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"Lucy" is the name George Harrison of the Beatles gave to the unique red Gibson Les Paul guitar he received from Eric Clapton in August 1968. Previously owned by rock guitarists John Sebastian and Rick Derringer, and used by Clapton to record the notable guitar lead on Harrison's song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," Lucy is one of the most famous electric guitars in the world.
Lucy was originally a "Goldtop" Les Paul Model with humbucking pickups, a combination only produced in 1957 and part of 1958. Gibson records show that serial number 7-8789 was shipped from the Kalamazoo factory on December 19, 1957. By 1965 the guitar was owned by John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful, who traded it to Rick Derringer of tourmates The McCoys for an amplifier to replace one which had blown.
By around 1966 the guitar's original gold finish was looking very worn, and Derringer's father continually ragged him about it. "So I figured that since we didn’t live far from Gibson’s factory in Kalamazoo, the next time the group went there I’d give it to Gibson and have it refinished. I had it done at the factory in the SG-style clear red finish that was popular at the time." However, he wasn't happy with the instrument when he got it back: it "just didn’t feel the same … it had changed into an altogether different guitar." Derringer therefore sold it to Dan Armstrong's guitar shop in New York.
Clapton and Harrison
The guitar had only been in Armstrong's shop for a few days when it was purchased by Eric Clapton. Clapton did not play this instrument much, his principal guitars in 1966-68 being his psychedelic 1964 SG called "The Fool", a 1964 ES-335, a 1963 or 64 Reverse Firebird, and a sunburst Les Paul he bought from Andy Summers. In August 1968 Clapton gave the red Les Paul as a present to his good friend Harrison. Harrison dubbed the guitar "Lucy", after redhead comedienne Lucille Ball.
Harrison and The Beatles were at the time recording what would become The Beatles (the White Album), and had been working for several weeks on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Harrison had been unable to record a lead track for the song he was satisfied with; moreover Lennon and McCartney were dismissive of it and "didn't try very hard." Harrison, knowing that his bandmates were on good behavior around guests, invited Clapton to come into EMI Studios on September 6 and lay down a lead track, telling him "you don't need to bring a guitar, you know I've got a good Les Paul you can use." Clapton laid down the track in a single take, but later stated that he was so high at the time he doesn't remember it at all. The story that Clapton ceremoniously presented Harrison with the guitar after this session is a widely-repeated myth.
Theft and recovery
In 1973 Lucy was one of the items stolen in a burglary at Harrison's home in Beverly Hills. The thief or an intermediary sold it at Whalin's Sound City on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood; owner George Whalin promptly resold it (in violation of the statutory 30-day waiting period) to Miguel Ochoa, a musician from Guadalajara, Mexico. When the red guitar appeared on a police stolen-property bulletin Whalin called Ochoa's contact number, his friend Mark Havey; this began a lengthy negotiation which resulted, ultimately, in Harrison via Havey trading Ochoa a Les Paul sunburst and a Fender Precision Bass for the return of Lucy. Harrison would later refer to the incident as a "kidnapping." Harrison kept Lucy until his death in 2001.
- Humbuckers were first introduced to the Gibson line in 1957, replacing single-coil P-90 pickups on the Les Paul and other models; from the fall of 1958 the Les Paul's original metallic gold finish was phased out in favor of the famous cherry sunburst.
- Clapton during this period bought several Les Pauls trying to replace the stolen 1960 Standard he had played with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, but "I never really found one as good as that. I do miss that one." ("Out From Behind The Sun: (13 April 1985) Eric Clapton Interview By Dan Forte," Best Of Guitar Player: Clapton, 1992, pp. 64-78.) Clapton had especially liked "Beano's" slim neck; Lucy, as a '57, had a decidedly thicker neck.
- Not, as sometimes stated, Guitar Center; Sound City occupied Guitar Center's former premises