Clapton is God!

By Andrew Catania

By the time Eric Clapton launched his solo career with the release of his self-titled debut album in mid-1970, he was long established as one of the world’s major rock stars due to his group affiliations — the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith — which had demonstrated his claim to being the best rock guitarist of his generation. That it took Clapton so long to go out on his own, however, was evidence of a degree of resilience unusual for one of his stature. And his debut album, though it spawned the Top 40 hit “After Midnight,” was typical of his self-effacing approach: it was, in effect, an album by the group he had lately been featured in, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

On his 13th birthday he received a guitar which he taught himself to play, and at the age of 17, he joined his first band, the Roosters. Growing up listening to blues recording by the likes of Robert Johnson, Clapton first made his name as a member of The Yardbirds, a pop-influenced rock and roll band whose biggest hit ‘For Your Love’ came whilst Eric was a member.  Clapton, who was at that time obstinately dedicated to his blues roots, took strong exception to the Yardbirds’ new ‘pop’ direction, refused to play on the single and quit the band as soon as it had been recorded; he was replaced by Jeff Beck.

After a spell working in a laboring job and several months of intensive practice, he joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. His emotional playing on their first album (which features Eric reading a copy of the Beano on the cover) established his name as a blues player and inspired a short-lived craze of graffiti deifying him (‘Clapton is God’, it read).

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He left the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966 (to be replaced by Peter Green) and then formed Cream, one of the earliest examples of the supergroup, and also one of the earliest ‘power trios’, with Jack Bruce (also of Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann) and Ginger Baker (of the Graham Bond Organization). During his time with Cream, he began to develop as a singer as well as guitarist, though Bruce, one of rock’s most powerful singers, took most of the lead vocals.

By late 1966 Clapton’s status as Britain’s top guitarist was shaken by the arrival of Jimi Hendrix Hendrix attended a performance by Clapton’s newly formed Cream at the Central London Polytechnic, October 1, 1966, during which Hendrix sat in on a shattering double-timed version of Killing Floor. Clapton immediately realized that he had a new and almost unbeatable competitor, whose dazzling showmanship was matched by his staggering ability as a guitarist. Hendrix’s early club performances were avidly attended by top UK stars including Clapton, Townshend and the Beatles. Hendrix’s arrival had an immediate and major effect on the next phase of Clapton’s career.

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Cream’s repertoire varied from pop-soul (‘I Feel Free’) to lengthy blues-based instrumental jams (‘Spoonful’) and featured Clapton’s searing psychedelic guitar lines, Bruce’s soaring vocals and prominent, fluid bass playing, and Baker’s powerful, jazz-influenced drumming. The group achieved major commercial success during its brief existence with the song ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, from the Disraeli Gears album, and ‘White Room’ from Wheels of Fire. The lurid psychedelic covers of both these albums were created by Australian artist Martin Sharp, who lived in the same building Clapton at the time in the Chelsea ‘artists’ colony The Pheasantry.

At their first meeting in a London club, Clapton mentioned that he had some music that needed lyrics, so Sharp wrote out a poem he had composed on a napkin and gave it to Clapton, who recorded it as Tales of Brave Ulysses.

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Although Cream was hailed as one of the greatest groups of its day, and the adulation of Clapton as a guitar hero reached new heights, the band was destined to be short-lived. The legendary in-fighting — especially between Bruce and Baker — and growing tensions between all three members eventually led to Cream’s demise. Another significant factor was a strongly critical Rolling Stone review of a concert of the group’s second headlining US tour, which affected Clapton profoundly.

The valedictory Goodbye album featured live performances from Cream’s farewell performance at the Royal Albert Hall; it was released shortly after Cream disbanded in 1968, and also featured the studio single ‘Badge’, co-written by Clapton and Beatle George Harrison. ‘Badge’ served as the basis for Harrison’s later Beatles composition, Here Comes the Sun.

