Eric Clapton got his first guitar at the age of 13—a Hoyer acoustic guitar made in Germany. Back then, Clapton had an innate passion for music. He even wrote Lord Eric on the guitar’s top wood as if he knew he would hit the billboards one day. This very guitar led to the emergence of a virtuoso who would later reshape the blues-rock history.
But what kind of guitar does Eric Clapton play? Clapton doesn’t appear on stage with one, unchanged guitar. His collection is even rammed with countless variants of the same guitar, and we’re going to focus on the ones that he used to leave an unerasable legacy of blues.
A Sneak Peek at Clapton’s Rig: From Les Pauls to Firebirds!
Clapton isn’t that kind of artist that you can easily associate with a particular guitar. The blues master is renowned for being an avid guitar shopper, laying his hands on almost every guitar shape: Les Pauls, Stratocasters, Telecasters, Explorers, SGs, and even Gibson Firebirds! However, we can easily spot the axes he has a soft spot for.
Prior to using Stratocasters, Clapton’s tone didn’t have a solid base to lean upon while playing Les Pauls; he just relied on the generic bright, bluesy tone. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t contradict with his skill; in 1969, this beast nailed both the rhythm and lead sections simultaneously with his black Gibson Les Paul! Now, let’s explore his guitars of choice.
Eric Clapton 1960 Les Paul: The Beano Burst
Have you ever heard the phrase “Clapton is God”? This notion came to prominence in the mid-60s when Clapton was the lead guitarist of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and he had Les Paul hanging on his shoulder in the era this phrase emerged.
Hilariously, It was given that name because Clapton was holding the British Beano comic on the cover for the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album, in which he introduced the first guitar-centered blues-rock sound. You can hear that Beano Burst’s classical tone that’s become the standard for blues in the outset of All Your Love.
Clapton’s Beano Burst features a maple top, typical for a Gibson Les Paul guitar, to let the pickups generate a bright tone. However, the one-piece mahogany back often causes the timbre to lean toward a deep sound, so it was usual for Clapton to remove the glossy pickup covers to achieve the brighter sound he admired.
Note that you’ll hardly find any original 1960 Les Pauls nowadays. Still, Gibson releases a 1960 Reissue that even features Clapton’s favorite thin neck profile, made from a uniform block of mahogany and paired with a rosewood fingerboard.
In the middle, you’ll find two standard humbucker pickups with a 3-way toggle switch. Clapton cranks the switch down to benefit from the bright, bluesy tone the bridge pickup gives off.
Brownie and Blackie: Were They Custom-Made Strats?
Clapton’s transition to Fender Stratocasters has redefined his tone once and for all. Instead of a Les Paul’s versatile tone, he preferred to stick to the all-time bright tone of Strats, so much so that guitarists regard this tone profile as “Clapton-like.”
Brownie is considered his first Strat, named after its two-tone sunburst finish. This transition to Strats probably arose from seeing guitar masters like Jimi Hendrix holding this same guitar shape. The top’s tonewood here is alder, which gave Clapton what he really desired: a full bright sound with plenty of sustain from the three single-coil pickups.
This Strat also features a maple neck with dot inlays on the fretboard. However, you can’t deem this a normal strat since Clapton used it from 1967 to 1970 to record Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs when he played for Derek and the Dominos. This album houses the all-time classic Layla, an unforgettable tune in blues-rock.
Blackie definitely was custom-made by Eric Clapton himself in 1970. He assembled this black-finish Strat from the best components of three different Stratocasters from the 1950s. The guitar derives its lightweight alder body from a 1950 Strat, while the maple neck is taken from a 1957 one.
Blackie was Clapton’s go-to Strat for both recording and performing since it still retained the same bright tone gesture with a midrange boost this time, which is what he was looking for to record his 461 Ocean Boulevard album. This boost is noticeable in the intro of the first track Motherless Child, where he marries the midrange guitar line to the bright, bluesy one.
Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster: The Blues Lives On!
The Eric Clapton Strat concludes our guitarist’s endeavors in pursuit of standardizing the tone that carries on the legacy of both Brownie and Blackie. At the Fender Custom Shop, this signature model is available in Black, Mercedes Blue, and Midnight Blue finishes. You may find Clapton spicing this guitar up with paint jobs, like during his Japan tour in 2001.
Similar to most Strats, this guitar boasts a feather-light alder body with its bright-tone characteristics and the classical Fender maple neck. On the headstock, you’ll find Clapton’s signature near the vintage-style tuning machines.
Fender reinforces Clapton’s signature model with 3 of its proprietary Vintage Noiseless Single-Coil Strat pickups with a 5-way blade switch. These pickups surprisingly clear out any hum just like a noise gate, rendering humbuckers useless.
There’s something unique about this Strat, something tailor-made for Clapton: an additional tone knob. Unlike most Strats with two knobs for master volume and tone control, Fender finalizes this guitar with an extra knob for midrange boost, necessary for the realization of Clapton’s bluesy timbre.
Clapton doesn’t need to be labeled as a master guitar player from fellow musicians since he’s the one granting them testimonials! Since 1962, he has fed the music industry with a rich blues repertoire that still survives on vinyl records and CDs. I joyfully learned to play his tunes, thanks to Guitar Tricks—they’ve got some great lessons that you can check out here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Eric Clapton’s Favorite Guitar?
It’s definitely the Blackie Strat. You can also think of the Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster as a tribute guitar for his original custom-made Blackie.
What Guitar Did Eric Clapton Play on Unplugged?
Eric Clapton’s Unplugged is his sole live album and the best-selling MTV live album of all time. He used both the Martin 000-42 and 000-28 acoustic guitars from 1939 and 1966, respectively.
How Many Guitars Does Eric Clapton Have?
There’s no statement from Clapton about how rich his guitar collection is. However, according to Equipboard, he has possessed around 300 guitars throughout his career.