The beautiful patterns of highly figured "flame" maple tops became the hallmark of the Gibson Les Pauls of the late '50s. Today's Les Paul Supreme takes it to an even deeper dimension. It starts with a stunning AAAA carved maple top and back, both mounted on a chambered mahogany body and adorned in seven-ply binding on top and three-ply binding on the back. The magnificent headstock features custom five-ply binding, an ornate earth inlay made from abalone and brass, with a pearloid "Supreme" banner draped across the front, and brass truss rod cover.
It starts with a stunning AAAA grade carved maple top and back. First, the wood is personally inspected and qualified by Gibson's team of skilled wood experts before it enters the Gibson factories. Inside the Gibson factories, humidity is maintained at 45 percent, and the temperature at 70 degrees. This ensures all woods are dried to a level of "equilibrium," where the moisture content does not change during the manufacturing process. This guarantees tight-fitting joints and no expansion, and helps control the shrinkage and warping of the woods, in addition to helping reduce the weight. It also helps with improving the woods' machinability and finishing properties, and adherence to glue. Consistent moisture content means that a Gibson guitar will respond evenly to temperature and humidity changes long after it leaves the factory.
There's something about playing a Gibson Les Paul with perfect tone, balance, and weight. One of the ways the expert craftsmen at Gibson USA achieve this equilibrium is by carving carefully mapped-out chambers in the solid mahogany backs of Les Pauls using a Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) router before the maple top is glued on. The positioning of the routes was established after careful examination of the resonant characteristics of the Les Paul. Gibson approached this process with the awareness that every change to the formula would have repercussions on the instrument's sound. So, in addition to relieving the stress on a player's back and shoulder, these lighter Gibson guitars also enhance the tone palette in a manner unique only to these guitars. The results are comfortable, lightweight guitars that are acoustically louder, with increased sustain and resonance.
To see the process of putting the binding on a Les Paul Standard is to really appreciate the effort and attention that Gibson puts into each instrument. A lone craftsman will carefully glue and fit two pieces of binding around the entire body of a Les Paul. He then winds a single, very long piece of narrow cloth around the entire body until the entire surface is nearly covered. The body is then hung to dry for a full 24 hours before it is unwrapped and moved into the next phase of production. It has been done the same way for over 100 years. Some question the value of adding binding, but Gibson believes it is a fundamental part of our rich guitar-making history. The binding around the Les Paul Supreme's headstock adds a certain element of style and grace, while the binding on the top and back of the body augments the guitar's elegant character, and helps protect the edges of the body. The neck binding is installed over the fret ends, which eliminates sharp fret edges and provides for a smooth neck and easier playability.
The mid to late 1960s saw the emergence of a very different type of music coming from the clubs of England. This new genre's players were demanding more powerful amplifiers with increased volume outputs to satisfy their sonic explorations. This led to a call for a more versatile pickup, and Gibson answered the call with the 490T and 490R pickups ("T" for treble, and "R" for rhythm), humbuckers with the tonal characteristics of an original PAF, but with a slight increase in upper mid-range response. The Gibson 498T bridge pickup is the 490's ideal complement. Taking the 490 one step further, the 498 swaps the Alnico II magnet to an Alnico V, thus making it slightly hotter with emphasis on mid-ranges and highs. The pole pieces on the 498T are also aligned a little further apart to accommodate the spacing of the strings at the bridge, which is different than the spacing of the strings at the neck.
Like all classic Gibson guitars, the necks on the Les Paul Supremes are distinguished by one of the more traditional features that have always set them apart--a glued neck joint. Gluing the neck to the body of the guitar ensures a "wood-to-wood" contact, no air space in the neck cavity, and maximum contact between the neck and body, allowing the neck and body to function as a single unit. The result? Better tone, better sustain, and no loose or misaligned necks.
No guitar neck profiles are more distinguishable than the neck profiles employed on the Gibson models of today. The more traditional '50s neck profile is the thicker, rounder profile, emulating the neck shapes found on the iconic 1958 and 1959 Les Paul Standards. The neck is machined in Gibson's rough mill using wood shapers to make the initial cuts. But once the fingerboard gets glued on, the rest--including the final sanding--is done by hand. That means there are no two necks with the exact same dimensions. So while it still has the basic characteristics of its respective profile, each neck will be slightly different, with a distinct but traditional feel.
The classic pearl split-block inlay is one of the most distinguishable features of several traditional Gibson archtops, including the LeGrand and Super 400. A figured, swirl acrylic gives these inlays that classic "pearl" look. They are inserted into the fingerboard using a process that eliminates gaps and doesn't require the use of fillers.
There is no mistaking the classic, hand-crafted mother of pearl logo, inlayed into a pressed fiber-head veneer that is then glued to the face of the mahogany headstock. A thin coat of lacquer finishes the process.