GIBSON VOS
Articles

Gibson VOS: The Golden Age Experience

The Vintage Original Spec (VOS) is Gibson Custom Shop’s passionate tribute to the guitar industry’s golden era. Following the traditional craftsmanship with the aid of modern technology, the Gibson Custom Shop faithfully reproduced the stunning looks, classic performance, and ground-shaking tones of the true vintage Gibson instruments.

With the Gibson’s VOS line of guitars, we are given the chance to experience the vintage feel, playability, and legendary tone of the most cherished guitars of all time.

In this article, we are going to walk you through what sets a VOS guitar apart from a regular production line guitar, as well as listing all of the currently available VOS guitars.

Let’s dig in.

Background and History

For over 20 years, a team of luthiers and craftsmen from the Gibson Custom Shop carefully studied the original vintage instruments. From top to bottom, inside and out, the Gibson Custom Shop did careful research and observation with hopes of discovering and recreating the elements that made these instruments exceptional and outstanding.

With the launch of the Vintage Original Spec line in 2006, the Gibson Custom Shop proudly announced that they succeeded in recreating the classic golden age guitars. The Vintage Original Spec models not only reflect Gibson’s passionate pursuit in recreating the world’s finest instruments but also their dedication towards the craft of guitar-making.

Made by the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville, Tennessee, the VOS line delivers the greatest vintage guitars of today. Since their launch in 2006, the Gibson Custom Shop VOS has released a number of Les Pauls and SGs and as of 2016, the VOS line now has ES models.

Courtesy of Guitar Gallery

What makes a VOS Guitar

There’s a lot that goes into making a VOS guitar just right. Let’s walk through each aspect, step by step.

Wood and Materials

These Nashville-made guitars are crafted out of carefully chosen wood. The Vintage Original Spec guitars feel lighter because they are made from lighter mahogany, the luthiers make sure that the wood they use doesn’t compromise the sonic qualities of mahogany.

The tops found on the Les Paul models are thick high-quality maple caps that not only add sustain but also give a brightness to the sound. On top of that, the Brazilian rosewood fretboard soothes out the harsh frequencies giving us a good platform for both humbuckers and P90s.

The neck also has a cream binding that is meticulously rolled off giving you a comfortable smooth playing neck. The cream binding on the neck is also adorned with tortoiseshell side dots that fit well with the mother of pearl inlays on the fretboard.

The headstock has an authentic holly veneer instead of the plastic fibers that most Gibsons have, giving the instrument a more natural aesthetic. The bone nut is also precisely cut, assuring the best tuning stability and organic tones.

From headstock to the body, the materials are delicately chosen to give the guitars genuine resonance and acoustic qualities.

Construction

The VOS guitars have long neck tenon construction which means that the tongue extends under the neck pickup cavity giving the guitar more sustain and resonance than a short tenon construction.

Long neck tenon construction takes more time and is much more costly as opposed to the short tenon construction which is found in most production line guitars.

The long neck tenon construction used in the VOS line of guitars contributes to its overall vintage feel and sound.

Hardware

These custom shop instruments go the extra mile by having light aluminum hardware that is delicately reliced to perfection.

The instruments of the Vintage Original Spec line have tuners and bridge systems that are not only of right material and dimension for the time, but are also accurately aged in a way that allows you to experience the flawless vintage playability that the classic Gibsons hold.

Pickups

The forefront of guitar-making has always been tone.

These Vintage Original Spec guitars embody the principle that the journey of making an instrument always starts with tone and ends with tone.

A team of engineers and builders from the Gibson Custom Shop took two decades of study to recreate the iconic pickups that shook the earth and defined rock and roll.

Gibson are known for using humbuckers in most of their guitars and the Vintage Original Spec line of guitars are dominated with humbucker equipped axes. The classic models have the widely known and sought after P.A.F. or Patent Applied For humbucking pickups initially invented by Seth Lover in 1955. These were the first noise-cancelling pickups and became widely associated with Gibson’s flagship models.

The golden age P.A.F. pickups were hand-wound and used alnico II, III, IV, and V magnets and copper wire. The Vintage Original Spec line of guitars have the exact same P.A.F. pickup sets of the originals, giving you the vintage output and classic sound that spell out Gibson.

In addition, some early Gibsons had P90 pickups and were associated with early blues, jazz, and rock. The P90s that these guitars have were known for their punchy mid-driven single coil sound and the Gibson Custom Shop uses of the same alnico magnets, 42-gauge plain enamel wire, and the same hand-winding method to recreate these defining tones.

Gibson VOS Les Paul
Courtesy of Guitar Showcase

Electronics

As the name suggests, the Vintage Original Spec line is very true to the past even to its electronics. The guitars use the same model potentiometers, bumblebee capacitors, and wiring that the authentic instruments have.

The Vintage Original Spec line makes use of 500k potentiometers with linear taper which provides smoother predictable transitions in volume and tone as opposed to the audible taper in which the transition is more exponential and logarithmic.

