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The storied history of Noel Gallagher's Les Paul Florentine

The storied history of Noel Gallagher's Les Paul Florentine
(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Many of us have loved and lost guitars. Those stories often end with yearning and a pang of regret for ‘the one that got away’. Seldom does the pining protagonist reunite with the object of their desires. 

Rarer still did it play a part in changing the course of music history as an instrument of choice for a guitarist in one of the world’s biggest rock ’n’ roll bands. Such is the tale of Oasis über-fan Richie Moores who, having spent many years longing for his once treasured possession, was eventually reunited with the guitar of his dreams: the one-of-a-kind ex-Noel Gallagher 1997 Silver Sparkle finish Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Florentine.

I remember my dad saying to me, ‘Oh my God, check out that guitar. Noel must be on some good stuff

“I have an emotional attachment to that guitar,” Richie tell us. “I first clapped eyes on it when I was sitting with my father watching the BBC documentary Right Here, Right Now [on 20 August 1997] the night before the album Be Here Now was released. Dad was ill with cancer at the time. In the documentary, you see Noel playing this Silver Sparkle Les Paul and I remember my dad saying to me, ‘Oh my God, check out that guitar. Noel must be on some good stuff!’

“All eyes were on the band and Noel was using the Les Paul Florentine a lot at the time. It’s a really cool piece of history. The first time I saw him using it on stage was at Newcastle Arena [17 September 1997] where he played it for most of the set. Be Here Now was the first song, and I remember him playing the solo in Champagne Supernova with it. To eventually get my hands on that guitar after seeing it on TV and watching him play it live was just unbelievable for me.”

Much to Richie’s amazement, he later stumbled across Noel’s Les Paul at a guitar show in Manchester.

“In 2001, I saw the Silver Sparkle Florentine at a guitar show,” recalls Richie. “I said to my mate, ‘That’s just like Noel’s!’ and this guy came over and said, ‘That is Noel’s.’ It was Rick Zsigmond of New Kings Road Vintage Guitar Emporium. He said, ‘Noel’s tech, Jason Rhodes, has been helping him have a bit of a clear out, so I’ve got a few of his guitars to offer.’ 

"I told him, ‘You don’t realise how badly I want that Florentine,’ and he said, ‘The trouble is, it’s going into auction in a few weeks’ time in America. But if you put down a deposit and it doesn’t meet the reserve price, then the guitar’s yours.’ So I gave him a deposit there and then and the guitar went up for auction.”

Richie and Noel with the Florentine soon after Richie initially acquired it back in 2001

Richie and Noel with the Florentine soon after Richie initially acquired it back in 2001 (Image credit: Richie Moores)

At home, Richie waited nervously in front of the computer screen as the bidding on the guitar commenced. 

“I remember watching the auction online with my brother and seeing the price creeping up and up,” says Richie, “but it stopped below the reserve. I thought, ‘Brilliant!’ I was so excited. I rang [Rick] the next day and he was proper chilled about it. You know, dead blasé, like, ‘Yeah, it didn’t meet the reserve. Just come and get it whenever’s good for you.’

“I was only 19 at the time, and I was like, ‘Shit! Best go to the bank and get a loan then!’ So I went down to the bank, got the loan for the guitar and went and picked it up.

“After I’d picked it up, I drove from New Kings Road Guitar Emporium [in Fulham] to Noel’s house in Marylebone and rang his buzzer. I was expecting him to talk back through the intercom, but he just opened the door, like, ‘All right, mate? How’s it going?’

“I’d met him a couple of weeks before at The Lowry Hotel in Manchester when they were doing the 10 Years Of Noise And Confusion tour. I said, ‘I don’t know if you remember, we talked about one of your guitars I was trying to buy?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, the Florentine.’ I said, ‘Well, to cut a long story short, I got it! It’s in the boot.’

Noel asked if I wanted him to sign it. In retrospect, maybe I should have asked him to sign the back of headstock, but at the time I just wanted to keep it how it was when he was playing it.

"He went, ‘Well, get it out then!’ So I got it out of the boot and brought it over. Noel was sat on his step playing it when his daughter [Anaïs Gallagher] came out to see what was going on. She was only a toddler at the time, but she said to him, ‘Is that your guitar, daddy?’ He went, ‘No. It used to be mine, but it belongs to this man now.’ She goes, ‘Why are you playing on it then, daddy?’ and he says, ‘Anaïs, you just won’t understand.’

“He asked if I wanted him to sign it. In retrospect, maybe I should have asked him to sign the back of headstock, but at the time I just wanted to keep it how it was when he was playing it. And I figured if he signed it, it would get smudged when I played it. He was really happy I was going to play it, rather than just lock it away. And I think he was happy because he knew it was going to a fan.

"We had a bit of a chat then off we went. I really wanted to get a photo of me and him with the guitar, but I didn’t want to make a fuss with Anaïs there. So I wrote him a letter asking if we could make it happen when I was in London in a few weeks’ time. A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Noel’s PA, Kat, and she said, ‘Noel’s got your letter. He’d like you to come down and get the pictures done. When’s good for you?’

"When we met up, Noel said, ‘If you ever want tickets, speak to Kat.’ She’s amazing. I’ve seen Oasis 27 times, from Paris to Manchester to New York to Mexico City. And I’ve watched Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds half a dozen times now.”

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(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Gibson records show this 1997 Custom Shop guitar to be registered for Oasis/ Noel Gallagher as “a oneoff Les Paul Florentine with f-holes, silver sparkle, with nickel hardware, from 1997”

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(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Les Paul Custom-style bound ebony ’board with pearl block markers.

