Eric Clapton, revered as one of the greatest guitarists in rock and blues, has been synonymous with some of the most iconic guitar sounds in music history. His exceptional skill and emotional expression have cemented his status in the pantheon of guitar legends.
Central to his signature sound is his choice of guitars, which over the years, have included various models that contributed to his distinct tone.
The most celebrated among Clapton’s instruments is the Fender Stratocaster, especially the legendary “Blackie,” a composite of different Stratocaster parts that Clapton himself assembled.
This guitar, along with others like the Gibson Les Paul and Martin Acoustic, has been integral to the soul-stirring music that has defined Clapton’s storied career.
Clapton’s preferences and modifications to his guitars have influenced the designs and features of various manufacturers, making his impact a technical one as well as musical.
- Eric Clapton is closely associated with the Fender Stratocaster, particularly “Blackie.”
- His guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul, have been pivotal to his influential sound.
- Clapton’s guitar choices have contributed to manufacturing and design standards.
Eric Clapton’s Notable Guitars
Eric Clapton has played a wide array of guitars throughout his storied career, creating a legacy that intertwined with the instruments he used.
Here we explore some of these iconic guitars: from the famous Stratocasters and Gibson models to the acoustic selections and more, each has had a role to play in his influential sound.
The Famed Stratocasters
Blackie: A customized Fender Stratocaster created from the parts of several vintage stratocasters, this guitar became one of Clapton’s most recognized instruments. Detailed information about Blackie can be found on Guitar Lobby.
Brownie: Noted for its sunburst finish, the 1956 Stratocaster known as Brownie was pivotal in recording the iconic “Layla” with Derek and the Dominos. More about Brownie is available via Ground Guitar.
Legendary Gibson Models
- 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Lucy“: A red Gibson Les Paul which was notably given to George Harrison and later used during The Beatles’ recording of the “White Album”.
- 1964 Gibson SG Standard “The Fool”: Decorated by artists, this guitar is named for its psychedelic paint job and was prominent during Clapton’s time with Cream.
1939 Martin 000-42: This guitar is associated with Clapton’s acoustic performances, including the acclaimed “MTV Unplugged” set.
Martin 000-28EC: It reflects Clapton’s preference for the tone of Martin’s guitars when unplugged. More insights on Eric Clapton’s acoustic choice are noted on Guitar Advise.
Additional Significant Instruments
- 1960 Kay Jazz II: Clapton’s first electric guitar, presenting the origins of his playing style.
- Red Fender Telecaster: Known for its distinctive sound, it’s another Fender model Clapton has applied his touch.
Amplifiers and Effects
When considering Clapton’s tone, one must not overlook his amplifiers. Among the most famous is the Marshall Bluesbreaker, also known as the JTM45/100. This tube amp played a crucial role in achieving his legendary “Bluesbreaker” tone with John Mayall’s band. Further details on the specific amps Clapton uses can be accessed on Guitar.
Defining Moments in Clapton’s Guitar History
Eric Clapton’s journey as a guitar icon is marked by his innovative approach to the electric guitar across various influential bands and a successful solo career.
Each phase of his musical voyage brought forth distinctive sounds and styles that solidified his reputation as a legendary guitarist.
With the Yardbirds and Bluesbreakers
Clapton’s early years with The Yardbirds germinated the seeds of British rock, where his proclivity for blues set him apart. His guitar playing on “For Your Love” exemplified a style that was both raw and expressive.
The John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers period saw Clapton harnessing the full emotive power of the electric guitar on tracks like “All Your Love,” influencing a generation of musicians with his searing guitar solos and rich tonality.
The Cream Era
As a member of Cream, with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Clapton’s skill as a guitarist reached new heights. His work on the Disraeli Gears album, especially on “Sunshine of Your Love,” showcased his potent combination of blues and psychedelic rock influences.
This era was highlighted by Clapton’s complex, soaring guitar solos that would become a significant part of his musical identity.
Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos
Blind Faith briefly shone with Clapton at the helm, blending rock with more nascent sounds, yet leaving an indelible mark with the electric guitar. It was with Derek and the Dominos that Clapton, alongside Duane Allman, created the timeless hit “Layla.”
The dual-guitar interplay on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a testament to Clapton’s incredible ability to coalesce with other guitarists to produce groundbreaking music.
