Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson SG Standard ”The Fool”
Clapton acquired this guitar presumably sometime in 1967, likely purchasing it himself. It first appeared at Cream’s debut US concert on March 25th, 1967 at the RKO theater on 58th Street, Manhattan, New York. By that time the guitar already featured the custom body paint done by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, who later went on to form a design collective called The Fool.
They had also painted John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce in lurid psychedelic colors. I asked them to decorate one of my guitars, a Gibson Les Paul, which they turned into a psychedelic fantasy, painting not just the front and back of the body, but the neck and fretboard, too. [Clapton: The Autobiography; p.167]
Few things to point out in the quote above – John Lennon’s Rolls Royce was not painted by the same artists, but by Steve Weaver [Interesting Facts About John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom] The Fool collective did however work on many of the Beatles’ stuff, including George Harrison’s Mini Cooper, and the facade of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique in London’s Baker Street [The Fool (design collective) – Wikipedia]
Second – the guitar is not a Les Paul but an SG. This can be deducted from two clues – the guitar is equipped with a Maestro tremolo which was first introduced in 1963, and the pickguard featured six screws which were fitted on SGs from the beginning of 1964. Based on this, the guitar was made likely sometime in 1964, or at least couple of months after the model was officially renamed from Les Paul to “SG”, which stood for “Solid Guitar”.
According to Vintage Guitar interview with the two artists behind it [Clapton’s Fool – History’s Greatest Guitar?; VintageGuitar.com], the guitar was painted over a course of two weeks. It was first sanded down and painted with primer, with all the design added by hand, using oil-based, brush-applied enamel paints. Marijke Koger was behind the design, and Simon Posthuma was responsible for most of the painting. The design wrapped all around the body and extended to the back of the neck and the headstock. Some early photos also show that a small portion of the fretboard was painted, as well as both of the pickup rings [Clapton’s Gibson SG “The Fool” in full detail, Michael Ochs Archive], but it seems that this part of the design wore off over the course of years.
There are numerous photos online showing the artwork in great detail, perhaps the best again posted on Vintage Guitar’s feature on the guitar [Clapton’s Fool – History’s Greatest Guitar?; VintageGuitar.com], which shows both the back and the front of the guitar. A couple of photos are also available over at Marijke Koger’s website, which also shows the designs she did on Jack Bruce’ bass guitar and Ginger Baker’s drums to go along Clapton’s SG during the band first US tour in 1967.
It is assumed that most of Disraeli Gears was recorded on this guitar, although Eric was photographed during the sessions using a Les Paul Custom which might’ve ended up on a couple of songs as well. Although some people had tried to listen to the songs and determine which featured which of the two guitars, based on what we’ve read and seen most of it is based on pure guessing. When asked whether the Fool was used on the album even Clapton himself seems to have a fuzzy memory concerning the sessions:
Yeah, Disraeli Gears, I think, and from then on, really, a lot of the time. That became my mainstay until I bought a Gibson Firebird with one pickup, and that for a time became my most favorite guitar. [Eric Clapton: Blues Power; GuitarWorld.com]
What is known is that the guitar was used as Clapton main instrument for the remainder of the 1967 and for the early part of 1968. At this point of time, almost everything on the guitar remained stock, except for the Kluson tuners which were replaced with Grovers sometime in August of 1967 [Eric Clapton of the rock band ‘Cream’ performs onstage at the Whisky A Go Go on September 4, 1967 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)]
Eric Clapton “Woman Tone” interview with the Fool SG
One of the most iconic interviews recorded with Eric Clapton featured this exact guitar. The interview was included on the original theatrical release of the Cream’s Farewell Concert, which according to most sources dates to late 1967 or early 1968, even though the concert itself was recorded on November 26th, 1968.
By late 1967, most of the paint on the back of the neck was gone due to extensive use, and the fact that the paint apparently wasn’t sealed at all. There are photos from around this period clearly showing the guitar from the back [Eric Clapton performing live on stage with Cream on August 13th 1967: WINDSOR FESTIVAL – Photo of (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)] (also note that this is the last time we see the SG with the original Kluson tuners).
Because of this, and the fact that by mid-1968 Eric had already moved on to a Gibson Firebird, the SG slowly began disappearing from the stage use. The SG was used from April 1968 into May with the Firebird eventually taking its place by June where later in June, Eric allegedly gave the SG to George Harrison. The SG is prominently featured during the historic March 1968 Winterland recordings including the iconic March 10 recordings of Crossroads and Spoonful plus others that appeared on Live Cream I & II. [On the Road to Dreams 1968 – AngelFire]
Post-Clapton and Current Whereabouts
The guitar is currently owned by Todd Rundgren, an American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer. He acquired the guitar in 1971 from Jackie Lomax.
I have the feeling that Eric had given that guitar up, because it went through a number of hands before I got it. I think he gave it to George Harrison, and I’d heard that Paul Kossoff from Free owned it, too. I got it from Jackie Lomax, who was signed to Apple. This was when I was up in Woodstock working with the Band. [Todd Rundgren Talks Eric Clapton’s ‘The Fool’ SG]
Unfortunately, the details surrounding the guitar’s history between the time Lomax got his hands on it and the time it left Eric’s, is not entirely known. Most sources seem to claim that Lomax got it from George Harrison after Eric allegedly just left the guitar at Harrison’s place at some point in the late 60s. The claim that Paul Kossoff owned the guitar is something only mentioned by Todd Rundgren, and we haven’t been able to track it to any other source.
At the time Todd acquired the SG the paint from the back of the neck was completely gone, and the guitar was in a really bad shape overall. This eventually caused the headstock to break, at which point it appears that Todd decided to temporarily fix it by gluing the old headstock back on. According to the quote below, it seems that at some point the upper part of the neck was completely replaced, and following that, the back of the neck and the headstock itself were repainted by an artist that Todd hired himself:
The neck was all beat up, especially near the headstock. […]I played the guitar for a while and eventually, the headstock just snapped off, so I had to have that reattached. That eventually was replaced, […] And the original paint had never been sealed – they used, like, acrylic paint, but never put sealer over it, so bits of paint had been falling off over the years. I got an artist friend to restore the paint job and seal it so that it wouldn’t fall apart anymore. Plus, I had to repaint the back of the neck since it had been replaced. [Clapton’s Fool – History’s Greatest Guitar?; VintageGuitar.com]
From the looks of it, Todd also got rid of the old Maestro tremolo at some point and installed a stop-tailpiece and what looks like a Kluson Harmonica bridge. All four control knobs also seem to have been changed from the original reflector knobs to two gold bell knobs for the volume controls, and two black one for the tone.
The Fool Auctioned
In 2000 Todd Rundgren sold the Gibson SG at Sotheby’s for around $150,000 to pay off a tax debt, donating 10% to Clapton’s Crossroads Centre. [Clapton’s Fool: History’s Greatest Guitar?”. Vintage Guitar. pp. 62–66.] Following that, the guitar was resold to a private collector a few years later for around $500,000. [Legendary Guitar: The Saga of Eric Clapton’s Famous Fool SG]