Photos by Arnie Goodman.
On Thursday, February 19th, Guernsey’s Auction House held an auction of items from the Tom Doyle Collection. Doyle was a friend, guitar technician, luthier and recording engineer for Les Paul for over 50 years, and his collection—amassed over many decades working with Paul—included some amazing musical artifacts.
1) The infamous “Black Beauty”—Les Paul’s 1954 solid body Gibson. A collaborative effort by Paul and Gibson, it stands as a time capsule of guitar history. “Black Beauty” underwent significant modifications over the years at Paul’s hands. This guitar was sold intact in the configuration pictured along with the interchangeable, early soapbar pickups. It’s interesting to note that in this configuration, only one pickup was actually visible—with dummy coils hidden under the cover plate. There has been some dispute as to whether or not this is the true “holy grail” of Les Paul guitars—but regardless, it is an iconic piece of music history and fetched $335,500 at the auction. The lucky buyer? Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay, who adds this to his already impressive collection of historical guitars.
2) This circa 1956 Gretch was a joint development by Chet Atkins and Gretch—one of two 6120 Protoypes and known to fans as “Dark Eyes.” Guild incorporated a bit of a Tennessee touch in Chet’s honor, with a pearl horseshoe on the headstock. Contrary to other semi-hollow guitars, this one sports fake “F” holes—actually appliques Atkins traced from a Gibson L-5. Guitar aficionados will note numerous early design features later incorporated into the Gretch “Country Gentleman”—another Atkins favorite. It’s interesting to note that “Black Eyes” shows far more similarity to current day models than “Black Beauty” does. It’s another wonderful piece of guitar history that demonstrates—in the words of Guernsey’s music historian—how “Gretch really hit the nail on the head the first time.” Bidding failed to meet the reserve price, and “Dark Eyes” did not sell.
3) The 1952 Ampex 400 tape recorder that Paul traveled with and on which he recorded his radio shows. He sold this to Billy Graham for use on his own radio show in 1968. Tom Doyle reacquired it from Dr. Graham’s estate in 2010. One of the true buys in the auction, this machine sold for $500.
4) The mixing console from New York’s legendary “Fat Tuesday’s” nightclub where Paul regularly performed from 1984-1996. When the club finally closed its doors, Tom Doyle was invited to take it home. Note that it still shows the labeling from a circa 1990s-era show. Also included in the auction were Paul’s stage stool and some microphones—and an assortment of audio cassette recordings of Fat Tuesday performances. True perfectionists, Paul and Doyle would record a set, take the tape out to Paul’s car after the set and listen to determine what to tweak for the next set.
5) A pickup coil winding machine from Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory—a gift from Gibson. When the Kalamazoo factory was moving, Gibson invited Paul to the factory and offered that he take whatever he wanted. This sold for $1,600.
6) Paul’s worn stool from Fat Tuesday’s is shown here with two vintage Shure and RCA microphones—both used in his home recording studio.