Success as a Solo Artist
As a solo artist, Clapton continued to evolve his guitar sound and style. Signature songs like “I Shot the Sheriff” and the profoundly personal “Tears in Heaven” reflect his versatility and depth as a musician.
His unplugged performances, particularly the rending “Unplugged” version of “Layla” and the introspective hit “Tears in Heaven,” demonstrated Clapton’s skill at reinterpreting his work with an acoustic guitar, bringing a new dimension to his repertoire. The Crossroads Guitar Festival further cemented his status as a guitar luminary, gathering the best in the field and celebrating the instrument that defined his career.
Eric Clapton’s Signature Guitar Sounds
Eric Clapton’s guitar sound is as distinctive as his contribution to music, characterized by his choice of guitars, such as the legendary Fender Stratocaster, and his expert manipulation of tone and technique.
The Quest for Perfect Tone
Eric Clapton’s journey to perfect his tone has been marked by his preference for the warm, full sound of tube amps and his use of a variety of Fender Stratocasters. His Fender Strat “Blackie” became a notable part of his search for the right sound, utilizing its versatility to produce his signature blues and rock tones.
The Influence of Guitar Heroes
Clapton was heavily influenced by guitar heroes like Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix. Their command over the electric guitar inspired Clapton to blend their expressive vibrato and bold string bending into his own style. His respect for these musicians steered him towards similar guitars, including Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls, helping to shape his iconic sound.
Guitar Techniques and Styles
His guitar techniques are a key aspect of his signature sound, with a mix of smooth fingerpicking and sharp, soulful bends. Clapton’s ability to transition between whisper-quiet licks and earth-shattering crescendos contributes to the dynamic range of his music.
He flawlessly intertwines rock and blues, utilizing both his electric and acoustic guitars, the latter of which, like his Martin 000-28EC, plays a significant role in his unplugged performances.
Recording and Live Performance Gear
In the studio and on stage, Clapton often opts for a Marshall amp like the Marshall Bluesbreaker, which complements the crisp sound of his Stratocaster. This combination allows him to achieve a wide tonal palette, from clean, singing notes to gritty, overdriven blues riffs. His extensive guitar collection and astute gear choices are at the very core of his legendary sound.
Clapton’s Legacy and Influence
Eric Clapton’s unparalleled impact on music, particularly within rock and blues, is reflected through his innovative guitar playing, significant recognition, and contributions to guitar culture. His work has inspired countless guitarists and continues to resonate in the industry.
Impact on Music and Guitar Playing
Clapton revolutionized guitar music with his distinctive style that merged rock and blues. His technique and feeling for the guitar have influenced a wide array of musicians. Notable for popularizing the use of the Stratocaster in blues music, he also contributed to the guitar’s legacy with classic riffs in songs like “Layla” and solos in “Crossroads.”
Recognitions and Achievements
Over the years, Clapton has amassed numerous accolades, including 17 Grammy Awards and a triple induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His album ‘Unplugged’ won six Grammy Awards and showcased his versatility as a guitarist and musician.
Guitar Collection and Auctions
Eric Clapton’s guitar collection is legendary, consisting of iconic instruments such as “Blackie,” his customized Stratocaster, and “Brownie,” famous for its use on the ‘Layla’ recording. Clapton’s guitars have been sold at high-profile auctions, raising millions for the Crossroads Centre, a treatment facility he founded.
Inspiring the Next Generation of Guitarists
Clapton’s prowess has made him a central figure for guitar players worldwide. From his days with Cream to his solo career, he has consistently encouraged and inspired guitarists to explore the expressive potential of the instrument. His Crossroads Guitar Festival gathers some of the best talents and fosters a community dedicated to celebrating the guitar’s role in music.
Clapton’s Guitar Specifications
Eric Clapton’s guitars are renowned for their distinctive specifications, playing a crucial role in his iconic sound. These instruments have been carefully selected and modified to fit his playing style and tonal preferences.
Materials and Construction
The materials used in Clapton’s guitars are essential for his sound. His famous Stratocasters, including Blackie and Brownie, typically feature alder bodies known for their light weight and balanced tone. The necks are usually made of maple, adding brightness to the guitar’s sound, while fretboards historically made from Brazilian rosewood contribute to a warm, rich resonance.
