Thursday, 23 February 2017

Iqbal At Close Range

One recent winter evening, as it rained heavily in Lahore, I sat down to collect from the internet, rare informal photographs of Allama Muhammad Iqbal.
Photographs pointed to certain names and they in turn led to deeper research.

By the number of clicks on Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The TimesI am convinced that global interest in Iqbal will never diminish.

Thinking or resting?

“My ancestors were Brahmins. They spent their lives in search of god. I am spending my life in search of man.” ―Muhammad Iqbal

School-teachers insist that in this most famous 'official' photograph, the 'poet of the east' was dreaming about Pakistan's creation. The fact is he was resting after a cold fatiguing walk in Paris in 1933. Thinking minds need rest too; the good doctor may have grown tired of philosophy and Persian poetry. After all, how much Nietzsche, Goethe, Hegel and Rumi can one swallow in a lifetime?

This famous photograph was taken by none other than controversial artist Amrita Sher-Gil who died mysteriously in Lahore in 1941. It was taken while Iqbal was visiting Paris. It is said that Iqbal disliked unacceptable photographs of himself being made public.

Love and marriage, like horse and carriage

Any poet bereft of love is unfit to be called a poet, let alone a human being. Iqbal was more than a man who downplayed his talent as a poet. To him poetry helped convey whatever was on his mind, and judging from his works, he had plenty to say both in private and in public.

Globally admired for fusing Islamic and political thoughts with Sufism and eastern nationalism, Iqbal still stands like a giant amongst modern poets. He was a deeply religious person who abhorred mullahs and bigotry from the core of his heart.
Amrita Sher-Gil (not Rekha)

Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot on Friday 9 November 1877 (3rd of Dhū Qa‘dah 1294 A. H.) to a Muslim tailor (Noor Muhammad) and a generous woman (Imam bibi) who lived in the 'lane of bangle-makers'. Their house was called Iqbal Manzil and was purchased in 1861 by Muhammad Rafique, Iqbal's great-grandfather.

In 1879, infant Iqbal lost his right eye when leeches were applied as a traditional medical treatment. From the few close-up photographs that are available this cannot be confirmed as a fact.

In 1893, only aged 16, Iqbal was married off to a slightly older but a rich Kashmiri girl, Karim Bibi. He had just passed his matriculation (10th grade) then. Early marriages and having loads of children was the norm in those days. The ups and downs of life led Iqbal to marry thrice. He came close to taking the plunge for the fourth time as he adored two 'other' women whom he met in Europe.

The man behind Iqbal's education

Iqbal secured a 2nd Division (276 marks out of 570) in his F.A exams (12th grade) in 1895.

In 1897 he passed his B.A exams (14th grade) with a second Division but stood first in English Literature and Arabic.

In 1898, when Thomas Walker Arnold (1864-1930) moved from the M.A.O. College (Aligarh) to Government College (Lahore), Iqbal was his only student in M.A. Philosophy. Iqbal either failed the exam once in his first attempt or he did not appear at all. By his 21st year, he was a father.

Iqbal in his youth
From 1917 to 1920, Thomas Walker Arnold acted as Adviser to the Secretary of State for India and was Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, from 1921 to 1930. He became the first English editor for the first edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam and was made Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1912. By 1921, Thomas became a knight.

I was lucky enough to find in my father's collection of books, an abridged version of the same book: Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, published in 1953. It contains material that if reproduced will invite instant death threats to its deceased writers.

Thomas also taught Syed Sulieman Nadvi (1884-1953) and was a close friend of Shibli Nomani (1857-1914) at Aligarh University. In 1909 he was appointed Educational Adviser to Indian students in Britain. That post enabled him to select and groom students expected to be helpful to the British Crown's long-term plans.

The connection between the educators and the educated somehow always ran deep in the British education system. Thomas was also a good friend of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) who asked him to write the book titled: The Preaching of Islam.

Further higher studies

In 1898, Iqbal appeared for obtaining a degree in law but failed the paper on Jurisprudence. Being the only candidate in the subject, in 1899 he secured 3rd Division and a medal in M.A. (Philosophy). He applied for the post of McLeod Arabic Reader at Oriental College, where Thomas was to become the acting Principal.

Having graduated in 1899 from Government College Lahore, Iqbal reported on duty from 5 May for a salary of Rs.74/Annas 14 per month. He would serve this institution in intervals right up to 1903.

