23-Year-Old Eric Clapton Demonstrates the Elements of His Guitar Sound

In the fall of 1968, Eric Clap­ton was 23 years old and at the height of his cre­ative pow­ers. His band, Cream, was on its farewell tour of Amer­i­ca when a film crew from the BBC caught up with the group and asked the young gui­tar vir­tu­oso to show how he cre­at­ed his dis­tinc­tive sound.

The result is a fas­ci­nat­ing four-minute tour of Clapton’s tech­nique. He begins by demon­strat­ing the wide range of tones he could achieve by vary­ing the set­tings on his psy­che­del­i­cal­ly paint­ed 1964 Gib­son SG Stan­dard gui­tar. His wah-wah ped­al (an ear­ly Vox mod­el) was crit­i­cal to the sound of so many Cream clas­sics, like “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” In the film, Clap­ton real­ly has to stomp on it to get it work­ing.

One of the most dif­fi­cult skills to mas­ter, Clap­ton says, is the vibra­to. In a 1970 inter­view with Gui­tar Play­er mag­a­zine he goes into more detail: “When I stretch strings,” he says, “I hook my thumb around the neck of the gui­tar. A lot of gui­tarists stretch strings with just their hand free. The only way I can do it is if I have my whole hand around the neck—actually grip­ping onto it with my thumb. That some­how gives me more of a rock­ing action with my hand and wrist.” If you watch the BBC clip close­ly you will see this in action.

The inter­view was con­duct­ed with Clap­ton seat­ed in front of his famous stack of Mar­shall ampli­fiers. In the Gui­tar Play­er inter­view, how­ev­er, he admits he rarely used both at the same time. “I always had two Mar­shalls set up to play through,” he says, “but I think it was just so I could have one as a spare. I usu­al­ly used only one 100-watt amp.”

Clapton’s demon­stra­tion (along with inter­views of bassist Jack Bruce and drum­mer Gin­ger Bak­er) was incor­po­rat­ed into Tony Palmer’s film of Cream’s Farewell Con­cert, which took place on Novem­ber 21, 1968 at the Roy­al Albert Hall in Lon­don. (Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Clap­ton is appear­ing at the Albert Hall all this week.) The orig­i­nal six-song ver­sion of Cream’s Farewell Con­cert is avail­able for free view­ing on the Inter­net. An extend­ed 14-song ver­sion is avail­able for pur­chase here.

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Comments (10)
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  • tim says:

    Vibra­to is dif­fi­cult to mas­ter. The vio­lin­ists also must work with this. I guess this is how he beat George Har­ri­son in their gui­tar duel.

  • steve-0 says:

    As you can tell from the gui­tar he is play­ing, an SG known as The Fool, and his hair­cut, the inter­view was done prob­a­bly a year or so before the farewell show.

  • Mike Springer says:

    How long do you think it takes for some­one to get a hair­cut, switch gui­tars and change out of psy­che­del­ic cloth­ing? Accord­ing to my research the BBC inter­view was done dur­ing Cream’s farewell tour, just a cou­ple of months before the Albert Hall con­cert. When the band broke up it was obvi­ous­ly a time of change for Clap­ton. He was try­ing to make a break from the past. One of the quick­est and eas­i­est ways to do that, I sup­pose, is to change your look.

  • Resoundsound says:

    Indeed hes a tru­ely an artist!! No won­der!!!

  • Ryosuke Yokoe says:

    It’s a pret­ty old clip. I think every Clap­ton fan here rec­og­nizes it ;)

  • Billy Murrell says:

    His amp only went up to “10”.

  • roman mm says:

    Tray­ing to say some­thing his the best way is to do this with gui­tar… Find peo­ple who under­stand you and you are on…

  • Dan Benbow says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this clip. See­ing Clap­ton with such a ful­ly-formed sound at such a young age, it’s obvi­ous he was one of those rare play­ers who just “had it.” Oth­er than the Lay­la ses­sions I don’t think he ever had any blues play­ing that matched up to his work in Cream.

  • Dave Dick says:

    Dan…I sug­gest you lis­ten to “Same Old Blues” from the Behind The Sun album record­ed in 1985..

  • Merle Tollhouse says:

    E.C. Was Here is mighty bluesy.

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