Paul Kossoff (born September 14 1950 in North London, England – died March 19 1976) was a rock guitarist best known as a member of the band Free. He started playing in the mid ’60s and his first professional gig was with Black Cat Bones. In April 1968 he teamed up with Paul Rodgers (vocals), Simon Kirke (drums), and Andy Fraser (bass) to form Free, which by the early 1970s became one of the biggest-selling British blues rock bands. They sold more than 20 million albums around the world, and their number one hit “All Right Now” remains a rock staple, and had been entered into ASCAP’s “One Million” airplay singles club.
Paul’s guitar of choice was a Gibson Les Paul for the most part of his career, and he was one of the people responsible for the spike in popularity of that guitar that occurred in the years following his death. He mostly played late 1950s models, which are now considered to be the best Les Paul guitars ever made – often referred to as “The Holy Grail” Les Pauls. His most iconic guitar is perhaps the one with clear coat finish that appeared on Top of the Pops show, and on the Isle of Wight concert in 1970.
Paul Kossoff’s Electric Guitars:
1960s Eko 500
|This was Paul’s first electric guitar ever, purchased around the period when he was 16 years old. The exact model of the guitar is unfortunately unknown, but from the following quote from Paul we can take somewhat of a safe guess:
Guessing this was year 1966, the models which fit Paul’s description the best are the 500 model and the 700 model. The 500 model was produced until 1965 and featured Jaguar-style body, and the 700 model was made during the same time period but featured a very unique triple-cutaway design. Both of the models were available in gold finish, and they were pretty much the same guitar in regard to the pickups and electronics used.
As far as which of the two Paul actually owned – that’s very hard to say. But due to fact that the 700 model had a very unique body shape, it is likely that Paul would’ve mentioned it, so that’s somewhat of a pointer towards the 500 being the one. If you happen to know anything more please be sure to message us using the form at the bottom of this page.
1957 Gibson Les Paul Junior
|Not long after Paul bought his first electric guitar, a 1960 Eko, he found a job at Selmer’s music shop in Charring Cross Rd. in London. A couple of months worth of savings allowed him to make a switch to a more serious instrument, his first Gibson.
The guitar in question was a 1957 Les Paul Junior finished in TV yellow. This particular finish was developed in 1954 by Gibson in order to solve the problem of the actual white finish appearing too bright and reflective on the old black and white TVs. This custom finish solved that problem, and it actually looked white when seen through an old TV set.
Paul’s particular guitar was made in 1957 and featured a single cutout body, and a single P90 pickup in the bridge position. It was used from 1966 up until the point when he bought a 1955 Les Paul Custom. From then on it most likely remained in his possession until his untimely death in 1976.
The guitar is currently owned by the Hard Rock Cafe.
1955 Gibson Les Paul Custom
|Again just a couple of months after he bought the Les Paul Junior, Paul was able to make a step up and switch a Gibson Les Paul Custom. This guitar was allegedly bought by Paul’s father David at Manny’s guitar shop in New York..
This is a quite important guitar in Paul’s life as it represents a direction towards Koss was heading to. He clearly wasn’t satisfied with a single P90 Junior, and nothing but the ‘real’ Les Paul was going to fulfill his needs. This Custom model was still one step away from the real thing, which in Paul’s mind probably looked as a Les Paul Standard which he laid his eye on when he first saw Eric Clapton live with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at The Refectory in north London in 1966.
Kossoff’s Les Paul Custom didn’t feature a set of humbuckers like Clapton’s guitar, but was equipped with a P90 single-coil in the bridge and a “staple” Alnico P90 in the neck position – meaning that the guitar was still more on the jazz side, when Paul was clearly more interested in a heavier rock and roll sound.
As far as the specs on the guitar – the body was made from a single piece of mahogany wood and it featured black finish with white binding on both edges. The neck was also made of mahogany, and it featured mother of pearl block inlays and a split-diamond headstock inlay. All the hardware was gold-plated, including the six original Kluston tuners.
Paul allegedly used this guitar for a very short period of time with his band Black Cat Bones before it somehow ended up with a guy called Howard Parker. Parker was a well known figure at the time, and he used to hang around and travel with bands such as The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. According to the information on the eBay auction of this guitar (has since been deleted from the web), Parker got the guitar from Cream’s management company in 1967, meaning that Clapton himself possibly also used this guitar at some point.
