Eric Clapton’s 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Beano Burst”
Eric used this guitar during the John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers era, although it is likely not the only Les Paul he owned at that time. In his autobiography [Clapton: The Autobiography] Eric mentions buying a couple of guitars prior heading to Greece in 1966 and leaving one Les Paul behind after he bailed out and left the Juniors (a Greek band he had a short stint with). This could possibly mean that the Les Paul that he used in the early days of the Bluesbreakers, prior to the trip to Greece, was actually a different guitar.
So to avoid any confusion, the Beano Burst is the guitar that Eric was photographed with during the studio sessions with John Mayall, which of course produced the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album. Most of the photos from the Bluesbreakers era do indeed show Eric using a burst Les Paul, but due to things said in Eric’s autobiography, and due to fact that most of these photos are too grainy to see any detail on the guitar, it is almost impossible to figure out whether this is one same guitar or a couple of different ones.
As far as the guitars’ origins, most sources seem to agree upon the same story that Eric purchased the guitar in 1965 in Lew Davis’ guitar shop on Charing Cross Road in London. This info seems to originate from Andy Summers’s biography [One Train Later: A Memoir by Andy Summers, p. 140], who mentioned that Eric bought the guitar around the time the two shared a stage at The Flamingo Club in Soho, London. According to the 1965 Eric Clapton Tour and Set List Archive over at WhereisEric.com, Clapton played at the Flamingo numerous times during the course of the year but most of the gigs were between April and July, which gives a close approximation of when Eric purchased the guitar.
The exact year of manufacture is also subject of many debates. Apparently, Clapton said somewhere that the guitar had a really slim neck, which is indeed more typical to the models made in 1960. This seems to be the main piece info around which the year 1960 revolves, but in reality, it’s all just a guess, and without the serial number it is impossible to tell for sure.
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
In April 1966 the Bluesbreakers entered the Decca Studios in London and recorded their first studio album, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Fortunately for us, there were quite a few photos taken during the studio sessions showing Eric using the Gibson Les Paul, making at least a part of the history of this guitar and the whole Bluesbreakers era a tiny bit less mysterious.
Note that by this time Eric had removed the pickup covers from the guitar, which revealed a black humbucker in the bridge, and a white one in the neck. According to GuitarHQ [1958, 1959, 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Standard Guitar], this was characteristic for both the 1959 and the 1960 model.
After Clapton finished the sessions he decided to form a for a trio with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce called “Cream” (the idea behind the name was apparently Eric’s, and meant that the three were considered the “cream of the crop” of their respective roles at the time). Unfortunately, by the time the band got to play on stage, the Beano Burst was stolen. In fact, Clapton apparently had to borrow Keith Richard’s Les Paul with a Bigsby tremolo (famously used on “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”) for Cream’s debut gig in July 1966 (see Keith’s 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard section for more info). Note that this is far from being set in stone, and the guitar could’ve been just another Les Paul with a Bigsby.
That was the best Les Paul I ever had… just a regular sunburst Les Paul that I bought in one of the shops in London right after I’d seen Freddie King’s album cover of Let’s Hide Away And Dance Away, where he’s playing an gold-top. It had humbuckers and was almost brand new — original case with that lovely purple velvet lining. Just magnificent. I never really found one as good as that. I do miss that one. [Guitar World – Interview with Eric Clapton (issue number needed)]
About the theft itself, Clapton himself said that the guitar was stolen during the rehearsals for Cream [Eric Clapton: Blues Power – GuitarWorld.com], so likely sometime in June or July 1966. Apparently, the three members of Cream were meeting secretly and rehearsed wherever they could, since all three were still officially obligated to other bands, so they could’ve ended up at some shady place where things tended to disappear on average. In any case, if you find a more detailed story regarding the circumstances of the guitar being stolen, please be sure to forward it to us.
Beano Burst possibly found?
The guitar remained a mystery and a subject of many theories from the day it was stolen. One of those theories is very recent and comes from Joe Bonamassa. In an interview with Guitarist magazine in 2016, Joe revealed that he knows where the Beano Burst is:
It’s a ’59, not a ’60, it’s got double-white humbucker in the front and it’s got a double-black in the bridge. It has a pretty plain top and it is in a collection on the East Coast of America. That’s all I can tell you – and that’s all I will say. It still exists and I haven’t seen it, but I have it on good authority from people who have. And it’s got the little ‘fingerprint’ by the pots and they can trace it back [Exclusive: Eric Clapton’s ‘Beano’ Les Paul is “in US collection”, claims Joe Bonamassa]
No new info has resurfaced at the time of making this list, but we’re curious to see if this story develops any further. It will certainly be very hard to connect this guitar to Eric Clapton, even though some details seem to match from Joe’s description. It seems that Eric himself has no info about the exact serial number on the guitar, and most of the identification would have to be just from the memory of something that happened 50 years ago.