By 1900, Iqbal had received considerable recognition for reciting his poem, ‘The Orphan’s Lament’ in the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam.
Thomas Walker Arnold
His request for reappearing in the degree for law without attending the classes was once again refused. His first known paper, ‘The Concept of Absolute Unity’ was printed in The Indian Antiquary.

In 1901, Iqbal was temporarily appointed Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department of Government College for a month for a salary of Rs. 200 per montha fantastic sum in those days. He again got the lucrative position in 1902 at the Department of English till his resignation in late 1908 (at the end of a long leave of absence that started in September 1905).

He wrote a 10-page elegy for Queen Victoria; recited The Orphan’s Address to the Crescent of Eid’ in the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam and temporarily took up teaching English Literature at Islamia College (a venture of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam).

Iqbal received wide recognition from the publication of his poem ‘The Himalaya’ in the first issue of Makhzan, a romantically inclined literary magazine that soon became the main outlet for his poems. He appeared for public service examination for the post of Extra Assistant Commissioner but got rejected on medical grounds apparently due to his defective right eye.

National poet
"Nations are born in the hearts of poets; they prosper and die in the hands of politicians." —Muhammad Iqbal
By 1904 Iqbal had written the Indian National Anthem 'Sarey jahan say acha, Hindustan hamara' and which won him instant national acclaim. The custodians of Pakistan's national zeal always find it difficult to swallow one fact: all founding fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers of Pakistan were Indians; so are most of the octogenarians alive today.

In 1905, he Iqbal went to England to study modern philosophy and qualified for a scholarship from Trinity College in Cambridge to obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1906. There 
he worked under John McTaggart, a follower of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Europe’s most influential philosopher.

In the same year he was called to the bar as a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn.

Now stop for a moment to ask yourselves this: why must hating the past, especially ancient pagan history and India, become a national pastime? To imagine we will snatch back Bangladesh from alienated Bengalis or hoist a Pakistani flag over the Red Fort in New Delhi may create vain hope but realists treat these as cruel jokes worth crying over.

Iqbal in khussas (Heidelberg, 1907)
By 1906, Iqbal was thoroughly impressed with Kemal Ataturk whose Young Turks movement (backed by the Freemasons) effectively put an end to the Khilafah of the Ottoman Empire. Unflinching support to Ataturk came from the House of Saud whose agents blew up rail tracks to promote rebellion and anarchy. Later attempts to revive this dead Ottoman horse through the Khilfat Movement across India met with utter failure.

Two ladies, one man

In 1907, Iqbal met Atiya Fyzee in London. We will soon dedicate an entire article to this story.

To study Hegel in the original German, Iqbal went to Heidelberg in 1907 for his doctorate and earned a PhD degree from the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich in 1908. There he also met another beautiful woman named Emma Wegenast at the University of Munich, Germany. This story too deserves to be told in detail later.

Under the guidance of Friedrich Hommel, Iqbal published his doctoral thesis in 1908 entitled: The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. He returned to London after obtaining a PhD in Arabic from Munich to temporarily replace Thomas Arnold as teacher of Arabic during his absence from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University.

It is obvious, without Thomas' support, Iqbal might have achieved success but certainly not such dizzying heights.

Going political

By January 1908, Iqbal had resigned from the post of Assistant Professor at Government College (Lahore) to join the All India Muslim League (London Branch) in July.

He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, and afterwards arrived in Lahore to apply for practice in the Lahore Chief’s Court and to set up an office.

By the year's end he had published 'Political Thought in Islam’, attended the annual session of Mohammedan Educational Conference at Amritsar and joined the delegation of Kashmiri Muslims.

1909 saw Iqbal resume activities in the Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam (Lahore) and elected General Secretary to the newly formed Anjuman Kashmiri Musalmanan.
Development of Metaphysics in Persia (Cambridge)
He reluctantly agreed to teach Philosophy at Government College (Lahore) through special arrangement with the Secretary of State who directed the courts to hear Iqbal’s cases after his classes in the morning. Iqbal took charge of classes on October 12 and continued till end of the next year. Iqbal also joined the editorial committee of Indian Cases Law Reports, a specialized magazine from Lahore.

Becoming poetic
“Look at the evils of the world around you and protect yourself from them. Our teachers give all the wrong messages to our youth, since they take away the natural flare from the soul. Take it from me that all knowledge is useless until it is connected with your life, because the purpose of knowledge is nothing but to show you the splendours of yourself!” ―Muhammad Iqbal
In 1910, Iqbal was nominated Fellow to the University of Punjab and started writing his notebook: Stray Reflections. He married Sardar Begum, but postponed the consummation of marriage.

