How To Sound Like Eric Clapton – The Later Years

Eric Clapton is one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time. Learn how he dials in his varied and beautiful blues guitar tones



Eric Clapton is one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time. Over the course of his career – which now spans almost sixty 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 taste musical taste.

Amongst guitar players though – and particularly amongst those interested in recreating Clapton’s beautiful blues guitar tones – there are two distinct phases that are worthy of focus.

The first of these phases is the period that Clapton spent with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream.

The sound that Clapton created in this early stage of his career was unlike anything that audiences had heard before. And to this day, many regard Clapton’s tone during this period to be the gold standard of electric blues guitar tone.

His tone and playing with the Bluesbreakers and Cream had a profound impact on blues and rock music. And it is little exaggeration to state that it totally changed the way that guitarists played.

If you love the searing blues rock tones that Clapton created during this time, I would recommend reading my article – ‘How To Sound Like Eric Clapton – The Early Years‘. In that article I detail all of the gear that you need to recreate Clapton’s tone with the Bluesbreakers and Cream.

The second phase of Clapton’s tone covers a much longer period of time, from the early 1970s onwards. And this is what I will be covering in this article. Here I will be detailing all of the gear that you need to sound like Eric Clapton in his later years.

Some opening thoughts…

Before we dive into the details, I think it is worth clarifying the specific tones that I am going to be focusing on here. For unlike the tones that Eric Clapton created with the Bluesbreakers and Cream, we are not talking about a period of 4 or 5 years. Instead we are talking about a 50 year period. And during this time, Clapton has been in a number of different bands and has released more than 20 studio albums.

As you might expect, over this time elements of Clapton’s tone have changed. His guitar doesn’t sound exactly the same on albums like Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs or Slowhand, as it does on later albums, like Journeyman.

Yet whilst there are differences, the core elements of Eric Clapton’s set-up have remained the same during this time. As such, most of my focus will be on recreating these elements to suit your budget and set-up. I will however also discuss some of the changes that Clapton introduced which affected his tone, and ways you can also recreate these changes.

So without further ado, here is everything that you need to sound like Eric Clapton:


‘Brownie’

The first profound change that Eric Clapton made to his set-up in 1970, was that he moved away from Gibson guitars. He stopped playing Les Pauls, SGs and ES-335s, and instead started to play Fender Stratocasters almost exclusively.



The Fender Strat has since been Clapton’s main guitar, and over the years he has owned and played a whole variety of different Strats. Amongst these guitars though, two stand out as being particularly important:

The first of these is ‘Brownie’ – Eric Clapton’s first Stratocaster. Clapton actually bought the guitar in 1967, but it wasn’t until he joined up with Delaney and Bonnie in 1970 that he played it live.

Clapton then went on to use the guitar to record his self-titled debut album, as well as Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. It is partly for this reason – in addition to the fact that Brownie was Clapton’s first Strat – that it remains one of the most famous guitars he has ever played. In fact it is one of the most famous Strats of all time.

Brownie was a 1956 Stratocaster, which Clapton bought second hand. In fact what attracted him to the guitar was its worn maple neck. As he stated in his own words:

What I always looked for on a Strat was a maple neck that had been worn out – you know that was a thing…I just thought if it had all those kinds of worn-out patches it meant that it had been – you know, well-favoured

Eric Clapton

Yet whilst Brownie may be one of Clapton’s most famous guitars, it was in fact one that he used for only a very short period of time. Struggling to cope with his increasing addiction to heroin, Clapton took a break from touring and recording during 1970. And when he returned properly in 1973, although he was using Brownie, it was as a backup to ‘Blackie’ – his new Fender Stratocaster.

‘Blackie’

Blackie is the guitar that Eric Clapton used most extensively during his career. And as a result, it is one of the most iconic Fender Stratocasters of all time.



When Clapton returned to performing and recording in 1973, he did so with ‘Blackie’. And it was this guitar that he went on to use – almost exclusively – for the next twelve years. ‘Blackie’ was used on all of the studio albums during this period. This includes 461 Ocean Boulevard, Slowhand and Money and Cigarettes.

Unlike ‘Brownie’, ‘Blackie’ was not an original Strat. In fact Clapton put it together using pieces from three or four different Strats that he bought in the U.S.

