Guitares > Vintage Occasions > Gibson - Tom Murphy


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What's in a vintage electric Gibson guitar that makes players and collectors drool? After all, the hardware is a bit oxidized. There are dings and chips in the finish. It looks like it's seen a thousand nameless bars, countless sessions, and a few world tours. Sounds perfect to many players.

That perfect guitar is ready--today. Gibson's Custom, Art, & Historic division follows last year's debut of the celebrated 1959 Les Paul Aged Figuredtop Reissue with the Aged 1957 Goldtop Reissue. The aged version of the original, classic goldtop is a tribute to its heritage--with the look and feel of being "broken in." Click here to see what we mean.

The aging process is time consuming and hand crafted by guitar artisan Tom Murphy. Following is a recent interview with the master luthier about the secret aging process.

You might refer to Tom Murphy as "Father Time." You see, Murphy is the expert Gibson has called in on guitar aging a process he pioneered and has spent nearly a decade perfecting. The first time you lay your eyes on one of Murphy's aged Les Pauls you probably won't even realize it you'll simply think you're looking at a vintage '57 Goldtop or '59 Figuredtop.

Therein lies the splendor of Murphy's creations. While a genuine vintage instrument is a thing of beauty; a guitar aged by Tom Murphy is a thing of wonder. Especially when you realize that this process is done one guitar at a time by hand. We asked Tom for some insight into his amazing (yet tedious) work:

Without giving away any secrets, how is the aging process accomplished?

I can reveal how it's not done. It is not a chemical process that I happened to stumble over; it's not a matter of me leaving a guitar outside in the rain. Without revealing specific techniques, it's a process performed almost entirely by hand. It's very time-consuming and tedious.

When did you first discover that you had a knack for aging guitars?

About ten years ago, I was performing structural and finish repairs on vintage guitars. I began finding the working sort of unfulfilling. I mean, when you repair the finish on a vintage guitar, the part that you've fixed looks dramatically different than the rest of the guitar. So one day, sort of out of desperation, I tried to simulate the look of the weather checking on the finish, you know, with the chipped paint and the shrunken lacquer. The experiment was surprisingly successful, and with quite a bit practice, I was able to make a very realistic looking vintage repair.

Why age a new guitar at all?

I asked myself the same question when people began asking me if I could expand the process that I normally reserved for repaired areas, and create this simulation over an entire new guitar. I always found that the process was valid on a repair; but it never occurred to me to do it to a whole guitar. But the vintage market being what it is, genuine vintage instruments are very hard to get. Many people who want a genuine vintage piece might never get the chance to own one. I don't think that anyone sits around with one of our aged guitars and fantasizes that it's a real vintage instrument. Rather, I think it gives the owner the feeling and experience of what it would be like to own and play a vintage instrument.

How long does it take to age a Les Paul?

When I first started doing it out of my own shop, it would literally take months to age a guitar from beginning to end. Since then, with Gibson's help, I've made the process a little more efficient, but it still takes days of my handling the guitar and performing many elaborate processes to it. This, of course, limits the number of aged guitars we can produce. But once consumers understand that these pieces are created by hand, one-at-a-time, in limited quantities, they gain a genuine appreciation for the instrument and its value.

How long would it take for this aging to occur naturally on a guitar?

If you were to take a new Les Paul reissue and played it day in and day out, you could probably get some finish checking to occur in about three to ten years, depending on the amount of use. However, it's not so much a function of time as it is exposure to a range of elements, such as extreme heat and cold weather conditions. Heat is an enemy of lacquer, causing it to cure and harden. Wood on the other hand changes constantly, forever expanding and contracting. When the lacquer if fully cured and can no longer expand and contract with the wood, cracking occurs. I suppose you could speed up the natural process if you were willing to spend your summers in Louisiana and your winters in Minnesota for a few years, but most people arent willing to go to such extremes.

What would you say to someone who wanted to attempt the aging of a guitar?

I would tell them to be sure of their desire to do it. The small number of people who have a more complete understanding of what I go through to create this effect, can't believe the amount of physical work that goes into it. Most people would not want to attempt it. Not because I'm the master of some magical ability or anything like that it's just most people aren't crazy enough to try it and see the process through to its completion. You'll end up messing up a lot of guitars before you would begin to see the results you were looking for.

Is the aging purely cosmetic, or does it in any way serve to enhance the playability of the instrument?

The patina is softer and I do expose the finish to some processes that possibly help the lacquer to cure faster. But I can't say that the aging process physically adds to functionality of the guitar. On the other hand I think that psychologically, people feel like the guitar performs more like a vintage instrument because it looks like a vintage instrument. These instruments are made for people who understand and appreciate a vintage instrument and the era it represents. A nice, new shiny guitar just doesn't do it for a lot of these people. Our intent is not to replace the vintage market or vintage guitars. Those instruments will always have prospective buyers. Gibson and I are simply trying to capture the spirit of the vintage guitar, and provide a product that's fun for people to own and play.

For more information visit the 57 Goldtop Reissue feature site of the Gibson Custom, Art & Historic Division.


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