Eric Clapton is one of the most legendary music icons. While many regard him for famous songs such as “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight,” his guitar playing inspired an entire generation of players. While we look at Clapton as a guitar genius, when reading his biography, you’ll learn some surprising facts about him. For example, there was a time when he stopped playing guitar because it was “too hard.”
Do you want to play like Clapton? First, you’ll need the right gear and techniques. In this Eric Clapton Bio and gear list, we’ll explain everything you need to do about Eric Clapton, including his life and career.
Eric Clapton is most famous for playing a Fender Strat in a variety of colors. However, Clapton has used various guitars throughout his career, as well as specific guitars in his different bands and on tour.
1950s Fender Stratocaster (“Blackie”)
We can’t begin this list without mentioning Clapton’s famous Strats! He’s best known for playing two: a 1950s Strat with a matte black finish (nicknamed “Blackie”) and a 1956 Strat with a brown burst finish (nicknamed “Brownie”).
Let’s start with Blackie. He started playing this guitar in 1970 and is still playing this guitar today. However, the original Blackie modeled he retired in 1983 and is only playing replicas today.
Blackie is truly unique because it was made from four various Strats from the 50s. I’m reading conflicting information as to who assembled Blackie. Some sources say it was Clapton though I’m also reading someone else technically put the guitar together.
While Blackie looks like a normal Strat, when plugged in, the tone is out of this world. Clapton is renowned for his individualistic tone (we will talk more about that later) and we can largely blame Blackie for making his tone famous.
For years, Blackie was his main guitar. He not only used it for recordings but also for demos and rehearsals. He first used Blackie live in 1973.
1956 Fender Stratocaster (“Brownie”)
In 1967, Eric Clapton purchased a 1956 Strat with a brown burst finish from Sound City Shop. He was looking for a guitar with a worn-out maple neck since that was what was trending at the time.
Today, Brownie is one of his most iconic guitars. This Strat features a body made of alder, neck made of maple, and black dot inlays. He used it in 1967-1970.
He didn’t make any modifications to it and you can see him playing this guitar during the Cream 1967 US tour and also during live shows with Derek & the Dominoes. It’s also believed he used this guitar to write “Layla.” After, it became one of his backup guitars.
1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard
In addition to Strats, Eric Clapton was also a Les Paul fan. He used different Les Pauls over the years, but this one was his first. Clapton made the 1960 Les Paul with a Beano Burst finish famous while he was playing with Bluesbreakers in 1965. Unfortunately, this is the only time he was really seen playing this guitar. It was stolen around the time when he formed Cream.
Eric Clapton is also famous for playing a Gibson Firebird with a tobacco burst finish. There are many reasons why this guitar is iconic. It’s a boutique guitar that alone costs thousands of dollars. Clapton also praised the guitar, loving the straightforward sound of the single pickup system and how it plays well on practically any amp. It’s a playable guitar, featuring optimal string spacing and a small neck.
Clapton purchased the guitar in 1968 and used it frequently that year. He used it nearly every show until he retired it as a backup. Why he retired it so quickly eludes most; however, this guitar isn’t very versatile and it probably wasn’t enough for Clapton’s intricate playing.
1964 Gibson SG
Once Cream started gaining global traction, it was hard to miss this 1964 Gibson SG — mainly because of the custom artwork. Painted by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, it embodies all of the hippie aesthetics with rainbow artwork and other psychedelic details. Clapton was inspired by the paint job on George Harrison’s Mini Cooper.
In addition to the paint job, this guitar stands out due to its unique specs. For starters, it’s one of the first guitars to feature Alnico III humbuckers. It features an Indian rosewood fingerboard and lightweight mahogany body and neck.
Even though Clapton loved this guitar, he left it at George Harrison’s apartment where it had numerous owners after. Since 1971, American multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren has used it.
Gibson ES 335
Eric Clapton had this distinguishing Gibson ES 335 for several years and used it for different bands. He first started playing it during the Yardbirds era and then into Cream.
