The Reason Eric Clapton Loved The Stratocaster
via Eric Clapton/YouTube
Throughout most of his music career, Eric Clapton has been closely associated with the Fender Stratocaster. Since the early 1970s, he has consistently used this guitar, and it’s the one you’ll see him playing on album covers like Backless and Just One Night, featuring his renowned Fender known as “Blackie.” Clapton’s preference for Stratocasters has spanned over five decades, and there’s no indication that he plans to switch anytime soon.
However, it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1960s, as he was rising to fame with The Yardbirds, Clapton was fond of the Fender Telecaster. When he later joined The Bluesbreakers, he shifted to a Gibson Les Paul. Unfortunately, his famous “Beano” guitar was stolen after recording his only album with The Bluesbreakers.
During his time with Cream, he favored Gibsons again, playing “The Fool” Gibson SG and an ES-335. Clapton had many Gibsons that he even gave a red Les Paul to George Harrison, which he later played on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Clapton shared his thoughts on switching guitars in a 2014 interview with The Daily Mail, stating:
“Making the transition from one guitar to the next can come from any direction. It can be triggered by a need to hear another sound, or I’ve seen or heard somebody playing a guitar that I want to emulate. Or I’m listening to a song and think, ‘I want one of them; I like the way that it sounds on the record.'”
He also emphasized the importance of the image associated with a guitar, saying:
“The image is always a big part, even if it’s a period in time. Often, I will start out with a really broad view of what I’m looking for and then narrow it down to the one I think will be the most useful to me or the one I’m most comfortable with.”
How Blackie Became Clapton’s Signature Guitar
Clapton’s passion for Gibsons and their rich history played a role in his choice to play them in the 1960s. He explained:
“I’ve a pretty good eye for guitars. I want to research things I have a passion for, such as painting or music. If I become interested in Gibson guitars I want to know everything about the peak of their production – in which period they were being made the best and what the company’s philosophy was at that time.”
However, in the early 1970s, Clapton felt the need for a change. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s work and his Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood’s preferred guitar, he began searching for his own Fender Stratocaster. During a 1970 tour, he found not just one Strat but six that he wanted to purchase. He recalled:
“The guitar I chose for my return to recording was one I had built myself. When I was on tour with the Dominos, I went into Sho-Bud in Nashville, which had a stack of second-hand Strats in the back of the shop. I felt like I’d stepped into a gold mine. When I got home, I gave one to Steve Winwood, one to Pete Townshend, another to George Harrison and kept the rest. I took the best components from the remaining four guitars and put them into one.”
This combination resulted in the name “Blackie.” Clapton said:
“Something is magical about that guitar. I get seriously attached to an instrument; I felt Blackie had become part of me. A guitar like Blackie comes along maybe once in a lifetime. I played it for 12 years non-stop on the road.”