Named after their black, yellow and red striped exterior, bumblebee capacitors are best known among vintage guitar enthusiasts. Bumblebee capacitors are of lower voltage than orange drop capacitors allowing them to have smoother highs and mellowed bass frequencies. They produce a mid-ranged, rich, and punchy tone and are common among the Holy Grail of guitars in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

The Vintage Original Spec line of guitars also has the well-known ‘50s vintage wiring which was Gibson’s wiring method in the late ‘50s to early ‘60s. Instead of connecting the tone capacitors to the volumes’ input lugs which is the case of the modern wiring, the vintage ‘50s wiring has its tone capacitors connected to the volumes’ output lug. This results for the tones to have clarity and consistent top end presence that suit well to the vintage output of the pickups.

Finishes and Treatment

In order to accurately recreate the original Gibson look and feel, the luthiers at Gibson make sure that they use period-correct aniline dyes, wood fillers, and genuine finishes. The VOS line delivers classic gold-top, burst, and cherry finishes. The VOS nitrocellulose finishes are applied and processed in a delicate way to give the guitars a rich, elegant, and gently-aged patina.

They also use special methods to relic their guitars. The finish on their guitars are attentively processed and buffed to give the instruments a worn look. Dings and scratches are also carefully added to further give vintage mojo to the guitars.

The hardware of these instruments is also oxidized to give the appearance of decades of aging, right out of the shop.

Sound and Feel

With the specially chosen wood and authentic materials used, paired with history-accurate pickups and electronics, these guitars never fail to bring out the legendary voices of the past. These guitars from the Vintage Original Spec line faithfully recreate the punchy mids, clarity, output, and sustain of the ‘50s and ‘60s Gibson classics.

Playability on these instruments are a blast from the past. The thin nitrocellulose lacquer allows the instrument to breathe and freely resonate. The finish also absorbs the warmth of its player in a way that it comes to life the more hours you play it.

These guitars don’t feel brand new at all. Instead, they feel and sound like instruments that have been cared for and played well for decades.

Models

The Vintage Original Spec line is composed of the defining ‘50s and ‘60s guitars that propelled Gibson to the top. As of 2020, the Gibson Custom Shop VOS consists of:

Les Paul Models

● 1954 Les Paul Gold Top
● 1956 Les Paul Gold Top
● 1957 Les Paul Gold Top
● 1957 Les Paul Junior
● 1957 Les Paul Custom
● 1957 Les Paul Custom w/ Bigsby
● 1957 Les Paul Special
● 1958 Les Paul Junior Double-Cut

● 1958 Les Paul Standard
● 1959 Les Paul Standard
● 1960 Les Paul Standard
● 1960 Les Paul Special
● 1960 Les Paul Special Double-Cut
● 1960 Les Paul Custom Double-Cut
● 1968 Les Paul Custom
● 1974 Les Paul Custom

SG Models

● 1961 Les Paul SG Standard
● 1961 Les Paul SG Standard w/ Maestro Vibrola
● 1961 SG Special
● 1963 SG Junior
● 1964 Les Paul SG Standard w/ Maestro Vibrola
● 1987 SG w/ three humbuckers

ES Models

● 1952 ES-295
● 1958 ES-335
● 1959 ES-175
● 1959 ES-335
● 1959 ES-330
● 1961 ES-330
● 1963 ES-335
● 1963 ES Les Paul Custom w/ three humbuckers

Signature Models

● 1958-1960 Les Paul Slash “AFD”
● 1959-1960 Les Paul Standard Jimmy Page “Number One”
● 1959 Les Paul Standard Jimmy Page “Number Two”
● 1959 Les Paul Standard Billy Gibbons “Pearly Gates”

● 1959 Les Paul Standard Joe Bonamassa
● 1959 Les Paul Standard Paul Kossoff
● 1961 SG Standard Dickey Betts “From One Brother To Another”

With everything that has been discussed, the Vintage Original Spec line is a nostalgia-driven pursuit done by the Gibson Custom Shop to offer us the chance to experience the past without the aid of a time machine.

Common Questions

While we hope we’ll have covered any questions you might have, this section is designed to be a quick read for anyone looking to grab some info and go!

What does Gibson VOS stand for?

VOS stands for Vintage Original Spec, and refers to Gibson’s line of guitars that use the “original” spec of guitars from the late 50s/early 60s line of Gibson guitars that now sell for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What is the Gibson VOS finish?

Gibson’s VOS finish uses several hand-sprayed layers of genuine nitrocellulose lacquer, followed by a proprietary hand buffing to give their Vintage Original Spec guitars a glowing, gently-aged patina that can be seen as well as felt.

How to remove a VOS finish?

There’s nothing to be removed as a VOS finish doesn’t have the final layers that other finishes have. If you want your guitar to have a more “finished feel”, you can add a polishing compound.