A True History of EC's Cream Guitars

by Graeme Pattingale with Jeff Aarons, Bob Elliott and DeltaNick

There has been a degree of speculation and myths about Eric and his guitars during Cream. What follows is "A True History" of his guitars during this period. It is not "The True History" as ultimately some detail is lost in the mists of time and memory.

lpcreampaf.JPG (13185 bytes) 1. The early 1960 Les Paul Standard cherry sunburst with black PAF* on bridge pickup and cream on neck (nickel-plated pickup covers removed). This is the one EC used on "John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton" album aka "Beano". It was his favourite (the sound and neck especially) and it was the one that was stolen during the early Cream rehearsals ie around June/July 1966.   The guitars exact vintage cannot be established without its serial number.   Gibson produced around 1,850 sunburst Les Paul Standard guitars between 1958 and 1960.

* Dual coil humbucking pickups - "Patent Applied For".  The patent was granted in 1959 but the term is used to differentiate the early versions from the 1962+ versions which incorporated design/construction changes.

2. 1958-60 Les Paul Standard "Tiger Stripe" flame top, nickel plate covered PAFs with Bigsby tremelo. Used at Windsor Blues Festival on 31st July 1966.  In a 1989 interview EC stated that he used a borrowed Les Paul guitar on the "Fresh Cream" album. This, or possibly the one below (which he clearly did buy at some point if it was), may have been the borrowed guitar.

A beautiful looking guitar. 

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eclpsbguard.jpg (10048 bytes) 3. Late 1960 Les Paul Standard cherry sunburst  with black PAFs, block tail piece and missing switch plate. 1966-early 67, mostly without pick guard. This may also have been stolen but probably not until March 1967 as there are dated photos of him using it in late February and others that are most likely later than that again. A Les Paul was used on the "Lost Sessions" now dated as 15th March 1967.

This guitar was bought from Andy Summers after much hassling from Eric.  Andy was moving to Strat.

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Sans pickguard and switch plate

Thanks to Mark Sutcliffe for his id of the guitar (previously stated as 1958-60)
3.a 1960 Les Paul Special (Double cutaway) with P90 pickups and Bigsby tremelo which was a customisation (possibly 1959 but appears to have the larger pick guard of the '60 model).  Eric Played this at the Marquee Club on 16th August 1966.  But by the next appearance at the Marquee on 27th September (right) he had Andy Summer's Les Paul.
More Pictures

Thanks to Ronald Thorpe for the historical gem

More Pictures
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Note: Tail piece, tremolo arm and
missing knob


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Original 1961 tail piece & sideways tremelo

4. 1964 SG.  Legend has it that this was a 1961 model, but it is only a legend.   It was a 1964 model SG and this is the correct description as it was originally issued as a Les Paul and but in 1963 Les got Gibson to take his name off it.

This has the "Deluxe Vibrolo" tremelo. Eric uses it on the feedback sections of  "Hey Now Princess" in the March 'Lost Sessions', "Spoonful" on the April Ricky Tick bootleg and "Toad" on the Grande Ballroom but overwhelmingly he kept it locked back.

An SG is used on the Konserthusert performance of March 7th but not through a Marshall. The "Lost Sessions" also feature an SG and use of the tremolo arm. Presumably it is this one. By late '67  the tremolo had been removed.

This was painted by the Dutch artist collective "The Fool" just prior to Murray the K Show in march. The current block tailpiece and neck was added after Eric gave it away in June 1968.


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1964 SG with 'Deluxe Vibrolo'. 

LEGEND KILLED: Clearly the story of having the 1959 Les Paul stolen causing him to take up the 1961 Les Paul [SG] was a furphy (an Australian term meaning a misleading but plausable story). He had more than one Les Paul as shown above and we now know he continued playing a Les Paul live in April AND LATER (see below).

