Eric Clapton is one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time. Learn everything about the gear he used in his early career to create his iconic blues rock tones
Eric Clapton is one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time. Over the course of his career – which now spans almost 60 years – he has inspired generations of guitarists.
The history of Clapton’s career is remarkable in many ways. Though perhaps what particularly stands out is the way that he has continually adapted and altered his style. In fact he has done this to such an extent, that his music appeals to a huge spectrum of people; from aspiring rock and blues guitar players to fans with a much softer and more pop oriented musical taste.
Not only this, but in many cases fans have little awareness of the breath of music that Clapton has created. Those who love Clapton for his Unplugged album are often not even aware of the music he has created with bands like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith.
And it is little surprise. When you compare Clapton’s later albums with those that he recorded with Cream, you would be forgiven for not spotting the connection. Everything from the style and intensity of the music, to the sound of the guitars, is different.
It is this last point that I will be focusing on in this article. For in the same way that Eric Clapton has continually adapted his music, he has done the same with his guitar tone and gear.
Here though, Clapton has undergone fewer changes. And in fact there are 2 distinct phases that Clapton has gone through when it comes to his gear and guitar tone.
Early Eric Clapton
The first of these phases – though short – had a profound impact on blues and rock music. It is little exaggeration to state that it totally changed the way that guitarists played.
As a young musician performing in the London club scene during the mid-1960s, Clapton was well recognised as being one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
His reputation was only enhanced when he joined ‘John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’. In 1966 the band released John Mayall’s Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton – an album that is now widely regarded as one of the most important blues albums ever recorded.
It played a huge part in the start of the second wave of the British blues movement. This caused an explosion in the popularity of blues and blues rock music. And this was not just in the U.K., but also in the U.S.
Guitarists like B.B. King and Muddy Waters gained new levels of stardom both in the U.S. and abroad. They were granted access to prestigious venues like the Fillmore East, from which they had previously been banned. And they played in front of fully white audiences for the first time in their careers.
The Bluesbreakers & Cream
The album also helped to catapult Clapton into stardom. This was partly a result of his amazing guitar playing, but also a result of his guitar tone. The sound that Clapton created was unlike anything that audiences had heard before. And to this day, many regard Clapton’s tone on this album to be the gold standard of electric blues guitar tone.
In this article, I will be focusing on this guitar tone, and on the tone that Clapton created during his time with Cream.
I will cover all of the gear that Clapton used during this period, and will provide suggestions and alternatives to help you craft a similar tone to suit your set-up and budget. So without further ado, here is everything you need to sound like Eric Clapton in his early years:
The ‘Beano’ burst
Even in his early career, Eric Clapton experimented with a range of different guitars. These included various different Gibson models, as well as a Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, and a Gretsch.
The guitar with which he is arguably best associated with during this time however, is the Gibson Les Paul. And whilst Clapton had a range of different Les Pauls, he is best associated with his 1960 ‘Beano Burst’.
This is the Les Paul that Clapton used when recording John Mayall’s Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. And it is for this reason that the Les Paul has earned the ‘Beano’ nickname. The name originates from the Blues Breakers album. For on the cover of the album, a disinterested Clapton is sat reading a copy of the Beano magazine.
Unfortunately, Clapton wasn’t able to use the guitar for very long, as it was stolen during a rehearsal with Cream in 1966. Yet despite this, the Beano Burst remains one of the most famous Gibson Les Pauls of all time.
The guitar was essentially a stock 1960 Les Paul. There does remain some debate as to whether it was a 1959 or 1960 model. Yet Clapton has frequently commented on the slender neck of the guitar. And this is a feature that is generally associated with Les Pauls made in 1960.
Gibson Les Paul options
If you want to sound like Eric Clapton during his time with the Bluesbreakers then, I would recommend going for a 1960 Gibson Les Paul, a ’60 Les Paul replica, or a vintage style Les Paul.