In 1911, Iqbal recited 'the famous poem 'The Complaint’ (Shikwah) at the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam and presided over the annual session of the Mohammedan Educational Conference at Delhi where he was garlanded by Shibli Nomani on behalf of the Muslims of India.
Laughing at a crying ummah
By 1912 Iqbal was sparing no opportunity to recite poems at various high-profile meetings. His poem ‘An Answer to the Complaint’ (Jawab-e-Shikwah) was used for fundraising for the Turks during the Balkan War.

In 1913, for the third time, Iqbal married Mukhtar Begum from Jalandhar. His previous second marriage to Sardar Begum was also consummated.

1914 saw Iqbal lose his mother, Imam Bibi, and daughter, Meraj Bano.

In 1916, Iqbal complained of kidney pain but continued to write and remain active politically.

By 1919, he was appointed Dean of Oriental Faculty at the University of Punjab and became General Secretary of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam. He attended the joint session of the Khilafat Conference and the All India Muslim League in Amritsar in which Hakeem Ajmal Khan, M. K. Gandhi and the Ali Brothers participated.

In 1921, he visited Kashmir for the first time for about a fortnight to plead a case.

A strict knight at home

By 1923, Iqbal was knighted by King George. In 1930 at Allahabad, he is known to have openly advocated the idea of a separate Muslim state to be carved out of India yet he wrote a letter to the Times of London stating something radically different. Iqbal had changed.

In 1924, Iqbal's son, Javed Iqbal, was born to his second wife, Sardar Begum. His third wife, Mukhtar, died during childbirth in the same month.

Javed Iqbal was called 'Bubba' and 'Jeddy' in two Punjabi poems written by Iqbal on his 5th birthday. Javed went on to become the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, got elected to the Supreme Court, served as a Senator, and saw Iqbal as "a very strict father, as was the custom in those days".

Javed was not allowed to wear western clothing or hats, refrain from buying tailoring cloth that was more than Rs.1 per yard, remain at home after sunset, not watch movies, avoid buying shoes that cost more than Rs 8, and never wear shorts (knickers). Javed and Iqbal's servant witnessed events both of a spiritual and supernatural nature such as claiming to meet famous personalities from the past.

Facing accusations

In 1926, vile accusations were hurled at Iqbal through posters pasted over the walls of Lahore. This was done by his political rival, Malik Din Muhammad, during the Punjab Legislative Council elections. Iqbal did not get mad; he got even by being elected.
Iqbal At Shimla (1922)

The vile tales were later spun further by implicating Iqbal in a supposed murder committed during college days. Those who hate Iqbal always recall this imaginary event.

One may also hear about Iqbal's alleged affection for a singing girl Ameer Begum around 1903. In the same year, Iqbal saw his brother Atta Muhammad, getting arrested on charges of financial corruption. The poet travelled to Quetta to help him out.

The last decade
When truth has no burning, then it is philosophy, when it gets burning from the heart, it becomes poetry. Muhammad Iqbal
In 1927, Iqbal joined the Shafi faction that supported separate electorates for the Muslims, against the Jinnah faction that opposed this idea. The All India Muslim League was ideologically split.

In 1928, after speaking out against injustices inherent in the methods of agricultural taxation, Iqbal visited Delhi for treatment of the kidneys by Hakeem Nabina. Later he travelled to South India for lecturing on reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.

By 1929 Iqbal was delivering lectures on ‘Knowledge and Religious Experience’, ‘The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of the Religious Experience’, ‘The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer’. The ruling Nizam of Hyderabad Deccan heard Iqbal speak on the necessity of a deeper study of the Quran. Later his article, ‘A Plea for Deeper Study of the Muslim Scientists’ was published in Islamic Culture (Hyderabad Deccan).

Although Iqbal's name was turned down for appointment as Justice to the Lahore High Court (former Lahore Chief Court), he was conferred at Aligarh with honorary DLitt.

In 1930, his younger daughter Munira 'Bubbi' Bano was born after which he went on a lecture tour. In the same year, his father Sheikh Noor Muhammad died in Sialkot.

