Inside Gibson's Emerging Partnership With TOOL's Adam Jones

Ask any guitarist what comes to mind when they see silver on black and they'll all mention the same name: Tool's Adam Jones.

Jones' modified 1979 Gibson Les Paul Custom in silverburst is as closely associated with his band as he is. The guitar has been recorded on every Tool album and played at every Tool concert for the past 30 years.

For someone who rarely speaks to the media, Jones has done most of his talking over the years through his iconic guitar. Last summer, as Tool was preparing its highly-anticipated Fear Inoculum album, Jones and Gibson finally made their longstanding association official.

This fall, Gibson and Jones unveiled the first stage of their partnership — the limited-edition Adam Jones 1979 Les Paul Custom Vintage Silverburst Aged & Signed and the Adam Jones 1979 Les Paul Custom Silverburst Vintage Original Spec. (VOS) — all of which sold out within hours of becoming available.

Gibson CMO Cesar Gueikian is a longtime Tool fan, who's spent hours of his life mired in odd meter, figuring out Jones' infinitely complex guitar parts. He tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A that collaborating with Jones has been a passion project, a dream come true and unlike anything he's done before at Gibson.

In the QN'A below, Gueikian takes us inside Gibson's relationship with Jones, Jones' relationship to his beloved No. 1 guitar, how the guitar business has exploded in 2020 and what's next.

Photos courtesy of Gibson

Before we get into the Adam Jones guitar, specifically, do you have any more news on this pallet of guitars that was stolen just before Halloween?

We don’t yet. We’ve been working with Sweetwater. These were [stolen out of] Sweetwater’s truck. So we’ve been working with Sweetwater, with the police department and with a detective that’s been appointed on the case to see if they can find a trace.

Since you’ve been at Gibson, have you ever experienced something like this?

No, this is really a first of its kinds, with an artist who’s in such demand. I’ve personally been working with Adam now for a long time. It was a highly anticipated moment. You’ve seen how we announced it with “The Witness” and the music video/short film we put out.

There was a lot of anticipation for this first stage of our relationship with Adam. I guess that led to a bit of an organized crime situation waiting for [the guitars].

And these are limited-edition guitars, so you can’t just build a few more and send those out to the affected customers.

That’s exactly right. I’m in solutions thinking mode right now, and I have a couple of ideas that I’ve been brainstorming with Adam. I haven’t made a decision yet on which way we’re going, but I am working on a solution for those 13 [customers].

Photo: Gibson

What’s it been like at Gibson during the pandemic in general? How have things changed for you?

Since this crisis happened at the beginning of the year, we pivoted really hard to think about our fans at home in different circumstances and how we could deliver a better experience for them to go through this particular situation.

We launched a lot of initiatives that were aimed at that, creating engagement, offering really good original content through Gibson TV, launching ‘Guitar of the Day’ with Mark Agnesi, launching our virtual guitar tech service, so that if you are at home, we can put our techs to work for you and help you set up your instrument to make it a better playing experience, Gibson or any other brand.

Our partnership with MusiCares to fund their relief fund — we've been very focused on that sort of artist and fan engagement through our channels and our platforms.

On the other hand, what we saw was a huge increase in demand [for our products]. We are pretty severely sold out and backordered. The demand's been at the highest it’s ever been in the history of the company.

I think there’s a bit of a parallel to what we saw in the second world war where a lot of piano players spent more time playing. A lot of great music and great virtuosos came out of that bad situation.

Right now I think we’re seeing that happening again. We’re seeing a lot of guitar players — male and female, across all genres of music — being created and a lot guitar players having more time to create music. That’s leading to a record demand.

Regarding the Adam Jones guitar, I think it’s rare that a finish is so closely associated with a single guitar player. When did Gibson first use the silverburst and how did Adam Jones wind up owning one?

The first year in which we did silverburst was 1978. There’s a small number of ’78 silverbursts, the majority of which have actually faded from being a true silverburst, rather they go into this unique combination of yellow and green because of this super high-quality organic nitrocellulose lacquer that we continue to use to this day that makes the Gibson guitars age so gracefully.

Adam’s guitar shipped out of the factory in December of 1979. He ends up with the guitar in the early-‘80s, when he started playing guitar. I don’t know exactly what year he got it.

