Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million

10th Mar 2011 | 13:22

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
One careful owner...

Eric Clapton's auction at Bonhams in New York on 9 March 2011 made a total of $2.15 million for the Crossroads Centre for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Antigua.

All 75 guitars and 55 amplifiers were sold; click onwards for some of the highlights courtesy of Guitarist magazine, with insights from Saiichi Sugiyama, guitar consultant on all three of Clapton's Crossroads Centre auctions.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2010 Gibson Eric Clapton 'Beano' Les Paul
Hammer price: $32,000

This instrument is one of the first of Gibson’s tributes to Clapton’s legendary 1960 sunburst Les Paul Standard. That was the instrument he played during his recording sessions with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in April 1966 for the so-called ‘Beano’ album; the guitar that led to the legend ‘Clapton is God’ famously being scrawled on London walls.

The original was stolen in the early days of Cream and never recovered, so to re-create the instrument as closely as possible, Gibson worked with Clapton to reproduce the guitar’s neck shape and feel from memory. Some of the reissues are to be given the standard VOS finish, while a more expensive version gets the Tom Murphy aging treatment.

“Then there were 50 of these that Eric personally signed,” adds Saiichi. “However, ours is not the guitar that they called ‘the mule’ – so called because it went back and forth, and back and forth between Gibson and Eric, being tweaked and modified every time. That was almost a pre-prototype guitar – you might have seen him playing it on the BBC’s Later With Jools Holland.

What’s great about this one is that it has been hand-signed on the back of the headstock by Eric, and has the serial number ‘1’ also written by hand. I’m not sure whether Eric or someone at Gibson numbered it, but he certainly signed it. It’s a beautiful guitar and it’s pretty certain that he would have played it, even though it was never used on stage.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
1988/89 Soldano SLO-100/Pete Cornish routing system/effects rack
Hammer price: $27,000

After trying Mark Knopfler’s Soldano amp, Clapton ordered a pair of SLO-100 heads from Michael Soldano in 1988. These were modified to form the heart of a massive guitar routing system, designed by British engineer extraordinaire Pete Cornish.

This was Clapton’s sound between 1989 and 1993, and the system allowed him to recreate his studio sound on stage rather than relying on signal processing through the PA system.

The entire system – from the wireless transmitters that were once attached to Clapton’s Versace guitar straps and the nine-button foot-controller, to the purpose-made mains power distributor, multi-core cables, huge rack unit housing Cornish’s routing system, the rack-mount signal processors, including the Dyno-My- Piano Tri-Stereo Chorus and EV-loaded Marshall cabinets – is sold as a single set-up, flight-cased and ready to go.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2007 Fender Eric Clapton Crossroads Stratocaster
Hammer price: $40,000

Custom-built by Fender to the exact specs of Clapton’s stage Strat at the time, this has the unique addition of the Crossroads Centre’s ‘Sun’ logo on the guitar’s body. This was one of 100 guitars built to commemorate the Crossroads Guitar Festival, with the proceeds donated to the Centre.

This particular guitar has been signed by 22 of the artists who participated in the Festival in June 2010, including Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Albert Lee, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and Joe Bonamassa.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2004 Martin 000-ECHF Bellezza Bianca prototype
Hammer price: $35,000

This is the third of the four Martin prototypes built of the stunning, all-white auditorium acoustic guitar, which was designed by Clapton and Japanese artist Hiroshi Fujiwara. This particular prototype features a mother-of-pearl rosette and silver-plated tuners. The Bellezza Bianca model formed a pair with an all-black model, Bellezza Nero.

Clapton used both models for TV and stage appearances from August 2004 – around the time of the Robert Johnson tribute album release and corresponding film, Me And Mr Johnson. “It’s a very beautiful and unbelievably rare piece,” comments Saiichi, “and in totally immaculate condition. Eric is very gentle with his acoustics – apart from the 12-strings!”.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
Music Man HD-130 Reverb stack
Hammer price: $12,000

Leo Fender’s Music Man amplifiers, with their pioneering ‘hybrid’ valve and solid-state circuitry, plus master volume control, were Clapton’s preferred amps through the mid-1970s and early 1980s. “We have four head-and-cab set-ups and two combos in the sale,” explains Saiichi. “Some of them have what’s known as the ‘Clapton mod’, with the bright switch replaced by a mid boost switch and a ‘preamp out, power amp in’ circuit so that the amps could be linked up.