What makes this guitar perfect for Clapton is the perfect blues tone it has. However, it’s a punchy guitar and that cherry red finish definitely makes it stand out. It became his main guitar for years.
1950s Les Paul Gold Top
Even though this was one of Clapton’s spare guitars, he did use it pretty extensively. He started playing it in 1968 and used it while he was in Cream. It’s unknown how long he played it.
Some even say that this guitar wasn’t his and he was borrowing it from someone else. It was very similar to Clapton’s beloved Les Paul that he nicknamed “Lucy,” which we will cover next.
1957 Gibson Les Paul “Lucy”
Eric Clapton went through a phase where he collected Les Pauls. While I mentioned a couple of his Les Paul models here, Lucy reminds one of his most iconic. He played Lucy throughout the Cream years (1966-1968 specifically) until he gave it to George Harrison as a gift.
Why did he give Lucy to Harrison? The guitar sounds great and is expensive. However, the real story is really messed up. Clapton, who was infatuated by Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd Harrison, traded Lucy for Harrison’s wife. No joke. Clapton and Pattie married in 1979 but divorced in 1988. Harrison played Lucy during his entire career with The Beatles.
So, what makes Lucy so special? The pickups, bar inlays, rosewood fretboard, four tone control knobs, mahogany body, and maple top were all desirable to both Clapton and Harrison. The pickup selector was also placed on the top of the bridge pickup, so either guitar player didn’t have to worry about accidental switching.
And why was Pattie so desirable to both guitar players? We don’t know yet, but she served as the inspiration for some of the most famous Clapton and Beatles songs (such as “Layla,” “Something,” and “Wonderful Tonight”).
The cherry red Fender Telecaster was the main guitar that Eric Clapton used when he played in The Yardbirds. He used this guitar for the recordings and most of the live performances.
It’s said that he got the Telecaster from the Yardbirds’ manager. He stopped playing the Telecaster when he left the Yardbirds, and it’s rumored that he handed the guitar back to the manager.
However, he didn’t only use the Telecaster because it was gifted to him. The Telecaster has superior hardware and Clapton didn’t struggle with broken strings as frequently.
Gibson “Korina” Explorer
Do you think James Hetfield is the first major guitar player to play the Gibson Explorer? Think again. Eric Clapton played this guitar long before Metallica was ever even a concept. However, the Explorer that Clapton played is truly special.
He played the Korina, a model made in the 70s. While it was most likely modified, it stands out because the bass bout is slightly shorter than average.
While this wasn’t Clapton’s main guitar, he played it for a long time as a backup guitar. He had it until 1977 when he gifted it to Jr. Marvin who then sold it. Today it’s owned by Japanese guitar collector Kunio Kushida.
The Gibson Explorer is popular for its oversized headstock and unique shape. Today, it’s played by numerous guitar players in all genres.
Eric Clapton has said this guitar was one of his favorites.
And it’s no surprise why: its sound and tone are massive and its frame is sturdy. The earliest documentation of Clapton playing this guitar was in 1971. However, he only played it during one live performance: the Bangladesh Charity Concert organized by George Harrison himself and Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. However, he only played it during the first gig. For the second, he played Brownie.
The Gibson Byrdland reigned over other guitars in the 70s and 80s due to its quality. Today, vintage guitar collectors try to get their hands on every ’71 Gibson Byrdland that they can find.
This guitar is a mystery. Eric Clapton was only seen with it once: in a photo with Blind Faith during a rehearsal in 1969. However, no one knows if it was really his guitar.
There are few mentions of Clapton actually using this guitar during studio recordings and hardly any proof of him using this guitar during live gigs.
In addition, Clapton mainly played Gibson and Fender guitars. Clapton playing a random guitar such as this really made fans scratch their heads.
It’s a unique guitar, comprised of an exquisite splatter-effect of yellow, orange, red, and blue. The fretboard is painted, so its playability is questioned.
1960 Kay Jazz II K775
This guitar is special because it’s Eric Clapton’s first electric guitar. Clapton’s grandmother gifted him this guitar in 1962. She bought it for $10 used, but it passed as a professional guitar.
