Billy Gibbons Guitar Story : “Pearly Gates” Gibson Les Paul Standard
There are few hotter guns in all guitardom than Billy Gibbons 1959 Les Paul, known to guitar afcionados worldwide as Pearly Gates. THe ZZ Top guitarist acquired the instrument in 1968, just as ZZ Top were getting underway. Pearly Gates has played a starring role on every one of the bands records, from ZZ Top’s first album in 1971 to the present. Threads of fortunate karma crisscross the tale of how Billy acquired Pearly. It was the seminal 1966 album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton that set him on a quest to own a sunburst Les Paul like the one Clapton is seen holding in the disc’s rear sleeve photo.
“A dear friend of mine,” Billy recalls, “a fellow musician, Mr.John Wilson, was playing in a band called the Magic Ring out of Houston. He told me, “There’s a rancher outside of town who played in a country band but has turned attention toward wrangling cattle. Rumor has it that the guitar still resides under one of the beds in his ranch house.’ “So Gibbons drove solo about an hour out of Houston and found the elusive rancher. “I had $250 in my pocket,” Billy recalls. “And when he pulled out that Gibson Les Paul 1959 Sunburst, the deal went down.”
Billy had freshly obtained the cash as the return on a favor. He’d loaned an aspiring actress a 1939 Packard automobile, which he collectively owned with some friends, so that she could drive from Houston to Hollywood for a screen test. “We didnt think the car would make it past El Paso,” Billy says. “But it brought her all the way to Hollywood, and she got the part. We figured the car must have divine connections, so we named it ‘Pearly Gates,’ with all its attendant magic, was transferred to the guitar, which was in mint condition when Billy obtained it. “It still had the original set of flat wound strings from the Gibson factory on it,”Billy Marvels. ” Plus an extra set of Black Diamond flatwounds in the case. I still got’em. Also in the case was a love note, which we also still have, from a girlfriend of the original owner. She said, ‘I like what you do. Meet me later. You might like what i can do,'”
Over the years, the Les Paul has acquired a patina of scratches and dings, including ample belt buckle wear on the rear of the body. Still, Billy has kept Pearly 100% stock. Even the frets are original. What might such an instrument be worth today?” There was a japanese gent who offered $5 million U.S.,”Billy says. “Which is an attractive offer, but then again, I’ve spent plenty of money putting together a collection of guitar attempting to find something to replicate Pearly, and it just hasn’t happened yet. That’s what led to this closet full of hardwood that I have