibson Custom Buckers with Alnico III magnets, but a really nice sound, even with the Marshall’s OD channel in Orange mode and gain at 12 o’clock, no mud, just endless sustain and a really nice tonal balance to the guitar. The neck profile is, apparently, a custom profile especially for this guitar, which felt very comfortable and one of the slimmer LP necks I’ve experienced.

I have to say that I kept coming back to this guitar and played it at least 3 times during my session. No, it isn’t white or cream. No, it isn’t a modern rock machine, but by golly I enjoyed playing it.

Interesting factoid: this model comes with the strings top-wrapped – presumably because Marc Bolan liked top wrapping. I didn’t notice any real difference in playability as a result, with string tension feeling exactly like any other LP I’ve ever played. If I bought one, not sure I’d keep the top wrapping though.

The Crunch

I very nearly bought the Marc Bolan as it is a lovely guitar indeed. I’m now toying with the idea of getting Manson’s to ship it over to me. We’ll see. The only negative is that I hate playing without locking tuners these days. Is it worth buying such a guitar and then swapping out the existing tuners? Not sure…. yet.

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