It’s a versatile guitar with four control knobs and impressive durability. Soon, he joined his first band, The Roosters. It’s a heavy guitar and some call it a copy of a Gibson guitar.
While Clapton made modifications to it, he mainly changed its aesthetics. He played this guitar for a year before switching to a Fender Telecaster.
While Eric Clapton is famous for his electric guitars, his acoustic songs and performances are renowned by fans. And he needs high-quality acoustic guitars for this reason.
1939 Martin 000-42
Before we explain Eric Clapton and how he got this guitar, let’s give a brief history of this 1939 Martin. It’s a rare guitar, especially since it’s pre-WWII. And even for the time period, the 000-42 was a limited line.
What makes this guitar special is it’s made of Brazilian rosewood. However, it was made before supply fell short. Today, there’s only about a handful of these guitars and they’re the most expensive acoustic guitars ever. One auctioned for nearly $800k!
Clapton helped make this guitar a legend once again since he used this guitar during 1992 MTV’s Unplugged when he performed an acoustic version of “Layla.” Clapton also used it for some of his studio acoustic songs.
So, how did Clapton get his hands on this guitar? Guitarist Stephen Stills gifted it to Clapton since he wasn’t playing it.
1977 Juan Alvarez Classical Guitar
Eric Clapton recorded some of his most famous acoustic songs with this Spanish guitar. He used it to record “Tears in Heaven” and “Lonely Stranger.” This also became his go-to guitar when performing acoustic songs. In addition to the Martin 000-42, Clapton also used this guitar during the MTV Unplugged 1992 special.
Luthier Juan Alvarez designed this guitar in 1977 using the highest standards when building Spanish guitars. While we don’t know how Clapton got this guitar, he gifted it to fashion designer Giorgio Armani. It was later donated for nearly $254k.
Effects and Pedals
It’s no surprise that Eric Clapton is famous for his tone. He has a variety of pedals and effects to thank for his distinguishable sound.
Eric Clapton used this pedal during his years with Cream, on several occasions with Blind Faith, and even his solo material. This pedal alone inspired his tone for that period.
It’s a straightforward and fairly simply pedal, it helps make any guitar sound richer. He returned with this pedal again in 1996 during a Hyde Park concert.
This pedal is famous because you can hear it on the Cream single “White Room.” However, we don’t truly know if this pedal was the one that was used.
When asked about the effects on the song, all Clapton could say was “Vox.” Studying the evolution of Vox pedals and for the time period, many speculate that Clapton used the V846.
This is a pedal that DigiTech made to embody Eric Clapton’s signature tone. With this pedal, any player can sound like Clapton himself! While he’s credited for using it from 1996 to 2004, there’s no documentation of him technically using it. However, his name is on the product so he had to have at least played it at some point.
The Boss HM-2 is largely played by metal guitar players, though Eric Clapton used this pedal throughout the 80s, specifically from 1986 to 1989.
He also used this pedal more than others during this time period. I’m not finding information as to why Clapton used this pedal. There are various theories on guitar forums.
This pedal has a lot of boost and distortion. These qualities were popular in rock guitar tones for the era — maybe Clapton wanted to keep up with the times? That’s my guess, at least.
Amps and Heads
As with his guitar and pedal rig, Eric Clapton used a variety of amps to deliver his quintessential sound.
Vox AC 30
After Clapton received his first electric guitar, he scrapped enough cash to purchase his first amp. That was the Vox AC 30. While there are pictures of Clapton playing this amp, they’re old and aren’t the best quality.
Since Clapton first used this amp, Vox reissued it. The modern Vox amp is said to be slightly different than the original.
1962 Marshall Bluesbreaker
Ironically, Eric Clapton used this amp while playing with his first big-time band, The Bluesbreakers. But beyond that, this amp has an interesting story.
Clapton was friends with Jim Marshall himself, and Clapton asked Marshall to create a combo amp that was small enough to fit in his car. Marshall created the Bluesbreaker amp as a result, which Clapton used to record Bluesbreakers material.
