The Guitar Style of Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is probably one of the best known guitar players out there. In this lesson, we're going to discuss his playing style, the scales he enjoys, and we'll look at a few of his blues licks to better understand how he formulates his approach to playing lead...

In this episode of the "Guitar Blog Insider," we'll cover, "Eric Clapton's Guitar Style."


Eric Clapton's career dates all the way back to the early 1960's with the group the "Yardbirds." From there, he moved onto John Mayall's "Blues-Breakers" and then there's also his work with the band, "Cream."

And, we can't leave out his solo career... With all of that music under his belt and with such a huge catalog of recordings, touring and years working in the business, it's no wonder that he has become so well known - and not just to guitar players... I think you'd be hard pressed to find very many people who haven't heard of Eric Clapton.

E.C. Sound Basics: Guitars, Amps and Style
 Well, it almost goes without saying that Eric Clapton has a fairly diverse playing style. He's very competent on both electric and acoustic guitar, and he can play guitar using both flat-picking and finger-style and he can do it with ease.

Clapton's playing style isn't based upon shredding up the neck like; the legendary playing of Stevie Ray Vaughn, or modern blues shredders like smokin' Joe Bonamassa. But, even though Clapton is a fast player when he wants to be, he also has a way of deeply drawing on a lot of soulfulness and slow energy through his guitar parts.

When it comes to his guitars, he started on Gibson Les Paul's, then he switched over to use Fender Stratocaster's in 1970, with his legendary "Blackie" probably being the most publicly well known Eric Clapton Stratocaster.

The Eric Clapton Fender Strat "Blackie" Edition Guitar:

When it comes to his powered sound, Clapton will generally, use a fairly clean guitar tone with some natural tube overdrive. Through the last decade he's been sticking with the amazing tone from a Fender Twin - Custom Shop "Tweed" amplifier.

Fender Custom Shop - Tweed Amp:

E.C. Scales:
When it comes to scales, Clapton has a high-level of control over both major and minor sounds. In fact, he's very well known for mixing the scales of major and minor pentatonic. Below, I have provided a Clapton style lick that blends these two scale colors together - all within one phrase.

Example 1). Mixed Major and Minor Pentatonic Clapton Style Lick:

By blending together both Major and Minor Pentatonic scales, Clapton achieves a modern Blues sound that still retains the interesting scale tones of our classic Blues Pentatonic.

When Clapton isn't blending together the Maj. and Min. Pentatonic scales, he sticks quite close to home with a lot of his sound taken from the notes of the Minor Pentatonic. However, as you play more and more of his leads, you'll start to notice something interesting.

He likes to include the sound of adding the major second interval into the Minor Pentatonic. Clapton tends to place it into the scale tones of Minor Pentatonic quite randomly, creating a smooth sounding scale-tone effect as he sees fit. When adding it in, place it where you feel it can generate a smooth melodic flow to the notes. The sound of the Major 2nd will get you impersonating Eric Clapton, rather quickly.

Here's an example of him doing this exact idea in a short section of his lead from the song, "Lay Down Sally."

Example 2). Minor Pentatonic with the "Major 2nd" interval added: (Lay Down Sally)

E.C. Phrasing:
Phrasing is a huge part of exploring the Clapton style and his application of using multiple ideas like; vibrato, position slides, bends, and legato can be combined into even the shortest of guitar licks.

This side of his playing style is a really huge factor to generating that Eric Clapton guitar sound. To give you an idea of exactly what I'm talking about, I've taken a short segment from his solo of the song, "After Midnight," to help you better notice on how he works at combining a number of phrasing concepts into one short lead statement.

 Example 3). Phrasing devices (After Midnight)

E.C. "The Blues Feel"
The final idea I wanted to go through with you, is Clapton's approach to playing within the blues feel. It's one of his specialties, and it's an area that if you enjoy Clapton's guitar playing, you'll definitely want to spend some time exploring this side of his guitar personality.

In this realm of his playing, one of the best albums to spend time listening to (and working on songs from), is his 1994 "Blues Cover" album, "From the Cradle."

This is not just an amazing album, but it's a chance to take in the full scope of his trademark blues guitar phrasing, along with his approach to playing blues licks. To help you best understand this, I want to have a look at Clapton's cover (of the Sonny Thompson song), "I'm Tore Down." It was originally made popular by Freddie King, and Clapton's cover is a great example of his skill for Blues Phrasing.

Example 4). A Clapton-style Blues lick from the song, "I'm Tore Down"

Eric Clapton's phrasing and his technique have (without any doubt) established him and his guitar playing as one of the greatest guitar players around. Once you start learning how to organize the Clapton style (of both "phrasing concepts" and his approach to using scales, and technique), you'll be able to apply his guitar playing concepts into your own music.

He's a fantastic player, and one that can tap into a very smooth and soulful guitar sound. I hope the ideas presented here in this lesson help get you started down the path to developing the Eric Clapton guitar style.

I'd like to end the discussion by saying, thanks for joining me... If you want to learn more about what I do as an online guitar teacher, then head over to my website at and sign up your FREE lifetime membership.

When you want more, you can always upgrade to either a Basic, or a Premium lesson package and start studying the guitar courses I've organized for the members of my website.

Also, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comment section below... if you enjoyed this video, give it a thumbs up and subscribe for more on YouTube. Thanks again and we'll catch up next time, on another episode of the, "Guitar Blog Insider."



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