The close friendship between the Clapton and Harrison resulted in Clapton playing on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ from the Beatles’ White Album — a tactic by Harrison to make the other band members take his song seriously. But the friendship was later sorely tested when Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd-Harrison, left him for Clapton. Clapton’s relationship with Pattie – who had turned him down at first – was his inspiration for the classic song, ‘Layla’.

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A second spell in another supergroup, the less successful Blind Faith (1969) with Baker, Steve Winwood of Traffic and Rick Grech of Family, resulted in a patchy LP and an aborted US tour. By now Clapton was tired of the spotlight, and the hype that had surrounded Cream and Blind Faith, and he had been strongly affected by the music of The Band — which he had in fact asked to join after the split of Cream. Clapton then decided to step into the background for a time, and he toured as a sideman with the American group Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. He became close friends with Delaney Bramlett, who encouraged him in his singing and writing.

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Using the Bramletts’ backing group and an all-star cast of session players including Leon Russell, Clapton then released his restrained 1970 self-titled solo album, which included the Bramlett composition Bottle of Red Wine and one of Clapton’s best songs from this period, Let It Rain.

Taking over Delaney & Bonnie’s rhythm section — Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) — he formed a new band which was similarly intended to counteract the ‘star’ cult that had grown up around him and show Clapton as an equal member of a fully-fledged group. This was made evident in the choice of name — ‘Derek and the Dominos’ – which came from a backstage joke at their first concert appearance.

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Working at Criterion Studios in Miami with producer Tom Dowd, the band recorded a brilliant double-album which is now widely regarded as Clapton’s masterpiece — Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Most of the material, including the title track (which soon became an FM radio staple), was inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for Patti Harrison. The two-part Layla was recorded in separate sessions; the opening guitar section was recorded first, and for the second section, drummer Jim Gordon composed and played the elegiac piano part.

The Layla LP was actually recorded by a five-piece version of the group, thanks to the unplanned addition of slide guitar virtuoso Duane Allman. A few days into the session’s producer Tom Dowd invited Clapton to an Allman Brothers concert in Miami (he was also producing the Allmans). The two guitarists — who previously knew each other only by reputation– met backstage after the show, then both bands repaired to the studio to jam (an impromptu session which, happily, was captured on tape). Clapton and Allman ‘fell in love’ with each other’s playing and became instant friends, so Allman was invited to become the fifth member of The Dominos. (These studio jams were eventually released as part of the 3-CD 20th-anniversary edition of the Layla album.)

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 When Allman and Clapton met, The Dominos had already recorded three tracks (I Looked Away, Bell Bottom Blues and Keep On Growing); Allman debuted on the fourth cut, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and contributed some of his most sublime slide-guitar playing to the remainder of the LP. The album was heavily blues-influenced and featured a winning combination of the twin guitars of Allman and Clapton, with Allman’s incendiary slide-guitar a key ingredient of the sound. It showcased some of Clapton’s strongest material to date, as well as arguably some of his best guitar playing, with Whitlock also contributing several superb numbers and a powerful soul-influenced voice.

 Tragedy dogged the group throughout its brief career. During the sessions, Clapton was devastated by the news of the death of Jimi Hendrix; the band cut a blistering version of Little Wing as a tribute to him which was added to the album. One year later, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. Adding to Clapton’s woes, the Layla album received only lukewarm reviews on release.

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 The shattered group undertook a US tour. Despite Clapton’s later admission that the tour took place amidst a veritable blizzard of drugs including alcohol, it resulted in the surprisingly strong live double album in Concert. But the group disintegrated messily in London just as they commenced recording for their second LP. Although Radle worked with Clapton for several more years, the split between Clapton and Whitlock was apparently a bitter one, and they never worked together again.

 Another tragic footnote to the Dominos story was the fate of drummer Jim Gordon, who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic — some years later, during a psychotic episode, he murdered his mother with a hammer and was confined to a mental institution, where he remains today.

