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Along with many other mysteries of Gibson's Norlin era, little is known about the origin of the Les Paul Artisan model. Introduced in 1977 as part of the Les Paul series, it is often described as an ornate Les Paul Custom model. The most interesti...
Along with many other mysteries of Gibson's Norlin era, little is known about the origin of the Les Paul Artisan model. Introduced in 1977 as part of the Les Paul series, it is often described as an ornate Les Paul Custom model. The most interesting and unique features of the Artisan model are the hearts and flowers inlay pattern on the neck (reminiscent of banjo inlays), and the unique Gibson peghead design, with the pre-war style "Gibson" script logo and pearl hearts and flowers inlays. It is a beautiful example of an ornate Les Paul for its era. The Artisan was originally issued with three pickups, black "top hat" knobs with gold inserts and a stop bar tailpiece in 1977. Two were Gibson Series VII humbucking pickups and one (middle position) Gibson "Super Humbucking" pickup. The pickup selector switch was wired to three settings: (1) rhythm pickup only, (2) middle and bridge pickup with the switch in the middle position, and (3) the bridge pickup only. Sometime in late 1978 or early 1979 the Artisan was issued with a TP-6 fine tuning tailpiece, speed knobs, exclusive Gibson "Crank" machine head button tuners and two Series VII pickups, with a three pickup version available only as an option. Artisans were originally issued with Nashville-style bridges, but in 1980, a large tune-o-matic bridge with rectangular base was introduced. Most, if not all Artisan models were made in the Kalamazoo factory, even until the model was discontinued in 1982.
The Artisans feature gold hardware, including a gold jack plate, Schaller-style "Gibson" tuners, multi-ply binding on front and back, multi-ply pickguard, mahogany body with three piece carved maple top, laminated maple three piece neck, ebony fingerboard, bound peghead and fingerboard, and engraved "Artisan" truss rod cover. All Artisans had neck volutes. Colors for the Artisan model included Ebony, Walnut, or Tobacco Sunburst finishes. Based on guitars available in the resale market, it appears that the Walnut color was predominant. There were a few special runs of Artisans made in other colors. One of the Artisans featured in the photos accompanying this article is a rare color - White with Black binding (one of only 10 made in this color). As with Les Paul Customs of the era, Artisans are very heavy guitars. The Tobacco Sunburst and White models in the photos accompanying this article are 11 lbs. and 10 lbs. 10 oz., respectively.
A 1978 Norlin price list indicates the price for the Les Paul Artisan was $1,039.00, with additional cost of $99.50 for a Protector Case. In contrast, a Les Paul Custom of the same era listed for $949.00 for a three-pickup version and $849.00 for a two-pickup version. Later models were issued with a Pro I Faultless plush lined case.
The necks on the Artisans are of medium thickness, and feel good in the hands. Frets are wide and of medium height. The pickups are loud and toneful. In the author's opinion, a preferable wiring pattern for the three pickup model would have been to combine the rhythm and middle pickups as the selection with the switch in the middle position. The Artisan model is superbly crafted, with excellent fit and finish as were most Kalamazoo-made guitars of the era.
According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Artisans in excellent condition are selling in the $1,800-$2,000. (2007: $2,200-$3,000) price range. Since many Artisans were players' guitars, it is difficult to find one in excellent or near mint condition.
The Les Paul Artisan is a very unique and ornate guitar in the history of Gibson Les Paul models, and is a "must have" for many Les Paul collectors and players." (Mike Slubowski, The Gibson Les Paul Artisan Model: "Hearts & Flowers" and More! Dave Davies of The Kinks used a 1978 Les Paul Artisan extensively on the major stadium tours in the US in the 1980's. … this actual guitar is now on display in the British Invasion exhibit at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland. You can hear him use it on "Low Budget" (1979), "One for the Road" (Live Album 1980), "Give The People What They Want" (1981), and Dave's Studio Album "Chosen People" (1983).
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