Excerpt: Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson ES-335TDC

November 29th, 2012



In our December/January cover story, we take a look at some of the iconic guitars auctioned by Eric Clatpon for his Crossroads Centre, and featured in the new book. Six-String Stories. For more of these classic instruments — as well as features on Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, fine Mexican tequila and more — pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado in our online store.

The iconic guitars auctioned by Eric Clapton for his Crossroads Centre come to life in Six String Stories, a lavish new tome from Genesis Publications with text by Guitar Aficionado senior editor Chris Gill.

Eric Clapton’s contributions as a guitarist and musician are widely praised and celebrated, but his impact on the guitar industry is too often overlooked. It’s true that Clapton was never a brash innovator or mad musical scientist like Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, or Eddie Van Halen, each of whom caused generations of guitarists to rethink the instrument, but he has nonetheless played an almost unparalleled role in influencing guitar sales for the past half century.

Clapton’s use of a sunburst Gibson Les Paul on John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album was a defining moment in music history, one that made the Les Paul Standard (a.k.a. Burst) the most desirable and collectible solidbody electric guitar model in the mid Sixties. It retains its desirable status today: Les Paul Standards built between 1958 and 1960 continue to sell for six-figure sums. When Clapton switched to Fender Stratocasters in the Seventies, guitarists suddenly yearned for vintage pre-CBS Strats similar to Clapton’s “Brownie” and “Blackie” Strats. Martin steel-string flattop acoustics, as well as high-end steel-string guitars built by independent luthiers, enjoyed an incredible surge in popularity in the early Nineties after Clapton’s MTV Unplugged appearance.

However, Clapton’s personal adventures with the guitar extend beyond the Les Pauls, Strats, and Martin acoustics he’s played. The upcoming Genesis Publications book Six String Stories—Eric Clapton, The Crossroads Auction Guitars 1999–2011 tells the stories of nearly 300 guitars, amps, and other pieces of musical equipment that Clapton sold in three auctions to benefit his Crossroads Centre in Antigua, a residential-care facility dedicated to the treatment of drug and alcohol dependency and addiction.

Most of the instruments that Clapton has auctioned off played important roles in various phases of his career. Some of the guitars are legendary. They include Brownie, his 1956 Fender Stratocaster; Blackie, a composite guitar that Clapton built from parts of 1956 and 1957 Strats; and the 1964 Gibson ES-335 that he played from his days as a member of the Yardbirds through the mid Nineties. The status of these guitars was further bolstered when they sold for $450,000, $959,500, and $847,500, respectively, at those auctions.

1964 Gibson ES-335TDC
Serial No. 67473
Christie’s 2004, Lot #41

Before Clapton purchased this Gibson ES-335TDC from a London music store in 1964, he had owned only two electric guitars—a Kay hollowbody (a Jazz II model) that his grandparents gave him and a Fender Telecaster that he played with the Yardbirds. “I bought this guitar with the first money I managed to save up playing with the Yardbirds,” he recalls. “I bought it brand new from a store on Denmark Street or Charing Cross Road. This guitar was really acceptable on every front. It was a rock guitar, a blues guitar—the real thing.”

Clapton played this guitar toward the end of his stint with the Yardbirds in 1964 and 1965. He may have used the ES-335 to record “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” as his guitar tone on the song is not as thin and twangy as it was on earlier studio recordings like “Boom Boom” and “A Certain Girl,” where he played the Telecaster. With the Bluesbreakers and Cream, Clapton favored other Gibsons, but in October 1968 the ES-335 resurfaced when he brought it to IBC Studios in London to record the songs “Badge,” “Doing That Scrapyard Thing,” and “What a Bringdown” for Cream’s Goodbye album. He also played it during Cream’s farewell tour, including their final concert on November 26, 1968, at the Royal Albert Hall.

During this period, the ES-335 became Clapton’s main guitar. He played it in an appearance with the Dirty Mac (featuring John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell) on December 11, 1968, which was filmed for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and used it extensively in the studio and on tour with Blind Faith. Clapton switched to a Fender Stratocaster shortly after Blind Faith dissolved, but he frequently brought this ES-335 on tour and to the studio over the next several decades.

“I think this is the star of the show,” Clapton said prior to the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Auction at Christie’s, where it sold for $847,500. Even though the guitar was 40 years old when Clapton sold it, it was in remarkably good shape and completely stock, with the exception of its gold-plated Grover tuners that Clapton installed on the guitar very early on, the engraved “Custom” truss-rod cover, and black “top hat” control knobs that replaced the original “metal cap” knobs. Even the Hare Krishna stamp that George Harrison affixed to the back of the headstock was still in good shape. “It’s worked really hard,” Clapton said. “It was on a lot of albums, went everywhere, and was played regularly over the years, but it never got old or worn down or lost anything. It’s amazing that it’s survived in this condition. I’d still play it today.”