- Body: Alder
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Brazilian Rosewood (historical)
Pickups and Electronics
Eric Clapton is fond of humbucking pickups, especially in his Gibson guitars like the Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Gibson SG Standard, which offer a full and rich tone with reduced hum. However, his Stratocasters are equipped with single-coil pickups known for their crisp and clear sound. Over the years, he’s employed various modifications to the electronics to achieve his signature tone.
- Stratocaster Pickups: Single-coil
- Gibson Pickups: Humbucking
- Electronics: Custom Modifications
The Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster is a notable custom model designed specifically for Clapton. It integrates his preferences in materials and electronics, offering a sunburst finish and a comfortable maple neck. This model also features a mid-boost circuit, significantly expanding its tonal palette.
- Model: Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster
- Features: Mid-boost circuit, Custom Electronics
Modifications and Customizations
Clapton’s modifications and customizations to guitars like Blackie, a composite of several Stratocasters, demonstrate his attention to detail. Modifications to the electronics and pickups were common, allowing him to capture the right sound for his performances and recordings. He often changed out components for those that better suited his needs, such as different pickups or necks.
- Guitar: Blackie (Composite Stratocaster)
- Customizations: Pickups, Necks, Electronics
Collaborations and Projects
Eric Clapton has embarked on a multitude of collaborations and projects throughout his career, joining forces with numerous musicians, contributing to iconic albums, and forging partnerships that have resonated within the music industry. His work extends into charitable efforts, emphasizing his commitment to philanthropy through music.
Clapton’s dynamic partnerships have notably included Duane Allman with Derek and the Dominos, resulting in the classic album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” His unique guitar interplay with Allman was a defining feature of the album. Additionally, Clapton played alongside Buddy Guy, a fellow blues guitarist, further showcasing his collaborative spirit.
Iconic Album Productions
He contributed to various iconic albums beyond his solo work. In “MTV Unplugged,” Clapton’s acoustic performance, especially the poignant song “Tears in Heaven,” touched many. This album not only displayed his acoustic guitar skills but also brought a stripped-down intimacy to his music.
Throughout the years, Clapton’s bands — The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos — were pillars in rock and blues music, shaping its direction. He elevated the role of the guitar in a rock ensemble, his style suffusing through each group’s distinct sound.
Moreover, Eric Clapton’s dedication to charitable causes manifested in the creation of the Crossroads Centre, a facility he established to help people recover from substance abuse. The associated Crossroads Guitar Festival gathers esteemed guitarists, reinforcing Clapton’s commitment to both music and philanthropy.
Exploring Clapton’s Guitar Techniques
Eric Clapton’s guitar techniques showcase a profound blend of mastery and emotion. His approach transforms the guitar into an extension of his musical expression, integrating deft fingerstyle with resonant vibrato and dynamic effects. Clapton’s expert use of his Fender Stratocaster or Martin guitar with a Marshall amp has profoundly shaped the blues and rock genres.
Fingerstyle and Picking
Clapton often opts for a combination of fingerstyle and flat-picking techniques, which allows him to transition smoothly between rhythm and lead parts. This versatility is key in songs like “Tears in Heaven,” where delicate fingerpicking patterns create a poignant sonic texture.
- Fingerstyle: Soft, intricate patterns that lend themselves to nuanced melody lines.
- Picking: Sharp, defined attacks for clear note articulation in lead sequences.
Blues Licks and Solos
His solos contain signature blues licks, recognized for their expressive bends and soulful phrasing. In pieces like “Layla,” Clapton executes rapid-fire pentatonic runs and melodic hooks that define the song’s iconic status.
- Pentatonic Scale: The backbone of Clapton’s blues licks, providing a familiar yet powerful sound.
- Melodic Interpretation: He shapes melodies that complement the underlying chords and song narrative.
Articulation and Vibrato
He employs articulation to emphasize the emotional content of each note. In solos, Clapton’s use of vibrato is often slow and wide, imparting a level of expressiveness that makes simple lines deeply impactful. His nuanced bending and vibrato serve as a master class in musical expression.
- Bending: Clapton’s bends are precise and controlled, adding tension and release within solos.
- Vibrato: A Clapton trademark, the technique is used to sustain interest and add richness to notes.
Use of Effects and Dynamics
Clapton skillfully utilizes effects, from the throaty growl of a wah pedal to the creamy sustain of an overdriven Marshall amp. However, it’s his command of dynamics that truly sets him apart, knowing when to whisper and when to wail, as heard in the ever-dynamic “White Room.”
