Old School: 1969 Gibson Les Paul Bass

1969 Les Paul Bass body closeup

Emre Kayaalp reached out to me with one beauty of a bass – his recently acquired 1969 Gibson Les Paul.

According to the Wikipedia artcile on the instrument, the Gibson Les Paul bass “is a bass guitar first manufactured by Gibson in 1969, just after the relaunch of the Les Paul guitar in 1968.”

That bass didn’t sell well, and was replaced two years later with a redesigned and renamed bass, the Les Paul Triumph.

But for Emre, this bass is “the one”. Here’s his story behind the instrument…

How long have you owned it?

About one year.

How did you come across it?

I had been looking for one since I was a kid (more on that below). Never came across one that was just right. Found this one at a local guitar shop in Brooklyn, NY called Main Drag Music. As soon as I played it, I fell in love. The neck was wonky and the strings were dead, but there was something special about it. I could tell this was “the one.”

Stock or customized? Give us all the specs!

The bass is 100% stock. I took it to my trusted tech, Darrell Gilbert, to sort out the neck: the truss rod was maxed-out and the neck needed to be heated and re-set. He also did a fret level and dress, as well as a complete set-up. The bass now plays as it should: delightfully low, light, action. A real pleasure to play.

Any special characteristics?

The bass has some significant weather-checking, as you can see in the pics. The finish on the back of the neck has worn smooth. Feels terrific. Most important, the bass is very lightweight for what it is. Most Les Paul Basses (and especially the later Triumphs) are boat anchors. This one is light enough that it balances perfectly on the leg; no dive at all.

What’s your favorite story about the gear?

I played bass in the middle school band back in the mid-’80s. The band room had an old upright bass and a beat-up Gibson Triumph for us to use. The strings were dead, the action was mile-high, and it weighed more than I did. I can’t honestly say I liked it, but there was something about it that struck me as cool. Years later, I started looking for one. I was sure the right example would be worth having, even if the one I used to play was a dog.

Any notable bassists (other than yourself, of course) play the same instrument/use the same gear?

A couple of guys have been known to use the later Triumph bass: Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan (Oasis) and Robert Kearns (Cry of Love) come to mind. But the only guy I know of with a first-generation Les Paul Bass like mine is Mike Watt.

Any special history or story behind this instrument?

It was designed by Les Paul himself as a companion to the Les Paul Personal and Les Paul Professional guitars. The intent was to make a bass specifically for studio recording. It featured low-impedance, humbucking pickups so it could go straight into the board without a DI. It was clearly built without regard to cost or weight. From what I’ve read, there was some debate about the scale length. They eventually built it with a 30.5” scale, which was probably a major contributing factor for its relative lack of popularity with players.

Do you use it on gigs?

I don’t really gig, so I haven’t had the chance to try it.

What else do you want to share about your gear?

This is a very versatile and great-sounding bass. I think people avoid them because think of short-scale Gibsons as muddy messes. But the Les Paul Bass has a very well-balanced tone with plenty of midrange punch. It takes a bit of time to get used to the EQ, but even traditional Fender-style tones are all there if you want them.

Any other vintage gear?

  • 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior
  • 1956 Gibson Melody Maker
  • 1966 Fender Jazz Bass
  • 1974 Fender Jazz Bass

What did we miss?

I think the Les Paul Bass is an under-appreciated classic. While the Triumph is also cool, these earlier models hold a special charm. I hope other bassists will read this and try one for themselves.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a 40-year-old doctor living and working in NYC. I’ve been obsessed with the bass since before I can remember.

If you own any vintage gear you'd like us to spotlight in "Old School", we'd love to hear from you! Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Share your thoughts

  1. Hurricane Jimmie

    Very Cool! These and the later Triumphs were the top of the line from Gibson. They’re a very versatile bass that can cover just about any sound. Does this one require a special cord…. my Triumph has a ‘Hi/Lo’ switch to use for recording.

    • Emre

      These didn’t have the Hi/Lo switch; Gibson added that to the Triumph. They did come with a special cable. But the output is high enough to drive a modern amp. It’s not all that much quieter than a vintage Jazz Bass.

  2. Ed Dietrich

    Very cool! I had one of these brand new when they first came out. I remember mine being pretty heavy, but had a really interesting range of tones. Wish I still had it around.

  3. Jim

    they sounded great but the one i played was back-breakingly heavy………………….

    • Emre

      That was always the strange thing about these basses: huge, heavy body with a skinny little broomstick for a neck. Makes them feel a bit awkward.

      That’s also one of the things that’s unique about this particular example. It’s not a featherweight, but it’s very light for a LP Bass. Very well balanced sitting or standing.

      • Funky old Gibson bass, I love it and loved doing all the repair work to it.
        There’s nothing like an old funky bass to add to ones collection. Play on Emre…….

  4. Tige DeCoster

    This is the first bass I played, and I have managed to hang on to it. I’m not certain that short scale Gibson basses are muddy messes…in fact with a short scale bass such as this one, it helps to clarify the sound. Regarding the weight, don’t be fooled. A three or four hour all-nighter is enough to snap your spine, but I have a solid, supportive strap, and that seems to help. The punch of the bass is accentuated by the GHS hybrid strings. Try them out…

  5. I have one of the Les Paul Recording Basses from 1974. First bass I ever bought. This is really only good for playing something slow, as it sounds terrible if you really get on it to play something. Don’t like short scale basses. Not much tone variety, as every setting just gives more of the same tone. Once in a while, I play it so that I will appreciate the basses that I use now. Don’t like any Gibson basses.

  6. Al Gates

    The most amazing thing to me was. That tailpiece bridge. Under that cover, that lever controlled a one piece mute. Pull out muted, push in free strings. Pure genius. Heavy as hell…..

  7. Gary

    I have a single pick up Triumph that I bought in 1972. I played it until 1975 and then put it away until about 2001 when I decided to do some research on it, because I never saw one like it.
    Here’s a story about it. http://www.flyguitars.com/gibson/bass/1971TriumphPrototype.php

    If anyone else has seen one, I would love to hear from you.

  8. I believe Suzy Quatro played bas like this

  9. I had one come through my hands a couple of years ago and it took everything I had to give it back. I would have to join a gym in order to wear it for very long, it weighed in at 13.5 pounds. Here’s some footage of it: