The "Layla" Guitar?
A '57 Gibson Les Paul Emerges To Tell A Story
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', November 2008,
Vol. 23 No. 01)
is regarded as one of
the greatest talents to ever pick up the guitar, transforming
crossing the boundaries
of rock, soul,
blues, country, jazz, and other styles. His
all-too-short career encompassed hundreds
recording sessions (many uncredited)
various artists from
Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to his own groups (the
Hourglass, the Allman Joys, the Allman Brothers Blues Band), and
his incredible work on the Derek and the Dominos sessions with
Duane Allman Photo: Robbie Cantrel
sessions and subsequent album provided an excellent showcase for
a certain 1957 Gibson Les Paul goldtop bearing serial number 7
3312, which its present owner has researched extensively and
believes was featured on the bulk of Duane Allman’s work,
including what is arguably his most important - the Derek and
the Dominos’ song “Layla.”
Scot Lamar, who now owns the guitar, says Allman acquired the
goldtop in late 1968 or early ‘69, very likely from Lipham Music
in Gainsville, Florida, which sold many instruments to Duane as
well as bandmates Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley.
In September of ‘69, the Allman Brothers Band was playing the
Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach with opening act Stone
Balloon, whose guitarist, Rick Stine, played a plain-top
sunburst ‘59 Les Paul Standard.
“Duane likes the guitar, so he trades his goldtop, 200 bucks
cash, and a 50-watt Marshall head for the ‘Burst,” recalled Mike
Boulware, a former music store manager who specialized in
vintage instruments and has helped Lamar trace the history of
Scot Lamar 1977 with his newly purchased - and
freshly stripped - Gibson Les Paul
Not wanting to part with the pickups in his goldtop, Allman had
one of his roadies put them in the sunburst
a common occurrence at the time, when the
word “vintage” wasn’t applied to old guitars.
“I saw Duane playing it in a battle of the bands at my high
school - Gainesville High - in October
of 1969,” Boulware noted. “I was on the crew at that show, which
was sponsored by Lipham Music.”
Stine apparently later sold the guitar locally and somewhere
along the line the gold finish was sanded from its top.
Fast forward to 1977 and Coastal Music, a small store in Daytona
Beach, where owner Jim Omby takes it in trade. Local player
Billy Bowers sees the guitar and calls his friend Scot Lamar,
who buys it.
“I had a recording studio,” said Lamar. “Billy knew I loved Les
Pauls and knew I had the money to buy it.”
Later that year, Lamar took the guitar to Gruhn’s Guitars, in
Nashville, to have the top refinished in gold, and have bit of
wood replaced on the back of the headstock where a dog had
apparently chewed it. Deciding he didn’t like the top as it was,
in July of ‘78 he took the guitar to Tommy Stinson of Strings
and Things, in Memphis, hoping to get a more accurate gold
applied. Then, in 1997 - when the art of guitar refinishing was
far more refined - Lamar enlisted Tom
Murphy at Gibson’s Historic Division.
“He refinished the entire guitar, and did his famous ‘historic’
treatment to it,” said Boulware. “He finally got the gold
In trying to establish credibility, any guitar that comes with a
story like this one faces serious hurdles. And of course that
isn’t aided by the fact that nobody who hung around with the
Allmans could have known 30 years ago that someday such details
would matter. But Lamar says proof that this is in fact Duane’s
goldtop lies in photos of the headstock showing the old serial
number. There is also video of Allman playing this guitar, shot
from early 1969 and until the Layla sessions. The Tom
Dowd documentary The Language of Music lends insight
about Duane as a player, the Allman Brothers in general, and the
goldtop specifically, as it is, in the words of Boulware,
“easily recognized” in the video by a particular pattern in the
pearl inlay at the 15th fret.
Guitar photos: Jeff Gage. Archive photos
courtesy Scot Lamar.
“I encountered the guitar again while working at Sabine Music in
the late ‘80s,” Boulware noted. “Scot brought it in for me and
Charlie Hargrett to authenticate. Charlie, who was a founding
member of Blackfoot and had shared the stage with Duane and the
guitar, was working at Sabine after leaving Blackfoot for a
while. And in 2001 I went to Scot’s to inspect and further
document it, and became convinced this was the guitar from
“In my research, I compared all the inlays to find they all are
a match for the known photos of Duane playing the guitar,” he
added. “And they are perfectly visible in many video clips, such
as those shot at the Love Valley Festival that followed the
second Atlanta Pop Festival.”
Prior to obtaining this guitar, Allman played slide on sessions
with Clarence Carter and others, but the development of the band
coincided with his slide tone emerging as its own voice. Not
coincidentally, that paralleled the September ‘69 trade for the
Determining which ABB songs Duane used the goldtop to record is
made difficult by the fact that those who were present remember
different things. Personal memories of ABB concerts play a role,
as do studio logs. And Boulware acknowledges that both can be
suspect. “For instance, the Layla log shows overdubs were
done in October, 1970, when the Brothers were actually back on
the road,” he said. “And Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock
recalls that ‘Layla’ was done before Duane left. He also has
rendered a heartfelt note saying this was the main instrument
Duane used in this period, and was very adamant about it being
the guitar on ‘Layla.”
Studio logs confirm there are two sets of Live at Fillmore
East recordings, he adds. “One, in February, 1970 (from the
Grateful Dead’s board), and the better-known version from March
of ‘71, made after Duane sold the goldtop. It’s heard on
the first set of Fillmore records, as well as the first Allman
Brothers album, Idlewild South, and the Layla
Considering the length of the time it was owned by Allman, as
well as the classic recordings it helped to make, Lamar and
Boulware believe this is the most important guitar in Allman
(TOP) Closeup of the original serial number on
the Lamar goldtop.
(ABOVE) And today.
“Its tone, for me, represents the apex of rock, especially as it
was used on ‘Layla,’ alongside Clapton’s famous Stratocaster
tone,” Boulware said. “Not only was this the most important of
his many guitars, it helped shape his trademark slide sound.
“We’re all different people because we heard Duane,” he added.
“He did his most eloquent talking with his mouth closed and his
ears and heart open.”
Lamar regularly lends the guitar to players for public
performances, recording sessions, etc. “To me it’s a piece of
fine art, like a painting or a sculpture, with the added bonus
of sounding like God calling your name,” he said.
(LEFT) The fretboard of the goldtop owned by
Scot Lamar, as it looked in 1977.
(RIGHT) And Today.
Special thanks to
Charlie Hargrett for background and research. An original member
of Blackfoot, he shared the stage with Duane and the ‘57 goldtop
more than once. Thanks also to Billy Bowers.
Learn more about the guitar at