The Les Paul #1
Spring 2020: In the video… at “Mile Marker” (as Les would put it)… you can see DEAR LES PAUL PLAYING THIS GUITAR. This was sent to us and we share it with you now. Thank you to the Peeps & Pals of the Paul Family. May we all keep Les and his legacy… alive. Enjoy. (Signed, Liz Chandler aka “Mrs. Dennis”).
The History & Specs of the Gibson guitar called THE LES PAUL, REG. #1 owned by Dennis Chandler.
This guitar is #1 in a series of approximately 65. Specifically the first of this series, its actual photograph is pictured on page 80 of “The Guitar Book” written by Tom Wheeler, with a forward by B.B. King. A revised and enlarged edition of that book was published by Harper and Row in 1978.
In 1974 Gibson was celebrating two special anniversaries. First, it was 80 years since Orville Gibson founded the company. Second, it was the 20th anniversary of the Les Paul model guitar. To commemorate these events, a limited edition, 20th Anniversary Les Paul Custom guitar was produced. The only difference between the regular production Custom and the limited edition Custom was a 20th Anniversary inlay on the fingerboard. Since it was a special year and the 20th Anniversary Les Paul Custom wasn’t very special, Gibson craftsmen and luthiers decided to manufacture the ultimate Les Paul guitar. Discussions were completed in late 1974 and a prototype was designed. The chosen name of this model was The Les Paul. The is pronounced “THEE” signifying a premium and elite designation.
Here is a short chronology of the events… the long detailed version follows:
Spring 1975: Construction of this guitar was begun.
In 1975 Les Paul and Chet Atkins won the Grammy Award for the album titled, “Chester & Lester”.
June 23, 1975: Dick Sodja ordered a The Les Paul model after seeing it at the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchandisers).
February 28, 1976: Les Paul played The Les Paul #1 at the 1975 Grammy Awards Presentation Show with Chet Atkins.
March 1, 1976: The Les Paul #1 was returned to Gibson, Kalamazoo for final finishing and serial number plate installation.
March 26, 1976: The Les Paul #1 was completed with #1 plate attached.
March 31, 1976: The Les Paul #1 inadvertently was shipped to Sodja Music, Cleveland Ohio instead of to Les Paul.
October 10, 1977: The Les Paul #1 was purchased from Sodja Music by Dennis & Liz Chandler, with whom “Lucky” (as Les called her)… still resides.
As mentioned in the video tutorial… all of the first guitars in a series honoring an artist… go to that artist. That was to be the case for this guitar (pardon the pun). But, this guitar the Gibson luthiers had not yet fine tuned, (again pardon the pun). But, the show had begun… so the guitar was hung… in the booth with care… for all to see (but not hear). It was hoped that many orders would come from dealers attending (the NAMM show). The orders did NOT come… (there were ONLY 77 made between 1976 and 1979.) However, one particular dealer… who was so pleased with its appearance… he was the FIRST to order a “THE LES PAUL”. (even as expensive as it was for his… not-so-big-as-a-big-box-music-store)
The dealer? A local Cleveland Gibson dealer, Dick Sodja, owner of Sodja Music. He was so impressed with the quality, workmanship and special cosmetic features of this guitar that he put in his order on June 23, 1975. Dick Sodja expected to receive one of the custom limited production models… not this one… Reg. #1 .
Needless to say, Les Paul was extremely eager to receive this very special instrument. However, for some unknown reason, this guitar was never shipped to Les Paul. Instead, the order placed by Dick Sodja because of the 1975 NAMM show… was filled with the prototype. On March 31, 1976, The Les Paul, Reg. #1 was shipped to Sodja Music. Here is the information given us by Gibson’s Joe Browne (more about him below).
By the time Gibson realized what had happened, it was too late to correct the error. This guitar remained in the dealer inventory of Dick Sodja, virtually untouched, until October 10, 1977. On that date we purchased it. This after securing a bank loan to do it… it was that expensive… and also because it was our “salad years” (read: no cash for a luxurious Les Paul).
Pertinent to the fine condition of this guitar we offer this back story of dealer Dick Sodja and buyer Dennis Chandler. The two had known one another since Dennis’ early childhood. Student-Dennis took lessons from Bill Teacher-Dick (and others at the store). The location of the first Sodja Music was near the same Cleveland east side community called “Euclid Homes”. It was Post World War II housing aka “The Projects”.