1950s Gibson Les Paul Standard
|Paul acquired this guitar when he was around 17 years old (circa 1967), at the time of playing in his first band Black Cat Bones. Although this is purely just us guessing – it is likely that he traded this guitar for his 55′ Les Paul Custom since that guitar basically disappeared from that point on. There’s also some stories that the Custom ended up with Clapton’s management (read about it above), so if Paul indeed swaped the Custom for this one, this guitar might have been actually played by Clapton as well.
What’s troubling about this particular guitar is that basically the only proof of it actually belonging to Paul is a photo taken presumably outside of his house when he was around 16-17 years old (we’re basing this assumption of the shortness of his hair, so take it with a grain of salt). The problem is that it’s a photo of a photo, making any sort of theory crafting based on the flame of the body a useless effort because of the bad picture quality.
Another weird thing is that there was another Les Paul Standard associated with Kossoff in those early days, which had a tiger stripe pattern on the body, visually much more distinct than the one on the guitar that Paul was photographed before. To see the photos of this guitar look at the section right bellow this one.
So, is it possible that young Kossoff within just couple of months went through selling his Les Paul Custom, buying a Les Paul Standard, and then buying another Les Paul Standard with a tiger stripe body? Or are the two Les Paul Standards actually one same guitar? Both of these theories are plausible, and both are equally speculative.
As far as what happened to this guitar in the following years – it could’ve ended up as the famous stripped Les Paul that Kossoff used on Top of the Pops, or it could be the very same guitar that had a broken headstock at one point, and then ended up with Arthur Ramm some years later.
1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard
|If you’ve read the previous section you basically know most of what we’ve gathered on this guitar. It was used by Kossoff during his early years with the band Black Cat Bones, and it had highly visible ‘flames’ on the body.
Since there’s somewhat of a proof of Koss owning two Les Paul Standards at the same time, months before he laid his hands on two of his best known guitars (dark burst, and the one with stripped paint), that means that at the time of recording Free’s first album he must have used one of those two Les Pauls. The question of which one in particular is probably never going to be answered, unless we dig up a quote from someone who was present at the studio sessions.
There’s couple of photos of this guitar over at Burt Serial Log website, including some photos of it in it’s current state – Bursts from 1960 (0 0195).
1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom
|Very little is known about the origin of this guitar, but as far as trying to put things into chronological order – Paul acquired around the time when Free was about to be formed.
From then on the story goes that Paul traded it with Eric Clapton in the summer of 1969 for a dark-burst 1958 Les Paul Standard. Clapton had the three-pickup Custom for couple of years before giving/selling it to Albert Lee who toured with him for five years starting from 1978. Just recently guitar allegedly appeared on an eBay auction, and that seems to be the source of origin of the rumor that Albert now owns the guitar, even though he himself wasn’t ever quotes saying so – at least not to our knowledge.
As far as the specs – the guitar was of course finished in black, and featured mahogany body and neck, three Gibson PAF pickups, ABR-1 bridge, and a Kluson tuners.
1958 Les Paul Standard Darkburst
|Paul got this guitar in mid 1969 during a joined tour with Blind Faith. He and Eric Clapton swapped guitars, in which process Paul said goodbyes to his 1957 Les Paul Custom with three pickups.
Worth noting is that when this guitar appeared on auction at Christies, their website claimed that Clapton purchased the guitar in 1968 and used it on Cream’s Farewell tour and while playing with Blind Faith in the summer of 1969. This basically debunks the theory that the guitar was used in studio by Clapton on the two Cream albums, although you’ll often hear people claiming otherwise. The guitar that Eric used with Cream in the early day was the one he acquired from Andy Summers (you can read more about this over at Eric Clapton’s gear page)
Paul used this guitar from the point when he acquired it, up until his untimely death in 1976 (it might have been sold some time prior to his death). It was likely used in the studio on all of the albums with Free, since it held special importance for Paul because it’s previous owned was Eric Clapton who was one of Kossoff main influences.
After his death the guitar was sold to Phil Harris, who is a well known guitar collector. It changed hands again in late 70s, and ended up with Max Kay of EFR Guitars. In the early 80s it was again sold to Paul Rodgers who owned it until early 2000s when it was sold to a private collector with all the profits donated to the Paul Kossoff Foundation.
19?? Gibson Les Paul Standard (Stripped)
|Stripped down Les Paul Standard that was most famously used on Top of the Pops on “Alright Now”, and during the Isle of Wright gig in 1970.
