Eric Clapton’s 1939 Martin 000-42
This is the guitar that Clapton played on MTV Unplugged on January 16, 1992. He played it throughout most of the show – which was highlighted by an acoustic version of “Layla”.
Although there don’t seem to be any photos of Eric using the guitar prior to the 1992 show, it’s possible that he acquired the 000-42 all the way back in 1970. This is according to an interview from 1976 with Stephen Stills, in which he notes that he gave a 000-42 Martin to Clapton.
Stills also gives away his guitars, his latest present being a Martin 000-42 to Eric Clapton. “It was sitting around gathering dust,” Stephen states. “Eric needed an acoustic, and I had one that would fit his needs. If he doesn’t play it though, I’ll go and take it back. But he’ll understand that.Guitar Player, January 1976, by Lowell Cauffiel
Obviously, since the interview predates the 1992 concert by almost two decades, it’s impossible to know whether this is the exact same guitar.
History and Rarity of the Model
This particular Martin was made in the pre-war period and is considered to be one of the most desirable and rarest acoustic guitars. Overall, the models that Martin made in the pre-war era (WWII), are extremely desirable. Obviously, some of this is due to them being rare since there’s only a limited number of guitars left (for example, the 000-42 was made only for five years, from 1938 to 1943) but there are other reasons as well.
One of them is the type of wood used in the process of building these guitars. Prior to World War II, Brazillian rosewood was used amply by high-grade furniture makers and guitar manufacturers. Over the years the supply was reduced, and by the late 1960s, most manufacturers like Martin decided to switch to Indian rosewood – which most still use today.
Due to exploitation, and due to loss of the tree’s natural habitat – most of which was converted to farmland, in 1992 the Brazillian rosewood (or Dalbergia nigra) tree species was declared to be endangered and is since protected under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) treaty. Today, guitar makers in the US are only allowed to use the wood that was harvested prior to 1992, and in the EU – prior to 1947.
Also around WWII, the Adirondack spruce which was used for the top of the 000-42 became hard to come by due to over-harvesting, and most manufacturers switched to Sitka spruce – which is still used on most models today. Contrary to the Brazillian rosewood, the Adirondack spruce has made a comeback since and can be seen on many of the newer models.
So although there may be technical reasons as to why the pre-war models are so desirable, most of it really comes to them being built in a completely different environment than the guitars made today.
Most consider the 1934 to 1944 period to be the peak of Martin’s quality of production – which was obviously hurt by WWII. And if you think about it, the Brazillian rosewood was used in both the 1950s and the 1930s Martin, but for some reason, the latter is more desirable than the former. It seems that in the guitar industry people look at the overall picture, and decide that a certain period was simply the best. The 30s with the Martin acoustic, the late 50s with Gibson Les Paul electrics, and the early 60s with the Fender Stratocasters.
As said in the opening paragraph, the first time that Eric was seen with the guitar was at the MTV Unplugged show in 1992, during which he used it for most of the set. [more info to be added]
Eric’s Martin 000-42 at the Auction
The guitar was sold at auction in 2004 for $791,500, which was the highest price ever paid for an acoustic guitar at that time. For comparison, a regular 1930s 000-42, that wasn’t played by Eric Clapton, goes for around $50,000.
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