The Fool (guitar)
The Fool (alternately known since the 1970s as "Sunny") is a 1964 Gibson SG electric guitar, painted for Eric Clapton by the Dutch design collective of the same name. One of the world's best-known guitars, it symbolises the psychedelic era. Clapton used the guitar extensively while playing with Cream and it was an essential element of his famed "woman tone".
Clapton's guitar is a key relic of the psychedelic fashion and design fad that flourished from the mid-to-late 1960s, and in which the work of The Fool featured prominently. This trend rapidly gained wide international currency, mainly thanks to its adoption by the popular music scene. One key avenue of popularisation was the widely-seen graphic design work of psychedelic poster artists such as Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin in San Francisco, and Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Martin Sharp in London. Another was its adoption for clothing, instrument finishes and record cover designs by leading pop and rock performers, especially in the UK.
The trend was arguably popularised most of all by The Beatles in the period during which they produced their seminal and hugely popular psychedelic recordings Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Magical Mystery Tour. To accompany the innovative new music they were producing, both albums featured striking psychedelic cover designs, and included photographs of the group in flamboyant psychedelic clothing (notably their famous "day-glo" Sgt Pepper uniforms). The Magical Mystery Tour record covers and film also featured images of the group with their shortlived 'psychedelic' instruments. During this brief period Paul McCartney used a new Rickenbacker bass repainted with a vivid red-and-blue abstract design, George Harrison repainted his sky-blue Fender Stratocaster (which he nicknamed "Rocky") with lurid multi-coloured bands, floral motifs, an "Om" symbol and several slogans, and Ringo replaced his classic 'Beatles logo' kick-drum skin with a bright red skin design bearing the words "Love" and "The Beatles" in swirling orange letters - all of which were hand-painted by the musicians themselves. McCartney subsequently had the hand-painted removed finish from his bass, and the fate of Ringo's shortlived "Love" drum skin is unknown, but Harrison retained Rocky's psychedelic finish, and like Clapton's SG and it has survived to the present.
During 1966–67 many leading UK pop stars, including The Beatles, Donovan, The Rolling Stones and others, abandoned more traditional clothing and adopted a much more flamboyant style that featured highly colourful apparel in a wide range of vivid colours, cuts, designs, fabrics and accessories, both for everyday wear and for stage appearances. As part of this trend, The Fool created psychedelic stage outfits for many leading British bands including The Beatles, Cream, The Hollies, Procol Harum and The Move. Many of these same performers also commissioned The Fool (and other artists) to have their instruments and other items (such as cars) custom-painted with psychedelic designs. Notable "custom painting" works by The Fool included:
- the Cream instruments,
- John Lennon's upright piano and Gibson acoustic guitar,
- George Harrison's Mini car, a mural over the fireplace of Harrison's home "Kinfauns" in Surrey, and several of Harrison's guitars,
- the famous three-storey outdoor mural on the side of The Beatles' Apple Boutique in Baker St, London.
The Fool also created a number of well-known cover designs for pop albums of the period, including the self-titled debut album by The Move, The Incredible String Band's The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion and the original (rejected) cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Other notable objects/works in this genre include the famous "gypsy caravan" re-paint of John Lennon's Rolls Royce (suggested by The Fool, but not executed by them), and Jimi Hendrix's self-painted psychedelic design on his Gibson Flying V guitar.
Another small but notable body of work in UK Sixties psychedelia is that of the London design team "BEV" (Dudley Edwards and Doug Binder) - this includes the vivid, mulit-coloured Art Deco-style design on Paul McCartney's upright piano (which he still owns and uses), and vivid psychedelic paint-jobs for several cars, including a Buick convertible, the Shelby AC Mark III Cobra briefly owned by Tara Browne and the "Beatles Bentley" owned by Apple and driven by Beatles associate and fashion designer John Crittle.
Clapton's Fool SG remains a significant and highly valuable object and, alongside George Harrison's "Rocky" guitar, it is one of the few original instruments of the British psychedelic music period to have survived relatively intact.
The Fool, a "psychedelic fantasy", according to Clapton, was the brainchild of Marijke Koger who, along with Simon Postuma, was a founding member of The Fool collective. In early 1967, the collective were contacted by Robert Stigwood, then manager of Cream, to work on instruments and costumes for the band, which was about to leave London for a tour of the United States. Koger and Postuma painted Clapton's Gibson SG, a drum kit for Ginger Baker, and a Fender Bass VI for Jack Bruce, which he did not like very much and played only on TV performances.
The guitar made its debut as Cream played their first show in the United States on 25 March 1967 at the RKO theatre on 58th Street, Manhattan, where Cream and The Who played a series of shows headlined by Mitch Ryder and promoted by Murray the K. Clapton used the guitar for most of Cream's recordings after Fresh Cream, particularly on Disraeli Gears, until the band broke up in 1968. After Clapton it passed to Jackie Lomax, who may have acquired it from George Harrison. It then passed to Todd Rundgren, who had seen Clapton play it during Cream's show at the RKO Theater and was "mesmerized" by it. Rundgren reportedly paid $500 for the guitar and had various repairs done to it. He had the guitar finished anew and retouched in places, and a portion of the neck and headstock was replaced. The guitar's alternate nickname, "Sunny" dates from the period of Rundgren's ownership; Rundgren typically referred to by that nickname, in reference to the fact that Clapton is known to have used the guitar to record "Sunshine of Your Love". Rundgren sold the guitar in 2000 at auction for around $150,000 to pay off a tax debt, donating 10% to Clapton's Crossroads Centre. The Fool was resold to a private collector a few years later for around $500,000.
The Fool has had other work done: some of the control knobs have been replaced and, most notably, the original trapeze-style bridge was replaced with a Tune-o-matic. The guitar now has Grover tuners rather than the original Klusons.
Koger and Postuma sanded Clapton's 1964 SG Standard (not, as is found in various sources, a 1961 model, and not an SG Special) and painted it with oil-based enamel paint in the "gaudy dayglo colours of the day." As Koger explained, "the single thread running through all of my paintings is nostalgia for paradise." The theme of the SG's design is "good versus evil, heaven versus hell, and the power of music in the universe to rise above it all as a force of good". The centrepiece on the face is a cherub holding a triangle, surrounded by yellow stars on a celestial blue background ("a Fool hallmark"). The angel's curly hairstyle was inspired by Clapton's hairstyle at the time. Flames come up from the bottom of the guitar (the bass-bout with the volume and tone controls) and the treble point has rainbow-coloured arcs. The pick guard contains a landscape with mountains and a red sun on the horizon, a "Dutch miniature" representing paradise. On the back, coloured concentric circles are surrounded by coloured waves.
The Fool is an essential part of what Clapton called the "woman tone", "a sweet sound… more like the human voice than the guitar". Clapton demonstrated that tone in a videotaped interview in 1968, using The Fool and a Marshall amplifier; he said it is accomplished by turning the tone way down and the volume full up, and it is exemplified in the opening and the guitar solo of "Sunshine of Your Love".
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