However, according to Lee Dickinson, Clapton’s guitar tech – ‘Blackie’ was constructed using the body from a 1956 Strat and the neck from a 1957 Strat. Although it has not been confirmed, it is likely that the pickups in Blackie were also from either a 1956 or 1957 Fender Stratocaster.


The Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster

Following twelve years of relentless gigging and recording, Eric Clapton decided to retire ‘Blackie’ in 1985. For although the guitar was still playable, its neck and frets had become increasingly worn.

Clapton gave the guitar to Fender to use as a template for a line of Eric Clapton Signature guitars. These were based closely on ‘Blackie’ but had a number of key differences. Specifically, the Clapton Signature Stratocaster was (and still is) fitted with more powerful pickups, as well as an active mid-boost circuit. Both of these are features that initially appeared on the Fender American Elite Strat, a guitar that Clapton had played briefly in 1985.

Between 1985 and 1988, Clapton played various prototypes of his Signature Stratocaster. And following the official release of the guitar in 1988, the Signature Stratocaster has been Clapton’s main guitar ever since.


Choosing the right Stratocaster

The question you might be asking at this stage then, is which Stratocaster you should buy if you want to sound like Eric Clapton. And it is here that things have the potential to get a little more complicated.

This is because, as noted above, Clapton has used a variety of different Stratocasters throughout his career. And whilst there are obvious similarities between these guitars, there are some notable differences which affect their tone. This is particularly so when we compare ‘Brownie’ and ‘Blackie’ with the later Eric Clapton Signature model.

I will explore these differences in greater depth below. But before we look at these more nuanced elements, it is first important to choose a guitar that will help you to get close to those beautiful Eric Clapton style tones.

Fender Strats from the late 1950s in good condition typically start at prices of around $46,000/£35,000. And although the Fender Custom Shop released a limited production of ‘Blackie’ in the 2006, the build quality and legacy of the guitar is such that second hand versions of these replicas start from around $27,000/£20,000 on sites like Reverb. Unfortunately then, those options are beyond the reach of most players.

The good news though, is that there are a lot of vintage Stratocaster reissues and replicas out there across a range of budgets. There are also a number of Fender Custom guitars in a lower price bracket. Here are my top recommendations if you want to sound like Eric Clapton:

Strats to sound like ‘Slowhand’

In the lower price range, I would recommend looking at the Fender Squier range. In the middle price range, the Mexican made Fender range produce some great guitars. Beyond that and if your budget allows, there are some brilliant American made Fender Strats.

In this price range, you also have the option of the American made Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster. This guitar is closely modelled on ‘Blackie’ and so would be a brilliant choice if you want to sound like Eric Clapton and you are interested in authenticity.

Finally, if you are looking to spend a bit more and make an investment, then there are some beautiful Fender Custom Shop models out there. These models change all of the time. But if you are looking in this price range, then a guitar built to replicate a late ’50s or early ’60s Strat would work very well. Some good examples are as follows.

In this price range, you can also buy the Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Strat, or the Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Journeyman Strat. So if you want to sound like Eric Clapton and are looking to spend a bit more, either of these guitars would make an amazing choice.

All of the guitars listed above will help you to sound like Eric Clapton.

If however you are a massive Eric Clapton fan and you are looking for authenticity, then there are some further elements to consider. This is because as noted above, over the last 50 years Clapton has used a number of different Stratocasters, each with slightly different features. He has also made a couple of modifications to his guitars too.

Let’s have a look at these in a bit more detail:


Getting closer to Clapton’s tone

There are a number of distinguishing features of Clapton’s Strats, and we can divide these into two categories. The first of these categories contains those features which fundamentally affected Clapton’s tone. The second contains those features which affected the feel and playability of his guitar.

I have listed these in full below and have stated the importance of each of these elements in helping you to sound like Eric Clapton.

First though, it is worth noting that if you already have, or if you go out and buy an Eric Clapton Signature Strat – it will be modelled closely on ‘Blackie’ and the subsequent guitars that Clapton has played. As such, you don’t need to worry about these more nuanced elements. Instead you can focus on recreating other areas of Clapton’s set-up. But if you don’t have one of these guitars, it is worth thinking about the following:

Fretboard

All of Eric Clapton’s Stratocasters have maple fretboards. And as noted above, Clapton has spoken at various points about buying Strats based purely on the neck and fretboard of the guitar.

