The Gordon-Smith GS1
Around 1981, the U.K. Subs were on tour and we decided to add a second guitar on two songs courtesy of Charlie. (You Don't Belong and New York State Police). I was using 3 Marshall half stacks where one was on stand-by in case of a problem, so it was no big deal to plug Charlie into one - we needed a Guitar for him however, so on our travels we dropped into a music store and checked out what was on offer.
“What do you think of this?” he asked me holding up a very basic Les Paul Jr. style guitar. I gave it the once over and proclaimed it sound. Later that day, at the sound-check we plugged it in and it simply blew away the Gibson SG's I was at that time using. The Guitar was the Gordon-Smith GS1. It was thick and rich, with great natural overdrive. Right then I decided to switch. I bought a stock GS1 and contacted John Smith at Gordon-Smith. I asked if he could build me two more in an eggshell black. The guitars were excellent.
The GS1, as John Smith likes to say, is the Zippo lighter of Guitars - they just work! The GS1 is the most basic Guitar in the Gordon-Smith arsenal with a single proprietary humbucker pick-up on a double cutaway Les Paul Jr. shape. It has a volume control with a coil tap transforming the pick-up to a single coil and a tone control. The GS1 has a fixed neck, is adorned with chrome fittings and is finished with a small and simple scratch plate.
My custom GS1 guitars were later added to the production catalogue as, if I remember correctly, the Black Shadow GS1. Contrary to what a lot of people say, I don't find the GS1 to be a versatile instrument at all. In fact, to my ear it has but one sound: but what a sound!
Gordon-Smith makes many other styles, both copies and their own designs. These are generally finished with a little more flare, but for what they do, the GS1 is perfect and that's why they quickly became the guitar of choice for Punk bands.
Gordon-Smiths mostly, the GS1 and it's closely related GS2, GS1.5 and GS1-60 (the GS1.5 has an additional single core pick-up at the neck, the GS2 has two humbuckers while the GS1-60 is a single cutaway), are used by the likes of Leatherface, Buzzcocks, 999, Billy Bragg, Tears For Fears and even Peter Frampton.
My original GS1s are sadly long gone, but I started a fresh collection when I rejoined the Subs in the 90s. This time around I had John put all the dot inlays on the neck aligned to the top instead of the centre of the fret board. So anytime you buy a used GS1 with this inlay configuration you know it was originally custom built for me.
Currently I own 3 GS1s (all from 2001), all in various stages of road distress. Two are my original eggshell black (although after so many tours it's hard to tell the colour of the Spruce one - the other two are Mahogany), and the other natural... see picture above
Aside from the aforementioned inlay and a renaming as 'Stage', they are standard issue. Additionally, I own a 2000 'Stage' GS1 12 string in eggshell black and a crazy experimental 2001 Les Paul GS2 without a top contour we named the Custom Recording Elite. The idea was to build an extra thick, extra dense guitar with a view to adding sustain. It had mixed results.
I used the GS1 exclusively for the rhythm guitar on Endangered Species, doing the lead mostly on the Fender Stratocaster.
Nicky Garratt - August 23rd, 2010