One of the first guitar heroes, Eric Clapton was a pioneer of tone and technique and the only player capable of giving Hendrix a serious run for his money. Clapton’s Sixties recordings with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream set the standard for electric blues and influenced a generation of players. In his subsequent work with Derek & the Dominoes and as a solo artist, Clapton further refined his style, exploring a strange sonic brew of amped-up electric and delicately picked acoustic blues, freeform European jazz hybrids, made-for-the-masses pop and English-flavored R&B. While he has produced interesting guitar work in each of these periods, many still regard Clapton’s playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as his creative peak.
Clapton didn’t have much money to splash around when he was recording Bluesbreakers, but pinning down his Sixties gear is still going to hit your bank account where it hurts. If we’re very honest, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than finding an original 1962 Marshall combo and vintage Les Paul at prices and in conditions that would make them realistic purchases. Sure, if you’ve got the money and patience, consider the following: around $3,000 will get you a 1962 Marshall “Bluesbreaker” reissue combo amp, while a Gibson Les Paul 1959 Historic Reissue can be had for $7,467. Fortunately, the simplicity of Clapton’s setup means it’s possible for the huddled masses to approximate it at a fraction of the price. Clapton’s Bluesbreakers tone is defined by humbucker warmth, and while any guitar with comparable pickups will produce useable tones, try the Epiphone Les Paul Standard. At about $831, it’s a professional and reputable instrument that more than justifies its price tag. Of course, a Marshall tube amp is a major part of Clapton’s signature tone. While that’s bad news for those on tight budgets, don’t despair: Marshall’s MG30DFX is an impressive solid-state combo amp that will have you chugging convincingly for around $369. And don’t forget to include a Vox Clyde McCoy wah-wah for $250, should you wish to make a Cream-era guitar excursion. In addition, DigiTech’s Artist series Eric Clapton Crossroads pedal provides all of Clapton’s signature tones— from “Sunshine Of Your Love” to “Layla”— in a single stomp box for $199.