As such, you may notice that almost all of the guitars I earlier recommended come with maple fretboards. The only exceptions to this are guitars in the Squier range, which tend to have laurel fretboards.

Ever since rosewood was first introduced as an alternative to maple on guitar fretboards in the late 1950s, there has been a lot of discussion about the tonal qualities and differences between the two woods. Generally speaking, it is accepted that maple has a brighter and sharper sound.

As is often the case when it comes to guitar gear, in my opinion these differences are somewhat exaggerated. If you compare the sound of a guitar with a maple fretboard with one with a rosewood fretboard in isolation then you can hear the difference. And I do agree that maple has a brighter and sharper sound.

Yet in my opinion, these differences become much less significant in a real playing context. If you are playing with other musicians, or even just using an overdriven tone, the differences between maple and rosewood are much less obvious.

Having said that, there is a difference in feel between the different woods. And this is true whether you are playing alone or in a band. When I bought my Strat, I opted for one with a maple neck. This was not because of the tone, but rather because it felt better when I was playing it.

If you want to sound like Eric Clapton and you are looking for authenticity, then I would recommend choosing maple. Conversely, if you much prefer the feel of rosewood or a similar material (like pau ferro or laurel), then I would recommend going down that route. After all, if you like the feel of your guitar, you are more likely to play at your best. And that is significant, regardless of the specific tone you are looking to recreate.

Neck shape

Compared to the necks on most modern Stratocasters, the neck on Eric Clapton’s Stratocasters is a little unusual.

Manufacturers like Fender use various different letters to describe both the shape and width of a guitar’s neck. Neck shapes are described using letters like ‘C’, ‘V’ and ‘U’. And in addition to this, you can have variations on each of these shapes. So you can have a guitar with a ‘soft’ V neck, or a ‘hard’ V neck. The former has a neck that is a rounded V shape. Conversely, the latter has a neck that is shaped to a sharp point.

There are also variations in the depth of the neck. So there are ‘U’ shaped necks that are very deep from front to back. Conversely, there are also ‘U’ shaped necks that are very shallow.

Most modern Stratocasters have a ‘C’ shaped neck. This is because it is comfortable and suited to a range of different playing styles.

The neck on ‘Blackie’ was a hard ‘V’ shape. Initially Clapton wanted the same neck on his Signature Stratocaster. But when the neck was produced with a slightly softer ‘V’, it turned out to be a shape that Clapton favoured. And he has used this softer neck shape ever since.

Whether you opt for a Strat with a similar neck shape is purely a matter of personal preference. The neck shape has no impact on your tone at all. It just impacts feel and playability.

Generally speaking, guitarists who like to hang their thumb over the top of their fretboard favour ‘V’ shaped necks. So if you are able to do so, try out a number of guitars with different necks and find out what feels the most comfortable.

Pickups

If you have a vintage style Strat or an Eric Clapton Signature Strat, then your guitar is likely to come with a set of vintage style pickups. If not, then I would recommend looking at this element of your set-up.

And when it comes to choosing pickups to help you sound like Eric Clapton, there are a number of different options to consider. Over the years Clapton has used a variety of different pickups. As such I would recommend opting for a set based on which of Clapton’s Strat tones is your favourite.

Both ‘Blackie’ and ‘Brownie’ were fitted with low output vintage pickups. Although the exact pickups used in ‘Blackie’ are somewhat unknown, the likelihood is that the pickups in both guitars were from 1957 Strats. So if you are trying to recreate Clapton’s tone throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, I would recommend one of the following pickup sets:

Conversely, Clapton’s Signature Strat is fitted with slightly more powerful pickups. Specifically, it is fitted with Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups. So if you are looking for pickups with a bit more power, those would make a great choice. The Bare Knuckle ‘Slow Hand’ Strat Pickups would also work well.


Active mid-boost circuit

Arguably the biggest difference between ‘Blackie’ and Clapton’s Signature Strat is that the latter is fitted with an active mid-boost circuit.

In the early 1980s, Fender released the Elite Strat. This was fitted with an ‘MDX mid-boost circuit’. When this circuit was engaged, it boosted the signal of the guitar by 12 dB. Clapton played the Elite Strat for a brief period in 1985, and particularly liked the mid-boost circuit. As a result, he then asked for the circuit to be included in his Signature Strat.