Iqbal presided over the annual session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad, suggesting the amalgamation of the north-western Muslim majority provinces of India for a balance of power in the region and renaissance of Islamic thought.
With son Javed Iqbal (1925)
Meetings with leaders and dictators

In 1931, Iqbal met with leaders at All India Muslim Conference, and with others at Bhopal who were called by the ruler of Nawab Hamidullah Khan to facilitate consensus on the issue of joint electorate versus separate electorate. Iqbal being one of the convenors celebrated Kashmir Day on August 14 to support the protest movement in the valley.

Pakistan came into being on 27 Ramadan 1366 Hijrah (the night between 14 and 15 August 1947); this is not a well-known fact. Jinnah announced the creation of Pakistan on 15 August 1947. Odd as it may seem, his estranged daughter, Dina Wadia, was also born between the night of 14 and 15 August (1919).

To attend the 2nd Round Table Conference, he stopped at Delhi and Bombay on his way to London. As the ‘Minority Pact’ was formed, Iqbal dissociated himself from the Conference. He attended a reception at Cambridge and informed the Secretary of State about his decision to leave the Conference.

Iqbal left for Italy where he met the deposed king of Afghanistan, Ameer Amanullah, to whom he had dedicated Payam-e-Mashriq. He delivered a lecture at the Royal Academy (Rome), met with Mussolini, visited Egypt, and then travelled to Palestine by train to participate in the Islamic Conference. After staying at Jerusalem he returned to Lahore via Bombay and Delhi.

In 1932, Javednama was published. To honour the poet, the first Iqbal Day was celebrated under auspices of the Islamic Research Institute, Lahore.

Iqbal presided over the All India Muslim Conference (Lahore) and delivered an address. He asked the Sikh community to see the communal problem in the larger perspective of constitutional progress in India. He left for London via Bombay to participate in the 3rd Round Table Conference where a reception was given by the National League (London). He left for Paris where he met Bergson.

In 1933, Iqbal arrived in Spain and visited Cordoba, Granada, and Seville and delivered a lecture titled ‘Spain and the Intellectual World of Islam’ at Madrid University.

Iqbal returned to Paris to board a ship for India from Venice and arrived in Bombay to return to Lahore. He presided over extensive lectures by Ghazi Rauf Pasha, dissident colleague of Ataturk in Jamia Millia College, Delhi.

He resigned from the All India Kashmir Committee and visited Afghanistan on invitation from King Nadir Shah to advise educational reforms. Sir Ross Masud (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's grandson) and Syed Sulieman Nadvi were also invited. Iqbal was offered Honorary DLitt by the University of Punjab.
At Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Tipu's grave (1929)

Towards the end

In 1934, his fatal illness started after eating vermicelli with curd on the Eid Day. 

He was invited by Oxford University for a Rhodes lecture; Iqbal chose ‘Time and Space in Muslim Thought’ as his topic but it was found unsuitable by the University, and the lecture could never happen eventually due to his prolonged illness. 

He visited Sirhind with son, Javed Iqbal (aged 10) and was elected President of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam. After construction of a new residence ‘Javed Manzil’ started, he visited Aligarh to deliver a lecture and was conferred an Honorary DLitt degree.

In 1935, after the publication of 'Wings of Gabriel (Baal-e-Jibreel), Iqbal presided over extensive lectures by Halida Adeeb Khanum, dissident colleague of Ataturk at Jamia Millia College, Delhi.

It seems odd that while Iqbal was impressed with modern Turkey's Mustafa 'Brother' Kemal Ataturk, he wholeheartedly supported the dissident camp. What was he thinking?

Iqbal proceeded to Bhopal for electrotherapy in Hamidia Hospital and consulted with Hakeem Nabina in Delhi on the way back from Bhopal. Construction of his new residence, Javed Manzil, had come to an end now.

‘Qadianism and Orthodox Muslims’ was published in The Statesman (Calcutta) as Iqbal’s rejoinder to the Governor of Punjab’s advice to the Muslims. Iqbal’s statement launched a series of arguments.

The poet shifted to Javed Manzil and soon afterwards his wife, Sardar Begum, died. Iqbal was issued a stipend of Rs.500 per month by Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal. The poet undertook a second trip to Bhopal for electrotherapy and participated in the Centenary of poet Hali (1835–1914) in Panipat.

Iqbal was suspected of being a closet Ahmadi due to his initial reverence for Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian but he moved away from the man's ideology after finding out the truth behind his spirituality and tall public claims. A few members of Iqbal's family, however, remained staunch Ahmadis. In 1936, Iqbal wrote ‘Islam and Ahmadism’ as a rejoinder to Jawaharlal Nehru’s criticism on Iqbal’s previous statement. Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Iqbal at Javed Manzil, Lahore.

