Eric Clapton’s 1963/65 Gibson Reverse Firebird 1
Clapton purchased this Gibson Firebird most likely on the afternoon of April 13th, 1968, on the second day of the three-day gig at the Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. This is based on two things. First, the Cream concert tour expense ledger used by Bob Adcock (who was allegedly a tour manager) reads “Musical equipment” – $905.50″ on April 13th [Cream 1968 Summer and “Farewell” Tours Original Signed Expense Ledger].
Please note that depending on the source, you’ll find info that the Electric Factory was played either from 12th to 14th or from 19th to 21st. However, based on the actual promo poster, April 12th, 1968, is the correct date for the first day of the gig. [Electric Factory 1968 Cream Concert Poster]
Second, according to people who have been at the gig, on the first day on April 12th, Eric played his Gibson SG “The Fool”. Based on the photos, the Firebird was used on the second and/or the third day. [On the Road to Dreams 1968 – AngelFire]
Connecting these two things, it would seem that the ‘musical equipment’ expense was most likely Eric buying himself the Gibson Firebird, and he probably used it that same day at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. The only thing that seems impossible to confirm at this time is whether he bought it at a store called 8th Street Music (one of the former salesmen was personally interviewed on the phone by one of our contributors, claiming Clapton bought it here), or at the Music City store on Chestnut Street (seems to be what most people think is true). If you happen to have any info that would conclusively confirm one of these possibilities, please be sure to leave a comment below.
Firebird with the Cream
Be that as it may, this guitar subsequently appeared on the Cream farewell tour in late 1968, and served as a direct replacement of The Fool SG – which by that time lost a good amount of its custom paint job due to extensive use.
Embed from Getty Images
(In relation to the Cream era:) The 335 was a big favorite and that particular Firebird, I had some great times on that; the single pickup produced a fantastic sound.Classic Interview: Eric Clapton, June 1994
As noted by Clapton, the Firebird that he used in the Cream era was equipped with a single mini-humbucker pickup in the bridge position. The guitar obviously had no pickup switch, only had two knobs (volume and tone), and was equipped with a wraparound tailpiece. This is also the first Gibson solid-body to feature a neck-through-body construction, with the neck itself being made up of five pieces of mahogany with four narrow strips of walnut mingled between them for more strength.
Firebird with the Blind Faith
The guitar popped in occasionally during the Blind Faith era, although photographic evidence is scarce so it’s hard to tell to which extent it was used during this period. Most of the photos though seem to originate from the North American Tour in July/August 1969.
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A high school friend of mine sold him the guitar at Music City on Chestnut St.
I always thought that the reason he bought the guitar was that his other guitar was stolen while in Philly.
It is hard to believe that the guitar cost $900 however
Hi Ray. Is the friend still around? Perhaps he would like to say a thing or two about the sale.
Yeah, since the ledger reads “Musical equipment” I suspect this included other stuff like amps and equipment for other members. $905 is way too much for the Firebird alone, I agree.
I always thought that he got great sound out of those Gibsons!!! My favourite stuff with Cream was with Eric (likely) playing that Firebird and “The Fool” SG.
That photo on Blind Faith: Undertaker cover is actually from… what was it called? A super-jam or something, in 1969. So it’s not from the Blind Faith tour. But anyway, Clapton occasionally used that Firebird with Blind Faith too, yes.
The Firebird was not used on the Scandinavian tour. The photo you are referring to was taken at the filmed event with Jack Bruce, Steve Stills, Buddy Guy and Roland Kirk in February ’69. EC did use it on the US tour in July, then switching more to the 335 in August for the remainder of the tour. FYI, Ginger Bakers daughter Nettie says Bob Adcock was never the bands tour manager. EC’s drummer Jamie Oldaker has told me the Eric gave the Firebird to Steve Stills in the early 70’s.
Late update from me, but I deleted the part about the Scandinavian tour – thanks.
I found some interviews with Stills where he talks about Clapton being an influence in getting him interested in Firebirds, but he interestingly doesn’t mention having Eric’s actual guitar. I’ll try to do some more research on this.
I was inquiring about an identical Firebird that Clapton had on stage in 1975-76. Jamie replied: Don’t think it was from Cream days, but not sure. The only people that could answer are passed away….I remember it might have been sold along the way…this show was in Palo Alto….I will check around….
He then, after checking with George Terry, replied that the 2nd Firebird had fallen out of the truck, breaking it’s neck and was discarded.
A short time later, he sent this: I remember now ! I played with Stills and I remember him saying he got from Eric…case solved..
There’s photos of Clapton playing the Firebird on the June 12, 1969 Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki gig
Clapton played the Firebird on the Smothers Brothers Sunday night show on July 14, 1968. I had never seen a Firebird 1 before, and when I visited the local music store in Framingham, Mass the next day, there was a used one hanging on the wall. I played the heck out of it, and loved it but the $150 asking price was beyond my reach.