Clapton’s further request was that the circuit be made more powerful. So the effect of the boost was increased to 25 dB. In addition, the circuit comes with a ‘TBX tone control’. In the middle position this is neutral. Turning it up cuts the bass, whereas turning it down cuts the treble.

On Stratocasters fitted with this circuit then, both tone controls both function a little differently. Turning the middle tone control up engages the mid-boost, adding volume and overdrive to your signal. Turning the bottom tone control alters the EQ, but it does so in a way that is quite different to a regular tone control.

At this point you might be asking if you need a mid-boost circuit to sound like Eric Clapton. And as is often the case with guitar gear – the answer depends on your personal preference and also on the rest of your set-up. This is because there are both pros and cons to the circuit, which are as follows:

Pros

On the plus side, the circuit is powerful and gives you a lot of control over your sound. 25 dB is a significant boost in volume. So if you set your amp up correctly and engage the circuit fully, you can totally change your sound. You can also push your amp into a beautiful soft overdrive, which is crucial if you want to sound like Eric Clapton.

In addition, because you control the amount of boost through your tone control, you can easily adjust the level of the effect. This is quite different to using a boost pedal, where you have to set the level of boost on the pedal first. And so the effect is either on or off. You can’t adjust it so quickly or easily.

Cons

The significant drawback of the mid-boost circuit is that it fundamentally changes the sound and features of your guitar. It alters the circuitry and the functions of your tone controls. And so if you currently use these controls on your guitar a lot, changing them for the mid-boost circuit might not be the best idea.

Additionally – and I appreciate that this isn’t strictly a con by itself – it is perhaps worth noting that the mid-boost circuit is not particularly popular. The Elite Strat on which it initially appeared was discontinued in 1985 due to issues with its tremolo system. And apart from Eric Clapton’s Signature Strat and Buddy Guy’s Strat – I don’t know of any other Strats that come fitted with this circuit.

As such, I suspect that the mid-boost circuit is one that is favoured by Clapton and Buddy Guy, but not necessarily universally popular.

If you do want to add the circuit to your guitar, then the great news is that you can buy it relatively cheaply. The Fender Mid-Boost Kit costs around $50/£85. And whilst I would recommend also paying for a professional guitar technician to install it for you, even with that added cost, you can make this ‘mod’ for not much more than $100/£150.


Tremolo block

The final element of Clapton’s Stratocaster worth considering is its blocked tremolo. Unlike many of his fellow bluesmen, Clapton never uses his tremolo bar. And in fact for many years, he has actually ‘blocked’ up the tremolo system on his guitar.

It is argued that blocking your tremolo alters your tone, as well as the ‘feel’ of your guitar. Personally I would question the extent to which either of these effects is really appreciable. As such, I don’t think it is a necessary mod that you need to make to sound like Eric Clapton.

Having said, blocking your tremolo system is likely to improve your tuning stability. So if you struggle with your tuning and you don’t use your tremolo bar very much, it could be a good idea.

It is also a very easy (and reversible) mod. You can either insert a small block of wood between the tremolo system and the body of your guitar, or you can simply adjust the system so that your bridge is no longer floating and instead is flush with the body of your guitar. If you would like to try, then this article outlines all of the steps you need to take.



Amps

In his very early career, Eric Clapton famously used Marshall amplifiers. In fact, the company’s first combo amp – the Marshall 1962 – was nicknamed The Marshall ‘Bluesbreaker’, thanks to the searing blues tones Clapton crafted with ‘John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’.

Yet around the same time that Clapton moved away from Gibson guitars, he decided to make the move away from Marshall amps. Over the last fifty years he has played a wide range of different amps. This includes amps from brands as diverse as Soldano, Cornell and Music Man, amongst others.

It is with Fender amps however that Eric Clapton is best associated. And again, over the last five decades, Clapton has played a wide variety of different Fender amps. However the two that have arguably had the greatest impact on his tone are the Fender ’57 Custom Twin and the Fender ’57 Custom Champ.

Although there is some divergence of opinion around when Clapton started playing the Custom Twin, my understanding is that he first used it in the early 1980s when playing live. He has since used the amp for the majority of his live shows.