Original ’60 Les Pauls in good condition start from prices around $265,000/£200,000. And although in 2011 the Gibson Custom Shop released 600 replicas of the ‘Beano Burst’, such is the build quality and legacy of the guitar, that even second hand versions of this replica start at around $19,800/£15,000 on sites like Reverb. Unsurprisingly then, those options are beyond the reach of most players.
The good news, is that there are a lot of vintage Les Paul reissues and replicas out there. And these are available in a range of budgets.
In the lower price range, these Les Pauls tend to be tribute style guitars, or guitars modelled after a specific decade. Then if you go up to the Custom Shop level, you can find guitars that are built to replicate models made in a specific year. This typically requires higher quality, bespoke made parts and manufacturing techniques. And both of these incur extra cost.
So with that in mind, the best option outside of the Custom Shop is to look at Tribute and ’50s/’60s style guitars. These are vintage style models that do a great job of recreating the features of a ’60 Les Paul, without the higher price tag.
In the lower price range, I would recommend going for an Epiphone replica. After Epiphone, I would recommend one of the cheaper Gibson Tribute or Studio models. Beyond that, if you can stretch to it, then there are some brilliant Gibson Les Paul options. Finally, if you are looking to spend a bit more and make an investment, then there are some beautiful Gibson Custom Shop models.
All of these guitars will help you sound like Eric Clapton in his early career. And with a few further tweaks to your pickups (see below for more details), you can get even closer to those searing British blues tones.
The Gibson ‘Fool’ SG
When you think of iconic Gibson SG players – Eric Clapton might not be the first guitarist to spring to mind. Yet during much of his time with Cream, Clapton relied heavily on his ‘Fool’ SG. And in fact, it was on his SG that Clapton created his legendary ‘Woman Tone’ (more on this below).
Though there remains some speculation as to the exact songs and albums on which Clapton played ‘The Fool’, it is generally accepted that he played it extensively on the albums Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire, as well as in many of his live performances.
Clapton acquired the SG in 1967. Shortly afterwards, he arranged for it to be painted in psychedelic colours by ‘The Fool’; an art group who worked in some capacity with a variety of bands during the 1960s. This included The Beatles, The Hollies and Procol Harum.
The ‘Fool’ was a 1964 Gibson SG, which was basically stock, though Clapton did make a couple of changes. The first of these was to the tuners. These were originally Kluson, but Clapton replaced them with Grovers. Additionally, when Clapton first acquired the SG, it came with a Deluxe Vibrola arm. Clapton initially removed the cover from this Vibrola arm to better show the artwork beneath. He later removed the Vibrola altogether.
Gibson SG options
If you love the sound of Eric Clapton’s tone in Cream, I would recommend going for a Gibson SG. As is true of most vintage instruments, original Gibson SGs from 1964 are both rare and expensive. And although you can find them on sites like Reverb, they typically start at prices from around $20,000/£15,000, depending on their condition.
Additionally, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Gibson have never produced a Custom Shop Model based on Clapton’s SG. The good news though, is that Epiphone and Gibson have a variety of different SG models, across a range of different budgets.
In the lower price range, I would recommend going for an Epiphone replica. After the entry level SG range, you get to the Gibson Tribute and Standard range. And here there is a bit of a jump in price.
Any of the above guitars will help you get closer to Clapton’s legendary ‘Woman tone’. Whether you choose to opt for an instrument with a Vibrola arm really comes down to personal preference. Given that Clapton removed the Vibrola arm on his SG though, it certainly isn’t necessary to recreate his tone.
Beyond this, if you are interested in authenticity and want to recreate the look of Clapton’s ‘Fool’, then you have a couple of further options. The first is to go for a bespoke ‘Fool SG’. There are not many of these around, though you can buy a custom made Fool SG from Guitar Hangar from $6499/£4900. If you are a huge Eric Clapton fan and are looking to make an investment, this could be an amazing option.
In a lower price range, I would also recommend looking at UK based company Painted Player. They sell a variety of Gibson and Epiphone SGs, all of which come in the same psychedelic colours as Clapton’s original.
