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ERIC CLAPTON - Real Guitar Hero - Guide to The World's Best Guitarists

A Complete Guide To How To Sound Like Eric Clapton

They call him "Slowhand." But anyone who's ever seen him play or even just heard him, knows right away that this is a farce of the greatest magnitude. Because if there's anything that real guitar hero Eric Clapton is not, it's slow of hand. The nickname stuck with him, though, and according to Clapton's official website it comes from his days with the Yardbirds.

The English have a tradition of waiting out delays in sport by doing "a slow handclap." In performances with the Yardbirds, if Eric broke a string onstage, he would stay on stage and replace it (rather than switch guitars). The audience would wait out the delay by doing the "slow handclap," and thus Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky gave him the nick name "Slowhand".  This has stuck with him, even though he is now one of the best guitarists in the world. 

Eric Clapton


The (Much Younger) Clapton

 Raised by his grandparents, Eric had the blues in his blood at an early age, getting expelled from art school for too much guitar playing and blues-listening.  When he turned 17, he joined The Roosters, the first of what was to be a long line of bands in a career that continues to this day.  By the end of that year, the band was defunct, but Eric's guitar playing had become the buzzword on the street, and in October he joined the Yardbirds

Although today Eric Clapton lists a number of modern artists when asked what his favorites are, when he was growing up the blues were what stole his heart. Freddy King, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Albert King, and later Bob Marley and Bob Dylan were all regular players on the Clapton phonograph. In his book about Robert Johnson, Eric called him, "the most important blues musician who ever lived."

It was the Yardbirds that set Clapton on the road to success, although he would bail out 18 months later as the group turned to a more radio-friendly sound. He joined John Mayall's group, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, for a while, and then moved on to Cream, which was to become the band that would propel Eric Clapton into worldwide fame and status as one of the world's best guitar players. After that, there would be assorted groups: Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, and eventually a solo career.

Sunshine Of Your Love

How To Sound Like Eric Clapton—Yeah, Right

With other guitar players, often there was an album that was the defining moment of their career. But Eric had a lot of hits spread out over a period of a period of more than 15 years. He started out playing a Fender Telecaster through a Vox AC 30 amplifier with the Yardbirds, but by the middle of the year 1965 he had switched to a typical rock sound for the era, a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Standard and one of those new Marshall amps, a 45-watt model 1962 Marshall 2x12 combo (JTM 45).

Gibsons would remain the guitar of choice through the Cream era and the recording of the hit song, "Sunshine of Your Love." His main guitars during this period were a 1964 Gibson Les Paul SG that was painted by "The Fool," and the cherry red Gibson ES-335 he can be seen playing at Cream's U.S. concert tour farewell. Amplifers were upgraded to 100-watt Marshall heads and a couple of stacks of Marshall cabinets.


It wasn't until late '69 that Eric would find his own distinctive sound with "Brownie," quickly followed by "Blackie,"—two Fender Stratocasters named for their brown and black finishes respectively. "Layla," is one well-known song that was recorded after he made the switch to Fenders, and according to the fansite,he used a Fender Champ amplifier for recording during the Dominoes era. According to the same website, however, he would continue to use Les Pauls onstage during the Dominoes UK tour.


Wonderful Tonight

As time went by, the number of people he could play with steadily decreased, while the amount of equipment he used to produce his sound steadily increased.

His solo album Slowhand in 1977 would feature him and the by-now famous "Blackie," along with Modified Music Man amps (HD 130 Reverb) and a Leslie cabinet with JBL components with a special foot switch to alternate between the Leslie and plain tone.

An important addition was a Crybaby wah pedal. "Cocaine" and "Wonderful Tonight" were both recorded using this setup.

Honor And Tribute

In 1988, Eric Clapton was the first artist ever to be honored with Fender Signature Series models named for him. Modeled after "Blackie," the guitar would feature 22 frets and three Gold Lace Sensor pickups, along with a funky blocked-off, bridge style tremolo arm meant to be just like the one on "Blackie" that Eric had rigged together.

In the following years, numerous variations would be made to the Eric Clapton Signature model, resulting in guitars like the Gold Leaf Stratocaster and the Eric Clapton Crossroads Signature Stratocaster, along with an amplifier, the '57 Fender Twin Amp.

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Currently the Fender Shop is working on a Crossroads Antigua Eric Clapton Stratocaster, commissioned by Sam Ash along with a $100,000 donation to Eric's drug and alcohol rehabilitation program on the island of Antigua.

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nvsongwriter from Charlottesville VA on April 16, 2012:

You created a really great hib on Eric Clapton. Myself, being a guitar player have been “stealing” his riffs for years. I am in the middle of creating multimedia presentation on the Layla story. It is a facinating story ans I can’t believe no one has made a movie out of it. I mean come on, 2 superstar guitar players and one beautiful model turned Beatle housewife and one steals the wife of the other even though they are best friends. Hollywood would love it.

Eric first heard the blues when listening to a radio show that played mostly children’s songs like “How Much Is That Doggy In the Window”, but the guy that MC’d it would play a blues tune every now and then. And it was usually a song by Big Bill Broonzy. He’s the blues artist that Eric learned all his first guitar riffs. from. He would take a tape recorder over to a bridge in Ripley and play Big Bill’s songs over and over and copy the riffs. Then he would play them back and ask his friends how it sounded. They would say it sounded just like Big Bill Broonzy. That’s where Eric learned to play the blues. Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) was popular during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Probably his biggest claim to fame is that he got some of the gigs Robert Johnson left vacant when he died.

Even though Cream was a money machine for the band and their record company, the constant fighting between drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce wore Clapton down. He grew tired of playing mediator and left the band bringing it to an end. Shortly thereafter he and Steve Winwood put Blind Faith together but a host of problems made him quit that band at the end of their one and only tour. He got interested in their opening act Delaney and Bonnie when Delaney Bramlett started encouraging him to use his vocal talents and helped him start writng his own songs. They got to be great friends and Clapton joined them for a tour and an album. He did his first solo album and then he got the 3 members he would form Derek and the Dominos with from Delany and Bonnies band but not before he and these same musicians helped George Harrison record his “All Things Must Pass” album.

Again, I loved your hub. Keep up the good work. I’ll let you know when my “Layla” piece is ready. I write for Songwriters Marketplace. ( It will be pblished there when I’m done with it. Best of luck!

Joe Russ

James on October 07, 2011:

Hey does anyone know where i can find a collection of pics of claptons guitars....?

tyrrell123 from Yorkshire, England on October 29, 2009:

Clapton is God! Love your series of guides to the worlds best guitarists. Keep up the great work!

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