To my knowledge, Clapton has never used the ’57 Custom Champ when playing live. Yet despite this, it has played an equally significant role in his tone. For it was on this amp that Clapton recorded Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.

If you want to sound like Eric Clapton during this period then, you might assume that your best option is to either buy a reissue version of the Fender ’57 Custom Twin or the Fender ’57 Custom Champ.

However, whilst both are brilliant amps, they might not be my first choice for most guitarists. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:

The Fender ’57 custom twin

I wouldn’t recommend the Fender Custom Twin because of volume and headroom. With 40 watts and 2×12″ speakers, the Twin is a large and powerful amp. And as I have discussed in much more detail in this article, this is problematic for most guitarists.

This is because in short, to get the most out of your amp, you need to ‘push’ it 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.

The Fender ’57 custom champ

At just 5 watts and with a single 8″ speaker, the Custom Champ is on the other end of the spectrum.

From a volume and headroom perspective, this amp doesn’t present the same problem as the Custom Twin. You could use it at home at a lower volume, and also push it into a beautiful bluesy overdrive without playing at a deafening volume.

With regards to the suitability of the Custom Champ for your set-up, there are 2 factors worth considering.

The first, is the simplicity of the Custom Champ. The amp has just a single volume control. There are no EQ shaping controls, and there is no built in reverb. As such, I would only really recommend the Custom Champ if the following applies to you:

  • You are comfortable using your guitar’s tone and volume controls to alter your sound
  • You either have (or are willing to buy) some additional guitar pedals that will allow you to tweak your tone

If both of the above points are relevant, then the Custom Champ could make an amazing choice.

The second factor to consider is the size of the amp. As noted above, the Champ is a small amp with a small speaker. This makes it a brilliant choice if you are playing at home and favour a slightly overdriven tone.

However because the amp is small, it also lacks headroom. So if you are gigging, or sometimes playing in situations where you need a bit more ‘clean’ volume, then the Custom Champ might be a bit too small.

Eric Clapton signature amps

Eric Clapton’s association with both of these early Fender amps is so strong, that in 2011 he became the first guitar player to release a series of signature amplifiers with Fender. There were three of these, based on the ’57 Custom Twin, ’57 Custom Champ and the ’57 Custom Deluxe.

Each of the amps was similar to the original Fender amp on which it was based. But they all had a number of significant additions. The most notable of these were the addition of a tremolo circuit, and switchable power attenuators.

This second feature was quite significant, as it allowed you to play the amps at a lower volume, whilst largely preserving your tone. So even though the ‘EC Twinolux’ was still likely to be too large and powerful for home use alone, it was arguably more versatile than the original ’57 Custom Twin.

Unfortunately though, Fender have since discontinued this range, and so the amps are no longer in production. There also don’t seem to be many of these amps available on the second hand market either.

Choosing the right guitar amp

Luckily, beyond the original Fender Custom amps and the Eric Clapton Signature amps there are a whole range of Fender amps in different price ranges that will help you to sound like Eric Clapton. Some of my top recommendations here are as follows:

At between 12-22 watts, these amps offer more volume and headroom than the Custom Champ, without being quite as large or powerful as the Custom Twin. This gives them a little more clean headroom, whilst still making them appropriate for playing at home.

In addition, these amps all make great platforms for guitar pedals. So if you want to sound like Eric Clapton and are also looking for a range of vintage blues tones, any of them would make a great choice.


Guitar pedals

As I discussed in more detail here, during his early career, Clapton used only a couple of guitar pedals. And those that he did use were to produce specific effects on one or two songs.

This changed somewhat during the 1980s. And at one point it would appear that Clapton had a much more extensive pedalboard.

A number of the effects included on that pedalboard were multi-effects boards that are no longer in production. There were however also a number of Boss pedals, including a Boss CE-1 Chorus and a Boss Heavy Metal pedal.

Yet whilst Clapton might have had a more extensive pedalboard during this time, I don’t think you need to rush out to buy a whole range of different guitar pedals to sound like Eric Clapton. In fact I would suggest you only need a small number of choice guitar pedals to recreate Clapton’s tone during this period.

