Eric Clapton Stratocaster
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (March 2014)|
|Eric Clapton Stratocaster|
Eric Clapton Stratocaster 1996
|Period||1988 — Present|
|Bridge||Blocked Synchronized Tremolo|
Artist Series: Olympic White, Black, Pewter, Torino Red, Candy Green (discontinued as of 2010).
Custom Artist Series: Mercedes Blue, Midnight Blue, Black, Gold Leaf Metallic
Crashocaster Series: Graffiti Canvas
2009 Limited Edition: Daphne Blue, EC Grey
10th Anniversary Crossroads Antigua: Antigua Sunburst
Custom Thinskin Nitro: Olympic White, Pewter, Torino Red
Custom Journeyman Relic (as of 2017): 2-Colour Sunburst, Aged White Blonde (ash body)
ST54-LS: Black, Vintage White, Torino Red, Gun Metal BlueBST-GL: Gold Leaf Metallic
In 1981, Fender had informally discussed the idea of a signature model Telecaster with the legendary James Burton; however, this would not come to be until 1990. Jeff Beck had also been offered a signature model Stratocaster, but he rejected the idea until 1991, when he opted for an Artist Series signature guitar based on the Fender Stratocaster Plus Series models of 1987.
Eric Clapton, though he had played Fender Telecasters and Jazzmasters in his brief career with The Yardbirds, would attain "guitar god" status while playing models such as the Gibson Les Paul, Firebird, ES-335 and SG as a member of Cream. However, in 1970, for his landmark Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with a new band, Derek and the Dominos, Clapton switched to a tobacco sunburst Stratocaster from 1956, nicknamed "Brownie". This was in part due to the influence of his former Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood. He later assembled the best parts of three mid-'50s Strats to create his favorite guitar, the famous "Blackie", a black composite Stratocaster which he played for many years. Both guitars would later sell for record prices at auction. When Blackie finally wore out, Clapton and the Fender Custom Shop began to work on a signature guitar modeled after the artist's original instrument.
In 1985, Dan Smith approached Clapton to discuss a plan to create a signature guitar built to his own specifications and market it under his name. Clapton told them to make an exact copy of Blackie, his favorite stage guitar at the time. Clapton's personal preference for the neck shape was the soft "V" of the early Martins. Fender made up a neck and put it on an Elite Stratocaster body. In the meantime, another prototype has been made with a softer V neck that Clapton liked even more. Among the Elite's features was a 12 dB MDX mid-boost circuit (developed and designed by Paul Gagon, Bob Eggler, Roger Cox, James Demeter and John Carruthers) which makes the single-coils sound like a humbucker. Clapton liked the boost (which he called a "compressor") and told Fender to keep it, but wanted more "compression", prompting Fender to replace the "Elite" pickups with Gold Lace Sensor pickups and an updated MDX circuit that had been tweaked up to 25 dB boost in the midrange at around 500 Hz.
Clapton first used Gold Lace Sensors on three prototype signature models built by George Blanda - one was finished in Torino Red and the other two in Pewter Grey Metallic - in the "Prince Trust Live Aid", "Live in Montreux" and "Eric Clapton and friends Live 1986" DVDs from 1986. The two Pewter guitars had been refitted with 22-fret necks made from birdseye and flame maple built by Texas luthier Michael Stevens two years later (the flame neck was installed in February 1988; the birdseye neck went on the other guitar in early September of that year), with the body of the latter refinished in Candy Green for a short time in 1989.
At Clapton's personal request, the flame maple neck has been removed from one of his two Pewter Stratocasters and put into a new black alder body built by master builder Jay W. Black in 1990. The "smoker's models" (nicknamed for their cigarette holder placed on the back of the headstock) would become the basis for the final production version (which was initially offered in Torino Red, Candy Green and Pewter, followed by Black in 1989 and Olympic White in 1994) and were Clapton's main instruments of choice for live and studio use from 1988 to 1993.
