June 3, 2013 in Historic Fenders

Historic Fenders: Eric Clapton’s Signature Stratocaster

claptonKnown as the musician’s musician, Eric Clapton is arguably the most famous living Fender Stratocaster player of all time. His music and guitar playing skills have earned him numerous titles and awards. He is the only artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. He has helped popularize multiple different models of Fender Strats and Jazzmasters. In 1988, Fender released their first signature Stratocaster in honor of Eric Clapton.

History & Making

Clapton joined The Yardbirds in 1963, where he played lead guitar. He mostly used Telecasters or Jazzmasters at that time, and his distinctive playing style became well-known in the British music scene. He left the band in 1965 and would later swap his Fender Telecaster and Vox AC30 for a Gibson Les Paul 1960 Standard guitar and Marshall Amps when he joined the band John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers.

It was during this time that Clapton earned his guitar “God” status and became famous world-wide. Clapton continued using the Les Paul and other models like Gibson’s SG and ES-335 while he was a member of the band Cream. It wasn’t until he joined the band Derek and the Dominos that he switched beck to using a tobacco sunburst Stratocaster, which he affectionately names Brownie. Brownie was used on his album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Clapton then found the Sho-Bud guitar shop in 1970 and bought six 1950s Stratocasters for between $200 and $300 per guitar. He have three of those Strats to George Harrison, Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood. He took parts from the other three and used them to build his second Strat, Blackie. Blackie went on to become Clapton’s favorite guitar until its retirement in 1985.

Dan Smith, who was Fender’s marketing director in 1985, approached Clapton to discuss a plan for creating a signature guitar to be marketed under his name. Clapton told Smith to create a replica of Blackie, and Fender proceeded to make prototypes, which were gradually improved until its release in 1988. Clapton has since been using the Fender signature Strats for both live and studio performances.

Stratocaster Specs

Just like Clapton’s Blackie, the signature Strat was based entirely on Clapton’s specifications and were modified or improved in just the way he wanted. The early prototypes for the guitar included a soft V neck attached to an elite Stratocaster body with a 12dB MDX mid-boost circuit, which made single-coil pickups sound like humbuckers.

Fender later replaced the original elite pickups with Gold Laser Sensor pickups and an updated MDX circuit which had a more ‘compressed’ sound upon Clapton’s request.


The Strat released in 1988 has a V-shaped maple neck attached to a contoured alder body. It had an original American Vintage synchronized tremolo, 22 vintage frets, Gotoh/Kluson tuning machines, 3 Gold Lace Sensor pickups with active MDX mid-boost circuit, and a 1-ply white pick guard.

Fender has also released several custom-built versions, including a limited edition Eric Clapton Crossroads Signature Guitar & Amp Set, the 2009 limited edition Eric Clapton Grey Strats, and a 10th Anniversary Crossroads antigua Stratocaster.

Eric Clapton Strats sold today have an alder body, with a soft V-shaped maple neck. The have 22 vintage style frets with a fingerboard radius of 9.5″ and a scale length of 25.5″. They come with 3 vintage noiseless single-coil pickups, a 4-bolt micro tilt neck plate, a 1-ply white pick guard, blocked tremolo and an active mid-boost circuit. There are four colors available: Black, Pewter, Torino Red and Olympic White.

Here is a great video of Clapton playing his black strat in 1977:

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