5. Les Paul Custom (1958-61), black "Black Beauty" with 3 gold plated covered dual coil pickups. Probably bought in NY for the initial Gears sessions of April 3-4 1967. The Lawdy Mamas/Strange Brew were recorded using a Fender Twin Reverb (just check the sound - non Marshall). They are all Les Paul Custom except for the lead overdub(s) on Strange Brew which is the 1961 Les Paul [SG] through a Marshall. The photos in "Those Were the Days" and John Platt's book are from those days. See the "Disraeli Gears Sessions" reviews for more detail.

The April 22nd Ricky Tick performance features Eric changing between Les Paul and the 'SG'.The 'SG' was used more extensively in the May 11-14 Gears sessions with the Les Paul being used for some of the rhythm/basic guitar.

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6. Gibson 335 or Rickenbacker 12 string on "Dancing the Night Away" on Gears.

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7. The 1967 touring May+ is exclusively 1961 Les Paul [SG]. However Eric would have had his black Les Paul Custom as a spare. Why do I say this?

ALTERNATIVE LEGEND: EC's sobriquet was 'Slowhand'. It was not given to him by Mike Vernon (the Bluesbreakers producer) as he already had it by the time he worked with Vernon. Eric has always used light gauge strings. In the early 60's quality was not as good as it later became - the strings broke regularly. This necessitated on stage changes and tune ups - EC was meticulous as he has perfect pitch. This was in the days of the 30-40 minute set when a delay brought a slow handclap from the audience or colloquially "be given the slowhand". To overcome that problem EC, when he could afford it, carried a spare guitar he would change to. That was a very professional approach which was noted when they toured the USA. Much in contrast to US bands - check out the Grateful Dead "Live at the Fillmore" - tediously replacing a string/tuning up for the encore!

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1969 with Bonnie & Delaney
(sans pickup covers)

8. 1968 US tour began with the 1961 Les Paul [SG] now with tremelo removed. He carried the black Les Paul as a spare. Jeff Aarons reports that a friend saw Cream in April and Eric swapped to the Les Paul after breaking a string. EC had the Black Custom on stage with Bonnie and Delaney even though he played the strat, much to Jeff's disappointment.

9. As the tour progressed and things deteriorated, Eric must have decided to change his image.  We now know he purchased the Firebird I when they returned to the US on April 19th in Philadelphia at Music City (photos at the sound check on 19th at the Electric Factory - he did not play it at the shows - see below). He played it at Kiel Opera House, St Louis on 28th April.  On the Summers Bros show in May he used a Gibson Reverse Firebird I so the Firebird became the preferred instrument during May. There are reports of May concerts where he played the Les Paul Custom exclusively. 

Electric Factory Soundcheck - Note  Fender Dual Showman Head (see Amps)

In June he did a session for Jackie Lomax which was being produced by George Harrison. Eric gave the psychedelic 'SG' to George who subsequently gave it to Jackie. Todd Rundgren bought it off Jackie in 1971/72, in poor condition.


10. Final tour: principally the Gibson Reverse Firebird I (1963-65) and Gibson Les Paul 1958-60 cherry (probably 2 and probably 1960 models) . It appears that Eric alternated between these guitars from concert to concert (according to eyewitness accounts) e.g  LA 18th Oct Les Paul,  19th Firebird, San Diego 20th Les Paul. The Farewell Albert Hall shows have the Firebird on the first and a Gibson ES335 Cherry Red on the second. He did not play the ES335 on the Final American tour as previously thought.

Detroit 12th October 1968

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Sound check Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland

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Albert Hall

11. Acoustic Guitars: prefered models appear to have been Guilds.  12 string used on "Summers Bros" show miming to "Anyone For Tennis".

12: Strings:  Fender Rock and Roll Extra Light Gauge, probably for the whole Cream period but definitely 67-68.  Eric endorsed Sound City strings in 1969 and subsequently used Ernie Ball Super Slinky on the strat.  (Thanks to Jens Gregersen for picking up on the strings omission - fell through the cracks at some stage)


Updated & corrected: 24 May, 2009

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Copyright Graeme Pattingale  2005