When I was a kid I hated Gibson's Les Paul Junior guitar. It looked like a cheap fake version of the venerable Les Paul to me. It's skinny headstock didnt seem to scream rock and roll in the way that Peter Townshend's burgundy red Deluxe did. Not to my mind anyway. My aversion lasted for the best part of (ahem) ten years. Until a little while ago (ahem again) I was working in a recording studio a long way from Birmingham, Avatar Recording Studios in New York City to be precise, and a scrawny looking kid came in with his scrawny looking Les Paul junior in that nasty faded cherry colour that I'd always found so distasteful. As I despaired at how we were going to deliver the raucous guitar line that I knew the track deserved (I'd heard the nasty thin sounding demo already) he plugged the thing in. What I heard through his "cranked-to-eleven" Marshall Plexi through the big Altec monitors in the control room though, blew me away. I had just found my holy-grail: how to put raw back into rawk and roll!
Obviously, after this epiphany, I knew I had to have one. So my search began. I learned quickly that, even though it was first introduced in 1954 there weren't a lot around for sale. And those that were around were fetching pretty significant amounts of money. There was no way I was going to stump up £5k for something that I still fundamentally though was an ugly guitar. Closer inspection revealed that the twin pick up models could be had for less. But it also seemed to be well documented that they didn't sound nearly so good. It was at that point I started to look at the reissues. Now Epiphone does a very cheap version at a bit less than a hundred quid. I tried it. Didn't work for me. The next step up was Gibson's own brand cheap and cheerful model. I tried a few. Found a huge variety of tones and playability among them. But none of them floated my boat. It was then that I discovered Gibson's Billie Joe Armstrong Signature Les Paul Junior. After some initial research I must admit, I was a little put off. Because apparently the ripping snarling P90 of the original that I was looking for had been replaced by an updated modern H90 which was said to be a "noise cancelling". Now to me that spelled just another instrument that had, in the pursuit of modernity, had its soul ripped out. It sounded like it would be bland. Vanilla. The reviews, however, said it was a nice guitar to play. I resolved to keep my eye out for one and just change the pickup for an original. Easy. Right?
Well, within only a week I found what I was looking for on fleabay. The pictures showed that the guitar hadn't had an easy life. The spaces that weren't covered in stickers appeared to be scratched up. But I don't care for looks as long as a guitar sounds good and plays well. I mean we run a recording studio here, not a beauty parlour. Right?
Anyway, perhaps due to the condition, there was little bidding interest and I got it for a song. I couldn't wait for it to arrive so I could have a play. When it did, and I plugged it in, I was gobsmacked. Sure, maybe it did hum a little less than the vintage ones I'd come across in the meantime, but it had exactly the character I was looking for. Raw tone without an unreasonable amount of noise? sound like a studio recording engineer's dream? It was.
Now let's be clear before we go any further. This won't ever be a high gain/metal kind of shredding tool. But if you want pure unadulterated rock and roll, this is the tool for it. While this one needed a set-up it felt well balanced to my hands. I particularly liked the neck. So off it went to my local luthier who gave it a clean, removed the stickers, set it up and re-strung it for me. When it came back it not only looked great but I quickly realised this was the guitar I had been looking for.
So now whenever I want snarling spitting fury and serious grunt on a recording, this is the one I reach for to hand to the guitarist. The bad news is that, Gibson now seems to have discontinued the Signature Les Paul Junior. But if you want to hear ours, the best thing I can suggest right now is to await the new EP from Coventry band, The Enemy. The singles: 'Melody' and 'Magic', recorded here at Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham, have this guitar all over them. I'll post a link here as soon as they are released!