Some further options to consider
If you want to sound like Eric Clapton in his early career, then a Gibson Les Paul or SG would make an amazing choice.
Having said that – there are 2 further guitars that Clapton used quite extensively with Cream. These are the Gibson Firebird I and the Gibson ES-335.
The Gibson Firebird I
Clapton purchased the Firebird in 1968 and used it during Cream’s ‘Farewell Tour’. Clapton’s Firebird was fitted with just a single mini humbucker pickup in the bridge position.
Clapton didn’t use the Firebird on any of Cream’s studio albums. So if you are looking to recreate the tone from a Cream album, I would recommend opting for either a Gibson Les Paul or SG. However, if you are looking for the raw and aggressive tone that Clapton had when playing live with Cream, and you are also looking for an all around great guitar for blues and blues rock, a Firebird could be a great option.
In 2019 the Gibson Custom Shop released 100 replica version of Clapton’s original Firebird. This was a meticulous recreation and came with a signed backplate. Although the production run of the guitars was very limited, you can actually still buy the guitar second hand on Reverb. Prices start at around $11,300/£8500. In a similar price range, you can also buy original Gibson Firebird I guitars from various dates in the 1960s.
So, whilst these options are beyond the reach of most players, if you want to sound like Eric Clapton and are looking to make an investment, either of those guitars would make an amazing choice.
Beyond those premium guitars, there are a range of options to suit all budgets. Some of my top choices are:
It is worth noting that modern Epiphone and Gibson Firebirds have both their neck and bridge pickups. So if you do go for one of these guitars, stick to the bridge pickup if you want to recreate Clapton’s fiery blues rock tones.
The Gibson ES-335
The final option to consider, is a Gibson ES-335. There remains some debate as to when Clapton purchased the ES-335, and as a result, how much he played the guitar. Clapton has stated at various points that he bought his ES-335 in 1964, with money he saved up from playing with The Yardbirds.
However there is also evidence to suggest that Clapton may have misremembered the dates. In fact it is arguably more likely that he bought the guitar in 1968, just 2 weeks before Cream’s farewell concert at The Royal Albert Hall.
Regardless of which is true – there are 2 facts of which everyone seems to be in agreement. The first is that Clapton used the ES-335 during that final Cream concert. The second is that he also used it on Cream’s Goodbye album. Specifically, it is believed that he used it on the song ‘Badge‘.
As you might expect, original ES-335s from the 1960s do not come cheap. And prices on Reverb start from around $20,000/£15,000. Again though, there are a range of options across different budgets. Some of my top recommendations are as follows:
Eric Clapton described the ES-335 as working equally well for both blues and rock, and being ‘acceptable on every front’. Both B.B. King and Freddie King used similar ES guitars. And Eric Johnson used an ES-335 to record his famous instrumental, ‘Cliff’s Of Dover‘. So if you want to sound like Eric Clapton and also recreate a variety of vintage blues and rock tones, an ES-335 or ES-335 replica could be an amazing choice.
Pickups play a vital role in your tone. And so if you want a vintage style blues or blues rock tone, it is worth looking at this element of your set-up. The pickups from Gibson guitars made in the late 1950s and 1960s have a lower output than modern pickups. This gives them a sweeter and less harsh sound, particularly when you play with a more overdriven tone.
If you already have a Gibson or Custom Shop guitar modelled on a specific era, then the likelihood is that it has a set of vintage style pickups. If not, then there are some great pickup sets based specifically on Clapton’s early tones. Either the ‘Beano‘ pickups by OX4 Pickups, or a set of ‘Beano Bluesbreakers‘ by Wizz Pickups would work very well.
In addition, there are a wide range of vintage style humbucker pickup sets. These are all modelled on early Gibson humbucker pickups, and will help you to recreate Clapton’s early tones. Some of my top choices are as follows:
- Gibson ’57 Classic Humbuckers
- Seymour Duncan ’59 Humbuckers
- Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucking Pickups
- Stormy Monday Humbuckers
Finally, if you decide to go for a Gibson Firebird, then a Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Pickup would make a great choice in the bridge position.