After getting elected as President of the Punjab Muslim League, Iqbal made efforts to organize a provincial Parliamentary Board for the party through which the League could unite the Muslims of the province.

Iqbal recited the Urdu poem Khudi ka sirr-e-nihan, La ilaha il Allah (Heavenly Tune) at the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam, which turned out to be his last public performance. His last long Urdu poem Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shoora (Satan’s Parliament) has the devil confessing:
Hyderabad Deccan with student's federation
It was I who made the Europeans dream of global dominance.

After Zarb-e-Kaleem was published, an Honorary DLitt was conferred by Dacca University. Iqbal's last Persian mathnavi, Pas Ch Bayad Kerd, was published (coupled with previously published Musafir two months later).

By 1937, he consulted again with Hakeem Nabina as the kidney ailment had turned severe and was affecting both the eyesight and the voice. Even an Honorary DLitt conferred by Allahabad University could not ease his pain.

Iqbal received his last Honorary DLitt degree in 1938 from Usmania University, Hyderabad Deccan. ‘On Islam and Nationalism’ was published in Ehsan, Lahore.

The 'DLitt' honours

All in all, Iqbal was conferred with no less than five DLitt honorary degrees in his lifetime by the University of Punjab, Aligarh Muslim University, Dacca University, Allahabad University and Usmania University (Hyderabad Deccan).

Courage in death

“The highest stage of Man's ethical progress is reached when he becomes absolutely free from fear and grief.” ―Muhammad Iqbal

On the last evening Iqbal was surrounded by close friends. When he complained of pain and was spitting blood, his friend Hakim Muhammad Hassan Qarshi, asked him if he wanted a morphine injection to help him sleep, Iqbal courageously announced, "I don't wish to be unconscious when death comes to me; I want to experience that moment".

The able physician went away but later during the night when he was again sent for, nobody answered the door. Earlier that day, Iqbal recited from Baang-e-Dara' his Urdu adaptation of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Farewell O worldly companions! I am going to my homeland
I am feeling unhappy in this well‐populated wilderness

Trusted servant, Ali Bukhsh was with Iqbal when he complained of chest pain. The same night Iqbal allowed his eight years old daughter, Munira, to sleep next to him; the child's sixth sense told her that something was about to happen. Early in the morning, Dr. Sir Sheikh Allama Muhammad Iqbal breathed his last on Thursday 21 April in Lahore, aged only 61.
Iqbal's honorary grave at Konya, Turkey


The sad news spread like wild fire in Lahore and thousands gathered for his funeral procession and last rites. Long bamboos were tied to the sides of the charpayi on which his body was laid so that as many people as was possible could carry his body to its last abode.

Iqbal, it was inferred from his poetry, wished to be buried under the shadow of a mosque. His close friends decided that he be buried at the foot of the historic Badshahi Mosque. A great difficulty arose at the time of his burial.

Two funeral prayers were offered, one in the Islamia College ground (Fleming Road) and the other at the Badshahi Mosque. The Chief Minister of Lahore, Sir Sikander Hayat who was in Calcutta, rejected via telegram the proposed burial site. When the public approached the British Governor of Punjab, Sir Henry Duffield Craik (1876-1955), he approved of the burial which took place at night.

Iqbal's mausoleum at Lahore is based on an Afghan-Moorish design. Oddly, an honorary grave of Iqbal exists at Konya, Turkey. Iqbal had great reverence for poet Jalaluddin Rumi (of Mevlevi Sufi Order of the 'whirling dervishes').

Iqbal on western atheism and materialism

While arm-chair philosophers and drawing-room geniuses of Pakistan never tire of advocating imitation of the western idea of 'separation of the church and the state', let us see what Iqbal said on the subject when invited to Cambridge University to participate in a conference in 1931:
Iqbal At Cordoba (1933)
"I would like to offer a few pieces of advice to the young men who are at present studying at Cambridge, I advise you to guard against atheism and materialism. The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic materialism.

I had twenty-five years ago seen through the drawbacks of this civilization and therefore, had made some prophecies. They had been delivered by my tongue although I did not quite understand them. This happened in 1907. ... After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European nations in the separation of the Church and the State." 