- Wah Pedal: For expressive tone shaping that resonates with the emotion of the music.
- Amp Settings: Careful control of his Marshall amp’s volume and gain for various sonic textures.
Evolution of Clapton’s Guitars Over the Years
Eric Clapton’s guitar arsenal evolved significantly throughout his career, shifting from classic electric models in his early years to the incorporation of notable acoustic guitars as his music style developed. His unique sound has been shaped by various iconic guitars, each marking a distinct era of his musical journey.
The Early Years and Rise to Fame
In his formative years with The Roosters and The Yardbirds, Clapton frequently played a Fender Telecaster. However, as he joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, he adopted the famous Gibson Les Paul, which contributed to his nickname “Slowhand”. The Les Paul’s thick, creamy tones became synonymous with Clapton’s bluesy licks and helped solidify his status as a guitar legend during this period.
Transition to Mainstream Success
During his tenure with bands like Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton’s preference shifted towards the Fender Stratocaster. The Stratocaster’s versatility afforded him a broader range of sounds to explore, fitting perfectly with his evolving musical direction.
It was during this era that two of Clapton’s most storied Stratocasters, “Brownie” and “Blackie”, became fixtures of his sound, culminating in classics such as “Layla” and “Crossroads”.
Acoustic Journey and Later Years
Clapton’s later years, especially after his successful MTV Unplugged performance, highlighted his acoustic playing. His Martin 000-28EC became a prominent instrument, famously used in the heart-wrenching song, “Tears in Heaven”. This period underscored a more intimate and reflective phase, as acoustic guitars allowed Clapton a different form of expression.
Guitars Linked to Iconic Songs
The guitar Clapton used can often be linked with his iconic songs. On “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, Clapton played a Gibson Les Paul, demonstrating its melodic sustain. “Layla” was recorded with his Stratocaster, harnessing its sharp, piercing tones. These instruments didn’t just accompany the music; they became an integral part of the storytelling behind each song.
Personal Stories and Anecdotes
Eric Clapton’s journey with guitars is not just about the instruments themselves, but the stories they carry. This section delves into the personal tales that give life to his iconic guitars, behind-the-scenes moments, memorable performances, and his affection for certain models.
Iconic Guitars and Their Names
Clapton’s guitars are much more than musical tools; they’re characters in their own right, each with a distinctive name. His famous Fender Stratocaster Blackie was crafted from the best parts of several vintage Stratocasters and became his primary instrument throughout the 1970s. Another Strat, affectionately named Brownie, is renowned for its role in recording “Layla.”
Behind the Scenes With Guitars
Behind every performance there are untold stories; guitar technician Lee Dickson has been by Clapton’s side for many years, ensuring that each guitar is stage-ready. Notably, Dickson played a crucial role in managing and caring for the legendary Blackie and a multitude of other instruments that Clapton would use over the course of his career.
Memorable Performances and Guitars
Certain guitars are inextricably linked with iconic performances, like Clapton’s psychedelic Gibson SG, The Fool, designed by artists Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, which he played during his Cream era. Additionally, his Red Fender Telecaster was a staple during his tenure with the Yardbirds.
Affection for Specific Guitar Models
Clapton’s affinity for certain guitar models has had a significant influence on their popularity. Fender Stratocasters and Gibson guitars, especially Les Pauls, have become closely associated with him. Among them, Stratocasters like Brownie and Blackie are particularly revered, reflecting Clapton’s lasting impact on the music world through his choice of instruments.
Contribution to Guitar Manufacturing and Design
Eric Clapton has been pivotal in shaping the design and manufacturing of guitars, particularly by inspiring signature models and employing new technology in guitar craftsmanship.
Signature Models and Collaborations
Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster: A landmark collaboration between Clapton and Fender, the Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster is a prime example of artist input shaping guitar evolution. It caters to Clapton’s playing style and sonic preferences, featuring modifications like a special soft “V”-shaped neck and active mid-boost circuitry.
000-ECHF Bellezza Nera: Another impactful creation is the 000-ECHF Bellezza Nera, an acoustic guitar that Martin produced in partnership with Clapton. It boasts unique design elements tailored to Clapton’s specifications, contributing to Martin’s legacy in fine guitar craftsmanship.