The Marshall ‘Bluesbreaker’
In 1962, Marshall released their first combo amp – the 30W Marshall 1962. It remains one of the most important amps the company has ever produced. Over the years it has been described as ‘the definitive rock amplifier’ and as being the amp responsible for ‘the sound that launched British blues-rock in the mid-1960s‘.
This was the amp that Clapton used with the Bluesbreakers. He combined this amp with his Gibson Les Paul and created tones that had never before been heard. When the Bluesbreaker album came out in 1966, the majority of guitarists were still using American voiced, Fender amps. These amps had a lot of headroom and produced a predominantly clean tone.
By contrast, the amps that Jim Marshall produced for British musicians like Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton had a much more overdriven tone. This allowed them to create a totally different sound. It is one that was novel at the time, but which we now associate with the sound of classic rock and blues rock.
As a result, when people discovered which amp Clapton had used on the album, the Marshall 1962 soon came to be known as the ‘Marshall Bluesbreaker’.
The Marshall JTM45 & JTM45 Super Lead
After Clapton left the Bluesbreakers and formed Cream, he switched to using larger Marshall stacks. He first used a 100W Marshall JTM45 head, which he paired up with 2 Marshall 2×12 cabinets. He later switched to using a 100W JTM45 Super Lead, which again he paired up with 2×12 cabinets.
Clapton used both of these amps during his time with Cream. It does however remain a little unclear when he switched from using the JTM45 to the Super Lead. It is generally accepted that he used a JTM45 on the album Fresh Cream. But there is some debate as to whether he used it on other albums, and if so on which songs and parts.
This debate is not insignificant. Because although the 2 amps do have a lot in common, the early JTM45 was fitted with KT66s output tubes, whilst the Super Lead was fitted with EL34 tubes. This gave the Super Lead a more biting and aggressive tone.
Like the Bluesbreaker amp, both the JTM45 and JTM45 Super Lead are widely regarded are some of the best amplifiers that Marshall have ever created. In fact, because the JTM45 was also the amp of choice for Jimi Hendrix, many consider it to be Marshall’s most important amp.
The importance of volume
Before we start to look at amps that will help you to sound like Eric Clapton in his early days, it is worth discussing volume. For although Clapton changed amps during this early point in his career, his approach to playing them was always the same. He cranked his amps to full and played loud. As he noted in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1968, when talking about the ‘two 100 watt Marshalls’ he used live:
I set them full on everything, full treble, full bass and full presence, same with the controls on the guitar. If you’ve got the amp and guitar full, there is so much volume that you can get it 100 miles awayEric Clapton
Almost everyone who played or worked with Clapton during this time observed the staggering volume at which he played. Mike Vernon – the producer on John Mayall’s Blues Breaker album noted that during the recording process, ‘people in the canteen behind the studio were complaining about the noise’.
Clapton pushed his amps hard and this had a significant impact on his tone. It caused his amp to break up, which created an overdriven tone that we now associate with blues and blues rock guitar.
Recreating this element of Clapton’s set-up from his early career is challenging. The Marshall Bluesbreaker and especially the Marshall JTM45 and Super Lead are powerful amps. To get the most out of them, you need to ‘push’ them into a beautiful bluesy overdrive. And to do this, you need to play your amp at a certain volume.
This is difficult for most guitarists – who have family and neighbours to consider – and so need to be mindful of their volume.
Recreating Clapton’s early setup
Of course, if you have the ability to play at high volumes, then a reissue version of either of the amps that Clapton used would make a great choice.
I suggest opting for a reissue version, because original JTM45 and Bluesbreaker amps are both rare and expensive on the second hand market. And given that tube amps can be temperamental at the best of times, I wouldn’t suggest buying such an old amp if you are just interested in beautiful blues tones (and you are not a collector),
The good news, is that you can still readily buy reissue versions of both types of amp that Clapton used during this time.
