Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson ES-335TDC
Clapton acquired this guitar sometime in 1964 from the money earned while playing with the Yardbirds. Most clues seem to point toward the possibility of this being only the second guitar that Eric had every purchased for himself (the red Telecaster was owned by the Yardbirds management).
I bought this guitar with the first money I managed to save up playing with the Yardbirds, I bought it brand new from a store on Denmark Street or Charing Cross Road. This guitar was really acceptable on every front. It was a rock guitar, a blues guitar—the real thing.[I choked up as my guitars were sold, Eric Clapton, DailyMail.co.uk]
Though the Yardbirds weren’t yet in the big-money league, we were making enough for me to buy my first really serious guitar, a cherry red Gibson ES-335, the instrument of my dreams, of which the Kay had been but a poor imitation. Throughout my life I chose a lot of my guitars because of the other people who played them, and this was like the one Freddy King played. When I finally bought the Gibson, I just couldn’t believe how shiny and beautiful it was. At last, I felt like a real musician. [Clapton: The Autobiography; p.105]
According to the info posted on Christie’s in 2004, and from the info from Eric himself (see the Yardbirds Telecaster section), the guitar wasn’t used much during the Yardbirds era, even though – as said, he did own the guitar in 1964 while still being in the band. We even tried looking through all the photos of the Yardbirds from 1964 but there doesn’t seem to be a single one with Eric using the ES-335.
There are however few photos of Chris Dreya, the band’s rhythm guitarist, playing an ES-335 with square fretboard inlays (search for Yardbirds garden gig in 1964, there are a few photos online taken by Jeremy Fletcher), which was probably Eric’s. If you search for photos taken at a later date, after Jeff Beck replaced Eric in the band, you’ll find that Dreya is still playing an ES-335 but now with dot inlays, possibly meaning that the square inlay ES-335 wasn’t his but Eric’s.
The era from when Clapton left the Yardbirds and joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in April 1965 is pretty much connected to the usage of a 1960 Gibson Les Paul, which eventually became known as the “Beano Burst” (more on this guitar below) – meaning that the ES-335 basically remained behind the scenes for more than two years.
After he joined the Cream in July 1966 he still continued using mainly a couple of different Gibson Les Pauls, with the ES-335 only coming into spotlight in November 1968 on Cream’s final farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall during the rehearsal publicity shots (footage of him wearing a black leather jacket) and during the second set of the show (the Gibson Firebird was used during the first part). The guitar, however, was not used at all during the US Cream Farewell tour between October 4th and November 4th 1968 – it only appeared on the final concert at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26th.
As far as the studio usage, the guitar likely wasn’t featured on any of the Cream’s stuff except partially on the Goodbye album. According to the info on the Christie’s website (auction house through which Eric sold the guitar in 2004), Clapton used this guitar to cut “Badge” and other tracks at IBC Studios in London in December 1968 [1964 Gibson ES-335TDC – Christie’s Crossroads Guitar Auction]. The usage on the previous three albums is still being researched, so if you happen to know anything please be sure to contact us.
The guitar re-appeared and was seen again on the photos taken at Eric house during the Blind Faith rehearsals sometime in mid 1969 – one of which ended up being featured on the cover of the band’s only album – Blind Faith released in 1969. From then on, it was presumably used as a backup on the tour, and it can be seen on the band’s last show played at Honolulu’s International Center Arena on August 24th 1969.
1970s and Beyond
The guitar was likely used on the No Reason To Cry album to some extent, based on the photos taken at the Shangri La Studio in the spring of 1976. [Musician Eric Clapton records ‘No Reason To Cry’ at Shangri La recording studio on November 21,1976]. According to the Christie’s auction house, the ES-335 was also used on Eric’s 1989 cover of Ray Charles’ Hard Times released on the Journeyman album (original source needed).
During all these years however, and all the way until 1994, the ES-335 remained unseen on stage. This changed with the Nothing But Blues Tour during which Clapton played the guitar on the covers of Freddy King’s Someday After A While, I’m Tore Down and Have You Ever Loved A Woman. The guitar was seen on October 13, 1994 [Eric Clapton Nothing But The Blues Tour. Performing at the Hartford Civic Center 13 October 1994; James R Anderson], as well as on November 8th and 9th, 1994 at the Fillmore West (footage of which is available in the documentary film of the Nothing But Blues Tour, directed by Martin Scorsese).
Clapton continued using the ES-335 throughout 1995 and during this time it can be seen on various TV shows, most notably the VH-1 Duets with Dr. John at Roseland on May 9, 1996, and Jools Holland show on December 31 1995. The guitar was last seen during Prince’s Trust concert in London’s Hyde Park on June 29, 1996, later released on DVD as Eric Clapton – Live in Hyde Park.
Clapton’s ES-335 on Auction
In 2004 this guitar was sold as part of the Crossroads Guitar Auction which featured a great number of Eric’s instruments. This was the second large auction organized by Clapton in order to raise money for his Antigua drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Crossroads – first one taking place in 1999 (Brownie being one of the guitars sold at that date). The ES-335 ended up being sold to Guitar Center, the world’s largest chain of musical instrument retailers, for $847,500 [GIBSON 1964, ES-335 TDC – Christie’s]
Guitar Center staff was kind enough to provide a photo of the guitar at its current state. For larger (2MB) high-resolution version click on the photo.