“As I came off the stage I said, ‘How much do you want for it?' He wanted the princely sum of 600 pounds”: Bernie Marsden plays the blues on “The Beast,” his legendary 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and reveals its origin story

Bernie Marsden plays his legendary 1959 Gibson Les Paul, The Beast
(Image credit: Future)

Last Thursday (August 24), we sadly lost Bernie Marsden, a top-tier guitarist whose contributions to the blues and rock genres have influenced generations of six-stringers.

Marsden's playing wasn't showy – it had plenty of bite, for sure, but it was also imbued with a songwriter's touch (Marsden's skill in the latter department can be heard in the original version of Whitesnake’s timeless classic, Here I Go Again, which he co-wrote).

Marsden also had quite the guitar collection, but his most famous six-string by far was “The Beast,” a truly stunning 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that's one of those near-mythical Les Pauls that's almost as famous as its owner.

Back in 2012, Marsden sat down with Guitarist to take The Beast for a blues-y, riff-heavy spin, and discuss how he came to own it. You can see video of the demo/interview below.

Only two months ago, Marsden put The Beast up for sale – for $1.3 million. Though he quickly withdrew the guitar from the market after a change of heart, the price tag wasn't too far out of line, considering how much other '59 Les Pauls (with less storied backgrounds) have ended up selling for. Either way, $1.3 million is a hell of a lot more than Marsden paid for the guitar in 1974.

“A guy produced it [for me] at a gig at the Marquee, tuned it up and said 'use it for the encore,' Marsden tells Guitarist in the video. “I had already said I couldn't afford it, but he tuned it up for me and I plugged it in, and it was stupendous. As I came off the stage, I said 'How much do you want for it?' – he wanted the princely sum of about 600 pounds, which I could not afford.”

Eventually, though, the two guitarists came to a deal, with Marsden trading a couple of his own guitars for the Les Paul. Losing some of his guitars, Marsden says, “seemed [like] a lot to me at the time, but I think, in hindsight, I probably did the best thing.“

As he goes to explain, Marsden's Les Paul didn't sit on the shelf after he acquired it. “This [The Beast] can be seen in all the Whitesnake videos (from 1978-1982, after which Marsden was let go from the band), and [heard on] every song on the Whitesnake albums, if it's me playing.”

Aside from Marsden, The Beast has been played by a number of other guitar stars. Jeff Beck once played Scatterbrain on it, Marsden tells Guitarist, and Steve Lukather also took it for a spin. Another guitarist who's put The Beast through its paces is Joe Bonamassa, who – according to Marsden – said of it simply, “that thing is sick.”

Bonamassa was among the many rockers who paid tribute to Marsden on social media in the wake of his passing.

“I am truly heartbroken. Bernie was the kindest soul,” the blues guitar A-lister wrote on Instagram last week. “I met him on May 4, 2009 at my Royal Albert Hall debut. A big moment for me. After the show he approached me and was the first person to say 'Great gig… Hi, my name is Bernie Marsden.' I was in awe of him as I was in awe that entire day.”

“Humble, kind and larger than life, I will always cherish my time with him and regret the moments we won’t have together,” he continued. “This is such a great loss to me personally and a tremendous loss to the music world. He was a superstar in every imaginable way. My sincerest heartfelt condolences go out to Fran and his family.”

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.