As such, I will start here with the pedals that Clapton actually used at various points. I will then look at a number of additional pedals that might help you get closer to Clapton’s beautiful blues guitar tones:

Wah-wah

Eric Clapton first used a wah-wah pedal with Cream. He famously played it on the songs ‘White Room‘ and ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses‘.

During this time, Clapton used a Vox V846 Wah-Wah Pedal. He also used this later in his career, along with a Dunlop Crybaby GCB-95 Wah Pedal and a Dunlop 535Q Crybaby Wah Pedal.

All of these pedals are still available. So if you are looking for a wah-wah pedal and are interested in authenticity, then any of these pedals would make an amazing choice.

Beyond that, the Vox V845 Classic Wah-Wah Pedal, the Vox V847A Wah-Wah Pedal or the Dunlop Cry Baby Mini Wah would also work well.

Tremolo

During his early career, Eric Clapton also used a tremolo pedal. Admittedly this was sparingly, as he only used it on the Cream song ‘Badge‘. And this was only in the short bridge section prior to the guitar solo.

The specific pedal that Clapton used during this period was the Boss TR-2 Tremolo. It isn’t totally clear, but it appears that Clapton later removed this pedal from his board. And it is most likely that he replaced it with one of the multi-effects units mentioned above.

As is true of Clapton’s use of wah-wah, tremolo is an effect that Clapton used during his solo career to create specific sounds on a small number of songs. Some of the most notable of these are ‘Willie And The Hand Jive‘ and ‘My Father’s Eyes

Yet when Clapton collaborated with Fender to release his own line of signature amps, one of the most significant design changes he asked for was the inclusion of a tremolo circuit.

So whilst tremolo might not be a core part of Clapton’s tone, it would seem to be an important effect in his set-up.

If you want to recreate that element of Clapton’s set-up, then the Boss TR-2 Tremolo would be an obvious choice. Though if you do want to consider some further options, the tc electronic Pipeline Tremolo, JHS Tidewater or the Joyo Tremolo would all work well.

Chorus

Throughout parts of the 1980s and 1990s, Eric Clapton started to use modulation effects like chorus more heavily. So if you want to sound like Eric Clapton on albums like Behind The Sun and Journeyman, it might be worth investing in a chorus pedal.

Clapton used a Boss CE-1 Chorus Pedal. That original pedal is no longer available. But Boss do produce the Boss CE-5 Chorus Pedal – a more updated version of the pedal. And so if you are looking for authenticity, this would make a great addition to your rig.

If you do want to consider further options though, then I would recommend the following:

Like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton didn’t always play with a heavy amount of chorus. Instead he added just a small amount of the effect. This thickened his tone up a bit without overly modulating his sound. The guitar sound on the song ‘Cocaine‘ is a great example of his more subtle use of the effect.

Boost pedals – an honourable mention

To my knowledge, Eric Clapton does not – nor has he ever – used overdrive or boost pedals. This is most likely because he instead relies on the mid-boost circuit built into his guitar. If you have the same circuit, then you don’t need to be overly concerned with boost or overdrive pedals. You can just engage that mid-boost, and it will add volume and drive to your tone.

If however you don’t have the mid-boost circuit, then I would recommend adding a boost pedal to your set-up. This will help to push the front end of your amp, causing your tone to break up into a beautiful bluesy overdrive.

There are a whole range of different boost pedals out there that you can choose from. But if you want to sound like Eric Clapton, I would actually recommend stacking 2 boost pedals together. And there are 2 reasons for this:

  • Firstly, Clapton’s boost circuit is more powerful than most boost pedals on the market. So when fully engaged, it produces a greater boost in your signal than most boost pedals
  • Secondly, the Clapton boost circuit specifically accentuates the ‘mids’ in your signal. It does not boost your signal evenly. And so if you want to get close to Clapton’s tone, you need a boost pedal that will allow you to crank up the mids

As such, I would recommend opting for 2 boost pedals; one that you can use as an ‘always on’ pedal, and one that you can use to shape your EQ.

The first pedal will help thicken up and add some warmth to your tone. And the second will help you boost specific frequencies in your signal. When you stack them together, you will also be able to boost your signal up to (and beyond) the 25 dB of Clapton’s mid-boost circuit.

‘Always On’ boost pedals

For your ‘always on’ boost pedal, I would recommend a clean boost pedal. These pedals will help to add warmth and thickness to your sound without colouring your sound. In other words, they will preserve the natural sound of your guitar and amp.

