By Zac DelVecchio
April 12, 1970, at the beginning of their meteoric rise to fame Led Zeppelin, played a 13 song set in Minnesota’s largest outdoor venue at the time. The band ended their set with the then-new track “Whole Lotta Love” when Jimmy Page sat down his cherished 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom for what he would then learn would be the last time… The Gibson was stolen at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and was never to be seen again until 45 years later when Nate Westgor of Willie’s American Guitars discovered the guitar in all places in his very own shop!
Guitar Connoisseur: What an incredible discovery this is! How did it come about?
Nate Westgor: The crazy part is that the guitar has been around and in my shop since the 1990s! I initially received the guitar already converted back to standard Custom specs when it first arrived. I initially thought that it could be Jimmy’s even back then, and when I reached out to Page’s camp, they came to inspect the guitar and quickly identified it as not his.
GC: What made them think it was not the original then?
NW: In 1993, we didn’t have the internet the way we do now. No photographic records or close-ups were easy to obtain. In the early 1990s, luthiers didn’t even use a black light to identify cracks or other possible modifications to authenticate vintage instruments as we use now. Back then, nobody was checking pot codes, solder, etc. Old Les Pauls were selling for $3-$5K, so the authentication of original parts was a bit more romanticized and not as much nitpicked like it is now. You couldn’t see the holes then, so when Page’s team went to review the guitar at the time, a lot of the information was missing, so it was easy not to see it for what it really was.
GC: What happened to it after they turned it down?
NW: At that point, I had the guitar sitting on a wall in my shop when one of my employees, a local musician with a hot new credit card, decided to buy the guitar. He ended up using the guitar for 23 years, gigging around with it. It was his main workhorse guitar for all of those years. The guitar spent its life playing thousands of shows and taking the everyday wear and tear of a well-loved instrument.
GC: After all of that time, how did it get re-discovered as Page’s true instrument?
NW: It wasn’t until 2014 when the current owner needed to sell the instrument for personal reasons. Of course, I was very familiar with the guitar but decided one night around midnight to inspect the guitar again. I had received anonymous calls for prices as high as $500,000 if I could locate the guitar by private collectors and Zeppelin fans who absolutely believed the guitar was still in town all these years later. This time thanks to tons of pictures on the internet and black light, I noticed that after 45 years, the wood shrunk, and the pore filler finally sank deep enough to reveal the work that was done to the toggle switch area and indicated that the holes of previous work were covered up. Once I noticed that, I started to compare other evidence and knew without a doubt this was Jimmy Page’s lost guitar.
ZD: What were some of the other pieces of evidence that convinced you?
NW: To start, it had the matching serial number to the Rolling Stone ad Jimmy Page paid for through most of the 1970s! Additionally, I noticed the 12th fret inlay’s distinct pattern, which looked like a lightning bolt with 3 stars above it. After cross-referencing those two bits of evidence with the black light filled cavities, I knew it was an exact match.
GC: Tell me more about the guitar; what was original on it by this point?
NW: Surprisingly, most of the guitar was still original. The headstock looks like it has been broken at least twice, and the Bigsby was lost for a little bit after its latest owner removed it for a stop tail setup, but it was later recovered. Other than that, everything else on it was still stuck.
GC: From original photos, Page owned the guitar; the pickup covers were removed; what were the electronics and pickups like?
NW: Yes, the pickups were still original and were re-covered to bring it back to a stock look, but the middle pickup was disconnected. When I further examined the electronics cavity, it had crudely placed shielding all over. While Dan Armstrong was credited with doing the mods initially, I have a theory that Page’s tech Joe Jammer did the initial modifications, and then Dan Armstrong cleaned up the tech’s work. Back then, techs were not luthiers on the go like many are today. They had to work with the tools and knowledge of the time, so it made sense that the mods were done on the road and then taken to a luthier when the time allowed.
GC: What were the specs on the pickups?
NW: The Bridge was wound at 6.6K, and the neck was 7.7K. The middle pickup was disconnected
GC: Besides, of course, being one of the most legendary instruments in rock history, was there anything unique about this Custom?
NW: It had a great weight for being a Les Paul Custom weighing in at just south of 9.5 pounds. The guitar also rang out in an incredible way that really stood out. When I spoke with Page after he finally received the guitar, he also spoke about its “brilliant sound.” The other unique thing about this guitar was the neck profile. The neck profile had a factory original asymmetrical V taper towards the treble side until the 12th fret, which is incredibly uncommon for Customs. I don’t mean a hard V, which would be typically found on a Fender from around that time, but a very soft V. The shape made your hand rotate a different way on the neck and made soloing really nice. It made the guitar immediately identifiable to Page, who said he knew right away that this was his guitar because of that profile.
GC: Let’s talk about restoring the guitar, was the finish on it nitro still even though it was refinished? The cover-up work on it was done so well. Do you have any idea who in town could have done this in the first place?
NW: Yes, it still has a nitrocellulose finish on it. As for who did the work, I was a bit curious at first, but there is such a high presence of woodworkers in this area that it makes it near impossible to pinpoint one luthier’s work. I will say, though, that the cover-up work was very well done, and I almost couldn’t find the identifiable filled cavity holes a few times when trying to show people!
GC: What was the most challenging aspect of this discovery?
NW: The hardest part was separating a man who loved this instrument and knew he had something beyond special, having to accept the guitar was no longer his. While he wanted to sell the instrument, it was still his main guitar for over two decades. It was a delicate situation, especially now that we add that it was technically an (unknowingly) stolen instrument in the first place and was denied by the Page camp the first time, so he purchased it fair rightfully. Page’s camp was incredibly kind to the situation, and they made an arrangement to replace the guitar with a 1959 Les Paul Custom.
GC: Did you consider restoring it to Page’s original specs? Or what made you decide to keep it the same way ultimately?
NW: We lost then found the Bigsby, and Perry Margouleff put it back with the Bigsby, but there was nothing in my mind outside of let’s string and intonate the guitar and bring it home
GC: What was the process like returning it to Page?
NW: Once I was sure it really was his main guitar, I contacted Keith Richard’s tech Pierre de Beauport who I knew could help in the situation. He mentioned I should seek out Perry Margouleff, the collector, customer, and associate of Jimmy Page. After working back and forth with him to get in touch with Page, we arranged to replace the Custom with a 1959 Custom and agreed to meet him in Arlington to make the trade.
GC: It must have been quite the journey knowing what you were delivering
NW: It’s funny; after years of knowing the instruments, it took on a whole new life once I knew what it really was. Between all of the strangers calling offering such high prices if it ever did surface, how rare and desirable it is, it became quite a high-pressure situation!
GC: What was the moment when you knew it had returned to Page safe and sound?
NW: I was running late for a dentist appointment when I got a call from Perry, and he asked where I was. He said, “I have somebody here who wants to thank you.” The next thing I know, Jimmy Page was on the line. We spoke for about 20 minutes discussing the guitar. At one point, he mentioned that the guitar was in his lap. “I have it plugged in. Do you want to hear it?” Page then starts shredding away on it! Isn’t that cool! “It’s just brilliant, fantastic!” he said
He said something I’ll never forget, though: “It’s going to be with me for all on now.”