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 Kossoff swapped guitars. [Paul Kossoff – The Back Street Crawler; Tom Guerra] According to what we’ve been able to find, this 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 unlikely that Kossoff still had the Custom with him.
The 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 continued using the 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 and 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 from that perspective. This guitar, compared to the one seen on Disraeli Gears sessions, also had no pickup covers and pickguard – which isn’t much to go by because they can be removed very easily, but it could also possibly mean that they were two different guitars 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. 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. Could’ve they been simply re-installed sometime in the mid-70s? Or is it more likely that these are two different Custom after all?