Marshall still produce a faithful recreation of the Marshall Bluesbreaker. And whilst at around $3299/£1500, this amp is in a slightly higher price bracket (particularly so in the U.S.) it is an amazing option if you want to recreate Clapton’s early tones, and you also have the ability to play at higher volumes.
Similarly, Marshall also offer the Marshall JTM45 225. This is a reissue of early JTM45 Marshall amps. The key difference, is that the reissue version is 30, and not 100 watts. If you are particularly interested in authenticity, you might view this as a drawback. But from a practical point of view, a 30 watt head is much more suitable for the majority of guitarists (unless you are playing very large stadiums!)
If you do go for this option, I would recommend pairing it up with one of Marshall’s smaller vintage style 1×12″ cabinets. Alternatively, you could go for a larger 2×12″ cabinet if you wanted more power.
Lower watt alternatives
Even though both the Marshall Bluesbreaker and JTM45 reissues are not huge by comparison to some of the earlier Marshall amps and stacks, they are still likely to be too powerful if you are doing most of your playing at home.
This is particularly the case when you consider that Clapton cranked his amp. And if you want to create a similar sound, then you need to crank your amp in a similar way.
So if you want to dial in a beautiful British blues tone, but at a lower level, I would recommend looking at a smaller Marshall amp. And the good news here is that there are a range of options to suit different budgets. Some of my top choices are as follows:
Of these combos, there are head versions of the Studio Vintage Plexi and the Marshall Origin 20W. So if you want to build a stack, one of these smaller heads could be a brilliant choice. You could then pair it up with one of Marshall’s smaller vintage style 1×12″ cabinets.
Recreating the ‘Woman tone’
With Cream, Clapton famously created what we now know as the ‘Woman Tone’. You can hear this on a whole range of songs, though it is most obvious on songs like ‘I Feel Free‘, SWLABR, the beginning of ‘White Room’ and ‘Sunshine Of Your Love‘.
To recreate the woman tone, it is first important to have the foundations in place. If you really want to get close to that legendary tone, I would recommend using one of the guitars and amps listed above. Once you have that in place, follow these steps:
- Crank the volume on your amp and get it to the point where it is starting to overdrive
- On your guitar, select either your neck pickup, or both your neck and bridge pickups together
- Roll the tone controls on your guitar all the way down to 0 or 1
- Roll the volume control on your guitar up to 10
Clapton memorably illustrated how he achieved this tone in the Farewell Cream documentary. And you can see it from the 1.55 mark in this clip here.
Of course what Clapton doesn’t mention in the clip is how is amp is set-up. And although in various interviews he stated that he played with all of the controls on his amp set on full, I doubt that he ran his amps like that all of the time.
As such, you will need to experiment and play around with different settings to really dial in the woman tone. But if you follow the points above you will be able to get close. You can then adjust and experiment from there until you recreate that beautiful tone.
As is true of as lot of the early blues and rock guitarists, Eric Clapton didn’t use many guitar pedals during his early career. (And in fact he has not used many pedals at any point during his career).
With Cream there are 2 pedals that Clapton did use to create specific effects on a couple of songs. The first of these was a wah-wah pedal. Clapton used this to great effect on the songs ‘White Room‘ and ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses‘.
Specifically, Clapton used a Vox V846 Wah-Wah pedal. Reissue versions of this pedal are still readily available. So if you are looking for a wah-wah pedal and are interested in authenticity, then the Vox V846 Wah-Wah Reissue would be an amazing choice.
Beyond that, either the Vox V845 Classic Wah-Wah Pedal or the Vox V847A Wah-Wah Pedal would also work well.
The second guitar pedal that Clapton used during this period – albeit it sparingly – was a tremolo pedal. He only used this on the song ‘Badge‘ and only in the short bridge section prior to the guitar solo.
As such, I don’t think that you need a tremolo pedal to recreate Clapton’s early tones. However if you are interested in authenticity, I would recommend the Boss TR-2 Tremolo, as this was the specific pedal that Clapton used.
