50. 1976 Greco “Lawsuit” Les Paul
IT’S a strange thing, you know. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to enjoy playing Les Pauls.
For years and years, I just didn’t get on with them, for a variety of reasons – the weight, the thick sound of those humbuckers, the shorter scale length, the fact you had more than one volume control to worry about. All that – and the general vibe. They even hang differently on a strap.
It often puzzled me, early on, why so many committed Fender players also dallied with Lesters. Now I know. A longish spell gigging that Vintage Lemon Drop, then the arrival in my life of Dave Werewolf’s amazing 72 Goldtop was part of it. The main thing, however, was this amazing guitar. In its day, it would have been considered a cheap Japanese copy – albeit one of the better ones. Nowadays Greco Les Pauls, especially their older ones like this, are thought of as rare, highly-sought-after vintage collector’s instruments in their own right.
During the mid-1970s, the American guitar industry’s two big players (not unlike British car makers of the time, I suppose) sort of lost the plot. Some of the instruments they produced were perfectly fine, but a lot of them fitted somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and bloody awful – yet they remained expensive!
This left an opening for clever Far Eastern manufacturers (in the 70s, that usually meant Japanese) to step in and fill a gap in the market. Companies such as Ibanez, Greco, Burney, Orville and a little later, Tokai and Fenix, were soon making guitars that looked, played and sounded as good as – often better – than the American designs they emulated…and for a lot less money. Gibson and Fender didn’t like it one little bit. They starting legal action, with varying degrees of success – hence the term “lawsuit guitars”. That’s why you’ll often find the more recent perfect Fender copies from such companies sporting ugly, mis-shapen headstocks. It’s quite simply so they don’t get sued. It also prompted both the big companies to fight back, launching their own Japanese-built alternatives – Epiphone and Squier – which, in turn, resulted in some very fine “official” copies. Fortunately, it also forced the American factories to up their games.
I came across this amazing instrument on one of my visits to my lad Owen and his family in Los Angeles. There’s a wonderful shop in Santa Monica called Truetone. It’s packed full of amazing vintage and high-end guitars and is often chisen as a setting when famous guitarists are interviewed for film and TV documentaries. (The owner, David Jenkins, is a friend of Owen’s – he was at Owen and Becky’s wedding, along with a fascinating cast of characters from the LA music scene of the later 2000s, but that’s another story!)
We were in Truetone last April and Owen pulled the Greco off the wall, delaring: “You should buy this: It’s the best Les Paul in the shop!”
It was a bit beaten-up (no problem for me with that, as you know), but it looked fantastic – the bookmatched maple top was beautifully figured and the years had faded the shriller tones from the red in the sunburst. It had just one thing wrong with it. It desperately needed a refret. The frets were very worn – a couple also had deep and rather inconvenient grooves where, clearly, something hard had slammed the strings into them. Despite Owen’s enthusiastic recommenation – and the impressive plugged in cdemo which followed – I didn’t buy it there and then, but as I often do, I pondered on it. (Obsessed about it, more like.)
The day I was due to fly home, I changed my mind and I gave Owen the necessary cash (it wasn’t cheap, but is was affordable) along with instructions to get it for me and haveit re-fretted. He suggested Truetone’s own repair guy and I was happy to leave it there for him.
In the event, the refret didn’t get done – the guy was insanely busy, so when I visited Owen again in January, 2020, I finally brought the Greco home to Essex.
I gave it to my friend, brilliant repairman and guitar-builder James Payze, who had already some done some work on my stepson Rob’s basses. James made a superb job of it. (There must be something in the Suffolk water over Sudbury way on the Suffolk border – three of the best repair guys I know live within a five-mile radius!)
The fantastic guitar I now have has completely cured me of any temptation I might have to spend megabucks on a “proper” Les Paul. This Greco is about as “proper” as they get! It plays brilliantly and sounds completely amazing – not the loudest Lester I’ve played, but a beautifully-balanced sound that records a treat and makes any amp sing – and it has a TON of mojo!
I feel truly blessed. Finally, I don’t need any more guitars.