As a truly dedicated fan, undertaking long journeys to see the band is something Richie has been doing ever since he passed his driving test.

“Me and my mate once drove all the way down to London to get autographs!” laughs Richie. “We met Liam [Gallagher] and he said, ‘Where have you come from?’ We told him, ‘Stoke,’ and he went, ‘Fuckin’ell, you have come a long way, man! Do you want to go for a beer?’ 20 minutes later, we met him round the corner in The Holly Bush in Hampstead. 

"Liam was there already with his other brother, Paul Gallagher, Mani from The Stone Roses, and Oasis’s tour DJ, Phil Smith. They’re all top lads and we had a great night. When we stumbled out of the pub later on, he said, ‘Shall we phone Noel, then?’ We were like, ‘Yeah!’ But then he went, ‘You’re joking, aren’t you? He won’t give me his number!’”

True to his word, Richie regularly played the guitar, even taking it out gigging with him on the weekends.

“I used to gig it a fair bit down the local pubs,” confesses Richie. “When I look back, I think what madness that was. It’d just be in a pub leaning up against all the other gear. I’d get up on stage with it smashed out of my face on a Saturday night and do some covers. Good times! I owned it for two or three years, but then I was kind of forced to sell it. 

"Family circumstances had changed and I needed to raise some money, so I put it up for sale and it went off to America. I knew that was a mistake from the day I sold it. Within a week of selling it, I messaged the new owner, Mark, to ask if I could get the guitar back. Eventually, I got a reply saying he’d received the guitar, was really happy with it, but that it was, unfortunately, not something he wanted to part with. However, he did say that I’d get first shout on it in future if ever he were to try and sell it.”

The Les Paul Custom-style Florentine includes Gibson’s top-of-therange hallmark of five-piece split diamond pearl headstock inlays.

The Les Paul Custom-style Florentine includes Gibson’s top-of-therange hallmark of five-piece split diamond pearl headstock inlays. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Although Richie stayed in touch with Mark for a while, the pair eventually lost contact and the whereabouts of the guitar remained in the dark for the next 17 years. Curious as to its fate, Richie decided to try and shed some light on the situation.

“Nobody had seen the guitar and a lot of people were saying, ‘Where’s the Silver Sparkle [Les Paul] from Be Here Now?’” remembers Richie. “It’s just so iconic. I put a post on The Les Paul Forum to see if anybody had seen it or knew where it was and I got a few replies, but they turned out to be red herrings. So I started doing some detective work. I don’t do Facebook, but I was with my brother one day and he’s swiping through his newsfeed. I said, ‘Mike, can I borrow your phone a sec? I just want to search for this guy.’ So, I typed in Mark’s name and, to my surprise, he came up!

"This guy was bang into British bands like The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis, and there aren’t too many guys in Kansas City into that type of thing, so I thought, ‘That has to be him.’ Then I saw all these messages on his Facebook wall about his passing. I said to my wife, ‘Oh no! Mark passed away last year!’

“I saw a message from Mark’s niece and got in touch on Instagram saying how sorry I was at her uncle’s passing. I explained a little about the guitar and she said she’d pass my details on to her dad, Rob, who was in charge of Mark’s estate. When I woke up in the morning, Rob had already emailed loads of pictures.

"He was relieved to speak to me because he knew I was the previous owner and he had a couple of guys pressurising him about provenance, which had somehow been lost. I said to him, ‘Mark and I had this agreement that I would get first refusal if ever he were to sell it,’ and I showed him the old emails. He was like, ‘Right, I’ll get back to you, Richie.’

“I lost a lot of sleep over it, but the next day I was walking the dog when he called me and said, ‘Me and the wife have been thinking about it and we think the guitar belongs with you. It’s what Mark would have wanted.’ I got the call on a Tuesday and I flew out to Kansas City that Friday. I went from Manchester to New York, then New York to Kansas.

"Rob picked me up at the airport and when I jumped in the front seat, he said, ‘Your baby’s behind you.’ I turned around and there it was on the backseat. It was like a diamond in a jewel box. It gave me goosebumps! I learned a lesson that day: it’s not going anywhere again!”

By the following day, Richie was on his way back to Manchester with the Florentine safely in his possession.

Long haul of treasure: the Florentine is so rock star that United Airlines flew it back to the UK in first-class style (while Richie sat in economy).

Long haul of treasure: the Florentine is so rock star that United Airlines flew it back to the UK in first-class style (while Richie sat in economy). (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

“When I got it back, I was emotional,” says Richie. “It was an unbelievable journey. Noel was the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place, so it’s amazing to own one of his. It’s funny, but I still see it as his guitar. I said to Kat, ‘If ever Noel got a bit nostalgic and wanted to use it again, the offer’s always there. Or if you want it for an Oasis exhibition, let me know.’ I was 15 years old in 1997 and Oasis were everything to me at that point. 

"The 90s were a cool time to be growing up. The music was great, there was loads of good bands about, and that guitar just goes hand in hand with all of that. They are just pieces of wood with six strings on them, but they can mean so much more.

“Noel inspired me to start playing guitar, so to actually own this guitar that I’ve seen him use live – and that I watched him play in the documentary when I was with my dad – means so much to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too long after that my dad passed away. I remember when I first picked it up, I was thinking, ‘Bloody hell, dad – I’ve got it! We were talking about it and now it’s mine!’ The whole thing has been a huge emotional rollercoaster. Nowadays, I look after it like it’s the Crown Jewels!”