Eric Clapton’s Les Paul Custom (Paul Kossoff)
There has been some confusion regarding this particular guitar, but the story basically goes that sometime during the Blind Faith North American tour, for which the opening acts for Blind Faith included Free, Taste, and Delaney & Bonnie; Clapton and Paul Kossoff (Free) swapped guitars. [Paul Kossoff – The Back Street Crawler; Tom Guerra] This most likely happened either in July or August 1969 [Concerts Wiki – Blind Faith]
As far as these things go, this story seems to be pretty solid. It is known that Paul Kossoff gave Eric his Les Paul Custom in exchange for a Darkburst Les Paul that Eric played on the Blind Faith tour. This has indeed been confirmed by Eric himself in a typescript note that accompanied the above mentioned Les Paul Standard Darkburst which was sold in 2000 at Christie’s [Eric Clapton/Paul Kossoff/Cream/Blind Faith/Free – Christie’s]
Unfortunately, Clapton was only seen playing a three-pickup Les Paul Custom around these dates, and Kossoff himself was never seen playing such a guitar prior to the exchange – he only had a two-pickup 1955 Custom which was actually one of his first guitars (more on this guitar on Paul Kossoff’s gear page). This was years prior to 1968/69 when the exchange took place, so it is possible that Kossoff didn’t have that Custom anymore.
One possible solution to this mystery might simply be that Eric was never photographed using Kossoff’s Les Paul Custom, and Kossoff himself was never photographed with it prior to the exchange. Clapton used a three-pickup Les Paul Custom (presumably the same one seen on the Disraeli Gears sessions) with Delaney and Bonnie, and in 1979 he gave that guitar to Albert Lee. All this time Kossoff’s Custom is somewhere safe among Clapton’s guitars.
The second plausible theory is that the Custom that Eric used with Delaney & Bonnie was Kossoff’s guitar.
Clapton toured with Delaney and Bonnie right after the US Blind Faith tour (during which the exchange likely took place), so this would make sense if looked at from that perspective.
Another thing that this theory has it going for itself is that that Custom, compared to the one seen on Disraeli Gears sessions, had no pickup covers and pickguard. But, this isn’t much to go by because they can be removed very easily, so the popular theory is that they are the same guitar. But, of course, there’s at least a chance that they are not the same guitar after all.
Lastly, Albert Lee mentioned that the Les Paul Custom that was given to him by Eric was used with both Delaney & Bonnie and Cream – no mention of Kossoff.
An interesting detail to point out is that Lee’s Custom had both the pickup covers and the pickguard installed [Albert Lee with Eric Clapton at Ahoy Rotterdam – Rob Vershorst Getty Images] while, as mentioned previously, Eric’s Custom didn’t have them last time it was seen. So, this again begs the question – could’ve they been simply re-installed sometime in the mid-70s? Or is it more likely that these are two different Customs?
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