The Fool (guitar)
The Fool is a 1964 Gibson SG guitar, painted for Eric Clapton by the Dutch design collective of the same name. One of the world's best-known guitars, it symbolizes the psychedelic era. Clapton used the guitar extensively while playing with Cream and it was an essential element of his famed "woman tone".
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 theater 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. 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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