Later, both moved farther outbound from the city into suburbia… in the then-typical style of society. Mention must be made now… how clients from all the various concert performance places in the Northeast Ohio area… came into the suburban store still called, “Sodja Music”.
But, one of those concert venues was really close by. It was called, “The Front Row Theatre”. The venue was built by a partnership between builder Dominic Visconsi and the owner of King Musical Instruments, Nate Dolin, son Larry and daughter-in-law, Deedra. The design was a theatre-in-the-round which made for an intimate setting with the audience… with not a bad seat in the house. Entertainers loved it and so did the public. It was very successful, to say the least. The popularity of the place had their staff also flooding other businesses in the area. Thus they were able to supply the needs of the stars and their support teams (read: band members and crew). They all came into Sodja’s and sometimes with the stars, themselves. Amazingly, according to Dick… this guitar was not shown to any of those folks.
Fortuitously, it was store employee and whiz-Luthier, Ken Lesko, who mentioned it to musician-Dennis. The two often chatted about inner guitar guts and outer finishes, etc. And whenever musician-Dennis needed work on his guitar, stage gear, etc., he had it done by wizard Lesko (and Dick always offered to take payments). So never one to rush out of that environment… the guys were looking at the Gibson catalog when Ken said, “There’s this new Gibson model guitar called ‘The Les Paul’ and ‘The’ is pronounced ‘Thee’. It lists for what I feel… is a ridiculously high price for an LP. But, you should see it… it is gorgeous”.
Ken also proffered, “I bet you if YOU ask Dick… he will probably get it down out of the ‘vault’ to show you”. As I mentioned they knew one another from childhood… so Dennis did ask and Dick did get the guitar down… (out of the attic, actually). He told Dennis that he did not want “this Les Paul” handled by just anyone and especially in any hasty manner. He said he knew Dennis to be particular about musical instruments (in fact, it was Dick who helped trained Dennis that way). But, after seeing this beauty… one would think that at some point “pride of ownership” would have come into play. Then there would have been occasion to have some “show and tell time” at the store. There was not. This guitar was not even seen by many let alone handled. Lucky for us, eh?
Perhaps here is where… I should interject… If one wants to learn… why Les labeled this guitar “Lucky”… for him… and for BB King… go to the webpage titled, “BB King / Lucille”.
OR… let me tell you here… that’s Dennis in his role… as Gibson Sales Rep… letting Dick rub the “lucky” guitar. Again, why “lucky”? IT GOT HIM THE JOB… WITH GIBSON… THAT GOT HIM THE SALES… THAT GOT HIM THE EAR… OF THE PRESIDENT… WHO SAID, “GO DO IT… GET THE DEAL DONE”… (FOR LUCILLE aka THE BB KING PRODUCTION LINE MODEL). Now, that’s what I call “lucky”. And so did Les… and so did BB. .. and we were Blessed.
The following photos are from when Dennis went to visit Dick upon the closing of Sodja Music. The little lady went visiting… look but no playing her (pardon the pun).
Les Paul had the opportunity to see and play this guitar again. However, this time it was “loaned” to him by owner Dennis Chandler on September 28, 1980. On that occasion Les entertained his fellow patients and medical staff at the Cleveland Clinic just prior to his heart bypass surgery. After the performance, Les mischievously suggested he’d better autograph the guitar before his forthcoming surgery. Turning to his surgeon, the renowned Dr. Floyd Loop, he asked for something to sign the guitar’s pick guard with. After unsuccessfully trying out the “Doc’s scalpel”, Paul ever the resourceful inventor, resorted to using a small screwdriver handed him by his son, Les Paul Jr. aka Rusty aka Russ Paul. Then he turned to Dennis and said, “C’mon Chandler, these folks need some cheering up… let’s make some music!” And they did. By the way: it was said that many of the folks in attendance wanted to take pictures. They had those Instamatic-type cameras with the little square flash cubes. One can get good results with those. Whether or not they did remains to be seen, (pardon the pun). But, with the Internet one never knows what will surface.
But, they did get what Les called an “Atta, boy!” in the form of a letter. Here it is…
The local ABC affiliate was the only television station allowed to announce that he was here in Cleveland. There was a news “blackout” ordered ’round the globe (remember it was THE Les Paul getting a bypass). Les’s pals, the Paleys being Media Moguls took care of that for him. What a different time it was. The media culture was not what it is today. But, since all politics is local… we were graced with giving the story to our friend, a consummate professional, Bill Jaycocks. BJ is said to have been the first full time African American anchorman in Cleveland (he’s out in California now, I believe). But, back in the day, we all knew one another from the turbulent days of Social Unrest (read: the fight for Civil Rights). So maybe, since Dennis and I did lots of local freelance media work… I can source out an old VHS tape… from an old techie. But, in the meanwhile… as far as the media… I wonder what Les would have thought of selfies back then?