Iqbal warned:
Jalaal-e-paadshahi ho ya jamhoori tamasha hoJuda ho deen siyasat se to reh jati hai changezi
And which means:
[Whether it is] the rule of a strict and angry monarch or the circus of politicians [in the name of democracy]
When [God's] religion [of a righteous path] is separated from politics [system of government], all that is left is Changezi [barbaric tribal anarchic misrule]
* * * 
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017

Further reading

Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The Times
The Artistic Youth Of Amrita Sher-Gil
The Fantastic Growth Of Amrita
The Dramatic Death Of Amrita Sher-Gil
Iqbal In Love With Emma Wegenast

If I were to list all the references the old-fashioned away right here, this article would be twice its current size. The web links (URLs) have been included in the text. Just click on the words in blue colour and you will reach those other pages that contain either the text used (after laborious editing) or more information. I visited hundreds of web sites while researching for material on Allama Iqbal. Omissions, if any, were unintentional. I thank those from whom obtaining permission to use some images was either impossible or who did not respond to my requests.

Photo of Amrita Sher-Gil
Citizens Archive of Pakistan
An extensive timeline of Allama Iqbal’s life
Photot of honorary grave of Iqbal (Konya, Turkey)
Photo of Cambridge University Ph.D Certificate

No one must misconstrue the information presented here about Iqbal as disinformation or insults. The information here was meticulously collected (after cross-checking) from numerous sources on the internet (without the use of proxy servers in Pakistan). If you feel something here needs to be amended, please email me the suggestions with believable references. Until then, whatever is written here shall be considered correct.

EDIT: links to 2 poems added (10-11-19) 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Re-Fretting Gibson Les Paul Custom

I hope you enjoyed reading Part-I of this article: The Purchase Of Gibson Les Paul Custom.

Before we delve into the re-fret job details, let me introduce to you the creator of the legendary Les Paul guitar: Mr Lester William Polfus.

Meet the genius

Known the world over as Les Paul, he was also called “Rhubarb Red” and “the Wizard of Waukesha”. Born on 09 June 1915, he died aged 94 on 12 August 2009.

Les Paul was an exceptionally innovative guitarist with his own TV show in the 1950s (‘Les Paul and Mary Ford at home’) that featured his wife. The couple had over thirty hit songs if not as many children.

He invented equipment and recording techniques that revolutionised music and recording. The prototype electric guitar known as ‘the log’ was made in 1941. Although Gibson’s President, Ted McCarty, rejected the idea of producing a solid-body electric guitar, he succumbed to commercial pressure when Leo Fender’s Broadcaster (later Fender Telecaster) came out in 1948. Gibson released the ‘Gold Top’ Les Paul guitar in 1952. The rest, as they say, is history.

When singer Bing Crosby gave Les Paul a tape-recorder, he got the idea of modifying it by installing another recording head; this scheme became the basis of latter day multi-track recorders. Such a recorder would enable him and his wife to play and sing multiple parts all by themselves—something unimaginable in those days.
Les & Mary with recording gear

His breakthrough recording, Lover, from 1948 proves his genius. And do listen to what Les Paul and Mary Ford did with How High The Moon and The World Is Waiting For Sunrise.

The innovative sound of flanging can be heard on the song Mammy’s Boogie. This kind of sound would later give birth to ‘flanger’ stomp-boxes for guitarists.

In 2005 Les Paul's final recorded album, American Made, World Played, debuted and featured Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Sting and Eric Clapton. It won this veteran two Grammy Awards.

1952 Les Paul 'gold-top' 
Les Paul is the only person to be inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Mentioning all of Les Paul’s achievements is beyond the scope of this article. My own recording studio’s name, ‘Sound on Sound’, paid homage to Les Paul’s amazing recording techniques and the guitar he created.

Nicknames explained

The Les Paul Custom guitar was named ‘Black Beauty’ because of a solid black body accentuated by white edge-binding. The bound ebony fingerboard and block mother-of-pearl inlays were designed to highlight a player’s hands. It does look like a guitar formally dressed for a ball.
Gibson 400 CES

Compare women with guitars in real life and no matter how hard you try, you will never find a neck, a head and beauty to outdo a Les Paul guitar. While great are the temptations of flesh, the ones produced by exotic woods and gold-plated hardware rate higher.

Steve removing the frets
The reason this guitar was nicknamed the ‘Fretless Wonder’, was because of the ultra-low profile of the frets which enabled fast and furious jazzy playing.

The ‘Custom’ designation of the Gibson Les Paul model meant it borrowed an ornately inlaid headstock from the company’s most expensive model: Super 400 CES.