— Chris Gill

  • Please feel free to pruchase my 335 for anything over 100 thousand also !

    Thank you

  • G. EISIN

    remove my email from all your lists and mailings ! NOW!

  • no refrets?

  • martin mocha

    Again, its amazing how disinformation sticks to the internet like a virus….for the record to those who give a sh.., Clapton NEVER, NEVER used his Gibson ES-335 during the US Cream Farewell tour between October 4 and November 4 1968….he ONLY used the 335 with Cream during their FINAL FAREWELL PERFORMANCE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL DURING THE REHEARSAL PUBLICITY SHOTS (WHERE HE’S WEARING A BLACK LEATHER JACKET) AND DURING THE SECOND SET OF THE CONCERT, AS SEEN IN THE MOVIE. HE USED THE FIREBIRD DURING THE FIRST SET. EC DID USE THE 335 THE FOLLOWING YEAR DURING THE BLIND FAITH US TOUR AND IN EUROPE. During Cream’s US Farewell tour, Clapton ONLY used two guitars, 1 Les Paul Standard he exchanged with Paull Kossoff and 1 Gibson reverse Firebird.

    I don’t know what it takes to correct the astounding bullsh.t that gets into the internet creating history revisionism. Another Clapton myth, that is quite malicious , is his iconic live Crossroads solo was edited….it was NOT!!! Confirmed by both the engineer that worked the boards and mixed the recording and by hand held audience recordings defitiviely proving that the live Winterland Crossroads of March 10, 1968 was performed exactly as you hear it. Lets get it right.

  • martin mocha

    Although no fault of your own, its amazing how disinformation sticks to the internet like a virus….for the record to those who care, Clapton NEVER used his Gibson ES-335 during the US Cream Farewell tour between October 4 and November 4 1968 or at any time earlier during his tenure with Cream….he ONLY used the 335 with Cream during their FINAL FAREWELL PERFORMANCE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL DURING THE REHEARSAL PUBLICITY SHOTS (WHERE HE’S WEARING A BLACK LEATHER JACKET) AND DURING THE SECOND SET OF THE CONCERT, AS SEEN IN THE MOVIE. HE USED THE FIREBIRD DURING THE FIRST SET. EC DID USE THE 335 THE FOLLOWING YEAR DURING THE BLIND FAITH US TOUR AND IN EUROPE. During Cream’s US Farewell tour, Clapton ONLY used two guitars, 1 Les Paul Standard he exchanged with Paull Kossoff and 1 Gibson reverse Firebird. Before the Farewell Tour between the fall of 66 and June 68, he used a variety of Les Paul standards (including his Black Beauty), his main axe, the SG Fool and eventually the Reverse Firebird.

    Clapton basically used 3-4 Les Pauls during early Cream to replace his Beano Les Paul that was stolen during early Cream rehearsals, then after obtaining his coveted Gibson SG Standard around late December 66, (& had it painted by the Fool) it became his PRIMARY axe for the bulk of Cream’s recordings (Disraeli Gears & Wheels of Fire) and nearly every live performance from May 1967 all they through the grueling Disraeli Gears tour that stretched to June 1968 including the performance I witnessed and will never forget sitting 15’ in front of EC playing his SG through a massive dual Marshall stack. The soaring, majestic tone he got out of that SG through the dual stacks was phenomenal, and was consistent with how he sounded on the famous live Crossroads and most of the live Cream tracks except massively louder and spine breaking, truly exhilarating. As a 15 yr old, it changed my entire approach to guitar permanently as well as generations to follow (see my old Cream Brownie camera photos attached from April 19, 1968 at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory).

    This erroneous myth that EC used the 335 with Cream at any time before their final November 26 concert at the Royal Albert Hall, was created by the Burst Brothers after they bought the 335 at the Christies auction and in order to “hype” it, they literally fabricated the astounding myth that Eric used it throughout Cream which is tantamount to claiming Clapton used a Ventures Mosrite guitar with the Bluesbreakers, or that Donald Trump is actually Eric Clapton……total bull sh.t:-)

    I don’t know what it takes to correct the astounding lies that perniciously permeate the internet creating history revisionism. Another Clapton myth, that is quite malicious, asserts his iconic live Crossroads solo was edited….it was NOT!!! Confirmed by both the engineer that worked the boards and mixed the recording and by bootleg hand held audience recordings definitively proving that the live Winterland Crossroads of March 10, 1968 was performed exactly as you hear it.