By Chris Gill
Fender, Gibson and Martin have each previously offered Eric Clapton model guitars, but the introduction of the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Collection this March was historic because it was the first time that these three companies have joined forces to release Clapton models at the same time. The Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Collection consists of five different guitars inspired by various instruments that Clapton used during defining moments of his career.
From Fender’s Custom Shop comes an accurate replica of his 1956 Fender Stratocaster nicknamed Brownie, while Gibson presents a replica of the cherry-red 1957 Gibson Les Paul known as Lucy, which also belonged to George Harrison. Martin’s offerings consist of three new models: the 000-28EC “Crossroads” Madagascar Rosewood and two 000-45EC “Crossroads” models, available with either Madagascar or Brazilian rosewood back and sides.
Production of all five models is very limited. The “Brownie” Stratocaster and “Lucy” Les Paul are each limited to 100 guitars worldwide. The Martin 000-28EC is limited to 150 guitars, and the company is producing only 55 000-45EC models with Madagascar rosewood back and sides and just 18 000-45EC models with Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Guitar Center is the exclusive retailer in the United States for these instruments, which started shipping on March 21, 2013.
The release of the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Collection comes during a very busy and guitar-oriented period for Clapton. His latest album, Old Sock, came out in mid March, and on April 12 and 13 he is hosting his fourth Crossroads Guitar Festival, which takes place this year at Madison Square Garden. In March, Genesis Publications started shipping the limited-edition book Six String Stories—The Crossroads Guitars, which features Clapton’s accounts of the various guitars he sold in auction to benefit his Crossroads Centre addiction recovery facility. Proceeds raised by the sale of the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Collection will also benefit the Crossroads Centre.
Considering that Clapton played extremely influential roles in the popularity of the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul Standard, and Martin 000-size steel-string flattop acoustics, it’s appropriate that the world’s three biggest guitar companies have joined forces to support a cause that means so much to him. The respect for his cause and contributions is reflected in the meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship in each of these special guitars, which represent Fender, Gibson, and Martin’s finest recent work, making the guitars desirable for any discriminating player, even without the Clapton association.
Gibson Custom Harrison-Clapton “Lucy” Les Paul
Few guitars have a rock-star pedigree as fascinating as the factory-refinished 1957 Les Paul Model guitar known as Lucy. The guitar passed from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian to Rick Derringer before Eric Clapton purchased it from Dan Armstrong’s shop in Manhattan in 1968. Clapton held onto the Les Paul for a short period before giving it to George Harrison in August 1968. It was one of Harrison’s main guitars on the White Album and Let It Be, and he used it frequently during his solo years.
With the Harrison-Clapton “Lucy” Les Paul, Gibson has painstakingly reproduced every detail of the original Lucy guitar in its present condition. The neck has a slim profile, matching the modifications Gibson performed on the guitar when it was refinished in the Sixties. The pickups have the warm, harmonically rich character of vintage PAFs, with the bridge humbucker delivering particularly impressive punch and aggressive bite. Gibson used lightweight mahogany to match the original’s weight as closely as possible.
The guitar ships with a certificate of authenticity hand-signed by Clapton, a DVD featuring a new interview with Clapton where he discusses his various Les Pauls and inspects the first “Lucy” Les Paul prototype, a remastered 180-gram vinyl edition of the Beatles’ White Album, and a reproduction hardshell case. Like the “Brownie” Strat, the “Lucy” Les Paul provides guitarists with an exceptional value, offering all the benefits of a unique, iconic vintage Les Paul for a significantly lower price than an original vintage model.
Martin 000-28EC “Crossroads”
Clapton’s favorite acoustic guitar for recording and performance during the mid and late Seventies was a 1974 Martin 000-28, which was seen in his hands in numerous photographs and film and video footage from that era, including a performance on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and in the documentary Eric Clapton and His Rolling Hotel. Clapton also used this guitar to write several songs, such as “Wonderful Tonight.” Although the first Martin Eric Clapton signature model guitar was a 000-42, the company’s second Eric Clapton signature model, the 000-28EC, introduced in 1996, remains one of Martin’s best-selling guitars and is still in regular production today.
In addition to its limited-edition production, the Martin 000-28EC “Crossroads” differs from the current 000-28EC production model in several significant ways. Some of the exclusive features found on the “Crossroads” model include Madagascar rosewood back and sides (instead of Indian rosewood), Style 42 snowflake fretboard inlays (instead of diamonds and squares), and a mother-of-pearl Crossroads symbol headstock inlay. Like other Martin Eric Clapton signature model guitars, the 000-28EC “Crossroads” features an inlay of Clapton’s signature between the 19th and 20th frets. The guitar also includes an interior label and a certificate of authenticity hand signed by both Clapton and Chris Martin IV.
