By Christopher Scapelliti
All the news about John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E taking $2.4 million at auction has overshadowed another guitar that will go on the auction block next month: a 1959 Gibson Les Paul formerly owned by the late Paul Kossoff, guitarist with Free.
Kossoff was a Les Paul player, a guitar whose tone can be heard all over the group’s 1970 hit “All Right Now.” In particular, he was the owner of a 1959 Les Paul, an instrument that he treasured but nonetheless battered when performing live with it. On one particularly disastrous occasion, at Free’s packed gig at the Mayfair Ballroom on October 20, 1972, Kossoff threw the guitar high in the air in a moment of exhilaration but failed to catch it.
“It went up about 20 feet and came down on its neck,” Kossoff told Steve Rosen in an interview from Guitar Player’s July 1976 issue.
The guitar landed hard, shearing off the neck at the fifth fret.
As Classic Rock recently reported in their thorough coverage of the guitar, Kossoff finished the show using a 1968 Les Paul Goldtop (refinished in sunburst) that was owned by Arthur Ramm, whose band Beckett was also on the bill.
Long story short, Kossoff loved Ramm’s guitar so much that he traded him his soon-to-be-repaired ’59 Burst for the sunburst-refinished ’68 gold-top.
Ramm was thrilled with his trade, but Kossoff loved his Burst and missed it. He eventually suffered a case of trader’s remorse and asked Ramm to undo the deal. Ramm, decent person that he is, consented and went to Kossoff’s house in London to return the guitar.
“I think if I hadn’t swapped it back I wouldn’t have met him again,” Ramm says. “But I did meet him a few times. We were acquaintances rather than friends, and we never jammed, but I wish we could have done that.”
In 1976, some four years later, Kossoff was dead, having passed away while on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. A heavy drug user, Kossoff died from heroin-related heart problems.
In the years after his death, Ramm wondered if the guitar was still among his belongings. He decided to reach out to Kossoff’s girlfriend, Sandie Chard, to find out if the guitar was available for purchase.
“Sandie said she knew Paul had promised me the guitar and had welshed on the deal,” Ramm says, “and she’d talk to his dad, the actor David Kossoff. I thought it would go to a Clapton, Page, Green, or Beck, one of these wonderful, monster players. But a few months later she gave me David’s number, I spoke to him, and he said if I wanted to buy it, I could.”
By that point, the guitar had been repaired and refurbished by London guitar tech Sam Lee. Ramm was no longer with Beckett but continued performing, using Kossoff’s Les Paul as his gigging guitar throughout the Eighties. He stopped playing it after people began to ask him about the guitar and take an interest in it.
“I started thinking I’d better not play it any more,” Ramm says, “in case someone decides to take it home with them!”
Eventually, Ramm did share the guitar with someone—a noted Les Paul “Burst” player and collector by the name of Joe Bonamassa. The longtime Les Paul enthusiast had heard about the guitar and invited Ramm to his performance at Newcastle City Hall in 2010. Ramm brought the Les Paul along and allowed Bonamassa to use it for the show, a clip of which you can watch below, along with a pre-show trial run.
Now in his mid Sixties, Ramm recently decided to part ways with the guitar and has allowed Bonhams’ auction house to place it on the block. The guitar is expected to reach a six-figure sum when it goes up for auction on December 10. Stephen Maycock, Bonhams’ consultant specialist for their entertainment department, says, “It’s not the average collector’s thing, because most of them don’t have that sort of money, but we think six figures is a reasonable number. Eric Clapton sold some of his most famous guitars lately, but items like this one don’t come up very often.”
For more information on the auction, visit Bonhams’ website.
Here’s a clip of Ramm playing the Kossoff Les Paul.