Bonamassa and The Beast: Up close with Bernie Marsden’s ’59 Les Paul

Bernie Marsden’s main squeeze is one of the most famous of all the fabled 1959 Les Paul Standards, and its role in Whitesnake mega-hits is well documented. But what’s it really like to get up close and personal with The Beast? And how does it stack up compared to other Bursts? We ask a man who has played a few.

“Certain pieces of gear – and it doesn’t have to be a ’59 Les Paul – have the extra 10 per cent,” Joe Bonamassa opines. “So say there’s a Les Paul you want to buy from the Custom Shop, or from the USA production line, if you take 10 and go through them you’ll go, ‘That’s good, that’s good, that’s good… that one’s exceptional’.

“I don’t know why – it’s the same wood, the same pickups, maybe even built by the same person. But the cumulative effect of the magic tree or whatever it is – who knows, it can even be the same billet of wood – means that there are some that are just exceptional, and have the extra 10 or 15 per cent that other ones don’t. Bernie’s guitar happens to be exceptional. And I don’t know why!

“I have guitars close to it in serial number – his is 1914 and I have 1948, 1949, 1951 and I used to own 1953 – and I’ve played a bunch of others in the 1900s, but Bernie’s is earlier in the run, and the guitars towards the 1940s and 50s in terms of serial number have a different top. The earlier ones have a similar top – 1928 has a similar top to Bernie’s, so it’s a different batch. But his just has this X-factor that you just go, ‘It’s exceptional’.”

Have Burst, will travel

Given how much road mileage The Beast has racked up in its lifetime, it’s remarkable that the Gibson guitar has never suffered a neck break. Bonamassa agrees: “It’s got big old frets on it, he’s played it to death… hell, he used to check it under the fucking plane and it still has the headstock attached – amazing!

“He once gave it to the hotel concierge! He was like, ‘Hold onto this while we go and have breakfast, and we’ll come and get it when the car arrives…’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa… stop right there. I’ll babysit the damn guitar… and also, we’re not putting it in the trunk!’

“You gotta learn from Gary Moore – he got rear-ended! And it’s still in the original case! I’m like, ‘Dude, let me get you a Protector case or something – let’s not test fate over and over!’”

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