By Eric Dahl
How many guitar hero guitar names can you remember? For me the top ones are Lucille (B.B. King), Trigger (Willie Nelson), Frankenstein (Eddie Van Halen), Micawber (Keith Richards), Number One (SRV) and (Blackie) Eric Clapton. Guitar players are a creative lot that like to name their instruments and personify them like they are people or friends and in a sense they are. Eric Clapton is undoubtedly one of the best known Rock guitarists in the world and he has solidified that title by playing in such ground breaking bands as “The Yardbirds,” “John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers,” “Cream,” Delaney & Bonnie,” “Blind Faith.” “Derek & the Dominos,” and his extensive solo career.
Unfortunately of late Clapton has been in the news more for this health issues that are effecting his ability to continue playing the instrument he is associated with. He is a guitar player’s guitar player in so much as other guitar heroes including George Harrison, Carlos Santana, Mike Bloomfield, Brian May and B.B. King have heaped praise upon him for his elevation of the instrument. Slowhand has been known to wield a number of guitar styles and brands throughout his career including: Gibson Firebirds, Gibson ES335 (Cream Years), Martin Acoustics (assorted), The Fool SG, Gibson Les Paul’s, Fender Stratocasters of every style and color and even a Telecaster in his youth. And in 1970, not long after the passing of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton made the leap from being a Gibson player to Fenders and is most associated with these.
Of all the instruments EC has been seen playing he is associated most with “Blackie” which sounds more like more of a name for a pet than a guitar, but it is simply named after the color of the guitar body. I have thought long and hard about this guitar for many years but this is my first opportunity to write about this icon. In the book “The Stratocaster Chronicles” by Tom Wheeler, Clapton wrote the forward and briefly explains how he acquired the Fender Strats in Nashville in 1970 at a store called “Sho-Bud” and assembled his guitar from them. The story goes that he bought a total of six used Stratocaster off a sale rack and had his personal guitar built from the best parts of a 1956 body and ’57 V shaped neck. He took three of the instruments back to England and gave them to his friends George Harrison, Steve Winwood and Pete Townsend.
Clapton had “Blackie” assembled by a local Nashville luthier Ted Newman Jones and then continued to use it as his main guitar for stage and studio until he virtually wore it out from frequent refret jobs and retired it. As he is known to do, EC auctions off many of his instruments to support his favorite charity the rehab facility he created the ‘Crossroads Centre.” In 2004 “Blackie” fetched an unheard of $959,500 at a Christie’s Auction from music gear merchandiser Guitar Center to fund his foundation. In 2006 the Fender Custom shop released 275 recreations of Clapton’s “Blackie” after disassembling it and taking precise measurements to create the ultimate tribute guitars.
The instruments came with a special flight case, Crossroads box sets, a signed certificate by Slowhand and other case candy. All 275 guitars sold out in record time and used ones are rarely found on the open market. The exact features of the 2006 Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt Eric Clapton “Blackie” Tribute Stratocaster are: 3 piece Alder body, aged black nitrocellulose finish, aged nickel hardware, single-ply white 8-screw pickguard, custom wound staggered pole piece pickups, 5 way selector, 25.5” scale, 9.5” radius fretboard, 21 fret maple neck, 1.650” nut width, soft V shape neck and cigarette burned headstock. The total weight was kept at 7lbs 8oz since Clapton prefers that all of his strat bodies weigh in no less than 3.5lbs and no more than 4.25lbs.
Small batch custom shop models, like the ones mentioned above, are priced out of reach for most weekend warrior musicians or even semi-professional players. Luckily Fender has made a compromise in their artist series instruments named the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. Per “The Story of the Fender Stratocaster” book by Ray Minhinnett and Bob Young the first EC signature model strat was launched in 1988 just three years before Leo Fender would pass in 1991. The Clapton model paved the way for future signature models for Yngwie Malmsteen, SRV, Jeff Beck and Robert Cray. The currently produced Slowhand model maintains many of the characteristics it was launched with except for the Fender Lace Sensor pickups. The solid alder body is currently available in Black, Olympic White, Torino Red or Pewter polyurethane finish. Other features requested by EC include: V-shape maple neck, maple fretboard, Fender/Gotoh vintage style tuners, 22 frets, dot inlays, 3 Fender vintage noiseless pickups, blocked vintage style synchronized tremolo, 5 position pickup selector, chrome hardware, active mid-boost, TBX tone control, 25.5” neck scale length, a tweed case and Clapton’s signature on the headstock. Street price on this model is currently around $1,599.
The Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster is now being offered in black, midnight blue or Mercedes blue paint jobs goes for $4,400 street price. It is quoted as being “an exact Custom Shop representation of Eric’s personal axe.” Feature comparisons between the standard EC model and the Custom Shop aren’t much different except one is built by the Fender Custom Shop and it comes with a certificate of authenticity. Whatever your choice of Eric Clapton tribute instrument they ultimately all pay homage to “Blackie” EC’s beloved workhorse of a guitar that will go down in history as mismatched master piece of Fender workmanship. Citing from the Fender Stratocaster book again Clapton is quoted as saying’, I’ve moved around with guitars and tried many different things, and I’ve always come back to the Stratocaster. If they’re good enough for EC, SRV, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Yngwie Malmsteen, then they will certainly do for we mere mortals!
Have a look at our Current Issue “American Guitars”
Featured Interviews with Joe Bonamassa, and Greg Howe as well as Luthiers Gabriel Currie from EchoPark Guitars, John Monteleone, and a look at Benedetto Guitars after 48 years by CEO Howard Paul. The Photographers Vault by Derek Brad of his shoot of Joe Bonamassa at the State Theatre.