 Despite his success, Clapton’s personal life was in a mess by 1972. In addition to his (temporarily) unrequited and intense romantic longing for Pattie Boyd-Harrison, he withdrew from recording and touring and became addicted to heroin, resulting in a career hiatus interrupted only by the Concert for Bangladesh and the ‘Rainbow Concert’ in 1973(see 1973 in music), organized by The Who’s Pete Townsend to help Clapton kick the drug.

Clapton returned the favor by playing ‘The Preacher’ in Ken Russell’s film version of The Who’s Tommy in 1975; his appearance in the film (performing Eyesight to The Blind) is notable for the fact that he is clearly wearing a fake beard in some shots — the result of him unthinkingly shaving off his beard between takes!

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Relatively clean again, Clapton put together a strong new touring band that included Radle, Miami guitarist George Terry, drummer Jamie Oldaker and vocalists Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy (later better known as Marcella Detroit of 1980s pop duo Shakespeare’s Sister). They toured the world and subsequently released the superb 1975 live LP, ‘E.C. Was Here.

Not surprisingly, before his solo debut had even been released, Clapton had retreated from his solo stance, assembling from the D&B&F ranks the personnel for a group, Derek, with whom he played for most of 1970 and recorded the landmark album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton was largely inactive in 1971 and 1972, due to heroin addiction, but he performed a comeback concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London on January 13, 1973, resulting in the album Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert (September 1973). But Clapton did not launch a sustained solo career until July 1974, when he released 461 Ocean Boulevard, which topped the charts and spawned the number one single “I Shot the Sheriff.”

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The persona Clapton established over the next decade was less that of guitar hero than arena rock star with a weakness for ballads. The follow-ups to 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One in Every Crowd (March 1975), the live E.C. Was Here (August 1975), and No Reason to Cry (August 1976), were less successful. But Slowhand (November 1977), which featured both the powerful “Cocaine” (written by J.J. Cale, who had also written “After Midnight”) and the hit singles “Lay Down Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight,” was a million-seller. Its follow-

ups, Backless (November 1978), featuring the Top Ten hit “Promises,” the live Just One Night (April 1980), and Another (February 1981), featuring the Top Ten hit “I Can’t Stand It,” were all big sellers.

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Clapton’s popularity waned somewhat in the first half of the ’80s, as the albums Money and Cigarettes (February 1983), Behind the Sun (March 1985), and August (November 1986) indicated a certain career stasis. But he was buoyed up by the release of the box set retrospective Crossroads (April 1988), which seemed to remind his fans of how great he was. Journeyman (November 1989) was a return to form. It would be his last new studio album for nearly five years, though in the interim he would suffer greatly and enjoy surprising triumph.

On March 20, 1991, Clapton’s four-year-old son was killed in a fall. While he mourned, he released a live album, 24 Nights (October 1991), culled from his annual concert series at Royal Albert Hall in London, and prepared a movie soundtrack, Rush (January 1992). The soundtrack featured a song written for his son, “Tears in Heaven,” that became a massive hit single.

In March 1992, Clapton recorded a concert for MTV Unplugged which, when released on an album in August, became his biggest-selling record ever. Two years later, Clapton returned with a blues album, From the Cradle, which became one of his most successful albums, both commercially and critically. Crossroads, Vol. 2: Live in the Seventies, a box set chronicling his live work from the ’70s, was released to mixed reviews. In early 1997, Clapton, billing himself by the pseudonym “X-Sample,” collaborated with keyboardist/producer Simon Climie as the ambient new age and trip-hop duo T.D.F. The duo released Retail Therapy to mixed reviews in early 1997.