1966 Marshall JTM 45
Around the time that Eric Clapton found this amp, he left the Bluesbreakers and was in the process of forming Cream.
He was starting to take guitar playing more seriously and needed to create a signature voice with the guitar. After experimenting with different Marshall heads, he was immediately drawn to the personality that the JTM 45 conveyed.
At the time, the JTM 45 was one of the loudest heads for the time. Clapton wanted to create a wall of sound for his live performances and he used two that he cranked up.
Since its first creation, the JTM 45 had gone through several stages. The one that Clapton used featured a Drake 1204 43 transformer and KT66 tubes. However, this amp head wasn’t perfect.
While he was shooting for loudness, the feedback it produced was a problem. Clapton only played this head for a year before learning that he needed an upgrade.
1966 Marshall Super Lead
In 1967, Eric Clapton upgraded his existing head to the Marshall Super Lead while he was still in Cream. Many believe that the Super Lead uses the right circuitry and tubing.
Overall, it was a step up from the previous head that Clapton was using, the JTM45. The Super Lead provided the power he needed for Cream and is truly the head that created his tone.
While Clapton definitely used this amp head in 1967, there’s no proof he used it beyond that year. There are those who suggest he also used it for the second and third Cream albums, though he may have modified it.
Fender Vibro Champ
Even though the Vibro Champ is technically a practice amp, it is powerful enough to fill a mid-sized venue with sound. While there are only poor-quality images available of Eric Clapton playing this amp, it’s a great vintage amp which is why Clapton loved it. It’s believed he used this amp from 1971 to 1976.
Fender Dual Showman
In the 70s, the Dual Showman was cutting-edge. There were versatile tone knobs and stable channel inputs.
This is what likely attracted Clapton to this head. However, the sound from this head didn’t work well for his tone, which is why he only really used this head in 1970.
Fender 57 Twin-Tweed
This is an amp he used in the mid-2000s. In 2004, he used two Twin-Tweed amps. While he only used this amp for two years, he did use a similar setup for several years after.
Fender 57 Bandmaster
Eric Clapton matched this amp with the Twin-Tweed. Even though Fender released a much more versatile amp, the 61 Bandmaster, after this one, Clapton still preferred the 57.
The 57 Bandmaster is a 40-watt combo amp with a three-band EQ, three built-in 10-inch speakers, and a vibrato channel. It operates on 5G7 circuitry.
Music Man HD 130 Reverb
Eric Clapton started using this amp in 1976 and still uses it to this day. The HD 130 is a tube amp that has been with Clapton through thick and thin. From club performances to rehearsals, Clapton used this amp for many events.
However, this tube amp was difficult to use on stage. This is a versatile amp that sounds amazing with nearly any guitar. It has tremendous control over effects and an array of ton
e control knobs.
Fender EC Twinolux
This is a modified version of the 57 Twin-Tweed. Fender took the original and made some minor tweaks to improve its performance and match it to Eric Clapton’s liking. Otherwise, it’s nearly the same as the Twin-Tweed.
He used this custom amp in the year 2011. It is unfortunately no longer in production. Many enthusiasts believe this amp wasn’t the best in Clapton’s rig.
Strings and Picks
Acoustic Guitar Strings
- Martin MEC13 Clapton’s Choice Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
- Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Acoustic Phosphor Bronze .012-.054
Electric Guitar Strings
- Ernie Ball 10-46 Gauge Regular Slinky Strings
- Ernie Ball Heavy Guitar Picks
Man, where do I even begin with this? Eric Clapton is known as one of the best guitar players in rock music and that’s because of his versatility. He loved playing loud but also incorporated other genres into his playing, especially blues.
The reason his playing is so bluesy yet polished is his mix of both major and minor pentatonic scales. This is the secret to his multi-dimensional playing and also why his leads are always amazing.
Guitar players also drool over his vibrato. It’s like his fingers float over the strings and nail every bend flawlessly. Clapton has a very particular vibrato technique.
Unlike other players, he moves his hand off of the back of the neck so his fretting finger is in complete contact with the fretboard. In other words, he executes vibrato with his whole arm — not just his wrist.
