23-Year-Old Eric Clapton Demonstrates the Elements of His Guitar Sound (1968)

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. The orig­i­nal six-song ver­sion of Cream’s Farewell Con­cert is avail­able on YouTube. An extend­ed 14-song ver­sion is avail­able for pur­chase here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2011.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Eric Clapton’s Iso­lat­ed Gui­tar Track From the Bea­t­les’ ‘While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps’ (1968)

Eric Clap­ton Tries Out Gui­tars at Home and Talks About the Bea­t­les, Cream, and His Musi­cal Roots

Hear the Nev­er Released Ver­sion of The Stones’ “Brown Sug­ar,” With Eric Clap­ton on Slide Gui­tar

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