TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Fender Strats (Brownie, Blackie, and signature model), 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard, 1964 Gibson ES-335, 1959 Marshall JTM-45 amps, various Fender amps
KEY ALBUMS: Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire, Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton, 461 Ocean Boulevard, Slowhand, Unplugged, From the Cradle
SIGNATURE SONGS: "Sunshine of Your Love," "Crossroads," "Layla," "Lay Down Sally," "Wonderful Tonight," "Tears in Heaven"
HIDDEN GEM: "Hard Times"
HALLMARK: "Woman tone" with Cream, silky vibrato
Where to begin? Clapton, now in his fifth decade of "guitar god" status, is the end-all, be-all model for how to build a successful career as a guitar player. Not only has he been a member of several of the biggest classic rock groups in music history (the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos), he's also enjoyed a peerless solo career. And do we need to talk about his contributions to guitar tone and gear? Prior to his fundraising auctions for his cherished Crossroads rehab center, in Antigua, Clapton possessed one of the most valuable guitar collections on the planet. And although he is best known as a Fender Strat man, "Slowhand" has been equally influential wielding Gibson Les Pauls, SGs (his famous "Woman" tone), and ES-335s, as well as Martin acoustics.
So, what guitarist wouldn't want to play like "god?" Here are a few keys: First, develop some awesome vibrato technique. For his, Clapton lets his hand float, shaking the string from the elbow. This is not an easy task, nor is it recommended, but if you can emulate the effect, you're on the right path. Second, his pitch and intonation on bent notes is impeccable. Finally, if you can play an entire 36-bar solo in one position of the A hybrid blues scale with tasty double stops and no breathing room whatsoever and make it sound not only interesting but timeless, well, it's time to start shopping your demos.