Almost every guitarist has either owned or played a Les Paul guitar. The list of guitar Romeos who ended up loving the Les Paulian Juliet is quite mind-numbing. Many professionals who ended up endorsing Fender later in life actually played a Les Paul in younger years. Owning this guitar is like owning a piece of history, pedigree and innovation. Cheap copies will never replace the ‘real thing’ no matter how much Coke ones consumes.
The nut removed
To see how a Gibson Les Paul is made, click HERE.

What does Mr Les Paul sound and look like?

Here are recordings worth listening to:

Les Paul LIVE - and magnificent
Les Paul - Greatest Hits

How does one define ‘Black Beauty’?

Look ma, no frets!
Forget makeup and hot dresses; focus instead on the Les Paul’s following features:
  • Three-piece maple top, mahogany back with ½” slotted weight relief to deliver classic Les Paul tone and resonance.
  • Ebony nitro lacquer finish, multi-ply bindings, pearl block inlays on an ebony board, pearl headstock adornments including the Gibson logo and the famed custom Split Diamond inlay.
  • Historic long tendon neck joint and a traditional hide glue neck construction.
  • A mahogany neck with Les Paul Custom profile provides players with classic Gibson feel and playability.
  • Alnico Super '74 humbuckers, legendary tones (that helped shape the sound of rock 'n' roll in the '70s), a warms and smooth sounding neck pickup, a bridge pickup with plenty of bite and edge for aggressive, screaming leads and solos.
  • Sanded and ready
  • Plastic pick-guard, solid brass gold-plated hardware (including Schaller tuners, an ABR Thumbwheel bridge and a lightweight aluminium stop-bar tailpiece).

Fretting away the moments that make up a dull day

Installing frets
Great as it was, my Les Paul Custom had one serious problem that would not go away: its super-low profile frets produced annoying buzz high up on the fret-board. When sought, expert opinion was firm: ‘individual frets cannot be fixed; all the frets need to be replaced’.

Now, re-fretting is a labour-intensive job best left to an experienced luthier. Considering the high cost of re-fretting, nobody that I know in Pakistan has ever bothered having this operation done; guitarists keep playing over unevenly worn frets.
Frets seated

Since nothing in my life ever gets done without conducting deep research, it was decided that Steve Curtis of Guitar Workshop at Manchester would re-fret my Les Paul; earlier he had satisfactorily fixed a few of my guitars.

After consulting with Steve about the fret-wire’s gauge (the fret’s top width and the height from the fret-board) I looked at various brands of wire such as Jim Dunlop, HOSCO, JESCAR, StewMac. My Les Paul’s original frets were 2.35mm wide at the top.
  • Gibson guitars from the late 1950’s used 2.48mm or 2.413mm wide jumbo frets with 0.508mm tangs (which is ‘medium’ by today’s standards).
  • 1960’s guitars had 2.54mm width with bigger tangs.
  • Gold-plated machines
  • New Gibson frets are 2.69mm wide and 0.91mm high, whereas the new Les Paul frets are 2.45mm wide.

Traditional nickel-silver frets would cost GBP 160; I chose the extremely long-wearing stainless steel to avoid later repairs due to fret-wear. The job would set me back by GBP 200. Steve initially recommended JESCAR 55090 whose specifications were: 2.28mm wide and 1.40mm high. I finally chose the wider JESCAR FW51108-S (stainless steel).

Steve also gave two more choices: AllParts LT-0482 (width 2.80mm) and HOSCO HF-J1 (2.90mm wide and 1.30mm high); these I found a bit too jumbo for my playing style.

S/N: 190647 - Made in USA
Keeping other options open

Incidentally, HOSCO (catalogue, p.32) suggests that HF-M1 is a good replacement for Gibson guitars (2.40mm).

Note that HF-M3 at 2.62mm is good for Fenders. The latest American Fenders are 2.61mm wide and 1.168mm high ‘medium jumbo’. My Fender Telecaster Modern Player Plus is 2.70mm wide and 1.10mm high ‘medium jumbo’.

Rear of pickup selector
The following brands and their gauges help one get some idea about fret choices:
  • StewMac gauge: medium-higher = 2.34mm
  • All Parts gauges: Small 2.0-2.2mm, Medium 2.30-2.50mm, jumbo 2.65-2.90mm
  • Ibanez guitars use 2.99mm wide/1.47mm high frets

Modern Vs vintage ‘jumbo’ wire

Frequent or hard playing creates indentations over the frets and which require careful filing and polishing to produce perfectly pitched sound. An average player may not even bother but any guitarist with a distinctive ‘style and sound’ will depend on carefully setup guitars.
Pickups cavity

Every few years, professionals will have their guitars dressed or re-fretted. Their guitar technicians or roadies take care of this business. Currently ‘dressing’ of the frets costs GBP 65. The frets may be dressed a few times after which they require replacement. This seldom happens in an average player’s life.

