Marcus King got reacquainted with one of the most famous Gibson Les Pauls of all time on Sunday, March 19, when he had a pre-show noodle on the 1955 Black Beauty once owned by Peter Kossoff and Eric Clapton.
King was in Paris to play a show at the Élysée Montmartre when he was presented with the Gibson Les Paul Custom, which is part of Matthieu Lucas’s personal collection. Lucas is the man behind Matt’s Guitar Shop, one of the most respected vintage guitar shops in the world – which presently stocks some seriously choice electric guitars, a number of which were acquired from Richie Sambora.
It is not the first time King has played this Black Beauty. In April 2020, King dropped by Matt’s Guitar Shop to jam on it, with rhythm played by the store’s own Antoine on a 1960 Les Paul Standard.
King has always maintained that he is not a blues guitar player, and that is the sort of video that shows you why there’s something in that. Much of his work with the Marcus King Band is certainly adjacent to the blues, but it similarly references soul, rock, and whatever the song needs, and King’s rock-jazz phrasing in that 2020 video are more Carlos Santana than Muddy Waters.
The 1955 Black Beauty has quite the bio. Originally it was acquired by Kossoff’s father, David Kossoff, who brought it back to the UK for him in a time when Les Pauls were hard to come by. Kossoff was trading up from a 1957 Les Paul Junior, and used it in Black Cat Bones, his band before Free (you can see Kossoff pictured with the guitar in the back cover art of Paul's Blues and hear him play it in the video below).
Fitted with a P-90 at the bridge and an Alnico V ‘Staple’ pickup at the neck, the Black Beauty predated the popularisation of the humbucker. Seth Lover’s PAF was only invented in ’55, making its debut on high-end Gibson electrics the following year.
Tastes in tone were changing. When Kossoff took receipt of his guitar, it was the ‘60s, and the only objects that were getting passed around more freely than joints were guitars. Kossoff’s Black Beauty soon found its way into Clapton’s possession, around Disreali Gears-era Cream. The Black Beauty did the rounds, and was once under the ownership of Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan before Lucas purchased it.
Kossoff would later become associated with a number of famous Les Pauls. The story of Kossoff’s ‘Stripped Top’ Les Paul Standard is legendary; it was the guitar of Free’s storming set at Isle of Wight in 1970, and by most Free superfans’ reckoning it was used to track All Right Now. Speaking to Guitarist in 2020, David Clayton of the Free Appreciation Society shed a little light on what Kossoff was using and when.
“There were three main Sunburst Les Pauls that Kossoff used: the Clapton one, the stripped-top one and a ’59 ’Burst that he acquired slightly later that went on to be owned by Arthur Ramm,” said Clayton. “Kossoff used the stripped one for All Right Now at the BBC in June and Clapton’s one for the Granada TV show on 24 July 1970. So he was basically relying on those two guitars before Arthur’s turned up.”
“I’ve played all three – and the thing with the ‘Stripped Top’ ’Burst is that it’s a really bright, fierce guitar,” Clayton continued. “It’s got a really lovely ring. If you play a nice big chord, the whole guitar just sings. That’s maybe because the finish is stripped away. I don’t think it had any finish on the top at all when Paul had it, so I’m assuming it was particularly resonant.”
Besides giving us the lingering idea that Lucas should lend King that guitar for the run, the video also gave us a new look at King’s touring pedalboard, which has a few substitutions with the core lineup of pedals in place. He’s running a Voodoo Lab pedalboard power supply, on top of the ‘board because what you lose in space you make up for in piece of mind should anything go wrong and you want to fix it in a flash.
That pedalboard is stocking a Dunlop volume pedal, a Tru-Fi Two Face fuzz pedal, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, and a series of MXR stompboxes. There is the MXR Booster, the Studio Compressor, the single-knob Micro Chorus, the Phase 100 and the M300 Reverb.
Elsewhere he has a Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal, a Dunlop Rotovibe for the heady swirl of a rotating speaker chorus/vibrato a la Hendrix, a Tru-Fi Ultra Tremolo, and a Dunlop Echoplex tape echo emulator.
For more pictures of the Kossoff/Clapton 1955 Gibson Les Paul Custom, head over to Matt’s Guitar Shop.