I came to be the keeper of
Duane Allman's goldtop Les Paul.
by Mike Boulware
the stage, travel back to the week of Sept 16th, 1970...
the Layla sessions are finished, except for the coda to the title track
(done three weeks later), and the Allman Brothers are playing a show
The opening band is called Stone Balloon. The players in that band have
a "plain- top" 1959 sunburst Les Paul, which Duane admired.
They work out a trade, with Duane giving them his 1957 goldtop Les Paul
(serial number 7-3312), along with $200.00 and a Marshall head, for
their '59 sunburst.
As part of the trade, Duane keeps the pickups from the goldtop, putting
them in the 'burst, and the original pickups from the 'burst are installed
in the goldtop.
... fast forward
to a music store in Daytona, early 1977.
Jim Omby, the
owner of Coastal Music, does a trade, ending up with
a 1957 Les Paul, serial number 7-3312, with a stripped and refinished
Billy Bowers, a great player from Jacksonville, comes in, recognizes
the guitar, and alerts his friends Peter Young and Scot Lamar.
Jim mentions that the guitar once belonged to Duane Allman, but it's
not a big selling point.
Scot buys the guitar, paying about what Les Pauls were worth at that
... 20-odd years
pass. This is where my part of the story sort of begins.
By this time
I'd been dealing in vintage guitars for about twenty years or so myself.
I wanted to write an article for Vintage Guitar Magazine about
the tone of Duane Allman's slide sound, and the guitar he used.
My old friends Scot and Pete mention to me that they have Duane Allman's
I get on a plane and fly to Arizona to see, photograph, hold, and document
As I'm holding it, I notice the inlay on the 15th fret is exactly like
the inlay on all the pictures of Duane playing this guitar, and it really
hits me for the first time...
This IS the guitar
Duane used on everything from Statesboro Blues to Layla!
Then I hear that it's not for sale, but, graciously, Pete and Scot say
record with it if I ever want to.
Since then, the goldtop has been expertly refinished by Tom Murphy,
the genius behind the Gibson Historic series, and arguably the best
"goldtop guy" in the world.
Before the refinishing, Scot took numerous photos of the guitar,
including where a previous owner's puppy had chewed the headstock!
You can clearly see the original serial number, and the
telltale inlay on the 15th fret from these early photos.
So, that is the
story of Duane Allman's goldtop up to now.
The guitar is
now for sale, only to a good home, or anybody with the right offer!
I've verified every document shown on this site, from the testimonials
of the store owner in Daytona and the members of Stone Balloon, to Bobby
Whitlock's heartfelt testimonial to the guitar and to Duane (who taught
Bobby how to play slide on this guitar).
Video clips of
Duane playing this guitar are featured prominently on the
Tom Dowd documentary "The Language of Music".
Before I became keeper of the Gold Flame, Pete got in touch with Dickey
Betts and Tom Dowd, who verified the serial number was correct.
only ONE goldtop that Duane Allman played for most of his career, that
was his favorite, and now it could be YOURS!!
(Photos courtesy of Kerry in Atlanta, GA)
... just one more
trip, if you will, back to the late 1960's...
Imagine, if you
can, the first time you heard the sound of Duane Allman playing guitar...
for me, it was in a Battle of the Bands at Gainesville High School in
I had heard of the Allman Joys and Hourglass before that, at Teen Time
dances, frat parties, a club in Daytona that I can't remember the name
of, and word of mouth down at Lipham Music on Main Street,
but I never really understood until much later just how life changing
it all really was.
A few months
after that, while surfing at the pier in St. Augustine,
I first heard Duane and Dickey playing the double-guitar thing,
and by then realized that "something was up".
There was an interplay between those two players that, for me,
has never even been approached by any other band.
Of course, there were tons of great bands in North Florida at that time.
You don't need me to run the list again, but at that time in the world,
in my life, the Allman Brothers were " IT".
I soon came to
realize that, every time I saw Duane at first, he'd be playing a different
one time a Jazzmaster with gold hardware ( I still have the neck plate!),
another time a Tele with a Strat neck, then an ES-345, a red SG, and
others, including a sunburst Strat, but eventually it was a Gold Top
... THIS Gold Top Les Paul... every time!
Growing up on
the NE side of Gainesville, a very fertile area music-wise,
the closest music store was Lipham's, and you could tell when the Brothers
were in town...
they'd make them roll Marshall amps and cabinets out into the parking
lot to crank 'em up.
I'd hear them from my house about 12 blocks away, and head down to observe.
It got to the
point where, the sound of Duane, to me, was the sound of
that Gold Top through a Marshall. Later on, when he switched to 'Bursts,
as I'll soon describe, his sound didn't change that much.
I think the reason is that, like many great players, he, as a man, came
through stronger than what instrument he played, with one notable distinction...
when he played slide on the Gold Top, the universe held it's breath
to listen ( I did, anyway)!
So, that is the
story of Duane's sound up to now. We all know he
is regarded as probably the greatest slide player of all time, we all
know how he and Clapton created arguably the best two-guitar song of
all time, and now we all know how, besides his own amazing hands, he
created that sound, the sound that still runs chills up my back EVERY
time I hear him call like a seagull at the end of Layla.
The sound, quite
simply, of Duane Allman's Gold Top.
I took the guitar
to Duane's cousin, Annie, who touchingly wept openly at the sight of
I've taken it to Derek Trucks to play.
I've offered to show it to Gregg several times, and he understandably
wants to not unlock that particular Pandora's box of pain;
Annie says he weeps every day wishing Duane had stayed off his bike
that day... as do we all.
By the way, I promised you a follow up on why the sound of the coda
of Layla is still partially that of this guitar... as part of the trade
for the burst, Duane changed the pickups from the Gold top to the Burst,
which he then played for the rest of Layla, so, the sound of those
earliest PAF's followed him onward. The pickups in the Gold Top now
are the PAF's from that plain top, which Duane had one of the roadies,
maybe Red Dog, switch out. Remember, though, the most important part
of a guitar's tone is two things... the instrument itself and the player...
the pickups are less important than the wood, but nobody, Duane included,
knew that then.