Eric Clapton is not only one of my favorite guitarists, but he has also been a big influence on the way I approach my guitar tone.
Through the years he has created a number of amazing sounds coming from his guitar.
Most guitarists usually have only one sound for most of their career, but Clapton has created many unique sounds during his lifetime, and has pretty much set the standard for blues rock tone through the decades. I’m not sure if there has been another guitarist who has influenced blues rock guitar tone in so many different ways.
Photo courtesy of ultomatt
Here are the defining Era’s of Eric’s tone in my opinion.
This era from 1965-1966, Eric played a Gibson Les Paul through a 1962 Marshall combo. This setup resulted in a buttery, thick and saturated tone that many think was one of his best tones ever. You can hear the tubes overdriving on these classic recordings. Listen to this tone below.
Eric mainly used a Gibson Sg, a Gibson 335, and 100 watt Marshalls during this time period. In this era Eric developed the classic “Woman Tone”, and created some of the most classic blues rock tones to date. Just listen to the tone on “Strange Brew” or “Spoonful”. Great sustain and thickness.
Derek and the Dominos Era
During this time period, Eric moved to a maple neck Fender Stratocaster (“Brownie”). It was during this era that Eric recorded the classic rock album Layla with Duane Allman. I believe he was using a Fender Champ amp when recording his guitar parts. I heard Duane Allman comment when asked how a listener could figure out who was playing what part on the album. (Duane or Eric) He said, “It’s easy. I play the Gibson, Eric plays the Fender.”
Now is when Eric really starts to change his tone. Before, he never used effects other than a wah to my ears and just cranked the amp. He was now using the infamous “Blackie” guitar as his main axe with Marshall 800 series heads. The “Journeyman” album to me depicted what his tone was like during this time period as well as his “Behind the Sun” album. A lot more gain, delay and reverb sometimes, and a very “dialed in” tone to me. I really like the tone though, but on certain songs I could hear some chorus, which I’m not a big fan of. His version of “After Midnight” has some killer tone on it.
To me, this period saw a resurrection of Clapton going back to basics. The tones he captured during this era are really amazing. Two albums define his tone in my mind during this time period. “24 Nights” and “From the Cradle”. These two albums were the guitar bible for me when I was learning how to play in the early nineties. I wore out both of these albums by practicing along just trying to get some of those licks down. At the time it seemed impossible. But I kept trying through the years.
Eric was mainly using “Blackie” during “24 Nights”, but during the recording of “From the Cradle”, Eric played all kind of different guitars, and we saw a return of the Gibson’s to his arsenal. Eric was mainly using a Soldano Slo-100 amp head giving him a very saturated blues tone. I really wanted this amp in the nineties but I couldn’t come close to affording this beast. Warren Haynes was using this amp as well in the nineties.
And now we get to the modern era where Clapton to me has been very hit or miss with his tones. He has been using mainly different Strats, and various models of reissue Fender Tweed amps. Most of the tones I hear during this period have been ok, but nothing like he sounded like in the past. I think the best tones I heard were from the Cream Reunion Tour.
Well that’s my rundown of how Clapton’s tone has changed throughout the years. What is your favorite era of tone Eric Clapton had?