And who is Bill Gordon, one may ask? Go to the webpage titled… Bill “Smoochie” Gordon / Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett / Gabmen Extraordinaire.
Les was very gracious when he expressed that The Les Paul, Reg. #1 was the only number one of any new Les Paul model not in his own personal collection. He mentioned he got Reg. #25 from Gibson instead. He also said that this Les Paul was extremely valuable and would continue to appreciate… “So, take care of it and it will take care of you!” And it has…
Here at the House of Blues is Les backstage signing that above-mentioned Grammy award winning album, “Chester and Lester”. This was after Les Paul’s concert in celebration of the grand opening of the Cleveland HOB.
The picture below shows an astonished-looking Dennis Chandler after Les Paul says “Let me sign another thing for you… give me that lucky guitar… I want to autograph it for you.” Perhaps, Dennis was wondering where and how Les was going to carve his moniker? “Not to worry”, Les said, “I’ll do it on the pick guard” and he did. He handed it to Dennis joking… “Don’t poke your eye out, kid!”
Back to about “Specs”…
Documentation includes the original dealer invoice, warranty card, sales receipt, Gibson factory specification sheet, promotional photograph, catalog and price list. This guitar is pictured in the Gibson “White” catalog. Accessories include the Black Beauty Artist Series case. This is no ordinary case. It is a black, plush lined, black leather covered custom case. On the inside of the lid, a satin ribbon bears the “Gibson” script logo. The original unwrapped strap and cord along with an additional rosewood pick guard (without Les Paul’s autograph) complete this special package.
It is an amazing instrument that should, someday, be in a museum where guitar enthusiasts could see and appreciate it. Until that time it’s in good hands.
UPDATE…… In the past few years Gibson has attempted to re-issue many of the famous “flame top” models of the 50’s and early 60’s. Some of the tops are quite good. But, The Les Paul #1 has the finest flame top ever seen on ANY Les Paul model. It could be, quite possibly, the best and most remarkable flamed maple used on a Gibson guitar since manufacturing began in 1894. The back, sides, and neck are also similar quality flamed maple. The flame on the back is equal in every way to the flame on the front. Published photos of The Les Paul models numbered and dated after 3/26/76 show nowhere near the cosmetic appearance of #1. The Les Paul, #1 was hand crafted in every way, in every discriminate detail, in the Kalamazoo, Michigan plant where EVERY guitar was CUSTOM SHOP PREMIUM quality.
Here are the factory specifications as printed in the Gibson “White” catalog: (keep in mind that these specs are for the production models, #1 is exceptional as far as the term “highly figured” is concerned. That is a complete understatement for #1.
* Maple body with highly figured maple top
* Single cutaway
* Body bound in beautiful ornate rosewood
* Adjustable wide-travel gold-plated Tune-O-Matic bridge
(actually #1 has a Schaller bridge)
* The new Gibson gold-plated instant adjustment fine tuning TP-6 tailpiece
* Beautiful hand carved rosewood finger rest
* Two gold-plated Gibson Humbucking pickups with individual volume and
* 3-position toggle switch for pickup selection (individual or both
* Hand carved rosewood parts (knobs, toggle switch cover, etc.)
* Body size: Length 17 1/4″, width 12 3/4″, depth 2″
* Laminated maple construction
* Width at fingerboard nut 1 11/16″;
* Combination ebony/rosewood fingerboard with ornate Abalone block inlays
* Black/rosewood/black/rosewood bound peghead and fingerboard with Abalone
* Rosewood head veneer with mother of pearl buttons (machine head knobs)
* Gibson truss rod with engraved rosewood/ebony truss rod cover
* 22 frets; 24 3/4″ scale length
You have read this page because you realize what a special guitar The Les Paul #1 is. Perhaps you are interested in the possibility of being the next owner. If so, use the “Talk To Me” page to inquire or call Dennis Chandler at 440-349-1969.
Les Paul Sr. said this guitar “is gonna be lucky for you one day!” Well, it was. Not only for Dennis Chandler but for B.B. King, too. But, that’s another story. (Read the webpage titled “B.B. King / Lucille”).
Signed, Liz Chandler aka “Mrs. Dennis”, (as BB dubbed me).