Eric Clapton’s 1950s Fender Stratocaster “Blackie”

access_time First seen circa 1973

Eric assembled this guitar in 1970 using parts from four different 1950s Stratocasters that he bought from George Gruhn, and from additional parts that were purchased at the Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville.

Eric Clapton first visited my shop in 1970 when Derek & the Dominos performed on The Johnny Cash Show. He assembled his famous “Blackie” Stratocaster using components from the four Stratocasters he bought from me and parts he purchased from Sho-Bud Guitars around the corner from my shop the same day.

Eric Clapton Collection Gruhn Guitars

Some sources claim that the guitar was put together in Nashville by Ted Newman Jones, but Clapton has stated that he carried the guitars back to England before disassembly.

The guitar I chose to use for my return to recording was one I had built myself, a black Fender Stratocaster I had nicknamed “Blackie.” [.. ] I went into Sho-Bud in Nashville, and they had a stack of Strats in the back of the shop. When I got home, I gave one to Steve, one to Pete Townshend, and another to George Harrison, and kept the rest. I then took the other three and made one guitar out of them, using the best components of each.

Clapton: The Autobiography

Blackie’s Parts and Pickups

According to Lee Dickson (Clapton’s guitar tech since 1979), the guitar was assembled using a 1956 body and a 1957 neck. [Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” by Willie G. Moseley – VintageGuitar] The pickups were taken from a third guitar, but unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable source stating which exact pickups were used. Based on the info from the Christie’s, all parts originated from the Stratocasters made in 1956 and 1957, which probably also includes the pickups.

Perhaps an interesting detail to mention in regard to this is that sets of pickups based on the Blackie sold nowadays – for example, the Mojotone “Lee Dickson Black-E” Strat Pickup Set (designed by Lee Dickson), have really low output. The Dickson’s set measures 5.53k resistance in the neck and 5.68k in the middle and the bridge pickup, which is lower than what was the norm on the 50s era pickups. [1954 to 1967 Fender Stratocaster Pickup Specs – GuitarHQ]

So just in case you’re reading this in order to figure out which pickups to install in your guitar so that it would sound closer to Clapton’s Blackie in the 70s and the 80s, mainly focus on low DC Resistance sets with Alnico V magnets. Fender’s 57/62 Pickup Set is perhaps the closest you’ll find if you’re looking to stay all-Fender, as it measures 5.6k across all three pickups. The best option overall would obviously be Lee Dickson’s set mentioned previously, which is priced somewhat higher but it is, in fact, the best one out there for this purpose.

Blackie becomes the Main Axe

Blackie essentially became Eric’s main go-to guitar by the time he returned back from a two-year hiatus in the early 70s, directly replacing the Brownie – a guitar Clapton had used most famously on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in late 1970. First ever live appearance of Eric with the guitar was on January 13, 1973, at the Rainbow Concert, organized by Pete Townshend as a comeback concert for Clapton.

Blackie served as both the main recording and the main stage guitar. It was featured extensively on the 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard, (as quoted previously, this was his guitar of choice for the return to recording), as well on the There’s One in Every Crowd that followed shortly after.

Eric Clapton - Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA There's One In Every Crowd Tour Aug. 15, 1975. Photo by ultomatt/Flickr
Eric Clapton – Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA – There’s One In Every Crowd Tour – Aug. 15, 1975. Photo by ultomatt/Flickr

From then on (based on the info provided with the Christie’s auction) the guitar was used on practically all the subsequent albums up until 1985. This includes studio albums No Reason to Cry (1976), Slowhand (1977), Backless (1978 – the guitar is featured on the cover), Another Ticket (1981), Money and Cigarettes (1983), and lastly – Behind the Sun (1985). The Blackie was also featured on all three of the live album – E. C. Was Here (1975), Just One Night (1980 – Blackie is featured on the cover), and Time Pieces Vol.II Live in the Seventies (1983 – also has Blackie on the cover)

Same goes for live performances. Blackie was used extensively until around 1984 when Eric started using a bunch of new Strats. By 1986, Blackie was gone out of the rotation completely.

[…]

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Cody

Hi,

Thank you very much for compiling all of this information.

The Gruhn Guitars site has a page where George Gruhn recounts how Eric bought four Stratocasters from him in addition to parts from Sho Bud.

I’m not saying which version is correct. But I wouldn’t be surprised if George’s memory of that period of time was a little more complete than Eric’s. ; )

https://guitars.com/news/eric-clapton-collection-gruhn-guitars

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