As we learned in his gear set-up, Clapton has a specific tone. While his gear is responsible for that, he has different techniques to perfect his tone.
For example, he plays with the tone knobs on his guitar to create that perfect sound. As you also saw, he had a lot of guitars and amps in his arsenal. But he was very specific about his rig.
For example, he would play Fender guitars with Fender amps. It should be no surprise that brands make their products to pair with other products. Clapton knew this and used it to his advantage.
Eric Clapton is an icon. There’s no other way around it. I can honestly write a whole article on his innovations, but I will stick with the most important facts here.
He was triple inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was also inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame.
Clapton has won multiple Grammys. He has played thousands of gigs in his career, numerous songs received major chart successes, and he is recognized across the globe. Even with that being said, I don’t think Clapton ever sold out.
His entire discography contains the perfect amount of sentiment and artistry, never following trends for the sake of following trends.
Clapton is nothing short of a guitar prodigy. He proved that you can not only combine different genres with rock but he has kept the blues alive for decades.
And would you think that he can’t read music? Not at all! While I’m definitely a believer that guitar players should learn theory, Clapton proves not all great guitar players are theory nerds.
Clapton also explored multiple genres throughout his career and always challenged himself, becoming one of the most versatile guitar players in history.
He’s been in numerous bands and also has a successful solo career. He has produced groundbreaking songs that are still worshipped today, both acoustic and electric songs.
Plus, no one plays guitar like Clapton — nor will anyone ever sound like him. Clapton proves you can get that perfect tone with the right gear and skill.
A player doesn’t need fancy effects and pedals. He has a technique for everything, which really hones his skill as an exceptional guitar player.
Today, his playing is still a benchmark for modern guitar players. However, even non-players can appreciate his beautiful songs.
Clapton hasn’t always had an easy career. He struggled with addiction, death, and issues in his personal life, as many musicians have. But at 76 years old, he has accomplished and inspired so much.
Eric Clapton was born on March 30, 1945, in Ripley, Surrey, England. His mom was only 16 years old and his dad, originally from Montreal, Quebec, had to be drafted back into the war before Clapton was even born. However, Clapton was primarily raised by his grandparents.
He started listening to blues music at an early age. Clapton received an acoustic Hoyer guitar for his 13th birthday, but didn’t take playing seriously until he was 15.
Clapton was expelled from school because his interest was in music, not his studies. However, his guitar playing was so advanced he started gaining recognition as young as 16.
It was then that he started gigging and collaborating with other musicians. By 19 years old, he was considered a professional.
- The Yardbirds
- The Bluesbreakers
- Blind Faith
- Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
- Derek and the Dominos
- Eric Clapton (solo career)
In addition to these bands, Clapton has collaborated with numerous musicians, producing various albums and playing multiple events.
Question: What is Eric Clapton’s Favorite Guitar?
Answer: Even though Clapton has used quite a few guitars in his career, his Fender Stratocasters have always been his favorite.
Question: Is Eric Clapton the Richest Guitar Player?
Answer: No. Actually, he isn’t even in the top four. The top four wealthiest guitar players are:
• Paul McCartney (though he mainly played bass for The Beatles)
• Jimmy Buffet
• Dave Evans
• Keith Richards
Question: Does Eric Clapton Play Fast?
Answer: Yes and no. There are times when Clapton would play fast, though I wouldn’t consider him a fast guitar player. He could probably play very fast without making any errors, but he was a guitar player that focused more on technique as opposed to speed.
Eric Clapton is a legend in many ways. He revolutionized rock guitar playing and was one of the earliest virtuosos. From his material with Cream to his solo work, Clapton has released numerous singles that are still famous to this day.
For his versatility, he needed some serious gear. That’s why Clapton mainly played with Fender Strats and was famous for his guitars Brownie and Blackie.
However, he sported a variety of other guitar brands and gear throughout his career. Clapton went through changes in his sound and always matched his gear to what he was playing. But he perfected his tone and technique through the use of skill and experimentation.
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