Eric Clapton's "Beano" Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, the ax he used on the legendary Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton sessions in 1966, is one of guitardom's true holy grails.
The guitar—which can be heard on the Bluesbreakers' powerful recordongs of "Hideaway," "Steppin' Out" and "Have You Heard"—was famously stolen after the young Clapton finished recording the album with John Mayall, John McVie and Hughie Flint—and has never been seen again.
Earlier this week, however, guitarist Joe Bonamassa told the U.K.'s Guitarist magazine that he knows the location of the long-lost instrument.
"It's a '59, not a '60, it's got double-white [humbucker] in the front and it's got a double-black [in the bridge]," Bonamassa said, challenging the widespread belief that it was a '60 model. "It has a pretty plain top and it is in a collection on the East Coast of America. That's all I can tell you—and that's all I will say. It still exists and I haven't seen it, but I have it on good authority from people who have. And it's got the little 'fingerprint' by the pots and they can trace it back."
If he's correct, this is pretty serious stuff. Several theories have been put forth over the decades regarding the guitar's fate—but the guitar has never been spotted, let alone authenticated.
"I don't know if Clapton would even want it back at this point," Bonamassa said. "Truth be told, would he even recognize it 50 years on? I guess so. Maybe it'd be different if he'd scratched his name on the back of the headstock or had recorded the serial number. But then Jimmy Page has got back his Custom three-pickup that he played in the Albert Hall in 1969."
One has to wonder if Bonamassa is bluffing about Clapton’s guitar, or if he’s trying to negotiate its return. Bonamassa and Clapton have performed together before, and as a collector he’s certain to appreciate the guitar’s personal value to Clapton.
The guitar has come to be known as the "Beano" Les Paul because of the Beano comic book Clapton is reading on the cover of Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. On the album, Clapton burns and bedazzles like a futuristic amalgam of his many influences, including Freddie King, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy. Amazingly, Clapton was only 21 (about to turn 22) when Blues Breakers was recorded in March 1966. Even if he had simply vanished or faded away after the release of the album that summer, he still would have earned a respected place in the annals of electric blues guitar.
Bonamassa's British Blues Explosion tour is in full swing this month. The tour pays tribute to the Sixties fretwork of Clapton, Page and other less-important U.K. blues-rock legends.