Cosmetically, the 000-28EC “Crossroads” is somewhat more understated than its 000-45EC “Crossroads” counterparts, with an unbound headstock and herringbone purfling rather than dazzling abalone. But it plays and sounds comparable to the Madagascar rosewood version of the 000-45EC “Crossroads.” The more expensive model has a slight sonic edge thanks to its vintage hide-glue construction, but the 000-28EC “Crossroads” still outperforms many steel-string flattop guitars in its price range, making its limited-edition status an added bonus. Its tone is well balanced, warm, and mellow, and its top maintains impressive clarity when the strings are driven with aggressive strumming. The 000-28EC “Crossroads” is the most “modest” and affordable guitar in the collection, but it’s very impressive in its own right as both a player’s instrument and as a collectible.
Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton “Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster
The 1956 two-color sunburst Fender Stratocaster known as Brownie was Clapton’s first Strat, purchased on May 7, 1967, from London’s Sound City music shop. This guitar became Clapton’s main instrument in the early Seventies when he first appeared onstage with it while playing with Delaney and Bonnie, and since then, a Stratocaster has remained Clapton’s favorite solidbody electric guitar. Clapton also used Brownie to record several songs on the Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, including the title track, and it was seen next to Clapton in the portrait photo that appeared on the cover of his first solo album. In June 1999, he sold Brownie in auction for nearly $500,000.
The Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton “Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster is an accurate reproduction of that guitar, featuring wear and tear, materials, feel, and sound that are identical to the original. The Experience Music Project, which purchased Brownie, graciously loaned the guitar to Fender so that its master builders, led by senior master builder Todd Krause, could measure and analyze all of the guitar’s features in minute detail.
The “Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster is uncannily indistinguishable from an authentic 1956 Strat. The “soft V” neck profile, vintage-style frets, and worn finish on the back of the neck make it feel like a great player’s Strat should, and the body weight is light and comfortable, just like a piece of alder that aged and dried for more than 50 years would feel. Plugged into a tweed Champ, and with the selector switch set to the bridge and middle pickup setting, the guitar sounds identical to Clapton’s trademark tones heard on “Layla.” The pickups sound especially sweet, providing warm midrange and treble with crisp attack and bite with no piercing overtones.
Since this is an accurate reproduction of Clapton’s personal guitar, the “Brownie” Tribute Strat does deviate slightly from the specs of a stock vintage Strat. For example, the synchronized tremolo is blocked off, effectively making the guitar a hardtail, and a modern five-position pickup switch replaces the Fifties-style three-position pickup selector. The guitar also comes with a “Derek and the Dominos” stenciled case, a certificate of authenticity hand-signed by Clapton, a Fender Custom Shop booklet detailing the guitar’s construction, and the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition box set of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Priced less than a comparable original 1956 Strat, the “Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster is an attractive present-day alternative that will certainly increase in value as much as, if not more than, a vintage Fifties Strat.
Martin 000-45EC “Crossroads”
Clapton’s love affair with Martin 000-size guitars started during the Seventies when he purchased numerous Martin guitars while on tour in the United States. One of the first, if not the very first, 000 Martins that Clapton acquired was a 1968 000-28 that was converted to Style 45 specifications by Mike Longworth during the Sixties. Clapton bought this guitar in Nashville from GTR (the predecessor to Gruhn Guitars) in 1970 and later used it for a lengthy period extending from 1974’s 461 Ocean Boulevard through his 1994–’95 Nothing but the Blues tour.
The 000-45EC “Crossroads” model that Martin made for this collection is not a detailed reproduction of a vintage guitar that Clapton previously owned but rather a new instrument with several distinctive features, most notably an inlay of Clapton’s signature between the 19th and 20th frets and the Crossroads symbols inlaid on the bridge. Each guitar comes with a soundhole label and a certificate of authenticity hand signed by Clapton and C.F. Martin & Co. CEO Chris Martin IV.
Martin is offering the 000-45EC “Crossroads” in two models: the Madagascar Rosewood and the Brazilian Rosewood. Players seeking the authentic vintage tone of a pre-war 000-45 should likely opt for the Brazilian rosewood version, which produces the brilliant treble, dazzling harmonic overtones, and rich resonance that have made Brazilian rosewood the preferred back and sides materials for discriminating guitarists. The tonal differences between it and its Madagascar rosewood counterpart are subtle, with the Madagascar rosewood version delivering slightly warmer midrange and more focused volume projection that is ideal for strumming chords with a pick. Both models boast outstanding playability, with nut and string spacing that are wide enough for fingerstyle guitarists and exceptionally responsive dynamics that will satisfy any style of guitarist.
The 000-45EC “Crossroads” are built to 1934-’42 specifications, which include a 14-fret neck with snowflake fretboard inlays, a solid headstock with a vertical CF Martin logo, and an ebony belly bridge. Martin also used vintage correct hide glue to construct the guitars, which many classic Martin enthusiasts feel delivers sonic characteristics superior to guitars built with modern glues. Each 000-45EC “Crossroads” guitar comes with a custom case and a guitar strap, and Martin will provide CITES documentation upon request to customers who purchase the Brazilian Rosewood model, should they ever need to travel with or ship the guitar overseas.
Brazilian Rosewood model, $49,999; Madagascar Rosewood model, $12,999