Today, 30th March, marks Eric Clapton's 71st birthday. The legendary guitarist is still a favourite amongst the baby boomer generation who grew up in the sixties, but perhaps not as revered today by a younger crowd as other guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page.
There's no denying, though, that Eric Clapton is arguably the most important guitarist of the 20th century - after all, he was was the first guitarist to put the Gibson Les Paul on the rock'n'roll map, setting the path for all rock music that followed, and also inspired Hendrix to crank up the volume, besides establishing himself as one of the greatest Fender Stratocaster players, ever.
Here's our Eric Clapton Top 7 career highlights, in seven different guitars! And what's more: we've also listed similar guitars you can purchase now, if you want to replicate the look & tone of his most famous instruments!
1) The Yardbirds, 'I Wish You Would' | Guitar: Fender Telecaster
Eric Clapton first established himself as one of the foremost guitarists in Britain when playing with The Yardbirds. When The Rolling Stones got too big to play at the small Crawdaddy Club in Richmond by late 1963, The Yardbirds stepped in and soon got their own following, playing a more authentic version of the blues. Clapton gained his "Slowhand" nickname then, and, together with the band, developed their famous "rave-ups" live, when they'd build a song to ecstatic climax, as shown on 'I Wish You Would', which would become their first single.
2) John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, 'Steppin' out' | Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard
Just as The Yardbirds were becoming stars, Clapton decided to leave the band, in 1965. The reasons are well-documented now: he was unhappy with what he saw as a "commercial" direction the band was heading to, and wanted to just play the blues. His next move was the stuff of legend: he joined John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers for one album only, and live gigs that cemented his reputation as a guitar god - or, as graffiti all over London would state, "God" with capital "G"!
The gear: Clapton guitar tone influenced a generation. Gibson Les Paul Standard into a Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker Combo. A classic setup that's still "the dream team" for many guitarists. Some say he also used a Treble Booster unit, but Clapton himself said he didn't recall using one.
3) Cream, 'Sunshine Of Your Love' | Guitar: Gibson SG
Clapton's next move, was to establish the world's first "supergroup" - Cream. With Jack Bruce (Bass) and Ginger Baker (Drums), Cream was a band like no one had seen before or since - comprising of three total geniuses in their field... Clapton actually might have been arguably the least talented of them- and that's saying something!
The gear: For Cream's 2nd album, Clapton used mostly a Gibson SG guitar, painted in psychedelic colours and nicknamed "The Fool". With this guitar and a Marshall JTM45 amp with volume all the way up and tone controls all the way down, he developed one of his trademark sounds, the "woman tone". He also used a Vox Wah and a Fuzz face pedal.
4) Cream, 'Crossroads' (live) | Guitar: Gibson ES-335
Another one from Cream. Their career was brief and explosive. By 1968 they were one of the biggest bands in the world... and announced their demise. Their final show was at the Royal Albert Hall in London, 1968. 'Crossroads' was one of the few songs Eric Clapton would sing, back then. It helped to establish him as a front-person as well as a guitarist, besides showcasing Cream as a band who would take their instrumentals to a whole new level.
The gear: Clapton had the same setup as #3, but rocked a Gibson ES-335 semi-acoustic like few others could!
5) Cream, 'White Room' (live) | Guitar: Gibson Firebird
Another - and final - entry from Cream-era Clapton. Fair enough, after all Cream is the band that truly made Clapton a global star. One of his favourite guitars from 1968 until the end of the sixties was a Gibson Firebird. He would keep using it after disbanding Cream - for instance, on his Blind Faith album and on the Super Session TV show, jamming with Buddy Guy and others.
6) Eric Clapton solo, 'Wonderful Tonight' | Guitar: Fender Stratocaster
After a full decade rock'n'rolling and experimenting with different guitars (& illegal substances!) it was time for Clapton to finally slow down. Musically, at least, he achieved one of his biggest hits in the mid-seventies, with the ballad 'Wonderful Tonight'. During this time he adopted what would become perhaps his most legendary guitar: his 1950s black Fender Stratocaster, nicknamed "Blackie", which inspired the current Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster.
The gear: This new setup became Clapton's trademark for the following decades. Fender Stratocaster and a "clean" Fender amps such as a Champ in the studio, or a Fender Deluxe or Twin Reverb live. Ever since Cream's 'Badge', Clapton has been using the Leslie rotating speaker effect, too. The Electro-Harmonix Lester pedals are two of the best Leslie-style FX pedals right now.
7) MTV Unplugged, 'Tears In Heaven' | Guitar: Martin 000-28
In the wake of the tragic loss of his young son, Clapton wrote what would be his biggest ever hit - 'Tears In Heaven'. The subsequent MTV Unplugged album was a huge success, and it helped not only Clapton's career, but also sales of Martin acoustic guitars! Today, there are a few different Martin 000-28 Eric Clapton signature models available, inspired no doubt by the popularity of his MTV Unplugged.
The gear: Well, it was an acoustic performance, so just a beautiful Martin 000-28, of course!