New project? Neil Young, “Old Black” Replica.

Since progress on projects is a bit limited at the moment, due to my eye problems – I’m left “spinning my wheels” a bit. Normally, at this time of year, I’m starting to plan projects for the upcoming months. Whilst I might not be able to start work on anything just yet – it sure as hell shouldn’t stop me planning…


When it comes to electric guitars – I’m normally a Fender man, but I was talking to a good friend a while ago, and the idea of doing a replica of Neil Young’s “Old Black” Gibson, just sort of took seed. I previously worked on a reasonably close replica of Joe Strummer’s Telecaster, and enjoyed the process so much, that I thought Neil’s old beat up Gibson Goldtop might prove an equally interesting project to undertake. With the Strummercaster, I took the approach of sourcing new parts and constructing a sort of reliced Partscaster. Since my knowledge of Gibson construction isn’t too advanced – I figured I’d take a suitable used guitar this time, and then relic it, whilst remodelling the guitar to reproduce some of Neil Young’s own modifications.

“Old Black” was originally a 1953 Goldtop Les Paul, but it’s been heavily roadworn and modified over the years. Obviously – getting hold of an original  1953 Goldtop, and then effectively destroying it cosmetically, is sheer madness. I need to find a suitable replica starting point, for a good price – one which, hopefully, will perform reasonably convincingly once remodelled, refinished and artificaially roadworn. In fact – a used guitar, with some of it’s own marks of use won’t necessarily be out of the question as a starting point. This should hopefully keep the price down. It’s just a matter of trawling the second-hand ads, waiting for something suitable to come up.

OB Candidtaes

From what I can see – there appear to be two, reasonable starting points. A Vintage, V100GT, (left), or an Epiphone Les Paul ’56 Goldtop, (right). Both have the dual P90 configuration, and original gold top finish, as on “Old Black”. I should be able to find a reasonable, second-hand version of one, or the other for anywhere between £150 and £300.

As far as the build of each goes – both look reasonably like the original – but I know I’m going to have to compromise somewhere. From what I can see online, the Vintage model has a headstock which is closer in shape to the original, but that lower horn looks quite a bit sharper. There’s also a detail on the rear – where the neck joins the body – which is quite different. The body shape on the Epiphone looks truer overall to the original, but that headstock shape is definitely an Epiphone. The original Gibson headstock would be squarer at the top, with a much plainer V scroll on the top edge.

Whilst I’m a big fan of Fender guitars generally, I do own an Epiphone Sheraton II, which is one of my regular go-to guitars, and I’ve always enjoyed the general feel and quality of finish. In fact – it’s one of my favourite ever guitars. Personally, I’d feel a little bit less sacriligious, cutting into a Vintage rather than an Epiphone – but sometimes you have to break an egg to make an omelette. At the right price, and in the right condition – either should do the job.

Whichever “egg” I eventually decide upon – it’ll be in for a bit of a transformation. A partial strip, respray and refinish will then need knocking back and ageing to the required level. The pickup configuration will need to change, and an old B7 Bigsby sourced and fitted. I’ll need some Shaller tuners, (ideally aged), and will also need to recreate much of the hardware on the guitar. The pickup covers, rings, the pickguard and rear covers on “Old Black” have been replaced by metal versions over the years. Most of them look handmade, and all show a good deal of wear. Anyone who has read Neil ‘s autobiography, or followed some of his online presence will be well aware that he’s definitely the sort of guy who might well spend a Sunday afternoon modding the back cover of a Gibson with a bit of spare aluminium, a saw and a file. Him and me both. Except I’m not going to be doing my experimentation on an original ’53.

Like most of my projects – there’s a lot to learn, and I’m already deeply indebted to a few other builders out there who have documented their own replicas online. As with the Strummercaster – I’ll be looking to recreate the look and feel of the original, whilst not getting absolutely hung up on absolute details. However – in this case, I think I’ll pay much more attention to smaller details, since the whole character of “Old Black” seems to derive from these various modifications and wear marks.

So for now – I’m on the lookout for a suitable candidate guitar, together with some other bits and pieces. Finding the right guitar to modify, at the right price, may well prove a challenge – so for now at least – this is one of those projects that’ll just have to sit until something turns up. Like so many potential projects, it’s just another thing to think about and research for when the time is right.

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