I’ve always been a very big fan of Tool and their music. I like that technical aspect of how beautiful the melodies are but how technical the songs are. I’ve always learned the songs and played them. I joke with Adam that my original ’79, which shipped out of the factory in April, is older than his; I have the older brother.

His guitar got a couple of [modifications]. He put a Seymour Duncan DDJ in the bridge pickup.

One cool thing that we did was, [Maricela Juarez] MJ, the lady who wound that original pickup in the early-‘80s is still with Seymour Duncan. We spoke with Seymour himself and we said we want MJ to wind these pickups for the release. He was like, ‘Let’s do it!’

So the lady who wound the original pickups, those DDJ’s that ended up on the Adam guitar, is the same lady who wound the pickups on the signature models.

So the same hands went into both the old and the new guitars.

Yes. That guitar has obviously aged and changed, ‘cause Adam has played it and it’s his No. 1 guitar. It’s aged in a very unique way. For example: where he puts his finger right underneath the pickup ring on the bridge, he’s taken the paint off. Everything of the original guitar was recreated in this aged replica. It’s been a passion project for me, bringing this to life.

We’re going to be doing a lot with Adam. This is just the beginning.

When did this relationship with Adam begin? Who approached whom?

We connected about a year and a half ago. It was his tour manager, Wes, who suggested that we connect. He suggested it to Adam and then he reached out to us.

Adam and I started talking with Peter Leinheiser from my entertainment relations team. Peter worked with Adam on a day-to-day basis, but for me because I’m so passionate about Tool and their music, I took it personally.

I got involved in the project directly. …We were very conscious of making Adam feel like he was Gibson family.

It’s great to see the enthusiasm from both sides. This has certainly been years in the making. Adam has always played this guitar, but to make it official with Gibson after so many years must have been a big moment.

It is. I’m humbled by his humbleness.

He kept thanking me for [having] us working with him. I kept saying, ‘Well, we are the ones thanking you for working with us!’ We’ve never lost that [mutual admiration].

I love how gracious and humble he is. Adam is one of the biggest guitar influencers of all-time. All of the artists we work with are like that, otherwise we wouldn’t be working with them. I love that theme, whether it’s Slash, or Adam, or Billy Gibbons, or Sheryl Crow, or a young artist like Orianthi. That makes it very special.

Adam even composed a new piece of music and created an animated short film to celebrate this run of limited-edition guitars: "The Witness." What's it like to have that level of creative investment from Adam?

It is totally epic. And it’s an epic song that works perfectly with the concept of the animated short film ... how that character comes to Earth and where he lands and how it develops into what it develops into. How the soul of it basically enters the guitar. The song builds up to tell that story through the music and the video.

One thing I love about this story is that Adam bought this guitar with his own money as a teenager or young adult. It became famous in his hands, and now you have this relationship that celebrates the endurance of that instrument, this company and the music it all contributed to.

You’re right. And to your earlier point, the fact that the silverburst is so closely associated with Adam. This is a guitar that means a lot to him; it’s been with him since then. It’s been on every tour with him. It’s what everybody says, 'If my house is on fire and I have to grab one thing...' this is the one thing Adam is going to take with him, in addition to his wife and the kids.

To me it’s paying tribute to him, saying ‘Thank you, Adam.’ For everything he’s done for music, for Gibson and for the silverburst. I think the relationship is one that I cherish very much. It’s an amazing opportunity to be working with him.

Will there eventually be a production line version of this Adam Jones Signature guitar?

All of it is in the cards. We’re working on all of that right now. These projects take time as we work on prototypes, we work on the ideas, we come up with the concepts and Adam tries them. It’s all in motion and has been for a few months. We also layer into that the unique, cool factors we want to bring in.

I work with Adam and let him have full creative freedom with that, just like you saw with “The Witness,” and across all brands. So I’ll leave you with the fact that it’s going to be across brands.

How about a Gibson TV appearance for Adam?

I like to work with Adam at Adam’s pace. He loves designing and creating and doing what we did with “The Witness.” I am never going to ask Adam to get on camera for Gibson TV, it’s going to be when Adam says he’s ready.

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