Another important thing worth noting is, yesterday’s jumbo fret-wire is rather narrow by today’s standards. Players today prefer wider crowns and higher tangs in order to play the kinds of styles that were unknown in the past.

Before the operation at Steve's
I selected American JESCAR FW51108-S stainless steel fret-wire (2.75mm wide, 1.30mm high). This was ‘medium jumbo’ gauge, the same used on today’s Fender guitars.

Plain nuts

I had to sacrifice the original bone nut of the guitar. Since an entirely different fret-wire gauge was being installed, the old nut would not allow precise adjustments of intonation and string height.

Red marks on frets indicate BUZZ points
I feared a bleached nut would look as strange as a ‘white’ man walking hand-in-hand with a ‘black’ woman. Earlier, a man-made TUSQ material nut had already been installed by Steve on my Höfner 173ii. With a near-vintage guitar such as my Les Paul Custom, it was best to go nuts with a real unbleached ‘boner’.
Lie down, I think I love you

Electrifying trivia
  • The Gibson Les Paul Custom had 500K tone and volume pots until 1973.
  • From mid-1973 onward, Gibson switched to 300K tone and volume pots.
  • From 1977 to the late 1980s, they had 300K or 100K tone pots and 300K volume pots.
  • Les Paul Standard models had from 1990s onward, 300K linear taper and 500K audio taper pots.
  • Historic and Custom-Shop models had custom tapers: 0-3 audio taper, 3-7 linear taper, 7-10 audio taper.
Excuse me, while I kiss the sky

As for the capacitor values on my own Les Paul Custom, they are rated 0.22µF.

When was my guitar manufactured?

Although I bought a few serial number books prior to the internet revolution, dating a guitar still is an expert-level job.

  • My Les Paul Custom’s serial number is 190647.
  • It has ‘Made in USA” stamped behind the headstock.
  • The headstock has a volute on its back.
  • The mother-of-pearl Gibson logo on has an ‘i’ without a dot which is an important thing for a literary person to note. The ‘o’ and ‘b’ alphabets in the logo are of closed styling.
  • The ‘Gibson’ name is not embossed on both the pickups.
  • Mr Les Paul, please be seated
  • Careful research has revealed that my baby was born in June 1972 and which makes her middle-aged and as vintage as great wine.

My Baby's Comin' Home

Taking the guitar out of Pakistan and from England meant carrying a baby that weighed 9 lbs and 9.3 Ounces (4.11 Kg without the hard case). This pain needed to be taken. Email messages went back and forth between Steve and I to remove ambiguities. The man gets full marks for showing patient.
1974 Les Paul Custom Reissue

Steve had my Les Paul all re-fretted and ready at his workshop on a cloudy afternoon on 24th of March 2016. After being re-united with the guitar I breathed heavily down its neck (inspection really) and plugged into an all-valve Mesa-Boogie amplifier at PMT. It sounded absolutely wonderful and felt amazingly easy for bending notes. The GBP220 (Rs 30,000) I spent helped breathe a new soul into an old body.

Steve Curtis giving my Les Paul a final check
Beyond the third fret

Considering the rising cost of production abroad and the constantly devaluing Pakistani currency, any high-end item—be it a Rolex wristwatch or a high-end guitar—goes up in price by an average of 10% per annum. Gibson’s website indicates that the company now has a 1974 Les Paul Custom Re-Issue model retailing for a phenomenal price of $6,699 (Rupees 837,500, with July 2018 conversion rate).

In short, a 6,000 Rupee guitar that nobody within the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad could afford in 1981 is now worth a small fortune (140-fold increase in price in 37 years). Each year the guitar’s price kept increasing by 38%. Bankers take note.

Playing with a broken arm
If you are a rich Pakistani guitarist, I highly recommend that you get rid of those extra plots in the DHA and buy quality guitars instead.

Related articles and credits

Read more about music-related articles HERE

Photographs 7-12 courtesy of Steve Curtis at Guitar Workshop, Manchester, England

Photographs 13-21 and 23 by the writer

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017