date_range 1966

Eric Clapton’s 1959/60 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Summers Burst”

This is the guitar that Eric used as his main with the Cream from around July 1966 to mid-1967. He purchased this guitar from Andy Summers (who later went on the form The Police) after his own Les Paul was stolen sometime in mid-1966. The two guitars were originally purchased from the same store, Summers being the first of the two to buy one.

About the time that we share a stage at the Flamingo, I acquire a new Gibson from a store on Charing Cross Road. When Eric sees me with it, a ’59 Les Paul Sunburst, he asks where I bought it. I innocently tell him that they have another one on sale for eighty quid and he could go get it. Eric gets the other Les Paul and eventually changes the sound of rock guitar forever. [One Train Later: A Memoir by Andy Summers, p. 140]

As said, Clapton’s Les Paul that he used with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers gets stolen sometime during the early Cream rehearsals, and for a brief period of time he uses a borrowed Les Paul with a Bigsby tremolo – as seen at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. As he obviously needed a guitar of his own, preferably something that would sound as close as possible to the stolen one, Clapton contacted Andy Summers:

Knowing that I have the other one, Eric starts calling and asking me to sell it to him. By this time, I have moved on to a Fender Telecaster, and I also think that there’s something wrong, with my Les Paul, the back pickup doesn’t work or something. […] He is offering me two hundred pounds, which is more than twice what I paid for it. […] The next day I drop off the Les Paul at Advision in the West End, where Eric’s in the middle of recording with Jack and Ginger. […] I go into the toilet at the side of the reception area and when I come out I can hear Eric’s voice over the PA system, which is inadvertently hooked into the foyer. He is remarking how great the guitar is, just like his old one. [One Train Later: A Memoir by Andy Summers, p. 147]

Fresh Cream

Now comes the subject of whether the guitar was used on the Fresh Cream, and if so – to what extent. The album was recorded over a period of several months, and unfortunately, most of the sessions were not photographed or documented in a way that would tell us for sure which guitar he used. Clapton himself mentioned in an interview with Guitar World [Eric Clapton: Blues Power;] that he borrowed a guitar to record the album, most likely referencing the Les Paul Standard with a Bigsby tremolo. Tony Bacon in his book [Tony Bacon: Million Dollar Les Paul: In Search Of The Most Valuable Guitar In The World] however writes that Clapton used the guitar he purchased from Andy Summers to record the songs “Spoonful” and “I Feel Free”.

This sort of gives us an idea of what the truth likely was. Given the span of time over the album was recorded, and the fact that Eric did indeed use a borrowed Les Paul around July 1966, and also Andy mentioning that the guitar had problems with the bridge pickup (therefore it likely required some fixing before Eric could actually use it) Fresh Cream was most likely recorded with using the mix of the Bigsby burst and the Summers burst.

Clapton with the Summers Burst during a German TV show "Beat Club" which aired in 1966. Source: YouTube

Clapton with the Summers Burst during a German TV show “Beat Club” which aired in 1966. Source: YouTube

From the photo above you can notice that this guitar too, like the Beano Burst, had its pickup covers removed – likely by Clapton himself, who obviously considered this mod to play an important role in his sound since it was present on both of the guitars. You’ll also notice the lack of the poker chip (the toggle switch ring) and the fact that the guitar has reflector knobs as opposed to the bonnet knobs.

Dating the Summers burst

The reflector knobs are exclusive to the 1960 model and were introduced to the guitar around the same time as when the white plastic cover on the neck humbucker was discontinued. [1958, 1959, 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Standard Guitar] Based on the knobs, and the fact that the Summers burst has two black humbuckers (Gibson was not exactly consistent with these as the dual black humbuckers were put into guitars at the same time as white ones), this guitar is suspected by many to be a 1960 model, as opposed to 1959 as suspected by Andy Summers himself.

Another thing worth pointing it is that the pickguard was initially removed, but Clapton seemed to have added it by late 1966, as most of the photos from around the period show the guitar with a white pickguard. Towards mid-1967, the pickguard was gone once again [Photo of Eric CLAPTON and CREAM, DENMARK – MARCH 01]

Not as good as the Beano?

As a final note, even though Clapton was allegedly satisfied with the guitar upon receiving it, it seems that he still felt like it didn’t compete with his old Les Paul – the Beano burst.

All during Cream I didn’t really have a favorite guitar because I never really replaced the Les Paul, and I was constantly searching for something to come up to scratch. I’d play the ES-335, or the SG or this Firebird. [Eric Clapton: Blues Power –]

Another factor that likely played a role in Clapton eventually abandoning this guitar is the fact the headstock became damaged and bruised by 1968 [Eric Clapton with Cream circa 1968, Michael Ochs Archives] Even though we couldn’t find any info about repairs being made on the guitar, it does seem highly likely.

From 1968 on the guitar basically disappeared and we haven’t been able to find any mention of it – neither by Eric, Andy, or anyone else close to that circle. Some say it was stolen, other say Eric threw it or gave it away to someone since it was no longer playable due to headstock damage. If you happen to know anything really concerning this guitars’ whereabouts from 1968 on, please be sure to send us a message.

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