Eric Clapton, a monumental figure in the world of rock and blues guitar, has long been associated with an array of iconic guitars, each contributing to his legendary sound. Over his extensive career, Clapton has utilized various pickups in his instruments that have helped shape his distinctive tone.
Starting with his days in Cream often with a Gibson SG to his solo career favoring Fender Stratocasters, the choices of pickups have been crucial to his sound development.
Clapton’s preference for smooth yet piercing guitar tones has led him to experiment with different pickup configurations. The famed “Blackie” Stratocaster, his main guitar for many years, was equipped with Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups, providing him with the classic Stratocaster sound without the hum traditionally associated with single-coil pickups.
His search for a cleaner, warmer tone without sacrificing the bite essential to his bluesy style was a significant factor in the evolution of his guitar setup.
Key Takeaways on What Pickups Does Eric Clapton Use?
- Eric Clapton’s choice of pickups has played a significant role in his renowned guitar tone.
- His guitars, notably the “Blackie” Stratocaster, featured Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups.
- Clapton’s pickup preferences reflect his quest for a clear and warm sound characteristic of his blues-inspired style.
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Eric Clapton’s Iconic Guitars
Eric Clapton, revered for his profound impact on music, is synonymous with some of the most legendary guitars in history. His choice of instruments has cultivated a distinct sound that resonates with audiences globally.
- Blackie: This composite Fender Stratocaster, built from the best parts of three vintage ’50s Stratocasters, became Clapton’s primary stage guitar from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s. Noted for its alder body and maple neck, Blackie helped define Clapton’s bluesy, expressive playing style
- Brownie: Before Blackie, there was Brownie, another renowned Fender Stratocaster famous for its use on the album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” Clapton’s use of Brownie ushered in a new era of guitar tone with its resonant characteristics.
- The Fool: A psychedelic-painted Gibson SG, The Fool was an icon of the ’60s blues-rock era. With this guitar, Clapton produced sounds infused with layers of distortion and sustain that were revolutionary at the time.
Clapton’s association with Gibson also included models like the Gibson Les Paul, which he famously used during his time with bands such as John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Cream, and the Gibson SG, which contributed to his legendary performances.
Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster models were extensively enjoyed by Clapton, underscoring his preference for Fender’s design and sound. Notably, Martin guitars held a special place in his acoustic performances. His choice often included exquisite models like the 000-42 and his own signature model, the 000-28EC, which contributed to the delicate and nuanced sound of his unplugged sessions.
Pickups and Signature Tone
Eric Clapton’s distinctive tone, often referred to as the “woman tone,” is a product of both his playing style and the pickups in his guitars. He has historically favored a few specific types of pickups that contribute to his signature sound.
Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups
One of the key components in the Eric Clapton Stratocaster is the Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups. Designed to achieve vintage Fender sound without the hum that can accompany single-coil pickups, these pickups offer a warm, clear tone that’s become associated with Clapton’s sound post-1980s.
Earlier in his career, Clapton was known for using Gibson guitars equipped with humbuckers, which also played a pivotal role in forming his sound. These pickups are noted for their thicker, warmer tones, which can be profoundly heard on Cream’s recordings.
|Single-coil / Humbuckers
|Warm, clear tones
|Yes, especially with Vintage Noiseless
|Eric Clapton Stratocaster
Lace Sensor Pickups
Before switching to the Vintage Noiseless, Clapton’s Stratocasters were equipped with Lace Sensor pickups, which are also known for their reduced hum and precise tone.
Mid Boost Circuit
A key element not to be overlooked in Clapton’s Stratocaster is the built-in active mid boost circuit, which allows for up to 25dB of mid boost, giving more punch and sustain, vital in achieving the ‘woman tone’ that Clapton made famous.
These pickups, when combined with Clapton’s playing technique and the distinctive mid boost circuitry, create a sound that is unmistakably his—articulate, emotionally expressive, and capable of both searing highs and rich, singing sustain.
Amplifiers and Effects Gear
Eric Clapton’s sound is heavily influenced by the combination of amplifiers and effects he uses. Over the course of his career, he has favored a variety of amplifiers, often leaning towards Fender amps for their clear, piercing tone, and Marshall amps for their warm, crunchy sound.
- Fender Amplifiers: Clapton has used various Fender amplifiers, most notably the Fender ’57 Custom Twin, known for its rich clean sound and ability to cut through a mix.
- Marshall Amplifiers: The bluesy depth of the Marshall Bluesbreaker has been central to Clapton’s sound. He has also utilized the powerful Marshall JTM45/100 for its thicker tonality.
