“One of the most influential sounds in rock history”: Eric Clapton’s iconic ‘Fool’ Gibson SG, which was key to his trademark ‘woman tone’, has emerged – and it’s going up for auction

Eric Clapton 'The Fool' Gibson SG
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images / Julien's Auctions)

Eric Clapton’s ‘The Fool’ Gibson SG – one of Slowhand’s most iconic electric guitars – is set to be sold at auction later this year.

It is without a doubt one of the biggest box office guitar auctions of 2023, not only because of its close historic association with Clapton, but because of the role this particular SG played in cultivating his famed “woman tone”.

Upon leaving John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in 1966, Eric Clapton joined Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce in Cream. A year later – when the supergroup were piecing together the heavier, riff-oriented Disraeli Gears – Clapton took to playing a 1964 Gibson SG.

Painted by a Dutch art collective known as “the Fool”, the gnarly double-cut sported a wholly unique aesthetic, and in the hands of Clapton became an influential emblem of the psychedelic era and a key symbol of 1967's Summer of Love phenomenon. Indeed, it remains one of the world’s best-known guitars today.

Eric Clapton 'The Fool' Gibson SG

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

The guitar also marks a significant historical milestone for the band, having been used by Slowhand when Cream made their live US debut on March 25, 1967, at the RKO Theater in Manhattan.  

However, The Fool wasn’t just a visual statement piece for Cream and their psychedelic direction – it was also a tonal powerhouse that helped Clapton refine the now-famed “woman tone” that he had begun to develop during this decade.

As heard on tracks such as Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, I Feel Free and countless others, the “woman tone” is noted for its harmonically rich and sustaining, yet warmly mellow, character, which is achieved through some choice manipulation of the pickups.

In Clapton’s own words from the August 1967 issue of Beat Instrumental (via Julien's Auctions), “It’s a sweet sound, something like the solo on I Feel Free. It is more like the human voice than the guitar. You wouldn’t think it was a guitar for the first few passages. It calls for the correct use of distortion.”

Clapton’s woman tone is one of guitar’s most enduring sounds, and is quite rightly described by auction host Julien’s Auctions as “one of the most influential and recognizable sounds in rock history”.

During an interview in 1968, Slowhand dived deeper into the mechanics of his signature sound: “The woman tone is produced by using either the bass pickup, or the lead pickup, but with all the bass off.

“In fact, if you use both pickups, you should take all the bass off on the Tone control,” he continued. “That is, turn it down to 1 or 0 on the Tone control, and then turn the Volume full up.”

Sometime after Cream broke up, Clapton passed The Fool onto George Harrison, who in turn gave it to Jackie Lomax. It then made its way to Todd Rundgren, who held onto the guitar until 2000, after which it was sold at auction and subsequently exchanged through the private collectors’ circuit.

Eric Clapton 'The Fool' Gibson SG

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

Owing to its immense history, The Fool unsurprisingly heads to auction with a significant estimate attached to it: Julien’s Auctions expects it to sell for anything between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000.

Even if the eventual sale only reaches the lower end of that scale, it will still be enough for The Fool to be included on the list of the most expensive guitars ever sold at auction

In fact, if it sells for $1,000,000, it will overtake Bob Dylan’s 1964 Newport Folk Festival Fender Strat in 11th spot. On paper, though, The Fool looks to be worthy of a higher-placed finish on that list.

Clapton's '64 SG will be sold on November 16, alongside the Fender Mustang played by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s last show, which is also expected to garner between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000.

For more details on the history of The Fool – and the various mods it underwent – head over to Julien’s Auctions.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.