Guitar Aficionado

The Guitar Collection: Eric Clapton's 1939 Martin 000-42

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This fall, Epic Ink will unveil The Guitar Collection, a lavishly oversized tome showcasing the most culturally important, historically significant, and visually stunning guitars ever made, from Billy Gibbons’ “Pearly Gates” 1959 Gibson Les Paul, to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” 1962 Fender Stratocaster, to Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” 1964 Gibson ES-335TDC. Presented in a custom-made leather guitar-style case, this package is a superb collector’s limited edition that is a fitting homage to these instruments from the world’s most exclusive public and private collections.

Guitar Aficionado’s new Nov/Dec issue, on stands soon, contains an in-depth story on the making of this ambitious new tome as well an excerpt of the guitars featured within. As an added bonus, we’ll be spotlighting one more legendary instrument from the Collection here every Wednesday.

Copies of the book are available at as well at select high-end retailers like John Varvatos.

And now, without further ado…

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1939 Martin 000-42 played by Eric Clapton

From a private collector, courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Although Eric Clapton’s prowess on electric guitar inspired his early fans to spray-paint “Clapton is God” all over London, his influence as an acoustic guitarist was negligible until he appeared on MTV Unplugged on January 16, 1992. Playing this 1939 Martin 000-42 through most of the show, which was highlighted by a softer and slower version of his rock anthem “Layla,” Clapton not only gave his own career a boost but also turned the attention of the entire guitar market to smaller-bodied electric-acoustic guitars.

Brazilian rosewood back and sides give this guitar an appealing tone, and the wear around the sound hole indicates that it was played often. Delicate “snowflake” inlays on the fingerboard illustrate the understated elegance of Martin guitars at a time when guitar makers were putting large pearl blocks or even gaudy celluloid veneers on fingerboards. Style 42 featured abalone pearl inlay around the top border and sound hole. Only Style 45 was fancier, with pearl borders around the sides and back as well as the top.

Clapton’s choice of this non-dreadnought Martin brought the 15-inch 000 size and other, smaller sizes out from the shadow of the long-dominant dreadnoughts. The importance of this guitar was underscored when it was sold at auction in 2004 for $791,500, the highest price ever paid for an acoustic guitar.