This is another fine Rock 'n' Roll story. The 1959 Gibson Les Paul is the world’s most expensive and sought after guitar. The sunburst guitars began production in mid-1958 and continued through 1960 with some minor production changes throughout. But the 1959 versions are considered the most desirable because the necks for those instruments are a particular thickness often preferred by players. It can also be one of the hardest to authenticate. Fake guitars appeared already in the 1970's. Some of the frauds are copies made by skilled luthiers, while others are Frankenstein monsters cobbled together from parts of Les Pauls manufactured in other years and passed off as real 1959s.
This is one of those Frankenstein monsters. After research this guitar has the same serial number as another Les Paul owned by Keith Richard. Zooming into the serial number it becomes obvious that there was originally another serial number which was painted over quite crudely. Taking it appart it is most likely a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop conversion.
John Miles was nevertheless convinced during a number of years that he got a 1959. He bought the guitar in 1975 in Denmark Street at Knight Guitars. Since that time it was his main guitar.
This Gibson Les Paul #9 3182 was solely owned by John Miles since he purchased it in 1975 until his passing in 2020. The guitar was put up for sale on eBay via John Miles's management company however after the price John would accept wasn’t reached and as a shitstorm was unleashed on the authenticity of the guitar it was taken down and stayed in his possession. The guitar was used on his albums from Rebel onwards as well as being played by him on many solo tours as well as tours with Joe Cocker and Tina Turner.
In an Electronics & Music Maker interview by Ian Gilby John Miles discusses in October 1983 his approach to songwriting and his move towards a solo career in the light of his new album Play on. In this article he speaks of his Les Paul. He was convinced at that time to have an authentic '59 Les Paul. Excerpts of the article :
" Last month saw John Miles return to the limelight with a new album 'Play On'. For the first time, he has been working in a solo capacity, backed up by some of Britain's top session musicians and a large orchestra.
He first shot to fame in the mid-seventies with three hit-singles 'High-Fly', 'Music', and 'Slowdown'. His popularity continued to grow with the release of three albums for Decca: 'Stranger In The City,' 'Zaragon', and 'More Miles Per Hour'.
Ian Gilby interviewed Miles shortly after the release of 'Play On' and sets the ball rolling by asking him what equipment he's now using.
"At home I've got a Yamaha acoustic piano, a couple of guitars, the ones I use on stage, which are a Strat and a Les Paul Standard and I've just got myself a Drumulator which I'm trying to figure out. When I'm songwriting, I just use the drum machine and piano or drum machine and guitar and put the song ideas down in that kind of form.
The way I write is with my partner, Bob Marshall. I write the music and Bob writes the lyrics. Usually about 70% of the time I come up with the music first, then sing a melody line without lyrics and give it to Bob.
Which songs did you actually play lead guitar on — all of them?
Yeah, all of them. I did a split solo on 'Close Eyes Count to Ten'. Martin Jenner plays the first half of the song and I play the second half, and that just came about as an accident really. He was doing little fills and rhythm stuff on it and when it came to the solo he just started to mess about and he finished up actually halfway through the solo. It was such a nice run I thought we really had to use it: it was the perfect lead in for another guitar to take over at that point.
How much work do you actually put into the guitar solos, do you plan them out beforehand or is it all feel?
No, it's all feel. It's just a case of going in really. We did all the guitar overdubs inside the control room, which I really prefer because you hear the actual sound which is going to be there. I find it really strange to have to go out in the studio with a set of headphones on and play the solo; I just feel so small.
So were you actually DI-ing your guitar, then?
No. I used the Mesa Boogie in the studio with an extension cab. We had about 10 mics on it which was unbelievable. I tried every kind of mic on it and we used combinations of each; we put a lot of ambience mics on it, very close mics, mics from the back, mics from the front, and that was all down to Graham Dixon really. He's very good with guitar sounds.
When you write the songs do you specifically leave sections where you want the guitar solo?
Yes. It might not necessarily be a guitar solo but I know where the solo should be.
I spend quite a lot of time with the guitars, but it depends really. I think the solo on 'I'll Never Do It Again' was probably the one that took a lot of time. A great deal of time was spent on the guitar sounds, but not so much on the playing.
Which guitars are you using?
On the album I used the Fender Strat which has got two DiMarzios on it. I used that basically because I love the tremolo effect. But the guitar I used mostly was the '59 Les Paul Standard which I've had for a long time now.
How much importance do you place on your guitar?
Well, I've had in my time three Les Pauls and the one I've stuck with has been the Sunburst because it feels right and it's got a lot of power as well. There's a lot of variation between Les Pauls as to the power of the pickups, and I found one that was really as powerful as I needed it to be. I used to have a '57 Switch master which was also a very nice guitar but it had three pickups, and I couldn't play with three pickups; I had to lower the middle pickup... because it just used to get in the way. It's my style of playing — that is where I play.
Getting back to instruments, what amplifier do you play the Les Paul and the Strat through?
I use the Mesa Boogie. I used one on the last tour. I haven't got one. I tried one out with the intention of maybe buying it but after the tour, I knew we couldn't gig again for a while so I didn't think it was really worth it. When it came to doing the tracks, I immediately went for a Mesa Boogie because again it is a very adaptable amp — it's great for both live work and studio work — and I went for the one with the graphic EQ so I could modify the sound.
In the past you used to have an Orange amp...
Yeah, they used to be great amps, Orange amps, the early ones. I had one particular Orange amp for ages, until it actually physically fell apart, it just wouldn't work anymore. That was when a guy called Mac was making the amps and they were very good quality amps, everything in them was good. The components were great, but they got bigger and bigger, went into factory production and then it just wasn't as good.
So even if this guitar is not a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, it has made Rock 'n' Roll history and John Miles liked to play this guitar intensively during his musical career. And this is what finally matters !
With the guitar came also his Marshall JCM900 amp he used with the guitar during Tina Turner 1987 tour. The flight case is marked “ John Amp #1 with « SR TINA » indication for stage right use.