Much of this guitar’s history is still unfortunately a mystery. It was allegedly originally a late 50s burst with a Bigsby tremolo, which Paul (or more likely someone who owned the guitar prior to him) stripped down to the bare wood and then refinished with some clear coat. The guitar also seems to feature brown finish on the back of the body which would indicate that it was originally a gold top and not a burst, but the residue left from the original paint around the control knobs seems to point towards sunburst after all.
Paul used this guitar from 1969 up until 1974 when he sold it for mere 550 pounds ($830 then, or around $4,000 in today’s value) to Mike Gooch. The story was also confirmed by one of our visitors, who was kind enough to let us share some of it here:
There’s some talk that the guitar was once again sold just couple of years back through Christie’s auction, although we haven’t been able to find anything official on their website. It briefly belonged to Arthur Ramm from late 1972 to late 1973, when Paul swapped it for Arhur’s refinished Goldtop after he broke his Les Paul Standard at the end of Free’s last gig (more about this in the section below).
1958/59 Gibson Les Paul Standard
|Paul bought this guitar sometime in the early 70s and used it until his untimely death in 1976, with a small pause that occurred during a period when the guitar was damaged. This occurred at the end of Free’s final concert in 1972 when Paul tossed the guitar in the air and walked away as it came down splitting the headstock in two pieces.
After that gig Paul walked over to Arthur Ramm, who played in a band called ‘Beckett’ which supported Free in the early 1970s, and asked him if he would be willing to swap his 1968 Les Paul Goldtop that he had laying around the dressing room for Kossoff’s broken ’59 Les Paul Standard. Arthur agreed, but instead decided to take Paul’s stripped Les Paul so he could have a guitar to use while waiting for the burst to be repaired.
After the guitar was repaired by Sam Li (owner of a guitar shop located in Gerrard St, London) Paul ended up changing his mind and decided to keep it, so he talked Arthur into reversing their deal. Arthur agreed, and traveled to London with the stripped Les Paul and returned home with his Gold-top. Years after this Arthur managed to get hold of the guitar after all, and recently did an interview explaining what exactly was repaired on Kossoff’s Les Paul after the headstock was broken off:
Kossoff himself owned the guitar for the most part of his professional career, and it is certainly one of the most notable Les Pauls that the ever played. The fact that his management purchased it back after Paul put it on sale next to his stripped Les Paul in 1974 for 450 pounds, proves that the guitar was of special importance. He ended up using it until his untimely death two years later, and it was most likely one of only two Les Pauls that he had with him at the time of his death.
After Paul died, the guitar was bought by Arthur Ramm from Kossoff’s girfriend. Ramm owned and used the guitar for almost 40 years, and just recently decided to sell it thought Bonhams auction house. The lot is currently displayed on their website with some history and couple of photos of the guitar – Bonhams : Paul Kossoff/Free 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
1957 Fender Stratocaster
|Paul owned a white Fender Stratocaster in the 70s. The guitar was seen during the music video for the song “My Brother Jake” filmed in 1970, and later on on the cover of Kossoff’s first solo album “Back Street Crawler”.
At the time of Paul owning it, the guitar was finished in white and featured maple neck and three single-coil pickups.
Gone to Dave Murray
After Paul’s death his Strat somehow ended up on sale through an English magazine called Melody Maker. It attracted attention of Dave Murray, who at the time was about to be auditioned for Iron Maiden. He paid around $1,500 for the guitar, and went on to record most of the early stuff he did with Iron Maiden using it as his main axe.
Even though Dave supposedly checked the serial numbers for accuracy of the previous ownership, the guitar somehow didn’t feature a white finish anymore, but was painted in black and featured two DiMarzio Super Distortion humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions. The body was also allegedly dated to early 60s, which would mean that the guitar was actually a Part-caster.
Since Dave doesn’t seem to focus on these mods while talking about the guitar in interviews, it’s safe to guess that he didn’t do them himself but bought the guitar already modified by the previous owner. Looking back, it’s crazy to think that someone would tear apart a guitar that once belonged to Paul Kossoff, repaint it, remove the original pickups, and possibly swap the body altogether – but somehow that appears to be the case.