Clapton retained Climie as his collaborator for Pilgrim, his first album of new material since 1989’s Journeyman. Pilgrim was greeted with decidedly mixed reviews upon its spring 1998 release, but the album debuted at number four and stayed in the Top Ten for several weeks on the success of the single “My Father’s Eyes.” In 2000, Clapton teamed up with old friend B.B. King on Riding with the King, a set of blues standards and material from contemporary singer/songwriters. Another solo outing, entitled Reptile, followed in early 2001.

Three years later, Clapton issued Me and Mr. Johnson, a collection of tunes honoring the Mississippi-born bluesman Robert. Released in 2005, Back Home, Clapton’s 14th album of original material, reflected his ease with fatherhood. Also in 2005, Clapton unexpectedly teamed with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for a Cream reunion that included May concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall and shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden in October, with the former being compiled for a live release that fall.

This turned out to be the first of many reunions and looks back for Clapton. In 2006, he elevated the profile of his latter-day idol J.J. Cale by recording an album-long duet, The Road to Escondido. The following year he released his autobiography — accompanied by a new career compilation called The Complete Clapton — which focused more on his trials with addiction and subsequent recovery than his musical career.

In 2008, Clapton began playing regular shows with his old Blind Faith partner Steve Winwood, gigs that were captured on the 2009 double-live set Live from Madison Square Garden. Winwood also appeared on Clapton’s next studio album, 2010’s Clapton, which was a collaboration-heavy affair also featuring Cale, Sheryl Crow, Allen Toussaint, and Wynton Marsalis. In 2011, Clapton returned the favor to Marsalis by collaborating on the live concert album Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

BRIDGEVIEW , IL - JULY 28: (L-R) Musician Steve Winwood, drummer Steve Jordan and Eric Clapton perform during the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 held at Toyota Park on July 28, 2007 in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Gibson)
BRIDGEVIEW, IL – JULY 28: (L-R) Musician Steve Winwood, drummer Steve Jordan, and Eric Clapton perform during the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 held at Toyota Park on July 28, 2007, in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Gibson)

Clapton parted ways with Warner after Clapton, and he chose to set up his own Bushbranch imprint on Gary Hoey’s independent label Surfdog. His first album for the label was Old, largely a collection of old songs the guitarist loved. It reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and Great Britain.

In the fall of 2013, Warner Bros. released Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013, and his Unplugged album was expanded and remastered by Rhino. Early the following year, Clapton announced that a new album, The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale, would be issued in July, one year on from the passing of his key inspiration. The tribute album included contributions from artists such as Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Tom Petty, and Mark Knopfler.

A collection of his Warner recordings called Forever Man saw a spring 2015 release. Clapton returned in May of 2016 with I Still Do, his third album for Surfdog, his 23rd studio album, that saw him reuniting with Slowhand producer Glyn Johns.

 

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Is Yngwie Malmsteen the Greatest Rock and Roll Guitarist Since Jimi Hendrix?

By Andrew Catania

The historical archives of the heavy metal rock speak for the sheer class of Jimi Hendrix. As soon as his fingers came in touch with the metal chords, it was as if he was magically squeezing out tones that poured into the ears as profound musical fantasies that humanity had never heard before. It was as if his riffs, shreds, and chord pulls came out of a parallel world and evolving a musical plane out beyond the restriction of the physical dynamics of the contemporary music world. This is why, he is undisputedly worshipped as the God of heavy metal rock, and apparently, with the milestones, he had already established, no wonder it demanded a lot from his successor musicians to achieve a class even close to his grandeur. 

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A look over the post-Hendrix era of music, we see a couple of names like Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Steve Vai and Eric Clapton. But if observed in the retrospect of an extremity of pulls, the non-conformity to contemporary technique and experimenting with the tones and chords, is it Yngwie Malmsteen who stands as the most eligible and deserving heir to the ‘Hendrix Legacy’And would it be an exaggeration if we sum up Malmsteen’s career in a single statement as “he came, he saw, and he conquered?