There are a lot of these pedals on the market, but some of my top choices are as follows:

Each of these pedals features a simple one knob design. So all you have to do is set the pedal at the level you want, and then you can leave it alone.

EQ boost pedals

On the other end of the boost pedal spectrum, are EQ boost pedals. These typically feature various different knobs and switches. And all of these give you the option to adjust the bass, mids and treble in your signal.

Some of my top choices here as follows:

As mentioned earlier, these tone tweaking controls are very helpful if you want to sound like Eric Clapton, but you don’t want to fit your guitar with a mid-boost circuit. You can crank up the mids, and cut the bass on the pedal. And this will help you to recreate the effect of the mid-boost circuit and TBX tone control.


Strings

When it comes to guitar strings, Eric Clapton has always adopted a simple approach. In his early career, along with bluesmen like Duane Allman, Rory Gallagher and Roy Buchanan, 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.

In 1970 though Clapton made the switch to Ernie Ball Super Slinky Strings. These run in the gauge .009-.042. Unlike the Fender Rock N’ Roll Strings, these strings are lighter on the top, and actually a bit thicker on the bass.

Finally, in more recent years, Clapton has reportedly switched to using regular Ernie Ball Slinky Strings. These are a thicker gauge and run from 0.10 to 0.46.

In short then, for the majority of his solo career, Eric Clapton has played pretty light gauge strings. Yet whilst that might be the case, I don’t think you need to use light guitar strings to sound like Eric Clapton.

As I wrote about in more detail here, light gauge strings help with playability, rather than tone. Light gauge guitar strings are not a key element of Clapton’s sound. So if you are already happy with your strings, you shouldn’t feel obliged to use the same gauge. If however you are looking for a new set of guitar strings, then either of the Ernie Ball Slinky sets would make a great choice.


Some closing thoughts…

Well there we have it, everything that you need to sound like Eric Clapton. As noted at the beginning of this article, even though many of the core elements of Clapton’s set-up have remained the same over the last 50 years, he has produced a range of different tones over that same period.

Try not to get overwhelmed by chasing all of the small nuances and tiny variations in tone across Clapton’s career. Instead, I would recommend focusing on the key elements of his tone that you love, and working hard to recreate them.

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 [email protected] and I’m happy to help!


P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love 😁 Thank you!

References

Ground Guitar, Wikipedia, Sweetwater, Guitar World, Premier Guitar, Gruhn Guitars, Fender, YouTube, Wikipedia, Where’s Eric, YouTube, TDPRI, Sweetwater, zZounds, Where’s Eric, YouTube, Premier Guitar, Wikipedia, Clapton Web, Muzines, Music Radar, YouTube, Fender, Harmony Central, Music Radar

Images

Feature Image Of Eric Clapton – Majvdl (Wikimedia Commons – Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 License)
Images of Guitar Gear – Andertons, PeakPx, Andertons, Fender Custom Shop, Fender Custom Shop

Links

Many of the links embedded in this article are affiliate links. As such, if you buy one of the pieces of gear I recommend, or an item from the same store after clicking one of these links, I will earn a small commission. I never recommend pieces of gear that I wouldn’t use myself, and I include these affiliate links to ensure that I can keep this content free. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on [email protected].

Comments

  • Would only like to know what Clapton was using( guitar amp effects), on the recording “Born Under A Bad Sign”.
    That I believe was his best sound.
    Thanks

    • Thanks very much for the comment Dick and you’re absolutely right, the guitar tone on the Cream version of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ is killer! That was during Clapton’s early career, where his set-up was totally different to that which he adopted after leaving Cream. I actually detailed all of the gear that Clapton used to dial in the heavier tones of his early career in this article here.

      I hope the information included there helps you to dial in those beautiful blues tones, but if you do have any questions or I can help with anything, please do get in touch. You can reach me on [email protected] and I am always around and happy to help! 😁

    • Thanks very much for the kind comment Gerry, I really appreciate it and I am glad to hear you found the article helpful

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment John, I really appreciate the kind words. I hope you found the article helpful and you’re on the way to dialling in some of those killer Clapton tones If you do have any questions – either about your gear or playing – please do let me know. You can reach me on [email protected] and I’m always around and happy to help!

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