Eric Clapton: Blues Power
GW Did you know that Marshall has reissued the 1962 combo as “The Bluesbreaker”?
CLAPTON Did they really? How sweet. I didn’t even know that. How does it sound? You know, that’s be good, because I’m always looking for something to replace this Fender tweed [Twin]. You can’t take it on the road; it’s pretty unreliable. So to have something of that strength that would be reliable would be worth looking into.
GW When you switched to the psychedelic-painted ’61 SG/Les Paul onstage with Cream, did you also use it in the studio?
CLAPTON Yeah, Disraeli Gears, I think, and from then on, really, a lot of the time. That became my mainstay until I bought a Gibson Firebird with one pickup, and that for a time became my most favorite guitar. All during Cream I didn’t really have a favorite guitar because I never really replaced the Les Paul, and I was constantly searching for something to come up to scratch. I’d play the ES-335, or the SG or this Firebird. I don’t think I had a Fender—I think it was only Gibsons—but I may have toyed with it.
GW The ’61 SG/Les Paul must have come with the big sideways vibrato tailpiece.
CLAPTON It came with the sideways tremolo on it, which I took apart, but I kept the bridge and the tailpiece. I never liked tremolos; I’ve never been able to stand the bloody things. Eventually I put a stop tailpiece on it.
GW At the debut performance of Blind Faith, you played a bound Telecaster with a Strat neck. Was that an idea you had?
CLAPTON Yeah, I had probably two or three Strats, and I never liked the Tele neck. And I thought it would be unusual and might have people guessing what kind of guitar it was because of the head.
GW The Strat first became your trademark on the Eric Clapton solo album. Is that the same Strat that was used on Layla?
CLAPTON Yeah, the brown [sunburst] one [a.k.a. “Blackie”].
GW A lot of Strat players, like Jimmie Vaughan and early Buddy Guy, get a twangy sound without a lot of sustain, but you get a lot of sustain with a Strat. Is that a product of your vibrato?
CLAPTON It’s that and a combination of the new active system in my particular guitar. If you jack that up a bit, it doesn’t give you more sustain than when it’s flat. And the old tweed Fender Twin, which is my number-one amp in the studio: I found it at Pete’s Guitars in Minneapolis–St. Paul years ago. It’s been rewired several times, because it heats up. Cesar Diaz came in and insulated everything with this extra-strong cable, because it would melt after you played it for a while.
GW Did you use the Eric Clapton Signature model on Journeyman?
CLAPTON Exclusively, yeah. The only song I don’t use it on is “Hard Times,” where I used the ES-335 to get a kind of an old studio sound, a more acoustic blues guitar tone.
GW Do you currently own a Les Paul?
CLAPTON Yes, a very, very good one that’s almost identical to the one that was stolen.
GW Do you ever feel like breaking it out for that Bluesbreakers type of sound?
CLAPTON I don’t really get into that, because it’s too reminiscent of Cream, I think. I don’t think about the Bluesbreakers as much as I do about Cream and that thick, solid, Gibson sound. I like to approach that, which I can do with a Fender, but I don’t like to be limited to it, which is what you have with a Les Paul—you’re stuck with that, really. But you can get close to that, and have it, in fact, with a Strat—or you can back off on it, too.
GW Let’s talk some more about amps. What did you play through in the Yardbirds?
CLAPTON Umm, I think they were Vox. An AC30.
GW With Cream you used a 100- watt JTM45 stack?
CLAPTON Two of them.
GW To get the so-called “woman tone” on Disraeli Gears were you still playing through the same setup—the SG/Les Paul and Marshall stack—with the guitar’s tone backed off?
CLAPTON With the tone backed off on the neck pickup.
GW Backed off how much?
CLAPTON All the way, and full volume.
GW What amps did you use during the Layla sessions?
CLAPTON During the album? [Fender] Champs. Onstage, I’m not so sure: Marshalls or maybe a Fender Showman, because I would want to keep the Champ sound, but just have it bigger. Which isn’t what happened, but that’s what you think the idea would be.
GW At some point in the Seventies, you switched to Music Man amps. Were those the first mastervolume amps you used?
CLAPTON That was the first time I ran into that concept, and to this day I still find it very hard to get along with. I don’t like too many options in an amplifier. The simplicity of an early Fender is what I want. If I want it to distort, I’ll just turn it up full volume, and it will do that. But when you’ve got all these permutations, you just spend too long fiddling around on the knobs.
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