John Nolan’s Les Paul Custom


Bored!…Powdermonkeys… this guitar was there.

Last weekend my band had a gig in Geelong, Victoria. It was a mini festival held at the Barwon Club. On the bill was Spencer P. Jones from Beasts Of Bourbon and his band The Escape Committee, featuring John Nolan on lead guitar. I knew of John from his previous bands, the legendary ‘Bored!’ and ‘Powdermonkeys’… both featuring the late, great Tim Hemensley on bass/vocals.


Before our set I had a look around the club as the promoters had pasted old photos on the walls of all the legendary bands that had played in Geelong… Cosmic Psychos, Bored!, Dirty Lovers, Powder Monkeys plus heaps more. It was fascinating as most of the photos were from the late 80’s/early 90’s and had never been published… these were an important part of Australia’s rock history. Among the photo’s was a young John Nolan, long hair flailing over his Les Paul in the Powdermonkeys.


I kept my eye out for John but couldn’t spot him. Just before Spencer was about to start his set, I saw a tall, thin, frail looking guy walk towards the stage with a cane. I looked at the photo on the wall and back at the thin guy. Holy shit… it was John. I’d heard he’s had some health problems over the years, but was a little shocked at how frail he looked.

John plugged in solitary Boss pedal into his Marshall JMP and let rip with his beautiful wine red Les Paul Custom. He switched into a rock star. John really suited Spencer’s songs, scattering his loose, twisted leads over Spencer’s classics. He added an element of danger that fit the songs like a glove.


After the set, I jumped onstage and asked John if I could snap some shots of his Les Paul. He’s a very kind, friendly dude. He explained that back in the day when he was working for Greville Records, they would go on record buying trips to the USA to get stock for the shop. On one of these trips to New York (…’before Guiliani cleaned up the place’) John found this 70’s Les Paul Custom in a hock shop for $300. They also found a 60’s Gretsch for 300 bucks, which they promptly sold for 3 grand on their return to Australia and therefore covering the cost of their trip! John said he’d never sell his Les Paul though.

I checked out John’s guitar and could see why he’s hung onto it. Apart from sounding great and looking kick ass…John’s Les Paul is medium weight with the slim 70’s neck that I love. It looks to be totally original… apart from the neck pickup either being changed or having the cover removed. The nickel covering on the bridge humbucker has turned a rusty pale green. Also, the fine tuners on the stop tailpiece had been removed/lost years ago… and the pickup selector switch had snapped off, permanently sticking this guitar in ‘rock’ mode… as it should be.

John recently sent me some more info on his Custom…“the Les Paul is a 1977 custom shop guitar and seemed to have had the original pick-ups replaced. It sounded like ‘mud’. I had bought a Gibson ’57 P.A.F {25th anniversary – hand wound to orig speks and wax potted} for my Explorer but with the thinner body of the Explorer the pick-up just had too much top end. The Les Paul was just sitting around the back of the shop not being used so I dropped the ’57 re-issue P.A.F into the Les Paul and WOW- the sky opened up and there was the sound I’d been looking for all my life.

The ’77 Les Paul is just one big chunk of wood {none of those holes under the top plate to make it lighter, like they make them now}. It is the heaviest guitar I have ever put around my neck. If this guitar is medium weight, I would like to see a Les Paul that is heavier than mine. “yet to happen” Like all my Gibson’s it has an ebony fretboard which I just love. The reason it’s in such bad condition is that when I spent my year in hospital, the Les Paul just sat in it’s case after been placed there after a gig. It needs to be really fixed up and a new bridge put on it. Also I have another, better neck pick-up for it. Thanks for the article. For me, you can’t beat a good Les Paul through an old Marshall for that classic Aussie ‘crunch’ – John Nolan”



After I snapped the shots, a few Geelong locals crowded John and asked him questions for some photos. Bored! and Powdermonkeys were legendary in Geelong… and still are.