Rig Rundown: Eric Clapton

Slowhand guitar tech Dan Dearnley takes PG through the guitar god's stripped-down stage setup.

At age 76, Eric Clapton remains a major presence in guitar. He's touring again rather than simply resting on nearly six decades of laurels, and with Slowhand's blessing, Dan Dearnley—the legend's tech for a dozen years—showed us his boss' setup before a September 21 concert at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Three Signature Strats, Martins, and not much else. Dig in!

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One and Done

Clapton has owned some of the most sought-after guitars ever built, but these days he tours with just three of his Fender Custom Shop signature models. Dearnley explains that he usually plays only this guitar, his current favorite, onstage all night long. All of Clapton's signature Strats have Fender's Blocked American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo, Vintage Noiseless Single-Coil Strat pickups, and a TBX active tone circuit, with a middle tone knob to roll off treble, plus a mid-boost. The only difference between these three and what you would buy in a music store is that Clapton swapped in an old-school 3-way switch. They're all strung with Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.010–.046). Since Clapton is a car enthusiast, he went with classic sports car colors for his trio of 6-string hot rods. No. 1 has a dark blue finish you'd find on a Porsche.

The Other Signature

Fender Custom Shop master builder Todd Krause built all three of Clapton's touring Strats and signed their headstocks.

Mr. Bond, Your Guitar Is Ready

The main spare is an E.C. signature that was one of five made in 2019 to celebrate Slowhand's five-night stand at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan arena. It is decked out in a head-turning metallic almond green that was exclusively used by British car maker Aston Martin.

A Rare, Modern Martin

Currently Clapton's favorite acoustic is his Martin 000-42K Goro Custom Tribute model, which was part of a run built to celebrate the life of Japanese designer and craftsman Goro Takahashi. This guitar has no electronics. For the show, Clapton used two DPA 4011TL cardiod microphones mounted on a single stand.

Clapton's Goro Martin has a remarkable flamed koa back.

A Class Act

In a flourish that recalls the subtle elegance of Takahashi's own designs, the bridge of this Martin is adorned with a bit of golden flare.

Elemental Binding

The Martin Goro's Italian alpine spruce top is set off by beautiful, sea-water turquoise binding.

E.C.’s Acoustic John Hancocks

Of course, Clapton's cache of acoustics also includes his own Martin 000-28EC signature model. This East Indian rosewood guitar has an undersaddle pickup, but he prefers the instrument's natural acoustic sound miked up.

Clapton Close-Up

Here's a detailed shot of E.C.'s signature at the 12th fret and a peek inside the soundhole where you can see another Clapton autograph on the inside label above C.F. Martin IV's.

In the Presence of the Lord’s Pedal

For pedals, Clapton—who, along with Hendrix, immortalized the wah-wah—is a minimalist. His guitar plugs into a switch pedal made by Mike Hill, which splits the signal. It divides into a Dunlop Cry Baby GCB95F Wah and to his amp. When the wah is engaged, that signal also goes to a Hammond Leslie 122XB rotary speaker for a supercool swirling effect.

Amped Up Amps

Clapton tours with two Fender '57 Bandmaster custom series amps, but these have a twist. They were built by Alexander Dumble specifically for him. The guitar hero runs one and keeps the second as a miked-and-ready spare. Both combos are blasting into a Audio-Technica AT4047/sv, while the main Bandmaster has an additional Audix i5 Cardioid Dynamic on one of its speakers.

Lucky Number

Clapton asked Dumble to make the amp's sweet spot come alive when all the controls are set to 7.

The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

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