It doesn't get more rock than the Les Paul Junior. In 1954, two years only after launching the original Les Paul Gold Top, Gibson decided to extend their solidbody series in both directions: more expensive with the luxurious Custom, and cheaper with the modest Junior. The Junior has no maple top, only a good mahogany plank. It has no extra pickups or humbuckers (which were added to the Standard and Custom in 1957), only a single bridge P90 controlled by a volume and a tone knob. No tune-o-matic, only a simple non-adjustable wraparound bridge. No parallelogram inlays on the fretboard, only dots. Everything extra has been stripped away to meet the budget of aspiring hobbyists.
But the Les Paul Junior's secret quickly got exposed: it may present itself as an entry-level Gibson, but it is an instrument as fun as it is simple, and whose sound rivals the best in terms of resonance, harmonic depth and even sustain. Mountain's Leslie West was an early defender of the Junior, and that big man wowed the Woodstock audience with a small Junior in hand. Many others followed, including Keith Richards, John Lennon, Johnny Thunders, Mick Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong. Punks especially enjoyed the Junior's lack of sophistication.
This beautiful Junior was made in 1955, the second year of production for the model. It still has the single-cutaway shape, since the double-cutaway only replaced it in 1958. The sunburst finish is more common than the TV Yellow, and here it gracefully shows its age and years of use without having been mistreated like so many Juniors were. There is a trace next to the wraparound that happened when the bridge was put back after a change of strings, a scar that does not affect the instrument's structural integrity. Surprisingly, the headstock has not been broken, and everything is original, down to the P90 that still screams with a passion more than sixty years after its first notes.
Band : Bon Jovi
Main guitar : Fender Stratocaster signature
Compulsory listening : Livin’ On A Prayer
Such is the history of rock: for every Mick Jagger, there is a Keith Richards. For every Steven Tyler, there is a Joe Perry. For every Robert Plant, a Jimmy Page. For every superstar that gets the crowd going, there is a moody, infinitely cool guitar player that has the singer’s back and only takes the front of stage for quick assaults of thirty seconds.
Richie Sambora joined the New Jersey band Bon Jovi in 1983, a few months after its creation. Right from the start, Sambora’s playing and personality perfectly matched the image of founding singer Jon Bon Jovi. Together, they created a songwriting duo that would come up with hard rock classics that remain mainstays of every radio station playlist. The true explosion happened in 1986 with the Slippery When Wet album, on which Sambora co-wrote nine out of ten songs, including mega-singles Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name and Wanted Dead Or Alive. The guitar hero’s virtuosic, precise and energetic playing are in full force on that album. Sambora has integrated Van Halen’s influence to his style like any soloist of the time, but he added his personal twist to it. His talent for arranging can be head on the twelve-string parts of Wanted…, the pitch shifted solo to You Give Love A Bad Name or the talkbox for Livin’ On A Prayer.
After the release of the album, the band gets huge and starts touring around the world for sold-out crowds of entranced fans. Bon Jovi’s genius is that they achieved mainstream success at several points in their career, which makes them relevant to several generations of fans. They once again topped the charts with Always in 1994, then with It’s My Life (co-written by Sambora too) in 2000. That last song earned them a new audience that still follows them to this day.
A victim of his demons, Sambora had to quit the band in 2013 in the middle of one more world tour. Since then, he has launched the RSO band with his ex Orianthi. Over time, he seems more and more interested in the Telecaster and the Esquire, whereas he was the poster boy for superstrats in the glory days of Bon Jovi. Sambora’s musical future probably has a few great surprises in store.