The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most iconic shapes in all of electric guitar history. What started out as a partnership between Gibson and Lester William Polsfuss (AKA Les Paul) birthed the original Goldtops and the rest is just history! These guitars have shaped the rock and roll scene, but in 2009 (eerily the same year of Les’ death,) one dared to go darker than that. The Black Widow.
Gibson cannot be credited for the idea of this guitar and neither could Les. The Black Widow was actually a custom ordered, limited edition run for music retail giant, Sam Ash. In 2009, they placed an order for 25 LPs in “Widow Burst” finish, built to Historic R7 Specs (more on this a bit later.) 10 were intended to be sold to EU/Australia and 15 for the US market.
Besides such a dark red and black finish, the thing that immediately caught everyone’s attention was the red lacquer that was sprayed over top the binding and the headstock’s face. It made the guitars look so evil! So Metal! Such a an interesting concept borrowed from the phenomenon of aging lacquer on vintage guitars – but now with color! Many critics were quick to diss the paint job by calling it cheap, looking like the second guitar all beginning guitarist buy that is overly metal. This is not what a Les Paul should be. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion – the idea proved popular enough for Gibson to make more of these in varying colors as well as branch the idea out to other body styles like the Flying V! The Black Widow started this all.
Some of the other color options later released include Red, Purple, Green, Blue, Orange, Turquoise, Gray and even a Black one with Red binding (Black Widow title was never reused.) You can even find some in satin finishes. However, none of these are quite like the first run of Widows. There is a reason why the initial one is the most collectible (besides just being the first.) The following iterations are based off of Custom Shop Les Paul Customs. They have back binding, lack a stinger, have varying fretboard materials (rosewood-richlite,) nashville-styled bridges and most have gold hardware so besides their fancy color and figured top, the unique features end there. The Black Widow is a whole different story.
The Black Widow Les Paul
Like many people, I had heard of this guitar and while I thought it was pretty cool, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to document one from the original run. Mainly because they are so expensive and hard to find! (Remember only 25 of them exist and most are already held in private collections.)
When I first unboxed this guitar I was immediately surprised by just how different it was from my expectations spec wise that I couldn’t wait to fully document this rare beast.
First off, despite looking like a Custom, I was baffled to see on the Certificate of Authenticity that it is actually an R7. If you’re not familiar with that term, it refers to a reissue of a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. Oddly, the widow is not gold; it doesn’t look like a Les Paul Standard since it has an ebony fretboard with Custom block inlays and the split diamond on the headstock isn’t helping its case either, so they must mean a B7 (BB7), which refers to a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Reissue, right? NO. Then it would have to have a mahogany top and preferably be black, but it’s a quilty, red colored maple top. So what is this thing?
This, my friends, is a beautiful hodgepodge of 50s, 70s, 80s and modern specs. It is 50s due to having an ABR-1 Bridge drilled directly into the top with a lightweight aluminum tailpiece, constructed with a long neck tenon and thin binding in the cutaway. It even has 50s styled wiring with bumblebee caps! Since it lacks binding on the back of the mahogany body and features a maple top with thick mahogany neck, it most closely matches the attributes of an R7 that just has a B7’s fretboard and headstock overlay with a custom finish. The sweet transparent cherry stinger on the back of the headstock is another cross over from this time period.
It is 70s/80s because for reasons beyond my comprehension, they used Gibson branded Schaller tuners as you’ll find stock from on Les Pauls from approximately 1975-1985. Only difference here is they stuck with the Schaller tips instead of the keystone styled ones.
It is modern era because you’re going to lose it when I tell you this… IT’S CHAMBERED! I know this will already cause quite a stir as there are many people that insist chambered guitars are not true reissues. However, it has been rumored that Gibson made chambered LPs for Mary Ford in the 50s. Gibson has even done runs called Chambered Reissues that you can learn about in this video. On top of that, you can attribute the crazy color scheme of a Red “Widow Burst” top with black back and sides (which appear to maybe have some red over them as well) to the current era.
Other fine details of this instrument include Black plastics (including the jack plate and speed knobs – 50s features,) regular styled aluminum strap buttons, no pickguard ever installed, a blank one-ply truss rod cover that you can’t tell front/back from, a black widow spider silkscreen on the stinger, and a special ink stamped serial number formatted as BW XXX.
The pickups in this instrument still remain a bit of a mystery to me as I am not entirely convinced this examples has its original set. Looking at the wiring, the soldering job looks factory fresh and they are clearly Gibson made pickups, but I find it odd that they used 4-conductor wiring when the instrument doesn’t have any fancy electronics like coil splitting or phase inversions. The backs of the pickups look like 57 Classics, but are missing the “Patent Applied For” waterslide decal. It’s not unheard of for those to flake off though. Another Black Widow owner states in his listing that he believes there are Burstbucker 1 and 2 residing in his which would also seem to make sense. Mine ohm at 7.76kohms in the neck and 7.75kohms in the bridge. If you are an owner of a Black Widow and would like share photos of your pickups and control cavity, I would be happy to update this article with more definite information.
What’s It Like to Play?
Man, this guitar is a true beast! It’s lightweight body makes it easy to play standing up for extended periods of time and personally, its look inspires me to pick it up and play. That is the true test of a guitar.
It has a 1.69″ Nut width that increases to 2.04″ by the 12th fret and it’s neck measures a nice chunky rounded 0.95″ thick at the first fret and a full 1.00″ at the 12th. This guitar is definitely for people that like chunky necks and a 24.75″ Scale. You would not like it if you’re into pencils. This fat neck with lightweight body and radical finish makes it feel incredibly powerful, but comfortable at the same time. It weighs in at 7lbs 11.4oz on my scale.
The only thing that I didn’t like about this guitar at first was the binding along the fretboard is not actually red. As we discussed earlier, it is only the clear coat that gives it the red color. This leaves a mix-match between the side of the binding and the top where the fret nibs are. You get used to it and start to appreciate it as a “feature,” but actual red binding might have been a better option – after all, they have done Black Binding before.
The guitar pretty well steals the show, but the case is a little bit special as well. To go along with the black and red theme, Gibson custom ordered a black interior case for it. It reminds me of the crushed velvet Les Paul Elegant/Supreme Case, however it is the same as a regular styled Gibson Custom Case in construction and material.
This guitar might not be for everyone. It is a hodgepodge of specs from all eras of Gibson and it was the first to breathe life into the whole Widow series that utilizes colored clear coats to transform the look of Gibson instruments. These guitars are not cheap. The cheapest I’ve seen any widow series sell for was $3,500 and the original Black Widows can fetch far more than that. These are more so for collector’s with deep pockets that want to own something unique that started a revolution rather than a player – but I think you’d have a great time gigging one of these as well!
Quick Facts – Things to Remember
The Black Widow was the first of the Widow Series done in 2009 custom ordered by Sam Ash – 25 Made.
It is based on the specs of a 1957 Reissue Les Paul “Standard” but with Custom Attributes, Red Finish and Chambering Weight Relief.
Very rare, desirable and hard to come by.