“The 112RD 50 combo featured in Clapton’s first ever video shoot, directed by Godley and Creme in 1985, for the hit single Forever Man. Clapton also used this amp during a number of low-key appearances, including Stan Webb of Chicken Shack’s Finchley Cricket Club charity cricket match gig in August 1986.

“Another combo was used at a St Valentine’s Day dance in Cranleigh, in 1977. This is a 2 x 10, which is unusual for Eric. Then we have a set-up that was used for an ARMS concert in America. Around 1980, Music Man reversed the logo from black lettering on silver, to silver on black. This is a 150W head, with Eric’s special 2 x 12 JBL stack.

"We also have one HD130 Reverb stack, closer to the one that he was using in 1974-5. When Ernie Ball bought Music Man the amp range wasn’t continued, so Clapton used a variety of amps, including Bob Bradshaw rack systems (one of which we also have in the sale), before settling on the Fender Twin.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2008 Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster (Daphne Blue)
Hammer price: $42,000

Built for Clapton by Todd Krause at the Fender Custom Shop, this was one of a pair of main guitars during his Asia and Oceania tours back in 2009; at the concerts with Jeff Beck at the O2 Arena London in 2010; and also at the third Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago in 2010.

“There were three made,” Saiichi tells us, “two active and one passive and Eric quickly rejected the passive one. The way Lee Dickson used to number the guitars was with red sticker dots on the back – one red dot meant the ‘number one’ guitar and two red dots meant ‘number two’. The dots were removed before the guitars came to the sale, so we don’t know which was which, except to say that this is either number one or two – the main or the spare.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
1965 Marshall Block Logo JTM-45
Hammer price: $22,000

This early Marshall head, one of Clapton’s favourite studio amps, is stripped of its covering, with the exposed wood varnished.

“It looks remarkably like his original Bluesbreaker head,” says Saiichi. “There’s a picture of Eric playing with Mayall using his Les Paul through a Marshall half-stack just like this with the ‘Plexi’ logo.” This acquired legendary status after it featured in Michael Doyle’s book, The History Of Marshall. As a result, the phrase ‘Clapton knobs’ has arisen, a reference to its large grey control knobs.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
Charvel Surfcaster
Hammer price: $7500

“Eric custom-ordered this nonvibrato, f-hole version of the Surfcaster,” explains Saiichi. “While some of these guitars are at first sight a little odd for Eric, he’s always interested in what’s around and likes to try new things.”

This one is signed on the back of the headstock and comes with hand-written detail notes from Lee Dickson.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2006 Fender Eric Clapton 'Blackie' Stratocaster
Hammer price: $25,000

This is a 2006 ‘Blackie’ re-creation Stratocaster, also signed by Clapton. The Fender Custom Shop team – led by Todd Krause on this project – re-created the instrument in association with Guitar Center (current owners of the now priceless original) replicating each detail of the legendary guitar.

Eric played Blackie almost exclusively from the early seventies until Fender built the first Clapton signature models in the mid- 1980s. According to Lee Dickson, Eric’s guitar technician at the time, it eventually had to be retired due to issues with the neck after so many refrets.

A composite of three different 1950s Stratocasters, the original Blackie sold for $959,500 in the 2004 Crossroads auction. Accompanying this equally stunning remake is a replica of Blackie’s original flight case bearing the ‘Duck Brothers’ stencil.

