Kirk Hammett has got himself a new guitar, and it’s one of the rarest Gibson Les Pauls ever made. A 1959 Les Paul Standard would be rare enough, a holy grail for most. But how about one in Factory Black, complete with a Bigsby vibrato?
Hammett’s new guitar is just not the sort of thing you see in the wild everyday. Even among the vintage guitar community, the people with the dough for this kind of thing, a black ’59 Les Paul Standard is a once in a lifetime guitar.
The Metallica guitarist bought his from Carter Vintage Guitars, Nashville, and it is one of few guitars in the world that can give his famous Greeny ‘Burst a run for its money. What makes it so rare is that Les Paul Standards did not come in that color at the time.
These ’59 Les Paul Standards might be the most sought-after guitars nowadays – the exemplar of the model – but when they were released, many players looked to the Les Paul Custom, with its classy Ebony finish as the ideal. It was also the highest-priced model in the catalog.
Some jonesing for that LP Custom aesthetic was how Hammett’s Factory Black model came into existence, and it all started with a request from a jazz guitarist named Joseph Arena. According to Carter Vintage Guitars, the story goes that Arena wanted a Custom, on account that it would match his tuxedo, so he put in a request via Sam Ash in Hempstead, New York, who sent on his request to Gibson HQ. Ben Ash, of Sam Ash Music, believes it might well have been his grandfather, Jerry, who actually handled the order, but he says it would have been from their Brooklyn store, as the Hempstead store didn't exist yet.
Arena must have been happy with their work. The guitar has stayed in the family until Carter Vintage Guitars took receipt of it. There are no further details as to whether the Bigsby was an aftermarket mod, or as to why the pickup coverings are missing. But as Hammett says himself, “This is one unique, amazing sounding guitar.”
The Metallica man noted that Greeny, his ’59 Les Paul Standard once owned by Peter Green and then Gary Moore, might be a little jealous. Well, it can get in line. We’re all a little jealous. It’s good news that someone such as Hammett picked it up, because we might even see it onstage once Metallica head out on their epic M72 World Tour, which picks up on April 27 at the Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam.
Hammett was good to his word when picking up Greeny. It was not going to be a museum piece. It was going to be maintained, played regularly. People needed to see and hear it.
“This guitar needs to be out there,” he told Total Guitar. “It’s a gift to the music world and I should just keep giving that gift.”
Hammett also admitted that having Greeny had changed his playing. He was back playing more blues guitar than ever before.
“When I first started playing guitar, I thought, ‘All right! I’ll play the blues. I’ll play the blues like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, Buddy Guy or BB King,’” he said. “For the first couple of years, I played blues just as much as I played rock. In the ‘90s, I got into the blues again with Stevie Ray Vaughan. But I am listening a lot more to the electric players, guys from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The blues is creeping back into my playing. A lot of that has to do with Peter Green. Listening to him, in awe, it woke me up.”
It will be interesting to see how this new Factory Black Les Paul changes Hammett. Even for someone who plays in Metallica, this is a life-changing electric guitar. Will Hammett work through some jazz phrases in the spirit of Arena? Time will tell.
As for Greeny, nothing can diminish its allure. Gibson has recently launched a number of super limited edition Greeny replicas, meticulously cloned in the Murphy Lab, available only by request via the Gibson Garage. Only 50 were made, and we know that Adam Jones of Tool was one of the lucky collectors who got his hands on one, and that Jason Momoa bought the very last one.
If you’re looking for a black 1959 Les Paul Standard, there is still at least one known model in the wild. It won’t shock you to learn that Joe Bonamassa owns it. It is a 1959 Standard that was originally a ‘Burst but was refinished in black at the factory then stamped with a 1960 serial number.
It was painted black for similar reasons to Hammett’s model – all to make it look like a Custom, which the owner couldn’t afford. The original owner couldn’t afford a hardshell guitar case.
The guitar shipped in a $12 alligator skin case that you’d ordinarily find a Junior of that era in. Bonamassa says it’s one of the best-sounding Les Pauls he has ever heard. You can hear his tech, Mike Hinkley, put it through its paces above.
Metallica’s new album 72 Seasons is released April 14, 2023. For pre-orders and tour tickets, head to Metallica’s official site.