Clapton asked Fender for a V-shaped neck similar to his Martin acoustic guitar and what he called a "compressed" pickup sound, similar to that of a humbucker, explaining everything else about the famous "woman tone" he had developed during his stint with Cream in the late '60s, a playing technique almost synonymous with various Gibson models such as the ES-335, Les Paul Standard, Explorer, Byrdland, SG and Firebird, all sporting a pair of humbucking pickups. The first early prototypes made around 1986/87 featured a 21-fret neck, a 21 dB mid-boost circuit, an active/passive toggle switch (which has been deleted on the final release) and Schaller locking strap buttons. The final product (released in 1988) is essentially a vintage 1957 reissue Stratocaster featuring a deeply contoured select alder body, a 1-piece soft "V"-shaped maple neck fitted with 22 vintage-style frets, flat 9,5" radius and BiFlex truss-rod system, a "blocked" original American Vintage synchronized tremolo, Gotoh/Kluson tuning machines, 1-ply white pickguard and three Fender Gold Lace Sensor pickups powered by an active MDX mid-boost circuit with 25 dB of gain and TBX tone controls, which helped augment the tone of the sound delivered, opening up a wider tonal range Clapton desired.
One of the unique features of this guitar was the inclusion of an original vintage synchronized tremolo bridge blocked off to tremolo arms by a small piece of wood wedged into the bridge cavity. This idea came about as Clapton liked the tone and tuning stability of hardtail Stratocasters and had no use for the whammy bar. In 1991 Clapton agreed to have his signature model with a rosewood fretboard as well to suit the needs of players disliking the feel of maple-neck models. Only 94 of these short-lived guitars were made and their production finally came into a halt.
The Lace Sensors in the Clapton Signature Stratocaster were replaced with Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups in 2001 (although Clapton began using the new pickups on his personal guitars in March 2000 and was occasionally seen playing Lace Sensor-equipped Stratocasters until 2010). The Vintage Noiseless pickups were previously available as a standard equipment material on the Fender American Deluxe Series guitars produced before 2004. The Custom Shop version (introduced in 2004) is available in Midnight Blue, Mercedes Blue, Black and Gold Leaf with gold-plated hardware (also available with a "Thinskin" nitrocellulose lacquer finish in Olympic White, Torino Red and Pewter, as well as a left-handed version). The Eric Clapton Custom Journeyman Relic Stratocaster, introduced in 2017, features a 2-piece select ash body, available in 2-Colour Sunburst and Aged White Blonde.
Since their introduction in 2004, all Custom Shop Clapton Stratocasters (Team Built and Master Built) used a standard tone control instead of a TBX tone circuit. The TBX feature has been re-introduced in 2009 on "Team Built" versions; only the "Master Built" models had a normal tone control.
Construction and design variations
Several variations of Clapton's personal guitar were made by the Fender Custom Shop throughout the years, including fancy versions with ash bodies, quilted or maple tops, abalone dot position inlays, matching headstocks, gold hardware and white pearloid pickguards, made by Senior Master Builder J. W. Black. Many of these guitars were sold for charity auctions for the Crossroads Centre of Antigua, the drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation facility founded on the small, idyllic Caribbean island in 1998. They include the Gold Leaf Stratocaster of 1996 (used during the Legends and Montserrat concerts in 1997) and the Crashocasters (signature model Stratocasters hand-painted by New York-based street artist John Matos, better known as Crash), used by Clapton from 2001 to 2004.
The Gold Leaf Stratocaster
The original Gold Leaf guitar was built by Fender Master Builders Mark Kendrick and John Luis Campo as a custom order for Eric Clapton at the time of the 50th Anniversary of the firm in 1996. Clapton used the guitar for his 1997 Far-Eastern tour, the European Legends jazz concerts with Marcus Miller, Joe Sample, Steve Gadd and David Sanborn and the Montserrat benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall before selling it to Christies for US $455,000.
The Fender Custom Shop reissued the Gold Leaf Stratocaster after 8 years of absence as a limited-edition run of 50 pieces. Each guitar was built to Eric's exacting specifications, with Fender's Vintage Noiseless pickups and a standard tone control instead of the Gold Lace Sensor pickups and TBX tone circuit (re-introduced in 2009) found on the original 1996 model.
The John Matos "Crashocasters"
In January 2007, visual artist John "Crash" Matos finished painting the 50th guitar body for a limited edition run of Stratocasters (50 total) from the Fender Custom Shop. The project, which Matos began in late 2004, was inspired by the graffiti-style Stratocaster bodies he had painted for Eric Clapton, one of which, known as Crash-3, was sold in the 2004 Christie's Eric Clapton Crossroads Auction for $321,000.