If you do want to consider some further options, then the tc electronic Pipeline Tremolo, JHS Tidewater or the Joyo Tremolo would all work well.
The treble booster – an honourable mention
The final type of pedal worth considering if you want to sound like Eric Clapton in his early career, is a treble booster.
To my knowledge there is no firm evidence that Clapton ever used a treble booster pedal. Yet amongst a lot of guitarists, there has been a long held belief that he used the Dallas Range Master Treble Booster Pedal when he recorded with the Bluesbreakers. In fact some of these guitarists go so far as to argue that Clapton’s tone on the album was possible only because he used a treble booster.
Whether Eric Clapton did use this pedal on the Bluesbreakers album remains uncertain. Yet despite this, I would actually still recommend adding a treble booster to your set-up if you want to recreate Clapton’s ‘Beano’ tone. (For although debate rages as to whether Clapton used a treble booster with the Bluesbreakers, it is generally accepted that he didn’t play one with Cream).
I recommend a treble booster for 2 reasons:
The Beano tone
The first, is that depending on the rest of your rig, a treble booster pedal will help you get closer to Clapton’s Bluesbreaker tone. This is because, regardless of whether or not Clapton used a treble booster on the Blues Breaker album, it certainly sounds like he did.
His tone on the album has a well defined top end and bite. Both Gibson Les Pauls and Marshall amps are quite ‘dark’ sounding. They have quite a lot of bass, and not such a well defined top end. When you combine the two and crank the volume, you run the risk of ending up with a ‘muddy’ tone.
Clapton’s tone on the album is never muddy, and always retains that top end clarity. As mentioned above, whether this is because he used a treble booster is unclear. But if you have a Gibson guitar and a Marshall amp, adding a treble booster pedal to your set-up will help. It will ensure that your tone retains clarity. This will improve your tone and will help you to cut through the mix in a live setting.
British blues tones
The second reason I would recommend adding a treble booster into the mix, is because it will help you to create a range of vintage British blues tones.
Treble boosters first came into prominence in England in the mid 1960s. British bluesmen were struggling to get the tones they wanted, especially at high volumes. This was because, unlike their American counterparts, most of them were not using bright and sparkly Fender amps. They were using high gain amps that had a lot of bass. When they cranked these amps, the bass frequencies became overpowering. Their tone turned ‘muddy’ and they struggled to cut through the mix.
Treble boosters solved this problem. They allowed these British guitarists to push their amps hard. And at the same time they filtered out unwanted bass tones and amplified their mid and top end frequencies.
Rory Gallagher was arguably the biggest proponent of the treble booster. He relied heavily on the Dallas Rangemaster – the original and most famous treble booster. It was a key part of his fiery blues tone. Inspired by Gallagher’s tone, Brian May went on to use the same pedal.
As such, if you are looking for a more overdriven, British blues sound, a treble booster pedal could be a great addition to your rig.
Choosing the right treble booster
The original Dallas Rangemaster that Clapton reportedly used is no longer in production. You can still pick them up second hand on sites like Reverb. But as they have now become collectible items, they will set you back around $2500/£1900.
Luckily, the British Pedal Company have built a detailed replica of the original. And at the very reasonable price of $250/£189, this would be a brilliant option. However, if you want to consider further options, I would also recommend:
These will all add a bit of bite and aggression to your sound. And if you are using a naturally dark sounding guitar and amp combination, it will help you to get closer to those classic British blues rock tones.
When it comes to guitar strings, Eric Clapton has always adopted a simple approach. Like many of his contemporary bluesmen – including Duane Allman, Rory Gallagher and Roy Buchanan – during this time, Clapton played a set of ‘Fender Rock N’ Roll 150 Strings’. For Clapton his string gauge ran as follows – .010, .013, .015, .026, .032, .038.
This is essentially a mixed gauge set of strings, with medium gauge treble strings and light gauge bass strings.
