Jimmy Page No.1
Jimmy Page is known to most people as a player of Les Pauls, and his Les Paul of choice, his "Number One" as he refers to is as, is one of the most iconic guitars in rock and roll. Jimmy has described the guitar as both his mistress and his wife...except it doesn't ask for alimony! In the book "Million Dollar Les Paul" Edwin Wilson the Gibson Historic Program Manager described the experience of handling Jimmy's guitar:
"Okay, I need to get started. Shall I wear gloves?" Wilson asked Page. "No, that's okay, take it apart. Do whatever you want to do." Jimmy responded. Wilson was stunned by his response and later reflected, "I realized that one of the things that makes his guitar the coolest Les Paul ever is that he knows very well what that guitar is. He knows that it's a tool for him. It's not something he hangs up on a wall. And that made it very easy to go through the guitar and do my thing.
Page bought this guitar from Joe Walsh of the James Gang, and later of the Eagles, in April of 1969 while he in San Francisco on a tour of America. Jimmy recalled the transaction in 2004, "Joe brought it for me when we played the Fillmore. He insisted I buy it, and he was right." In the May 2012 issue of Guitar World just released, the magazine did an interview with Walsh where he told the story of the transaction: "Jimmy was still playing the Telecasters that he played in the Yardbirds. He was looking for a Les Paul and asked if I knew of any, 'cause he couldn't find one that he liked. And I have two. So I kept the one I liked the most and I flew...with the other one. I laid it on him and said, 'Try this out.' He really liked it. So I gave him a really good deal, about 1,200 bucks. I had to hand-carry it; I flew there and everything. So whatever my expenses were, that's what I charged him...But again, I just thought he should have a Les Paul for godsakes!"
Joe Walsh with a 1959 Gibson Les Paul
The timing was dead on for Page as well as his trusty Fender Telecaster had seen better days and was in bad shape. Peter Grant: "San Francisco was the first show that Jimmy played the Les Paul guitar on stage. He was playing a Fender before that. He had it for years, from being in the Yardbirds. There was something wrong with the pickup, and I remember he was there with the soldering iron, soldering the guitar."
Jimmy instantly grew attached to his new guitar, "As soon as I played the Les Paul I fell in love. Not that the Tele isn't user friendly, but the Les Paul was gorgeous and easy to play. It just seemed like a good touring guitar." It was certainly a contrast from the Telecaster he had been using, "It's more of a fight with the Telecaster but there are rewards. The Gibson's got all that very stereotyped sound, maybe, I don't know, but it's got a really beautiful sustain. I do like sustain. It relates to bowed instruments. Sustain speaks for itself, that's the whole thing. It's the whole are that everyone's been experimenting in, once it became electric, if you think about it - it was mainly sustain." Page declared.
Jimmy with the Les Paul a week after he purchased it in San Francisco, playing at the Rose Palace in Pasadena, CA
There have been many modifications to this particular Les Paul, but the most glaring is the neck. The profile of the neck of Jimmy's guitar is very shallow, much more so than Les Pauls of the time were known to be. "It came as it was with a shallow neck, " Jimmy recalled to Edwin Wilson, "When I acquired it from Joe Walsh it had already been refinished. It's possible that one of the reasons he wanted to sell me the guitar was that it didn't feel the same to him when he got it back from the shop." Walsh later told Guitar World about the work he commissioned on the guitar, Joe took the guitar to Virgil Lay of Lay's Guitars in Akron, Ohio, "Virgil was the guy that, if you had a crack in your neck you'd go and he'd repair it...he's kind of a master luthier. So I had Virgil shave the neck of that Les Paul a little. It was a big, fat neck originally, and I didn't like that. And I think the shaved neck is what Jimmy liked about the guitar. It was kind of a custom neck on a Les Paul."
Wilson himself was astonished at the profile of the neck, "What's real interesting is that the neck is as stable as it is given how thin it is. In the middle section it's sanded really strangely. It's right on the truss rod...I think you could probably take a pocket knife and shove through that thin section there and you'd hit the truss rod, that that much wood gone out of there.
Good view of the neck from behind
The electronics of the instrument have been modified over the years as well. At some point Jimmy added a push/pull pot on the guitar that sends it's pickups into an out of phase mode. "I wanted to be able to reverse the phase of the pickups to get a close approximation of the sound Peter Green got." he explained. The pickups in the Number One have been changed out numerous times as well. The guitar of course began it's life with the legendary Seth Lover patent applied for humbucking pickups, but after a tour of Australia in 1972, the double white bobbin bridge pickup failed, and was replaced by a chrome T-Top humbucker which remained there for the duration of Led Zeppelin. The T-Top was switched eventually switched out for a custom wound Seymour Duncan pickup sometime in the 1990's. The neck pickup remained in position until the 2000's when it was replaced by a patent applied for humbucker from 1960; the reason why is unknown.
Jimmy also replace the Kluson tuning machines with Grovers, "The only thing I did was change the tuning machines to the sealed Grovers, which I was familiar with from my Les Paul Custom. With a three-piece band like Led Zeppelin, you couldn't have slipping machine heads."
You can see the original white bobbin humbucker in this photo
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding this guitar is what year model is it? Due to the refinishing job commissioned by Joe Walsh, the serial number on the back of the guitar was sanded off, furthermore, the biggest clue to identifying what year a specific example of the 1958-1960 run of sunburst Les Pauls is to look at the neck profile, which of course was modified in Jimmy's guitar. Edwin Wilson who was asked by Page for his opinion on the matter, and who had time to examine the guitar for himself thinks he has the answer:
"I was looking at the guitar from the standpoint of somebody who works with tooling for making these things, who has dealt with tooling and production on many levels," Wilson prefaced. After examining the neck, Wilson deduced that there hadn't been enough wood for whoever sanded the guitar down for it to be a 1958, "It would have swollen up more around the heel, and if it were a 60, I don't think the heel would have been shaped as it was. If it were a late 60, where the neck was real thin, there wasn't enough wood there. So I said to Jimmy, to me it looks like a late 59, or maybe an early 60."
For additional proof that the guitar is a late 1959, or early 1960, one needs to also consider the bobbins. When Page uncovered his bridge pickup shortly after purchasing it from Joe Walsh, it was revealed that the bobbins on the pickups were white. Gibson didn't produce pickups with white bobbins until 1959.