Watch Gibson Custom Shop guru Tom Murphy discuss his career and the craftsmanship behind his revolutionary vintage guitars


For many guitarists, Gibson’s Murphy Lab the range is the highlight of electric guitar design. Led by the Venerable Tom Murphy, operating in a secret enclave in the Gibson Custom Shop, the Murphy Lab uses a number of cutting-edge techniques to create 21st century Gibson guitars that look older. the Beatles.

Of course you know that, because we’ve all spent time window shopping for these high end electric guitars, with their super high prices emphasizing the ‘window’. But their development is fascinating, and the culmination of Murphy’s fascination with his hectic experiments to create the most compelling “new vintage” guitar ever made.

Murphy recently caught up with Sweetwater’s Mitch Gallagher for an in-depth interview in which he goes over the process from the start and talks about the details involved in making these instruments.

As he explains, Murphy was first and foremost a guitarist, whose curiosity for the instrument – and especially the finishes – drew him more deeply. Murphy was with Gibson when the Nashville-based guitar giant was developing its Historic series. Murphy left in the ’90s, but towards the end of the decade he learned there was a market for older guitars – and Gibsons in particular.

Gibson Murphy lab sample

(Image credit: Gibson)

“The Historic instruments were a real inspiration because they carried this treatment so well,” says Murphy. “Some guys asked me, ‘How can I make the guitar less shiny? ” What can I do?’ So in ’97 I took my Les Paul Historic, took it apart completely, redone the whole finish with aniline dye on the back, aged the material and put it on display. without a plan at a guitar gig in Arlington, and everything changed, because the guys were like, ‘Can you do that ?!’ And I had offered a price. They just started coming to my shop [Guitar Preservation] in Illinois.

Murphy also explains the different categories of aging in Murphy Lab, from the immaculate museum-quality Ultra Light to the played and battered look of the aged Ultra Heavy models, and describes some of the challenges in their development and the importance of aged plastic and material. on instruments such as Murphy Lab Frost Blue Firebird.

Its aged, yellowing lacquer gives it a green tint, and like the recently released 1964 Johnny Winter Firebird, it also has a faded Firebird logo on the pickguard – an effect we’ll see on many Murphy Lab models.

“On our Les Paul Heavy and Ultra Heavy, you’ll see the silkscreen fade a bit on the ankle head,” says Murphy. “Because that’s what’s happening. But, especially on this [Firebird], I said the hardware is the first thing you see when you open the case for the most part, and they did such a murderous job here. It really makes this guitar look like an old guitar.

The latest guitars to come out of the Murphy Lab include the Johnny Winters Firebird, Chuck Berry ES-335, and Jerry Cantrell’s signature “Wino” Les Paul Custom, with more to come including a replica of Peter’s Les Paul Standard. Green from 1959., now owned by Kirk Hammett.

But Murphy admits that part of the fun of making these guitars is seeing how they still age in nature. After all, if you buy an Ultra Light Aged model – and the good news is that they are the most affordable – its aged lacquer is a blank slate for your curl blowout, misadventures, and life of reckless behavior while playing the game. ‘instrument.

“The verification is real. We let nature take care of it, and it’s just great to see that happen. Each guitar has its own personality, and what excites me is seeing the guitars of the future, which have come out of the lab and have been used, and you will see the experience and the results on the guitars as you go. that they are played and used in real time. I can not wait to see them !”

You can watch Tom Murphy’s full interview above and subscribe to Sweetwater’s YouTube page here.


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