Comparing the career hallmarks, mastery at hand and the technical blueprints of rock and roll musiciansYngwie Malmsteen seems to have made a loud and explosive mark in his musical career, straightaway challenging his fellow musicians of the neoclassic, heavy metal, rock and roll genre, right from the start. The mastery he held over his six-stringed, personalized instrument is a worthy testament to his in-born brilliance. The new hard rock and heavy metal sensation took the world by storm, jolting the musical status quo of the 1980s, Malmsteen eventually turned into a name that you would love, or hate, but could not possibly ignore.

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His music had this lightning fast, jolting hard and literally exploding-ontotheeardrums kind of effect. Despite his nerve-wracking tones pulled out of the fusion of metal and classic, he was not exactly the pioneer among the neo-classical maestros to have tried and aced the forte. But still, it might be hard to deny that his tones are addictive and unbearably beautiful for their explosive audacity and keep the audience hooked and bound in an exceptional phase of musical ecstasy. 

While the rock and roll world was experiencing Eddie Van Halen’s hyper-fast electric, Eric Clapton’s virtuosity, Jimmy Page’s finesse and Steve Vai’s Zappa, Yngwie Malmsteen made his presence felt through his fiery, fanatical and deviant tones, giving birth to his very own neo-classical, heavy metal genre. And this, precisely, would suffice as a reason why he could be considered a competent, potential descendant to inherit the towering throne of the legendary Jimi Hendrix and his legacy of rock and roll magnum opuses.

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Martin Guitars – A Living History

By Michael Watts

Originally published in our “Acoustic Issue”

It’s no exaggeration to state that without the Martin Guitar Company the flattop steel string guitar as we know it would simply not exist. This is a truly iconic brand. Martin Guitars were being made before the American Civil War. Before Smith and Wesson there were Martin Guitars.

180 years of history brings with it a great deal of responsibility. One of the men trusted with the stewardship of this heritage and the company’s continued success at the forefront of the acoustic guitar world is Chief Product Officer Fred Greene. I caught up with him to find out how the rich history of Martin Guitars continues to thrive, inspire and evolve.

The Martin Guitar Company’s storied history would imply that each instrument leaving the factory is the direct result of over180 years of cumulative experience. How do you keep the balance between maintaining the identity of a heritage brand of this nature and consistent innovation?

Martin Guitar has always embraced innovation. Many things today’s guitar players take for granted as premium guitar features were at one time unique innovations by Martin – X-bracing, body shapes, etc.. Martin has never been afraid to innovate and try new things, as long as those innovations were in the name of making our guitars better.

The same holds true for manufacturing innovations. Martin has always used the latest technology to build a better guitar, whether that is embracing electricity at the turn of the century or lasers and CNC machines today. The key to adopting new innovations is being absolutely clear on why you are moving in a new direction. Martin has always been clear that the guitar and the needs of the guitar player are our reasons for doing everything. I think some guitar brands are more interested in innovation as a means of showing how clever they are or to make more money regardless of the effect on the instrument and the way it sounds.

Guitar Connoisseur: How has The Martin Guitar Company’s ethos of “Non multa sed multum” (Not Many But Much) evolved over the years and how does it translate into the reality of building guitars on a truly global scale?

Fred Greene: The definition of “many” has certainly changed and is relative to the time period. We are a global brand with strong demand for our instruments worldwide. While we certainly build more guitars in a year than our founder could have ever imagined, we are still a very small part of the overall guitar market. However, the definition of “much” has not changed. Everyone at Martin still comes to work every day with the idea of building and delivering the best acoustic guitar in the world. Relative to the global marketplace “Non multa sed multum” still applies.

GC: Woodworking is arguably the most vital of the great American traditions. Tell us about the craftsmanship that goes into a Martin Guitar.

FG: We take great pride in how much hand work still goes into each Martin guitar. While we use modern machines to do some of the big work, it is the talent and dedication of our craftsmen and craftswomen that truly create a Martin guitar and all of the magic that you feel and hear when you play it. In many cases, we maintain the hands-on approach despite the fact that we could automate some of these jobs but it is at the core of who we are and it is a craft we believe in and want to protect.

