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Cream's Eric Clapton Explains How His Gibson 'The Fool' SG Works

Did you know "the electronic guitar is often dismissed as nothing but a jangling noise machine incapable of subtlety or delicacy"?

Neither did I—until I saw this 1968 video of Eric Clapton sitting peacefully on stage prior to a Cream show as bassist Jack Bruce looks on.

Of course, Clapton doesn't utter these awesomely corny words. That job is left to the very square-sounding narrator of the classic clip, who introduces Clapton's quick "How to Use a Gibson SG to Get the Classic Clapton Tone" lesson.

Apparently, the SG has "four primary controls: controls for volume and controls for tone quality." Luckily, Clapton takes it from there, as he explains what each knob does and then goes on to play some very Cream-era-Clapton-sounding licks. First he gets something resembling his trademark "woman tone" before he turns up the treble.

But it gets even better. Clapton then engages his wah-wah pedal and plays a few more licks before carefully explaining—and demonstrating—his "woman" tone at 2:05.

In the clip, Clapton is playing his now-famous 1964 Gibson SG, better known as 'The Fool' because it was painted for him by a Dutch design collective of the same name.

"I have the feeling that Eric had given that guitar up, because it went through a number of hands before I got it," said Todd Rundgren, who would go on to own the guitar at one point. "I think he gave it to George Harrison, and I’d heard that Paul Kossoff from Free owned it, too. I got it from Jackie Lomax, who was signed to Apple. This was when I was up in Woodstock working with the Band.

"The guitar was in horrible shape at the time. The paint job was all flaked off because they never put a sealer on it. It didn’t have the original tailpiece, the neck was a mess at one point, the headstock snapped off. I did a lot of work on it. I played it for decades, and I owned it until the mid-Nineties. I owed the IRS a lot of money, so I auctioned it off. But I did get to play it onstage with Ringo [Starr]—with Jack Bruce, we did 'Sunshine of Your Love,' which I thought was appropriate."

You can read more about this guitar here.

Fans should note that there's another version of this video that includes bits of Cream's performance from that night, but this clip is pure Clapton and his guitar, and it's pure gold.

Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. Fanelli, a former member of Brooklyn jump-blues/swing/rockabilly band the Gas House Gorillas and New York City instrumental surf-rock band Mister Neutron, also composes and records film soundtracks. He writes GuitarWorld.com's The Next Bend column, which is dedicated to B-bender guitars and guitarists. His latest liner notes can be found in Sony/Legacy's Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Complete Epic Recordings Collection. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter and/or Instagram.

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Damian Fanelli
Damian Fanelli

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor, and his non-Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories have appeared in Guitar Aficionado, Vintage Guitar, Total Guitar and countless other publications, including 13.7 metric tons of daily newspapers. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton and Ty Tabor chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (one of which appears in the 2015 Disney film 'Tomorrowland' starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson). He's in two NYC-area bands and plays Teles with four-way switches, B-benders and semi-snazzy aftermarket pickups. He quotes Terry-Thomas twice daily.