The only question that arises from this is whether Dave bother to check the serial number on the body before purchasing the guitar, or he just checked the one on the neck. If not, the black body on his guitar is quite possibly not the same one that Paul had on his guitar. It could have been repainted from white to black of course, but photos of the wear on Dave’s Strat don’t seem to confirm that. You can clearly see that there’s no trace of white paint on that guitar whatsoever, and only way to achieve that is to strip the guitar completely before repainting it. Can it be done – yes, of course; is it a usual practice – not really.
Another theory that is unrelated to Dave but could potentially explain why this guitar features parts from couple of different models, is that Paul Kossoff acquired it from Eric Clapton. Eric bought a couple of Stratocasters in the early 1970s and used what he thought were the best parts of the each guitar to assemble his ultimate guitar, now famously known as “Blackie”. Since Paul was affiliated with Clapton, he could’ve ended up with a guitar that was assembled from the remaining parts, but it is commonly agreed upon that all the guitars that Clapon bought that day were mid to late 50s models. Since we know that Paul’s Strat allegedly featured a body made in the 1960s, this theory doesn’t really hold water.
Paul Kossoff’s Acoustic Guitars:
Unknown Acoustic Guitar
Paul can be seen playing an acoustic guitar on the inside gatefold sleeve of the UK issue of the Jim Capaldi LP “Oh How We Danced”, 1971.
Given that the photo was likely taken in the studio where the album was recorded, the guitar probably didn’t belong to Kossoff (now confirmed in a quote from Kossoff shown two sections below). Also, according to most sources, Kossoff didn’t play an acoustic guitar on the album – just the electric.
From the photos available it’s also impossible to tell the exact guitar model. It was possibly a Martin D-18, based on the overall body design, and pickguard shape.
According to an interview Kossoff gave to Guitar Player magazine in June 1976 (full quote available in the section below), prior to owning a Guild acoustic (which was his only acoustic at the time), he had a Gibson Hummingbird.
Kossoff owned this guitar towards the later part of his career. It was given to him by the members of the Black Street Crawler. As far as when exactly this was, Kossoff mentioned being sick at the time, so this was probably around September 1975 (thanks Chris for the info).
I write songs on acoustic guitar. I have a beautiful Guild given to me by the band when I was sick. This is the best acoustic I’ve ever had. its better than the Gibson Hummingbird I had. I’ve never had a Martin, but I don’t think one would suit me. I dont play acoustic on stage, but id like to. [Guitar Player Magazine, July 1976]
Unfortunately, the exact model of the guitar is unknown. If you happen to come across a photo of Paul with the guitar, please be sure to forward it to us.
Paul Kossoff’s Guitar Amps:
In the early days of Free Paul seemed to have used a 1967 Marshall JTM45/100s (mostly known just as JTM100) – as seen on the photos from the booklet of “Tons of Sobs” album. The amp is easily recognizable by the reverse JTM block logo, which is the reason why it’s also known as the “Black Flag”. He played the amp through a cabinet that he allegedly built with his father sometime during the Black Cat Bones era.
When Free went on their first tour Paul started using Marshall Super Lead 100w 1959 played through Marshall cabinets equipped with G12H speakers. Later on he mostly used Marshall Super PAs (as seen during the Isle of Wight gig in 1970), but he was also seen using Super Bass heads.
Also worth noting is that he allegedly used a Selmer Treble and Bass Fifty on the band’s biggest hit “All Right Now” from the third album. If so, that amp probably pre-dates his first Marshall, and it is somewhat safe to believe that Paul bought it while working at Selmer’s music shop in late 60s.
Other amps that he used include a Fender Super Reverb combo that was mostly seen just on some photos taken during studio sessions of the early albums, and an Orange amp that he used on a gig played during a show called “Beat Club” which aired on German television.
Paul Kossoff’s Guitar Effects:
Paul pretty much preferred straight approach, meaning that he didn’t use any effects apart from the overdrive built into his amps. There is one photo of him standing right next to a MXR Phase 90 pedal during a gig, but it was probably not something he used on a regular basis.
Paul Kossoff’s Guitar Strings:
Paul allegedly used Gibson Sonomatics for the three heavier strings, a really heavy unwound banjo string for the fourth, and a couple of heavy strings from a .013 set of Fender Rock n Rollers for the first and the second.
Paul Kossoff’s Guitar Picks:
We haven’t found anything specific on the type of picks that he used, but it is safe to believe that they were on the heavier side. Based on the photos and general availability in the 70s, he mostly most likely played with Herco 75s.