Since the beginning of the Custom Shop project in 2004, Crash has chronicled his work on the 50 Fender Custom Shop guitars (referred to in this article as the Fender Custom Shop Crashocasters) in his online Modern Guitars journal titled "Crash Pad".
In 1998, Fender Japan released the ST54-LS. This guitar is a 1954 vintage reissue loaded with the same features as the early 1990s' USA-made Clapton Strats, such as a 7.25" radius 22-fret soft V-shape maple neck and three Gold Lace Sensor pickups with 25 dB active mid-boost and TBX electronics. The battery is located in a special compartment routed on the back of the body instead of the tremolo cavity and a round string tree replaces the original butterfly-style of the American-made models. The bridge is a diecast block S5D vintage-style tremolo system. Available in Black, Vintage White, Torino Red and Gun Metal Blue.
This Japanese tribute guitar is a faithful reproduction of the original Gold Leaf Stratocaster (using genuine USA electronics, Gold Fender Lace Sensor pickups and hardware - also available with Vintage Noiseless pickups as an option), except for the "Bacchus Custom Guitars" decal on the headstock rather than the "Fender" spaghetti logo found on Clapton's gold-finished signature model. The BST-GL was among the first tribute guitars made by Deviser at the Asuka factory in Japan; it was actually produced between 1998 and 2003. As of 2005, Bacchus no longer uses its own decal on the guitar's headstock, after few customers requested to have the Fender logo put on for reasons of authenticity. 
Limited Edition Crossroads Signature Guitar and Amp Set
Fender introduced a matching set of limited-edition Crossroads instruments, which consisted of an Eric Clapton Crossroads Signature Stratocaster (better known as the "Sun Strat" and produced in a limited run of 100 instruments globally) and a Crossroads '57 Twin-Amp (produced in a limited run of 50 pieces). Each guitar is crafted to Clapton's exacting specifications and bear a unique "Crossroads Antigua" smiling sun graphic designed and originally hand-drawn by Eric Clapton himself. 
The commemorative Crossroads '57 Twin-Amps are modeled after the original '57 Twin. This limited-edition amplifier features a custom engraved commemorative "Crossroads 2007" badge autographed by Eric and his "Crossroads Antigua" graphic is artistically embedded on the grill cloth. Bearing in mind the number of changes he makes with regards to neck dimensions, Clapton fans purchasing this will be getting an exact replica as used at the Crossroads Guitar Festivals 2007, 2010 & 2013.
2009 Limited Edition Daphne Blue & EC Grey Stratocasters
In 2009, the Custom Shop released an exact representation of Clapton's Daphne Blue Stratocaster used during his recent Australasian tours held from February 12 to March 10, 2009, as well as a faithful replication of the EC Grey model he uses since his 2006/07 world tours. The EC Grey finish is slightly darker than Pewter. These limited-edition guitars featured a select alder body, a soft V-shape maple neck with 22 vintage frets, bone nut, three Vintage Noiseless pickups, active mid-boost circuit and a "blocked" original vintage synchronized vibrato. Discontinued in 2011.
10th Anniversary Crossroads Antigua Stratocaster
In 1978 Fender introduced the Antigua finish on a number of models from the flagship Stratocaster to the classic Coronado Bass. Described as a “rich antique-white finish with halo-mist shading,” it became highly prized among collectors around the world. The first Antigua prototype model was awarded to its creator Martin DeCasas who worked on color schemes for Fender from July 1964 till its closing in Fullerton, California in February 1985.
In 2008 Sam Ash incorporated the spirit of the Eric Clapton Stratocaster with the spirit of the Crossroads Centre, commissioning a limited run of only 100 pieces of the signature model in the classic Antigua finish along with a commitment to donate $100,000 to the Crossroads Centre. This exclusive instrument is currently being built by the Fender Custom Shop to Clapton's exacting specifications.
Features include a select alder body, 1-piece maple neck with soft “V” shape, 22 vintage style frets, 3 Vintage Noiseless pickups, “blocked” American Vintage synchronized tremolo, active mid-boost circuit (with a TBX tone control as of 2009) and vintage black case. Each instrument is individually numbered from 1 through 100 and comes with an official certificate of authenticity.