There aren’t that many ready made string sets in this gauge, but Fender do offer a set of Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child strings in gauge .010-.038s. So if you are looking to replicate the gauge Clapton used during this period, those could be a great option.
The other option, could be to go for a set of Ernie Ball Super Slinky Strings. These run in the gauge .009-.042. Unlike the Fender Rock N’ Roll Strings, these strings are much lighter on the top, and actually a bit thicker on the bass. Clapton didn’t use these strings in the Bluesbreakers and Cream, but he has since used them for the majority of his career.
Having said that, I don’t think you don’t need to use light guitar strings to sound like Clapton in his early career. As I wrote about in more detail here, light gauge strings help with playability, rather than tone. Light guitar strings are not a key element of Clapton’s sound. So if you are already happy with your strings, I don’t think you should feel obliged to use the same gauge.
In fact, in this case I would argue that the material from which the strings are made is more important. The Fender 150 Strings that Clapton used were pure nickel. And strings made from pure nickel typically have a warmer, more vintage tone. The Hendrix Voodoo Child strings are not pure nickel. But Fender do offer a new version of the 150s (in .010-.046 gauge) that are made of pure nickel. So a set like that – or a set of Ernie Ball Classic Pure Nickel Strings (.010-.046) would also work well.
Well there we have it, everything that you need to sound like Eric Clapton when he played with the Bluesbreakers and Cream.
The tones that Clapton created during this time remain some of the most celebrated of all time for 2 reasons:
They had a significant impact on music and guitar playing. The heavily overdriven and aggressive tones that Clapton created were new and exciting. Guitarists had not played in that way before, and Clapton really did help to pioneer a new sound that went on to influence countless guitarists, either directly or indirectly.
They are very hard to recreate. The tone that Clapton created during this time is not one that has been copied successfully with any kind of frequency. As a result, it has achieved a somewhat legendary status.
I don’t say this second point to put you off. If you follow the advice laid out here, you will be able to create a range of beautiful blues tones, and get close to that early Clapton sound
The key challenge that will be difficult for most of us to overcome – is that of volume.
During this period, Clapton used big and powerful amps. These amps produced huge amounts of volume and also physically moved a lot of air when they were cranked. And this had a big impact on Clapton’s tone.
If you have the ability to crank a powerful amp on full, then go for it! If not, then I would work on getting close to those classic tones, whilst accepting that the difference in playing volume will have an impact on your tone. Think of it as the difference between hearing the sound of a plane take off when it is happening on television, compared with being stood on the runway. The sound is very similar, but it is clear that volume makes a significant difference to what you are hearing.
Beyond that, if you want to sound like Eric Clapton in his early years, work on your technique and playing style. Study Clapton’s playing and how this helped to create his tone.
In this article here I outline some points to help. Combine them with the information outlined here, as well as passion and intensity, and you will be well on your way to recreating one of the most legendary blues guitar tones of all time.
Good luck! And if there is anything at all I can help with, or if you have any questions, just pop them in the comments below or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to help!
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Feature Image Of Eric Clapton – Alamy Stock Photo
Image of Rory Gallagher – Feature Image – Heinrich Klaffs (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License)
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Would like to hear you produce your best woman town. words are words . sound is sound.
Strymon makes the LEX ROTARY – Rotating Speaker Effects Pedal
Strymon dot net slash product slash lex slash
Thanks so much for sharing Scott – that’s a brilliant suggestion for recreating those rotary speaker sounds! 😁
Hello! Very intrersting post, but I think one thing here is wrong. Clapton never used tremolo, sound in middle section of Badge is Leslie cab or something like this. So you need rotating cab simulator pedal for this sound. Cheers!
Hi Sasha, thanks very much for the comment and the insight, I really appreciate it. I had a further look into this, and you’re absolutely right! From what I can see, Clapton did use a tremolo effect – but later in his career – when he was playing songs like Badge live. As you pointed out though, on the original studio recording, he used a Leslie cab. I’ll get researching some appropriate cab simulators and update the post accordingly. Thanks so much again! 😁