1970 Gibson Les Paul Personal

Written by Steve Evans, originally published in Nightflying Magazine, August 2014

1970 Gibson Les Paul Personal,a very rare and unusual guitar.

     When Paul Hamer asked if I'd ever come across a Les Paul Personal, my reply was, what is a Les Paul Personal? Hamer said "You've seen the Les Pauls with low impedance pickups. The Personal was the top model in that series and had a place to plug in a gooseneck mic." No, I had definitely never seen one like that.

     That was back in 1983 when Paul Hamer was looking for a Les Paul Personal. The memory stuck with me because Hamer was important in the guitar world. He was co-owner of the exclusive USA-made Hamer Guitar Company which supplied rock stars with guitars often seen on MTV. I thought if Paul Hamer wanted a Les Paul Personal, it must be a cool guitar.

     I have not seen Paul Hamer since he dropped by my shop 33 years ago, but I have finally seen a Gibson Les Paul Personal and I bought it for my Guitar Museum. It's a 1970 model, with a lot of finish checking and a few dings, but it's beautiful!

     Gibson offered the Les Paul Personal from 1969 though 1971. According to Gibson's log of shipping totals, only 370 were produced. At the time, the “Personal” was the most expensive Les Paul model ever produced with a retail price tag of $765.00 w/case (= $4,950.00 in 2016 dollars).

    It really does have a plug-in for a gooseneck microphone. This is one of the many features that the famous entertainer, Les Paul, desired for his personal use. Thus the model name "Personal." Les Paul wasn't known as a singer, but he required a mic for announcing song names and for talking to the audience.

    As an inventor, Les Paul did a lot of experimenting with making his own guitar pickups, which he used when recording his and Mary Ford's hit records back in the 1950's. His research culminated with the low impedance pickups used on the Les Paul Personal. The sound was described as "high fidelity" and achieved a clarity of frequencies previously unattainable on production guitars.

    The pickups are "humbucking" (Gibson's double coil design), but incorporate oversized Alnico V magnets with the coils stacked one on top of the other. As far as pickups go, these are massive and weigh one pound each. The guitar's output jack looks normal, but it is actually a stereo 1/4" jack with separate contact points for the guitar and mic.

    The input for the gooseneck mic is a sturdy Switchcraft XLR mounted near the forward strap button on the guitar's upper bout, a few inches from the microphone volume knob.

Good view of the low impedance pickups and pickup selector switch, note microphone volume knob control and XLR input for a gooseneck mic.
    The low impedance feature was suited for plugging the guitar directly into a recording studio's mixer board, as preferred by Les Paul, but to play through a normal guitar amp a low-to-high impedance transformer (available from Gibson) was required.
    The Les Paul Personal has eight different knobs and switches. Besides the microphone VOLUME knob there are four guitar knobs labeled VOLUME, TREBLE, BASS, and DECADE. The most unusual control is the DECADE knob which operates an eleven position rotary switch, with each click changing the treble harmonics. A normal Les Paul has one switch, but the Les Paul Personal has three: FRONT/REAR pick-up selector, PHASE SWITCH, and TONE SELECTOR. This guitar was complicated and likely was only fully understood by recording engineers and the technical geniuses of the day. In 1970 the Les Paul Personal was a "high tech" wonder with a total of eight different knobs and switches allowing for a multitude of sounds.
The Les Paul Personal pegheadwith multi-layered (w/b/w/b/w) binding, large 5-piece split-diamond mother of pearl inlay and top-of-the-line gold-plated Kluson tuning machines.

    The sound quality of the Les Paul Personal was awe inspiring, but so was its beauty. The Gibson Guitar Company spared no expense while producing the Les Paul Personal, and used the very best hardware (all gold plated) and the choicest woods.

    The body was made of fine grain British Honduras mahogany and happened to be slightly larger (1" longer and 1 1/4" wider) than a normal Les Paul. The carved top was bound with seven layer white & black binding and the back of the guitar was bound with five-layer (w/b/w/b/w) binding.

    The mahogany neck came with an ebony fingerboard with white binding, mother-of-pearl block inlays and Gibson's "fretless wonder" frets, which are super-thin and allow for very comfortable playing action. The luxurious peghead has multi-layered (w/b/w/b/w) binding and a large 5-piece split-diamond mother of pearl inlay all set-off by top-of-the-line gold-plated Kluson tuners.

To see this guitar in person, drop by the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, 1105 Burman Drive, Jacksonville, Arkansas, 501-982-4933.

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Copyright 2016 Steve Evans