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GC: Throughout its history, The Martin Guitar Company has responded to the demands of its players from Gene Autry and Perry Bechtel to Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills and many more. What are you learning from the new generation of Martin Guitar artists such as John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and Beck?

FG: We are learning that there are still incredible artists out there who are inspired by and appreciate the quality and art that our guitars deliver. They teach us that there is a new and fresh aesthetic that can be applied to our instruments that complements and enhances our history. These are incredibly creative people who are a joy to collaborate with when working on a guitar. We have an enormous appreciation for the art these musicians create and their desire to help make the world a better place to live through the use of our instruments.

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D-35 Seth Avett Built in collaboration with Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers, a high-altitude Swiss spruce top is featured for the top of this 14-fret Dreadnought. Harvested in winter months to produce a lighter-weight wood with better stiffness, this wood features a tight and even grain. This guitar also sports three-piece back composed of East Indian rosewood with a flamed koa center wedge. Seth himself designed the copper snowflake inlay placed in this guitar’s ebony fretboard.

GC: The legal and environmental implications of using certain building materials have had a major impact on the guitar world in the past decade. What challenges does this raise for Martin and how do you face them?

FG: You are right – it is a changing world and we have an obligation to be a responsible steward. The administrative and legal requirements have forced us to be extremely careful when sourcing tropical hardwoods. The last thing we would ever want to do is unknowingly purchase illegally harvested wood. Certain traditional tonewoods are very difficult to acquire and limited in their availability. This sometimes affects our ability to offer certain guitars in larger volumes or at prices many people would consider more accessible. We are constantly at work to find new tonewoods that guitar players will find inspiring and beautiful.

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00-42SC John Mayer This “00” 12-fret guitar boasts solid cocobolo sides, back and headplate, gorgeous “42” style appointments, and is inspired by the 00-45SC built in collaboration with John Mayer in 2012. The “SC” stands for stagecoach, harkening back to an era when guitars were taken on trains, wagons, and horses for bringing people together in song.

GC: On a similar theme, what advice do you have for players wishing to tour internationally with vintage Martin instruments?

FG: Be prepared for a lot of questions!

GC: I hate to pin you down to just one here, but if you had to pick a desert island guitar from Martin’s entire range which would it be and why?

FG: That’s tough! I go through moods where I want to play my smaller body guitars like my 00-28VS then there are other moments when I need the volume only a Dreadnought can offer. I guess if I had to pick just one it would be a D-18 Authentic. It just sounds so responsive and gigantic!! I am a sucker for mahogany and every time I play one of these guitars a big smile emerges on my face. There are not many things in life you can say that about.

GC: It can be a challenge to describe a guitar’s tone in words, a fact often compounded by a lack of the shared experience, which would allow for a common vocabulary of terms. That said, how would you describe the characteristic Martin Guitar sound?

FG: You are right; it is tough to put in words. When working on a new design or with an artist we often use the obvious words: bassy, bright, woody, metallic, etc. In the end, none of these seem to really capture the essence of a Martin. I think the real characteristic of a Martin is “inspirational”. The purpose of a guitar is to make music and help you express yourself. If it fails to inspire you to do these two things then it doesn’t matter how “bassy”, “bright”, or “woody” the guitar sounds because no one is going to play it. The characteristic Martin sound is inspiring.

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00-DB Jeff Tweedy Designed in collaboration with Grammy Award-winning Wilco front man, Jeff Tweedy. The 00-DB Jeff Tweedy is Martin’s first Custom Artist model that is FSC® Certified, an important distinction for both Tweedy and Martin.

GC: The Authentic Series has been raising eyebrows all over the world with its commitment to historical and tonal accuracy and I’ve personally been very impressed with how close these instruments are to their vintage predecessors. How did this series come about?