Eric Clapton’s pedalboard may be simpler than what one might expect from a guitarist of his stature, but certain effects are integral to his legendary tone. His use of pedals adds layers and dimensions to his sound without overshadowing his natural guitar tone.
- Wah Pedal: Clapton often incorporates a wah pedal to express his lyrical playing style, giving it a vocal-like quality.
- Mid-Boost Circuit: Built into many of his signature Fender Stratocasters, the mid-boost circuit helps in elevating his signature creamy lead tones.
- Tone Control: Mastering tone control has allowed Clapton to coax a wide array of sounds from his instrument.
The Fender Custom Shop has worked closely with Clapton to create guitars that meet his exacting standards, including customized pickups and circuitry that enable a versatile mid boost function, which Clapton uses for increased output and control over his midrange frequencies.
His approach to effects is purposeful and measured, using them to enhance, rather than define his sound.
Evolution of Clapton’s Guitar Setup
Eric Clapton’s guitar setup has undergone significant transformations from his early days with the Yardbirds to his current performances. Each era of his career is marked by distinct choices in guitar and pickups that have defined his sound.
Early Years and Formation of Tone
In the nascent stages of his career, Clapton’s tone was heavily influenced by the guitars and pickups he chose while playing with The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
Notably, during his time with the Bluesbreakers, Clapton opted for a Gibson Les Paul Standard, which contributed to his burgeoning reputation as a leading guitar figure. This guitar, paired with Marshall amplifiers, resulted in the “woman tone” that became a hallmark of the blues-rock sound.
Acoustic Influences and MTV Unplugged
Clapton’s exploration into acoustic guitar was solidified with his appearance on MTV Unplugged. He played a Martin 000-28EC, a model designed in collaboration with him, emphasizing comfort and playability. Clapton’s acoustic era also featured other iconic models like the 1939 Martin 000-42, highlighting his refined acoustic tone away from the heavier electric blues of Cream and Blind Faith.
Later Years and Current Preferences
Throughout the later years, Clapton’s preference shifted towards Fender Stratocasters, particularly the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, a signature model embodying his specific requirements. These Stratocasters are equipped with special active circuitry and noiseless pickups, allowing Clapton to achieve his desired sound consistently.
The Clapton Signature Stratocaster represents the culmination of his years of experience and the personalization of his electric guitar setup.
Frequently Asked Questions
Eric Clapton’s guitar sound is iconic, shaped by his specific choice of pickups and gear. This section addresses common inquiries about the pickups used in his guitars, along with the equipment that defines his tone.
What type of pickups are found in Eric Clapton’s signature Fender Stratocasters?
Eric Clapton’s signature Fender Stratocasters are currently equipped with Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups. These pickups are designed to replicate vintage Strat tones without the hum typically associated with single-coils.
How do Lace Sensor pickups contribute to Eric Clapton’s guitar tone?
Lace Sensor pickups, previously installed on early versions of Clapton’s Stratocaster, offer a lower noise floor and an increase in output. Their unique design contributes to a crisper and clearer tone, which has been a crucial element in Clapton’s cleaner blues and rock sounds.
What are the characteristics of the Noiseless pickups used by Eric Clapton?
The Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups provide the warmth and clarity of traditional single-coil pickups, yet they eliminate 60-cycle hum. This design allows Clapton to maintain a pure vintage tone at higher gain settings without unwanted noise.
Which amplifiers has Eric Clapton favored throughout his career?
Throughout his career, Clapton has been known to use a variety of amplifiers, favoring brands like Fender, Marshall, and Soldano, each lending a distinctive hue to his signature sound due to their unique tonal attributes.
Can you detail Eric Clapton’s typical amplifier settings for his classic guitar tone?
While specific settings may vary, Clapton often sets his amplifiers for a clear and warm tone, with moderate gain to achieve a slight overdrive. Bass, midrange, and treble are usually balanced with a slight emphasis on the midrange to carry his signature bluesy sound.
What effect pedals does Eric Clapton commonly integrate into his sound?
Eric Clapton’s effects usage is minimal, often incorporating a Fender Wah pedal for expressive sweeps and a chorus or delay for depth and dimension in his live setup. His choice reflects a preference for a pure and uncluttered guitar tone.
My name is Howard Matthews and I have been playing the guitar since I was knee-high. My parents like to joke that I was pulling the strings even before I was born. In fact, one of my earliest memories is sitting on the couch with my dad’s guitar, wreaking havoc on the chords.
Now, 40 years later, I can attest that I play them much better than I did back then. I have followed in the footsteps of both my parents – much to their delight – and have been the main guitarist in my band for the best part of three decades.
Music has always been my passion, and until recently my life has been so consumed with it that I haven’t had a moment to have a breath (and I wouldn’t have it any other way)!