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Contributed by: Mason Keyser

The Pantheon of Blues Gods is a crowded place, full of great names and awe-inspiring musicians. It would be impossible to cover them all adequately, but Jamplay has selected a handful that each offer a little something different to the new guitarist or someone returning to the instrument. First we’ll be covering Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix — three great guitarists who have inspired millions of people to pick up the six string. Whether you just bought your first guitar, or you just dusted off the acoustic sitting in your closet, you’ll find something worth learning from these three legendary players.

Let’s talk about guitar legend, Eric Clapton. 

Eric Clapton is one of my favorite guitarists because so much of his tone comes just from his hands. There’s not much that gets between Clapton and the music. His guitar speaks for itself, with as little effects as possible. Though Clapton had the nickname “Slow Hands” in the studio, due to his low key “every man” solos, he always communicated what the song needed to say in a way that has captivated guitarists for generations.

Clapton has probably played hundreds of different guitars over the course of his long career, but when I think of his music, I think of a Martin 000-28 for acoustic, and a Fender Stratocaster or Gibson ES 335 for electric. Clapton has a clear, mid-heavy tone with just enough distortion to maintain a nice, bristly undercurrent for his signature sound. 

If you’re not willing to buy the same guitars he’s using (understandably so), just make sure your guitar’s volume knob(s) are turned all the way up to better access the grit, and target your tone to be mid-focused (i.e. roll down your treble and bass knobs a good bit). Take advantage of all the pickups you have at hand (don’t just play in the bridge position) and change your strings out once every month or so! 

Eric Clapton changed his amps for just about every album and every tour. In the late Sixties he was known to use an eardrum shattering 100-watt Marshall head with two full stack 4×12 cabinets. If you don’t know what that means, it means tinnitus and a broken back. Such a rig is not feasible unless you have a home studio and no neighbors or you’re a touring musician playing big rooms and stadiums. Nevertheless, Marshall is the way to go when reaching for Clapton’s sound

If you can get your hands on any Marshall amp, big or small, or any amp similar to a Marshall, dial off the treble on your EQ settings and really boost your mid and bass frequencies. If you’re using a guitar with single coils (basically any Fender style guitar) the natural brightness of your guitar should work well with that amp EQ setting. If you’re using a guitar with humbuckers (basically any Gibson style guitar) you might want to adjust the amp to be a bit brighter. You’ll want most of your overdrive/distortion to come from your amp, so you gotta play loud, but please, for the love of your hearing, use earplugs.

Clapton came of age in a time before the widespread availability of different effects pedals that we enjoy today. That’s not to say, however, that he didn’t take advantage of the newest pedals as soon as they came out. Clapton used his fair share of wah pedals, but the wah tone I most associate with him is a Vox V846, mainly because of the throaty nature of that wah. 

He has used a variety of pedal effects for different tours and studio sessions but here are the sounds we know he’s used consistently: hard clipping distortion, tone bender style fuzz, chorus, tremolo, and mono delay.

Compared to most of the other guitarists covered in this series, Clapton sticks close to the Blues tradition. His licks are influenced by all the Kings, Robert Johnson, and probably just about any blues guitarist he heard on the radio as a kid. If you want to play like Clapton, learn to play like the Blues greats of the 30’s-50’s as well.

JamPlay has a great lesson on Robert Johnson to get you started down your blues path.

Now, if you’re trying to emulate Clapton, you gotta remember that when people go to see him, they go to see him. He is the focal point of the performance. Make sure you’re also comfortable being the focal point and make sure the music you’re bringing to the table is good enough to stand on its own.

They don’t call him Slow Hands for nothing. Much in the same vein as Duane Allman, Clapton keeps his cool while he plays. You want to focus on keeping your hands relaxed both while you’re soloing and while you’re playing rhythm. Make sure every note, every slide, every bend, every hammer-on is deliberate and precise.

If you’re trying to play like Clapton you don’t have to play a mile a minute, in fact you shouldn’t! Give yourself time to think a bar or two ahead of what you’re playing and just keep it smooth and sweet and bluesy. Lastly, if you’re lucky enough to be in a band like Cream, make sure your energy matches the rest of your bandmates. Be the focal point, but not the only point, of the music.

JamPlay is home to more than 500,000 guitarists with guitar lessons from world class instructor artists in every genre and for every interest to power up your guitar skill. Join at

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