It’s not Clapton’s Strat—but it’s very, very close!
The Fender Stratocaster underwent its first substantial alterations two years after its 1954 debut. In mid 1956, alder replaced the original ash body wood because it provided better consistency and was easier to finish. Meanwhile, the original neck’s round, chubby profile evolved into a distinct V shape. The original round string guide for the 1st and 2nd strings was changed to a rectangular (“butterfly”) clip. The knobs and pickup covers evolved from a brittle, Bakelite-type material to a more durable plastic.
The 1956 Strat seen here closely resembles the famous Strat whose photo appears on two classic 1970 albums: Eric Clapton (the guitarist’s first solo album) and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (by Derek and the Dominos, featuring Clapton). Clapton bought that guitar, later nicknamed “Brownie,” in May 1967, when he was still performing with Cream, though he didn’t use it extensively until his 1970 work with Delaney & Bonnie and Derek and the Dominos. In addition to their similar sunburst patterns, both this Strat and Clapton’s have necks initialed by the same Fender employee, XA (full name unknown). Brownie’s neck reads XA-6-56, while this Strat is dated two months later: XA-8-56. The body dates correspond to the neck dates on both guitars.
In 1956 Fender replaced the earlier Bakelite-style knobs and pickup covers with a more flexible and durable plastic.
The February 1957 list price for a Stratocaster with tremolo was $274.50. The current value is $25,000.
The amp behind the guitar is a 1957 Model 5E8 Twin (known to collectors as “the low- powered Twin”). On this model, two 5U4 rectifier tubes and two 6L6s deliver 50 watts of power to a pair of Jensen P12Q speakers. Introduced in 1953, the Twin has remained a favorite of both pros and amateurs throughout its evolution, which included the high-powered 1958 model and 1963’s Twin Reverb.
A rectangular string guide replaced the Strat’s original round guide in 1956.
The February 1957 list price for a Fender Twin amp was $339.50. The amp’s current value is $10,000.
Sources for this article include The Fender Stratocaster by A.R. Duchossoir, The Stratocaster Chronicles by Tom Wheeler, Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung, and A Selection of Eric Clapton’s Guitars by Christie’s New York.