FG: When I first joined the company in 2004, Chris Martin IV challenged us to develop a means to continue, train and pass on the traditional craft of using hide glue to construct guitars. During this same time period, we were starting to put together our Custom Shop team. I had previously worked at Gibson Guitars and they, along with Fender, had experienced great success recreating historic models of their electric guitars. We decided to apply this same strategy to some of our iconic models using our new Custom Shop team and the desire to use hide glue. We were very conscious of being as historically accurate as we could be. We started with a recreation of the 1937 D-18. We knew there were varying specs of this guitar so we used our extensive museum of instruments to pick one specific guitar and recreate it to avoid any of the “this one doesn’t look like mine” commentary. From day one the guitars were phenomenal. There is something about those old world techniques and the hands of a truly gifted craftsman that no machine could ever hope to emulate. These guitars just beg to be played. They are the ultimate representation of who we are and what we do.

GC: Finally could you throw any light on the common internet argument of whether the width of the abalone purfling on a 40’s series Martin contributes to the tone?!

FG: Ha!!! It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that it does not make a significant difference. When we build 40 series guitars they are spec’d with the highest grade material and I suspect that is what most people are hearing. The highest grade materials on a Martin guitar, there is no substitute.

GC: Thank you Fred!

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Eric Clapton’s Favorite Guitar

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.

ric Clapton performing at Osaka Castle Hall in Japan, November 1999 ©2003 Shimmy_Star File

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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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Your Perfect Tone – Does it Matter?

By Will Swanson

As a guitarist we are always searching for ‘tone’. We are trying to get an exact sound out of our instrument that is just ‘us’, that fits our style, our song choices and sounds just right to our ears.

Sometimes that tone is us trying to copy some one else’s such as Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Eric Clapton or Johnny Lange. We read about what they use, their entire rig from strings to the power supply for any necessary pedals can be copied…mostly. We know when Gary Moore plays that famous Peter Green Les Paul with the magical our of phase pickups through his Marshall stack it sounds perfect…but when he played a newer Les Paul with regular pickups, guess what, he got that same perfect sound. So it’s in the fingers to a large degree and that also means we will sound like ourselves once we start playing from our soul, from our heart, once we play as us.

So, moving forward from this it doesn’t change that we still want ‘that perfect tone’ for our own music. We want to hear it come out like we hear it in our head so follow me for a minute.

We have a guitar that plays great, fits fine, perfect neck and balance so we start there. We change the pickups for more mid range, sounds better. We change string gauge and brand and we get a bit closer. We add a tube screamer pedal and it has grit, we add a compressor and it cleans up. Our amp is retubed and a warmer speaker added and we get the knobs all perfect. We are almost there, we are so close. We have been playing that same lick with the same instrument in our high tech blues studio and it’s almost there. We change cables to vintage tweeds and we are there, well, a hair off.

We rewire this perfect tele in a 50’s style Les Paul and YES! That’s it!

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I hate to bring this up – but how much has your actual sound changed? Its developed and is obviously different, but how much actually changed?

You’ve gotten better at playing it by now, you have changed as a player and the instrument feels dialed in, you are bonded with it, so what is just right, you or the instrument?

The biggest blessing and also the biggest crux of all this is, when you play live you will sound different but you will kill it on that song. Your equipment is the same but the acoustics are different, that huge reverb sound now has to fill a large club through a PA, your perfect tone is now lost. You might play amazingly, that badass riff is still coming out of the instrument but the music that the crowd hears is different, not bad, just different.

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The same can be said should you record that album or single and it gets played, even if the studio you recorded it in was perfect for you, the place where you developed your tone, it is all too apparent that the ipod, car stereo or youtube player is going to change it.

So I ask, how important is your tone? Does it matter?

Yes, it’s damn important – because it’s what you want to hear every single time you played that same set of songs trying to get it right and that means you have listened to it far more than anyone else ever will.

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