“In terms of the ‘touched by Eric’ factor,” says Saiichi, “this was the guitar that we used for the sale’s promotional shots for Bonhams. I had the idea of re-creating the Music Man poster that featured Eric standing in front of a wall of the amps. For that shot he was playing a Gibson Explorer, but I suggested that the Blackie guitar would be perfect, because it more closely fitted in with what he was using at the time. So Eric agreed and posed in front of the Music Man amps that we also have in the auction.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2005 Zemaitis Custom
Hammer price: $50,000

This isn’t an original British guitar built by Tony Zemaitis himself (Clapton was one of the late great luthier’s top clients), but a one-off, specially designed instrument, built for Clapton in Japan in 2005.

It features a typical Zemaitis heart-shaped soundhole, ‘moustache’-style bridge, has gold leaf inside the body and a truss rod cover bearing Clapton’s name.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
Martin D12-28 12-string
Hammer price: $58,000

This was acquired for the 2008 US tour. “I found a YouTube film made by someone at the Tampa, Florida gig,” exclaims Saiichi. “Eric was playing Motherless Child (on From The Cradle) and clearly using a Martin 12-string Dreadnought.

"So I got in touch with the girl on YouTube and she said we could use a screen grab. You can clearly see a huge mark on the pickguard – a Clapton hallmark when it comes to 12-string guitars.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
Casio PG-380 MIDI guitar
Hammer price: $9000

“This is a 1987 MIDI guitar – Eric also owned a Roland guitar synth that he sold in the 1999 auction,” Saiichi informs us. “He had two of those, a sunburst one and a red one.

"Eric has signed this black Casio example in indelible ink. Guitar synths were all the rage at that time and although it’s made by what you might call a ‘calculator company’, it’s still playable as a guitar.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
2005 Gibson 'Crossroads' ES-335 replica prototype
Hammer price: $27,000

Sporting serial numbers 3 and 4, the auction includes two prototypes of the limited edition run of guitars that replicated Eric’s original Cherry red ’64 ‘Cream’ ES-335 that he purchased in 1964. The original guitar was sold in the 2004 Crossroads auction for $847,500. Each one comes complete with a replica of the famous ‘Cream’ stencilled case.

“To be honest,” Saiichi tells us, “these guitars look identical to the limited edition models that Gibson issued – they come in their original cartons with all the usual case candy and I have to say they look fantastic.” Of course what sets them apart is their ‘prototype’ serial numbers and the provenance that comes from being in the Clapton auction. The guitars are sold individually, not as a pair.

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
1970 Marshall 'basket weave' 4 x 12 cabinets
Hammer price: $15,000

EC momentarily returned to Marshall amps (previously using Fender) during the Derek And The Dominos UK tour. “Apparently a punter at Mothers Club in Birmingham heckled Eric, saying he couldn’t hear him,” smiles Saiichi, “resulting in the return to Marshall stacks.

The cabinets are stencilled ‘Derek And The Dominos’ and date from those memorable 1970s days. To my horror, one Greenback from the top cab is missing, but otherwise they’re perfect.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
Strings & Things Customs
Hammer prices: $20,000 & $15,000

“A company in Memphis called Strings And Things tried to get Eric interested in this guitar. He liked it and even played it live. One of these was going to be the Eric Clapton signature guitar.

"The signature model didn’t happen but we have a picture of Eric’s visit to the shop – he turned up at 8am in a taxi. It was the same shop where Jeff Beck bought his oxblood Les Paul. We have two guitars in the sale – one with single-coil pickups and one with humbuckers, and it’s the humbucker one he’s played on stage.”

Eric Clapton's charity guitar auction raises $2.15 million
1934 National Trojan
Hammer price: $12,000

“This is one of the few vintage guitars in the sale,” Saiichi explains. “It has a replacement cover and has been refinished. It’s a classic ‘Eric’ resonator guitar with wooden body and f-holes – he always goes for wooden-bodied resonators.

"It has a slotted headstock and a replacement tailpiece. It’s pretty beaten up and it’s set up for slide playing in open G tuning.


Liked this?

Read a digital copy of Guitarist magazine

IN PICTURES: Brian May's 'other' guitars

IN PICTURES: Slash auctions guitars, vehicles and... dinosaurs?

Connect with MusicRadar: via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Get MusicRadar straight to your inbox: Sign up for the free weekly newsletter

TopView classic version