Influence on Guitar Craftsmanship
Eric Clapton’s choices of guitars—ranging from the iconic Les Paul Standard to the versatile Stratocaster—have influenced the materials and build techniques implemented in guitar craftsmanship. His preference for specific neck profiles and pickups has guided manufacturers in refining the playability and sound of guitars.
Advancements in Guitar Technology
Clapton’s use of guitars has not only influenced their physical design but has also advanced guitar technology. For instance, the active mid-boost on his Stratocaster offers a wider array of tonal options, serving as a catalyst for further electronic innovations in electric guitars. Clapton’s exploration of acoustic and electric sounds continues to inspire technological enhancements that expand the guitar’s expressive potential.
Discussions on Clapton’s Guitar Preferences
Eric Clapton’s profound impact on music is often discussed in conjunction with his distinctive choice of guitars. He has remained loyal to a few select brands and models throughout his illustrious career, impacting the sound and style of his legendary performances.
Favorite Guitar Brands and Models
Clapton has famously wielded a variety of Fender Stratocaster models, which have become nearly synonymous with his name. Two of his most renowned Stratocasters include the Sunburst 1956 Stratocaster “Brownie”, and the custom Black 1950s Stratocaster “Blackie”, which Clapton assembled from parts himself. These Stratocasters, particularly “Blackie”, are iconic not just for their association with Clapton but also for their rich, expressive tones that have helped to define his sound.
While the Fender Stratocaster may be his most famous association, Clapton also has a history with the Gibson Les Paul. Initially, in his days with bands like The Yardbirds and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Clapton relied heavily on the thick, sustaining tones of the Les Paul.
In addition to electric guitars, Clapton has expressed a deep affinity for Martin acoustic guitars. These instruments have been a staple choice for his unplugged performances and recordings, offering a warm, resonant sound that suits his blues-influenced acoustic playing.
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Clapton’s choice in strings reflects his pursuit of tonal quality and playability. He typically favors lighter gauge strings, which facilitate his signature bending techniques and vibrato. The specific gauges and brands may have evolved over the years, reflecting ongoing refinements to his playing style and tone.
When it comes to picks, Clapton has been less public about his preferences, suggesting a more flexible approach dependent on the specific sound and feel he is aiming for in a given performance.
Accessories such as guitar straps, capos, and slides also play a role in Clapton’s guitar setup, complementing his choice of guitar and strings to enhance playability and comfort during long concerts.
The consistency in Clapton’s gear highlights a commitment to quality and a deep understanding of how his instruments contribute to his distinctive sound. Whether on a Stratocaster, a Les Paul, or a Martin, Clapton’s expertise shines through in his ability to elicit emotive and powerful music from his chosen tools.
Frequently Asked Questions
Eric Clapton’s legendary status in music is, in part, due to his remarkable skill with a variety of guitars. This section will address some of the most common questions regarding the specific models of guitars Clapton has played, his preferences for live performances, the evolution of his guitar choices, and details about his iconic guitars and equipment.
What models of Stratocaster has Eric Clapton played?
Eric Clapton has been associated with several Fender Stratocaster models throughout his career. Among the most famous are his personalized “Blackie,” crafted from parts of various 1950s Stratocasters, and “Brownie,” a 1956 Stratocaster.
Which acoustic guitars are favored by Eric Clapton for live performances?
For live acoustic performances, Clapton frequently opts for Martin guitars, particularly the Martin 000-28EC, which is a model designed in collaboration with him.
How has Eric Clapton’s choice of guitars evolved throughout his career?
Clapton’s choice of guitars has shifted from the Gibson models of his early career, such as the Les Paul and SG, to the Fender Stratocaster being his instrument of choice for the majority of his solo career.
What is the estimated value of the guitars Eric Clapton has played?
The guitars Eric Clapton has played over the years have reached very high values at auctions, often due to their close association with his music career and historical music events.
Can you describe Eric Clapton’s typical amp setup for concerts?
Eric Clapton’s typical amp setup for concerts includes a range of Fender amplifiers, with the Fender Twin Reverb being a mainstay for achieving his classic, clean sound.
Which guitars did Eric Clapton use during his iconic performances with Cream and on the classic track ‘Layla’?
During his time with Cream, Clapton often used a 1964 Gibson SG painted in psychedelic patterns, dubbed “The Fool.” For the recording of “Layla,” he famously used a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard which was later nicknamed “Lucy.”