Tools of the Trade: Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson SG ‘The Fool’ Guitar – ‘So Many Fantastic Colors’

by | Mar 20, 2016 | 0 comments

While Eric Clapton’s signature guitars and most recognizable
instruments are usually thought of as‘Brownie’ or ‘Blackie’ his trusty classic Fender
Stratocasters; for an 18 month period from 1966-1968 Clapton disseminated his
psychedelic stringed magic through a 1964 Gibson SG.  Referred to as the ‘Fool’ guitar, today the ‘rock room’ takes a look at this ‘tool of the trade’. Famously painted with a
tastefully trippy art moral representing the battles of good and evil and the
power of musical magic, Clapton’s most revolutionary period as a guitar master
is hallmarked by this iconic guitar. 
This particular instrument was the primary guitar
responsible for the development of Clapton’s ‘woman tone’ and for the creation
of the formative foundation riffs of ‘Cream’ and their improvisational catalog
of songs. Clapton described the aforementioned ‘woman tone’ as a careful manipulation of
distortion and feedback in order to make the guitar communicate like a human
voice. A careful listen to any number of
songs in the Cream catalog will illustrate this point. Later in this tale I have included a clip of Clapton showing how he developed this approach.
Clapton first started to use the 1964 Gibson SG in 1966 after
his 59’ Les Paul referred to as ‘Brownie’ (used in the Bluesbreakers)was stolen. There is no
confirmation where Clapton got the SG guitar from, though many say it was a gift
from George Harrison who’s other primary SG guitar later ended up in the hands of
Badfinger’s Pete Ham. 
Many people, including Clapton himself referred to the
guitar as a 61’ or Les Paul model of SG. This is not the case, as according to
the Gibson website the guitar can be identified by the six screws in the pick
guard. Six screws in the pick guard date
the instrument to being manufactured in 1964 or 65. This will never be able to be
confirmed though as the serial number has been removed from the guitar.
Prior to Cream embarking on their 1967 US tour, Clapton
along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker all had their instruments redecorated by
Dutch artists ‘The Fool’, Simon and Marjike. These artists would later paint
the glorious store front of The Beatles Apple boutique in downtown London.
As was typical for the era, Clapton’s guitar was painted in a day-go and especially spacey way, with a cosmic cherub levitating above the scorching
flames of hell. Suspended amongst starts the heavenly figure rings a silver
triangle, a clarion call amidst the madness. A small red sunned alien landscape resides in the corner of the guitar
under the pickups representing paradise. Waves of color reverberate away from the body lapping away
like echoed sound in a musical canyon. The waves continue to back of the guitar where they pool together.
The seven pound solid body guitar features four primary controls two
volume controls for each pick up respectively and two tone controls. The pickups
area pair of Gibson humbuckers responsible for the hearty and famous mid range bite of the
guitar.  These aforementioned pickups
working in conjunction with a full stack Marshall amp are the elements of the
quintessential mid 1960’s psychedelic music aesthetic.Clapton mastered this approach.
When Clapton first began playing the 22 fret SG, it had the original
Deluxe Vibrolo installed, shortly after though, this setup was changed to a standard
bridge and stop tailpiece. He also replaced the original tuning pegs from the
standard Klusons to Grover pegs. A priceless view of the guitar in Clapton’s able hands can be found here where Eric illustrates a few ways of drawing incredible and diverse tones from the instrument.
Clapton played the shit out of the guitar for the time of
its use. The paint started to bubble and  peeland the neck became a sponge
full of Clapton’s sweat and marked with his psychedelic finger prints. For a
short time the instrument acted as a wicked messenger and was strangled for its
sound. But eventually Clapton had wrung the wood dry. Clapton rid the guitar hard and put it away wet and by the end of 1968
the guitar disappeared along with Cream as a band. 
Clapton either gave the guitar to
Jackie Lomax after working on his 1968 Apple solo recording, or back to George
Harrison and then on to Lomax depending on what story you read. Regardless, Clapton had moved on. The guitar
eventually made it into the hands of Todd Rundgren who played it for many years
until it hit the auction block in 2001. Rundgren noted that when he received
the guitar it had been well loved and that Clapton had worn the finish clear
off of the mahogany neck and that the wood felt as if it was falling apart!
Throw on any live Cream from 1967 or 68 and you will be left with no doubt as of how the guitar reached this state! 
The playing Clapton displays from this era melts as wax falling from
a tables edge. Clapton’s approach ranges from his subtle ‘woman tone’ to full
out screaming distortion that swoops and soars as a bird of prey hungered for its
next meal. Clapton’s trusty ‘Cry Baby’ tone was birthed here as well as his licks trace tears down listeners cheeks with
gurgling syrupy lines. The 1964 SG channeled Clapton’s experimentation and tracked his growth as a player while he dipped his blues roots into multiple
pools of influence. 
Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson SG while only a small detail in
the landscape of Clapton’s remarkable career, is a very important one at that.
The guitar signifies an era where Clapton and the Cream’s horizons were endless
and Clapton was further revolutionizing six strings at a furious rate.  The guitar’s design and decoration not only
represent the sound created by the guitar, but immortalize an entire era of
creation and development. The instrument acts as and has become a collaborative for aural and visual mediums of art and is a famed representation of both.


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