Unequivocally one of the 20th centuries most influential guitarists. With an unlimited arsenal of guitar gear at his disposal, how do you get close to sounding like Eric Clapton?
When history reflects on the mid-20th century explosion in guitar music, they’ll remember the music of Jimi Hendrix, Hank Marvin, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and David Gilmour. And of course, Eric Clapton. Never one to shy away from breaking the mould, Clapton has always been lauded for his supreme taste in guitars and subsequent legendary memorabilia.
But the Yardbirds, Cream and Bluesbreakers lead guitarist is more than a figure in the background of a bygone era. He was a driving force in technical ability, soulful expression and experimentation within rock and blues.
Clapton used a long list of guitars, amps and effects during his most prominent sixties and seventies discography for which he is revered most. Here is a selection of both boutique and affordable options to achieve the famous Slowhand tone.
Eric Clapton wasn’t one to settle on a particular type of guitar. He played a selection of Gibson Les Pauls, SGs and Firebirds, Fender Strats and Teles and a Gretsch or two throughout his illustrious career. Most iconic of all is “Blackie”, a heavily modded Strat made using ’56 and ’57 parts he could get his hands on at the time.
Fender has a diverse range of Clapton-inspired Strats at different prices. Great affordable alternatives would be the Classic series or the Squier Classic Vibe, which encapsulate retro single coil tone, thicker neck profiles and the distinctive look of a retro instrument. If you didn’t get the memo, retro is what we’re going for here.
Clapton has always preferred to use a Fender for his clean tone and a Marshall for gain. He’s stuck by the famous Fender Twin for most of his career. It is a great pedal platform amp with glistening cleans to suit single coil pickups. The Tweed sound has a natural, organic, earthy feel. Clapton has used it to its full effect with his expressive playing technique.
The Marshall Plexi style stack is a firm favourite among rock guitarists and can deliver ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ grunt no matter the particular model, be it a vintage reissue JTM45 or new SV20H Studio. Fender Champion or Marshall Code digital amps cover a wide variety of Clapton tones on a budget.
A wah pedal is an essential bit of kit in your locker to get the most out of those soulful Clapton leads. Opt for a Vox or Dunlop Cry Baby at your discretion – Clapton for sure did. Add a bit of flavour to your playing using ‘always on’ pedals. As the term suggests, keep these on throughout your rhythm sections to create presence and movement through low frequencies.
Boss pedals have been a mainstay in Clapton’s rig since the seventies and make absolutely every type of effect. You should consider chorus, delay and tremolo to emulate his sound. He even used a now discontinued Heavy Metal distortion pedal, but an DS-1 could fill the void quite nicely. Clapton championed synth effects, too with his use of the Roland G-505 for ambient passages. The boffins at Electro Harmonix love a good synth pedal, so they’d make a for a perfect starting point.